26 September 2011

Pack your bags...

In the past month or so I've traveled from Seoul to Melbourne to Sydney to Phuket and then back to Seoul.  I've spent a few days in Hong Kong and a weekend in Tokyo.  I've just found out that next month I'll be heading to Paris (yippee!), and a little while after that we'll be going back to Melbourne and Sydney. Yep, if you haven't already guessed it from my blog/twitter/facebook, I travel. A lot. I love it, and I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities it's given us - I've learnt a lot from it in so many ways.

So I thought it about time that I share some of the things I've discovered from the past years of planning, packing, security searches, immigration queues, long flights and short visits - beginning with that not-so-fun task of packing your bags.

Let me start with an absolute cop out and say that travel is a rather personal thing in the end, which means that packing really is to.  What may work for me may not work for you.  Having said that, here are my top packing tips learned from many a packed bag.  It's text heavy but I've highlighted the important bits in bold so you can skip all my waffle in between, if you like.

First up, take carry on whenever possible.  This might sound like madness to some, but with practice you'll realise it's actually quite easy.  My husband has turned me into a total carry on fan - I think it's that moment when you can walk swiftly past all the sorry souls waiting endlessly by the baggage carousel and head straight out of the airport into the fun of a new city, or back to the warmth of your own bed, that really sold it for me.  We really only take check in when we are doing a wintery ski holiday, and sometimes I might check in a bag on the way home if I've been shopping.  This post is really about the art of packing lightly.

If you don't take carry on, make sure your check in only holds stuff that you could deal with saying goodbye to.  Checked bags can and do get lost.  Also be aware that you may be forced to check in what you think is a perfectly acceptable carry on bag, some airports/airlines are quite strict on weight and size limits.

Insider travel tip - if your carry on bag gets weighed by an over zealous a dedicated airport employee (ie. not the check-in staff) and you're asked to check it in, head back to the check-in desk and ask for a tag from the airline - it'll let you carry on your bag regardless of weight.

When I was at uni and had to write an essay I would read everything relevant I could get my hands on and then wait a few days.  At some level my brain was working away on all that stuff I had read, and after a few days a theory or an angle or a structure would always reveal itself (this process was usually followed by one or two all-nighters, I was never very good at 'getting an early start').  My approach to packing is kind of the same.  A week or so before my trip I think about the climate, the activities, the social functions involved.  Then I start pulling together a bunch of things to match, first in my head and then in the real world.

Next, I hang or pile my planned clothes in a group somewhere.  That way I can stand back and see if everything kind of works with each other.  If so, it means that I should be able to mix and match to create different outfits.  It also means that the limited supply of shoes/jackets/scarves/jewelry I pack should work with everything.

Here's two examples:
The first group was for a trip to Melbourne/Sydney at the tail end of Winter.  It's all black, tan and blue, with a bright pop of green for good measure.  The second group was for a trip to hot and steamy Hong Kong - pinks, blues and purples ahoy!

A few other things:

- After I pack I do a quick run through of what I've packed to check it covers everything I need (Do I have something for that bush walk? That fancy dinner? Those chilly nights?).  If you get a bit of pre-travel anxiety (like me!) this is a good way to soothe your nerves.  At this stage I normally cull an item or two. Be ruthless.  Having said that...

- You can never have too many singlets.  They are great as stand-ins for PJs and for layering when it's cold.  They roll up nice and tight and can fit in all kinds of tiny crevices that you didn't even know your little carry on bag had!

- Pack half as many t-shirts, shorts, jeans, tops, etc as you think you need - and twice as many undies as you think you need...trust me.

- Pack your shoes first, then fit everything else around them.  Roll thin, small things.  Bulky knits work best when they are laid out flat-ish across everything else.

- Make you luggage do double duty!  If I'm packing some jewelry, I  keep it safe and sound by packing it in a small purse or clutch - storage and night-time accessory in one!

