One thing about travelling overseas every year (as well as packing up to move from house to house when housesitting or houseswapping) is that I’m getting quite adept at packing.
Also, over a period of time, I have been streamlining my clothes, toiletries and luggage to be “travel friendly”. When I need something new I think carefully about comfort, coordination, easy-wear, easy-care, crush-ability and versatility.
It’s not about having lots of things, it’s about having the right things. And I’m really pleased with myself when I stick to my guns and wait until I find just the right thing – sometimes replacing 2 existing items with just one. Less is more as the saying goes, and in this case, having less to choose from makes it easier to decide what to pack.
As part of my “downsizing” I sometimes take older clothing across to our house in France “to die”. I take them over there and wear them while renovating – a sure-fire way to kill them off! Alternatively if you pack a few older items you can choose to turf them if you get a little carried away with souvenir shopping. Socks and undies are ideal to wear “one last time” and dispose of them en route instead of washing (although there’s a limit to how often you can do that!)
So a few tips for smart packing (from a female perspective):
Think “mix and match” – my basic wardrobe philosophy: brightly coloured tops and neutral pants/shorts, cardigans/jackets. Think “layers” – that way you are ready for any kind of weather, and choose “wear anywhere” styles (things you can take from day to evening with a little jewellery and makeup).
As far as quantities go, I usually pack in 3’s for tops: 3 singlet tops, 3 tshirts, 3 long-sleeved tops; and 2’s for “bottoms” (long pants and 3/4 pants) and take both lightweight and warmer jackets, but nothing too heavy or bulky. I’m not big into skirts and dresses as a general rule, but I have just bought one dress for a special event which will be ideal for travelling.
We all have our own style which of course influences what items we “need” to pack. And you do need to take into account what kind of activities you will be engaging in. But no matter you’re doing, comfortable shoes are an absolute “must”. Walking shoes, boots and sandals usually covers it for me.
If you have trouble deciding what cosmetics or toiletries to pack, you probably have a dozen different half-used products on the go. My tip: use up one before starting the next. And if you’re never going to use it – lose it! Simple. Now with the smaller array, remember to transfer into containers of 100ml or less if you’re flying and you want to take them in your cabin bags (remember it’s the container size that counts, not the contents, and the limit applies to toothpaste as well).
Those little 50ml bottles of sample shampoos etc. are handy to keep, as long as they have a wide enough neck to re-fill. But you can buy lots of travel-sized toiletries these days. You don’t need to take more than you need for the duration of the trip. I always transfer enough of my face creams for the journey into empty eye-cream jars to save space and weight.
Pack sharps separately and carry in your checked luggage to avoid confiscation. Levels of security seem to vary widely these days, however I do have some mini nail clippers, round-ended nail file, and tweezers that have made it through airport security all over the world.
I choose to wear a bum-bag when on long flights so that I have my glasses, pen, passport, music player, lipbalm and tissues at the ready, along with any cash and credit cards for safe keeping. Your own earphones and an adaptor plug are a great investment to increase the enjoyment of an inflight movie or two.
Your actual luggage needs to be light as well. You don’t want to use up half your weight allowance in the case itself. Wheels and an extendable handle are essential on bigger items. I love the new four-wheeled cases but the downside is that you can’t leave them standing on uneven surfaces without the risk of them rolling away. For smaller bags a shoulder strap is a bonus, or at least make sure you can balance it (if not attach it) on top of your main wheelie bag.
And then I have what I affectionately call my “portable office”: laptop, charger, disk drive (depending on the duration of the trip), and a travel-ready pack of stationery. I have collected a range of mini items which come in pretty handy.
Paper and books are heavy, so consider going electronic.
Most importantly though, make sure you can handle all your luggage easily by yourself. Definitely a case of less is more! Excuse the pun.
And never forget your camera – along with its charger and freshly reformatted memory card.