A quick glance at Instagram will show you how much tourists and lifestyle coaches love to quote one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s most famous sayings: “It’s the not the destination, It’s the journey.”
Now we all know what good old Ralphie meant. But I think his saying also holds true for one of the most essential activities for travelling successfully: packing well.
No matter how many times I travel, there are always new lessons to learn and sometimes the same mistakes to make (why oh why do I always forget my toothbrush?). Here are a few pearls of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way so you can hopefully avoid looking like grumpy cat above:
- Last-minute packing after too many tasty tipples at the Tapa Bar is never a good idea. Kind of self-explanatory, isn’t it? I’m either a packer who spends weeks preparing or I’m totally a last-minute wreck throwing things into a suitcase after tossing back a few pints at the pub because I’m going on vacation!
The careful, thoughtful packer has taken a small duffle bag for a three-week excursion tramping through the jungles of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala while the drunk packer has lugged a giant suitcase on wheels across a beach of loose sand in Jamaica.
The careful packer uses everything they’ve packed and has focused on the essentials. The drunk packer wonders why she’s packed a sweater for the tropics or heels for her jungle backpacking trip.
2. Don’t pack maple syrup. Just don’t. Or any sticky fluid like huge bottles of shampoo, wine or that amazing olive oil you picked up in that tiny Italian village.
Have you watched what baggage handlers do to your luggage?
Think ahead and don’t cry over spilled liquids! Drink that Slovenian wine before you fly home or look lovingly at that amazing (and delicate) bottle of perfume and either put it back on the shelf or mail it home.
If you must take liquids or decided to buy some on the road, taking it with you in your carry-on is a great option but remember the security size restrictions. Don’t buy or bring anything larger than a 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle.
And the maple syrup is a true story (right Mom?). Ohhhh a sticky suitcase is a horrible thing.
3. No one ever says “I packed too much underwear!” So go ahead and stuff your bag full. Clean undies on the road are everything. Who doesn’t immediately feel better?
And when you don’t have to do laundry and everyone else does you’ll get to see more of the sights instead of stumbling around the back streets of Amsterdam looking for a laundromat.
Socks are a close second here, too, unless you’re on a beach holiday. And BTW wool socks don’t dry out quickly on the road. Damp feet are not happy feet. And we want our feet happy on the road.
4. Don’t. Buy. Traveller’s. Cheques. When they hear you’re going on a trip, it seems like every bank in Canada tries to get you to buy traveller’s cheques. Resist.
I know they’re more secure but have you ever tried to cash them in a tiny town in Belize?
Or even in Rome, for that matter? Have you ever had an Italian bank employee look at you like you were trying to cash a dirty diaper? No? Oh well let me tell you, it’s a delight.
Money exchangers will usually take traveller’s cheques but I always feel like I’m taking a loss.
5. Remember bed bugs and nasty local critters like to travel, too. Keep your suitcase, duffle bag whatever you’re carrying away from your bed or the walls.
And always keep it zipped. You don’t want a memento of your trip to be a cockroach or a nasty ass spider popping out and saying Hola on your living room floor.
6. Only taking a carry-on bag is what freedom feels like. If you can’t carry it, don’t take it and don’t buy it.
If you’re on a backpacking trip and moving via public transport every couple of days, you won’t regret packing light. Unless of course you don’t mind paying a small Guatemalan boy to lug your gigantic suitcase up a steep hill (you nouveau colonialist, you).
It’s also better to have everything with you in an easily transportable manner in this age of travel delays.
I quite like the Timbuk2 Copilot Luggage Roller, which slid easily into the overhead compartments on both my Air Canada Rouge and TAP flights and fit everything I needed for my three-week trip to Portugal and Morocco in December.
Word to the wise: I truly believe the less fancy your luggage looks (hard-shelled, flashy or brand new) the less likely it will be to the first bag stolen off the bus or train. If you look like you have nothing worth stealing . . .
And don’t be a dick with your carry-on bag. You’re fooling no one with your huge bag and everyone in line hates you.
7. Facial wipes are a godsend. So are cheap flip-flops. I love Paris but I don’t like how flights from Canada always land here early in the morning. It means hours before your hotel room is ready and if you didn’t sleep on the flight and are fighting jetlag, it makes for a tough day.
Facial wipes can help. That feeling of having a truly clean face can make the day bearable. There’s tonnes of varieties to choose from at different price points. I would suggest picking up two smaller packets rather than a large one. They stay fresher longer.
Cheap flip-flops from Joe Fresh or Old Navy were made for travelling and showering in less than optimum conditions — I’m thinking shared bathrooms in hostels and makeshift outdoor shower stalls in the Solomon Islands.
Stock up on these on sale at the end of the summer and then leave them behind at the end of your trip!
8. Noise-cancelling headphones will save your sanity. Imagine a 12-hour flight trapped with a screaming baby.
Now, imagine that same trip wearing Bose headphones that make the baby seem far, far away. Relax and sleeeeep. I know they’re expensive but I’ve never regretted this purchase. They’re also perfect for drowning out the office idiot at work!
9. Make friends with the traveller who is a walking drugstore. There’s always one. Hint: It’s never me.
I generally only carry sunscreen, Band-Aids, Tylenol, Benadryl and motion sickness tablets so I’ve learned to love exploring the local drugstore. They may not have Tylenol but they will stock Paracetamol. Wonders await!
10. A scarf is a multi-tasker. Need a sarong or to cover your head in a temple or mosque? Cold neck in a bus with the air-conditioning jacked? Like the Jackson 5, a great scarf will be there for you.
11. Travel adaptors are a pain in the ass. I always think I’ve taken the right one and then my phone is about to die and I find I’m missing a prong or the adaptor is the wrong shape for the plug. Aye!
These are cheap to pick up on the road from a local electronics store or the market. Some hostels and hotels will even let you borrow one from them. I haven’t yet tried one of the universal adapators but they sound almost too good to be true.
12. Most of all, remember you know you best. If you need to take a bag of makeup who am I to judge? Although I do. I’m sorry. Wearing foundation and mascara in the jungle just seems so unnecessary but I’m sure your Instagram photos turned out amazing!
But seriously, if there are things that are impractical but you know they’ll make you happy while travelling then they’re a necessity. I always need to take at least two books, a notebook and my DSLR camera and lenses. These items are heavy and bulky but I know I’ll use them.
I also know I need jeans and a hoodie for the plane. Jeans — like bricks — are heavy. They’re horrible to carry around but it’s better than shivering for hours in a tin can hurtling through the sky.
What are your tried and true travel tips? I’d love to hear from you so together we can make our next journeys even more enjoyable.
© Jennifer Robinson and BulaHoop.ca, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Robinson and BulaHoop.ca with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.