- No sharp stuff in your carry on, sorry.  That means no swiss army knives, no bottle openers, no nail scissors.  You might be able to get away with plastic knitting needles, or small sewing needles, but best to check with the airline first.

- With all the rules about liquids and gels you won't be able to pack your jumbo sized bottle of conditioner if you're aiming for carry on so beg, borrow and buy travel sized toiletries with abandon.  Having said that...

- You do not need as many toiletries as you think you do.  Seriously.  Just try and go one trip without your straightener/night cream/hair gel and you'll realise you can cope.  And people won't notice the difference.  You will still look pretty and cute.  And if not, it's just a few days/weeks/months anyhow!

- My husband follows a rule that I think is way easier for men than women, although I do try it sometimes.  He packs clothes that are at the end of their life span, and throws out as he goes.  This also means he has space to buy new stuff, if he wants to.

- Remember: you can always buy it there.  This applies especially to the basics - toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo.  The fun thing about this rule is that when it turns out you can't actually buy it there, you realise you don't really need it anyway!

And my absolute number one top tip for packing?  As you walk out the door check that you have your wallet, your passport and your mobile phone.  In the end, if you have those three things you will be fine no matter what else you've forgotten.


  1. This is a great travel helper post! I'm so out of touch with packing a bag, and I'm planning my first-ever trip to Paris (you know I'll be hitting you up for info after you return!) next year. I haven't done much air travel at all the past decade or so. A few short flights within Canada, but nothing major. And for Paris, I want to bring all my pretty dresses & accessories! Oh dear, and I want to bring home SO MUCH. I'm pretty darn sure I won't be able to do the Carry On rule. I'll ensure, though, that all of the important things are with me on the plane (best dress, undies, miracle face cream). :D

  2. i like this article a lot! LOL. i was on my way for a weekend beach trip when my silly, annoying, iwanttokillhimificould bus driver dropped my bag somewhere cos he didnt lock the bag compartment below the bus. so for 3days and 2 nights, i only had the clothes i was wearing, my passport, camera and purse. and i survived! hahah.

  3. I understand the shoes first rule :) They are soooo not flexible and I always struggle with them when packing.
    I already wish you a bon voyage! Et a bientot!

  4. Wallet, passport and phone--the holy trinity. I triple check that I have those three items before leaving the house. Glad to know I'm not the only one. :)

  5. This is a fantastic post, thanks so much for sharing it.

    I'm going to be doing quite a bit of travelling in the new year and I've already been thinking about some of the things you've described above.

    Once I determine what I can live without (which might take a little while!) I'm hoping to be an efficient traveller like yourself. :)

  6. Great post, Emily!

    I have always been a checked-in baggage person as I backpacked on most of my trips and moved to the other side of the world on another. But I'm warming to this idea of carry on only! sounds fantastic to me!

  7. Thank you for your lovely comments on my blog! I love all your creations in your etsy shop and your blog is a bit lovely too :)
    Any suggestions of where to eat out in HK would be appreciated. I have one fussy 5 year old who is not enjoying the local food at all. My 2 year old will at least try most things, or eat plain rice if all else fails.
    Tomorrow I am off exploring to hopefully find some new rotary blade cutters, fingers crossed. And yes, Sham Shui Po is AMAZING! I am loving exploring it.
    Lovely to meet you!

  8. Looking forward to hearing all about Paris Emily :)

  9. Wanted to drop by to thank you for your comment on my post about our Thailand/Japan trip, then realized what you've written here is great advice for the rest of our packing! Like your idea to group the clothes together and then mull it over for a bit. I still have time to do that!

  10. We've just done 3 1/2 months away with a toddler, so we had a LOT of baggage, BUT that being said, we did use a few of the techniques you mentioned here, and it saved us a lot of hassel!

    Particularly the last one about buying stuff there - Toiletries are universal! I didn't bring any of those things with us, and it was easy enough to buy them from the shops when we arrived!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment - so great to hear my tips have actually been applied by someone else in the real world! :)


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