With my recent trip to visit Shannon in Sonoma, and my upcoming trip taking Grandma to Disneyland for her first time in forever, I’ve been thinking a lot about the methods I have come to use while packing for any trip. I have written this post (and the next to come) in an effort to cover my tips for packing and my “must-have” items whenever I travel. My hope is that they help streamline a task that can seem routine yet daunting.
Travel is something most of us do our whole lives to some capacity. Through my childhood it was bigger trips with family, but since I got my driver’s license (now quite a few moons ago..) I’ve been making more day and weekend trips.
Each trip is a slightly different compilation of the same packing challenges: space and durability.
This challenge is one that is very heavily impacted by mode of travel and number of travelers. Having flown a lot the last 6 years, I have perfected the art of knowing if my bag is under 50 pounds by feel alone. I also got quite a bit of practice fitting everything I might need for a weekend in a carry-on.
During that same time, I also spent a lot of time participating in road trips. I drove 4 round trips from the Central Valley in California to Fort Collins, Colorado (all with varying levels of detours), went on a trip from the Central Valley up to the Redwoods in Eureka, CA, drove from Waco, TX to Phoenix, AZ, last fall made a trip to Las Vegas by way of Los Angeles, and I continue to make regular Disney trips. The best and worst thing about traveling by car is that there is no added cost based on whether or not your items fit into a bag of a certain size or if they are over a certain weight. This allows more flexibility in what you can bring, but can easily lead to overpacking.
It is inevitable that at least some of the items packed will never get used. Why does this matter for durability? Because these are the items that get left in the car or shoved at the bottom of a suitcase or bag for long periods of time (we all have that one bag that never gets fully unpacked after trips). It’s important to find items that can withstand extreme temperature changes and will not break or become otherwise unusable under changes in pressure, temperature, and bag fullness.
Every time I go somewhere these parameters are what I have in mind. Over the years, I’ve been able to get a good idea of what works for me (so far) and some of these tricks are very versatile. I’ve used these parameters for backpacking day trips, long road trips, and trips that involve flying as far as overseas.
My tried and true packing methods and tips:
- Evaluate what kind of trip it is. How many bags do you need? How many bags can you take? What will be the easiest way for you to get all of your items from point A to point B? One of my biggest mistakes on road trips is that I bring a lot of debris – unnecessary loose items. If it’s not something that you can find a place for in your bags, it’s time to seriously evaluate whether or not it has a place on the trip.
- Figure out what you’re taking. I choose to keep a standard “shell” list that I re-use and modify for all of my trips. This list is all of the core items that you need whenever you’re going somewhere overnight. I have mine in my notes on my phone, and it’s been especially convenient to do that since Apple introduced the checklist feature on iPhone notes – it’s really easy to clear the checkmarks once you’ve completed the list.
- Pick your smaller bag that goes “everywhere.” No matter what kind of trip you’re going on you will need a moderately sized, easy-to-carry bag or backpack. For me, this is typically one of two types of bag; on shorter, smaller trips I use a cross-body style bag or purse, and on larger trips I choose a backpack (Camelbak for typical “outdoorsy” things or JanSport for Disneyland). Depending on the trip, I can add the reservoir to the Camelbak or leave it out. I’ve also been known to have both a purse and a backpack type bag at the same time, but I typically reserve that practice for flights.
- Condense your wallet – too often I see people traveling with every reward card, credit card, and piece of paper money they possess. Please, for your own sake, stop. If you happen to lose your wallet, you lose everything. Honestly, would you rather need a driver’s license replacement and have to cancel a single credit card or have to cancel 5+, lose hundreds, maybe even thousands in cash (depending on how you travel), and give people a direct path to every single rewards program you’re part of (and enough basic information about you for serious repercussions beyond that)? You don’t need your REI Co-op card, Red Robin rewards, or that Victoria’s Secret credit card with you on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I like using this little portfolio wallet I got from J. Crew a few years back!
This task is one that often comes across more like a point of stress – pressure to get everything you may possibly need for every scenario. If you miss something, honestly, it’s okay. Fundamentally, packing is about the quality, and even now I’m guilty of focusing on the quantity I’m packing. Over time I’ve gotten better with the idea of focusing on the core items, and allowing bonus items to be at the discretion of extra space.