In The Suitcase: Packing Light

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My two sisters-in-law are headed to Israel this week for ten days and were handed a fairly ambiguous packing list with suggested items on it and then to pack for temperatures between 40 to 70 degrees. And for activities like hiking, swimming, and nice dinners. The girls are scrambling to make it all fit into one suitcase each. And in today’s wonderful travel climate, where you actually have to pay to check in your luggage now and, more often than not, it doesn’t arrive – or arrives a day later, which is unhelpful if you’re touring a country.

I have never taken more than a carry-on. To India I had to bring two suits and travel clothes for two weeks, and I managed to squash it neatly into my carry-on and a backpack.  To avoid paying ridiculous Ryan Air prices to check baggage to Italy, we crammed two weeks worth of clothes, also for 40-70 degree weather, into similar bags. We also managed to pack the same carry-on suitcase and backpack for our three-week honeymoon in Thailand (click this link for my packing tips). And while living in France, laundry was a luxury, since you had to hang it all outside to dry and plan your limited wardrobe ahead. Turns out people in France, England, China, most of South America and – wait – most of the world – don’t own dryers. Some people do, but turns out it’s mostly an American habit. So piling up the clothes to be washed all at once – not an option, unless you have endless drying racks and can wait a day for it to dry.

In our diet-happy society, where everything is light! and fat free!, we are being forced to exercise the same on our luggage.

Rick Steves has his own handy tips for packing light when he journeys all over Europe: “One bag, that’s it,” he says. He used to run tours where he limited each person to one suitcase and one “personal item”. His key: hand-wash frequently.

It is a habit I picked up traveling with my parents as a kid. There’s nothing like hauling luggage and two small children to random parts of the world, so my parents limited us to two medium-sized suitcases and were always rinsing out socks and undies and t-shirts in the hotel sink. Every so often, I’ve also sent out laundry overnight in a hotel ($3 a shirt, anyone?). It beats dragging giant suitcases everywhere – and you will be expected to carry your own luggage every time.  And when I’ve been warned to prepare for cold weather – I don’t drag out the heavy winter coat. I layer. As Rick Steves points out, so I might be a little chilly for a day, but then you move on. In the end, everyone on a trip – whether with a friend, spouse or an entire group – ends up feeling pretty grungy together and talks about how their pants can stand up by themselves.

Before putting everything into the suitcase, decide whether something is absolutely necessary or you’ll die, somewhat necessary, or you can leave it behind and walk away. Below is a suggested list designed to help my sisters-in-law and others with some packing to make their trip easier and lighter.

1. One sweatshirt.

2. One pair of jeans and one other pair of pants.

3. Layers. Tank-top is an easy-to-pack and quick-to-warm-you underlayer. Then another shirt, then that one sweatshirt. When the day gets warmer, shed as you go.

4. You really won’t need more than 6 ounces of shampoo/ conditioner. Calculate how long one bottle lasts you and divide the number of ounces by the number of days. Take that amount with you. Remember you can always buy more – people do wash their hair in other countries with our brands.

5. Share one hair straightener and one hairdryer.

6. One pair of sneakers/ hiking shoes, one pair of flip flops, one pair of nicer shoes.

7. It’s okay to wear a shirt twice without washing. In the end, everyone on your trip will be feeling pretty nasty anyway. 

8. Bring rubber bands for your hair. You’ll become good friends with them by the end.

9. Leave valuables home and secure your passport and credit cards on you (like with a money belt), NOT in your purse or suitcase.

10. Leave room in your suitcase for gifts!

Happy packing!

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