What Should I Pack?

Why Planning a Backpacking Trip is So Essential

When you work in the tourism industry, as I did for many years, you learn to be able to distinguish the seasoned travelers from the rookies, on sight. The experienced globe-trotter has packing down to an exact science. There is nothing lacking in what they’ve brought along, nor is there even one item extra. Everything has its place and function, and is stored in the most efficient and ergonomic way, so as to facilitate easy movement as well as convenient retrieval of the most important items. They walk along with ease and confidence, neither hindered physically nor limited practically by what they have packed.

The novice, on the other hand, is easy to spot from from far away, usually because of the grossly inflated suitcase-to-human ratio, and the slow movement due to struggling with multiple luggage carts and shoulder bags falling off shoulders. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes people new to travel think they’re really being smart by bringing less than the bare minimum, and then sadly they spend a lot of their vacation time looking for hard-to-find items that could have easily been brought from home.

Proper packing has everything to do with where you are headed; location is important. Obviously if you are going hiking in a secluded area in the woods, you’ll need completely different things than if you’re headed to a black-tie ball in New York, but it’s also more subtle than that. You need to keep in mind the types of things you want to take, the size of bag you’re planning on using, and how quickly you want to be able to move around. If you are being chauffeured from the airport to a five-star resort where your bags will remain in your room for the duration of your trip, then you don’t need to worry so much as if you’re taking a public bus to a hostel and will have to carry everything with you.

You also need to keep airline weight allowances in mind, both from your place of origin and coming back from your destination. Generally speaking, you do not need as much stuff as you think you do. If you’re going somewhere for seven days, you do not need seven separate sets of clothing. It won’t kill you to wear jeans for more than one day, and doubling up will help save room in your bag. Unless you’re going somewhere for longer than a month, try to keep it to one suitcase per person, and if you have kids they can often share a suitcase. Any more than that is unnecessary, really, not to mention the costs you will incur paying those exorbitant excess luggage fees.

If after keeping things to a minimum you’re still desperate for extra room in your suitcase or extra weight off your luggage allowance, you can save both space and money by buying certain things once you get to your destination. You must be careful, though, of what you decide to leave at home. Things like bathroom toiletries are cheap and readily available all over the world. Shampoo, for example, weighs quite a lot, so if your luggage is already overweight, it will likely cost you less to buy shampoo when you get there than to pay to take yours with you.

However, be careful about leaving behind more personalized items, or items that are specifically considered to be for tourists. You might be able to buy a power plug adapter just about anywhere, but since that is an item mostly used by foreign visitors, it is likely you will have to pay a pretty high price to purchase a new one on your trip. In that case, it will probably cost you less to bring yours from home, even if it takes up a bit of room in your suitcase. Also, if you require a specific brand of something, it’s a bit risky to assume they’ll just have it wherever you’re traveling to, unless you are already familiar with shopping in the area. Things that are very specific in size or make are probably things that need to be brought from home, but of course you’ll want to assess whether they really need to be brought at all.

Lastly, and this may sound obvious, pack your really important items in your carry-on luggage. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve come across travelers who panicked at lost luggage because they were diabetic and their insulin supply was in their lost suitcase. They were trying to save room in their carry-on for things like books and makeup. When you’ve packed your suitcase, ask yourself if there is anything in there that would cause a real emergency in the event of a lost bag. If there is something in that category, it needs to go in your hand luggage. At the very least, medicines and irreplaceable items should go in your carry-on, but if something is irreplaceable, perhaps it would be best left at home unless absolutely necessary.

Packing is an art, and it’s one you’ll get better at with repetition. It’s likely you will over-pack on your first big trip, but after that you’ll have learned some important lessons about what you really need to take, what can be bought once you get to your destination, and what can be left out entirely. It just takes practice, and soon you’ll be packing like an expert — walking confidently through the arrivals lounge with all the grace and agility of a career traveler, neither bogged down by your luggage, nor restricted by inadequate supplies.

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