Travel packing tips!

March 24, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I love to travel. And when the majority of your luggage contains camera gear, batteries, chargers, and more... You learn to get creative with your remaining baggage. All in all, I've developed a few tips for your travel bags, especially if you're going international. 

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  • No matter where you are going in the world, if it is less than a month, my opinion is that you can go there with carry on only. It just takes some letting go of items you think you need, that you don't, and some amazing bags. Regardless if you want to check a bag or not, this blog will certainly offer some tips. 


  • Get yourself a stuff sack, and a few manual vacuum seal or compression bags. Both of these can compress an amazing amount of clothing. In our recent trip to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen where it was quite cold, we were able to put into one medium stuff sack: two pairs of winter “snow/ski” pants, three base layer long sleeve shirts, two pairs of base layer pants and a jacket. In a compression sack, we put our winter ski coats. And there was still about half of the suitcase of space left, and this was an airline regulation carry-on size suitcase (22x9x12”). Both stuff sacks and compression bags can be found in places like REI, or anywhere selling travel gear (online of course as well).


  • Purchase a good bookbag, at a place like REI or Gander Mountain, that packs itself very deep. It is amazing how much can fit into a bookbag, which is your second bag/carry on. We purchased one that has a lot of external pockets and straps so we were able to attach a pair of tennis shoes and a tripod onto the outside of the bag, so these bulky items do not need to take up room in your suitcase. Which brings me to my next point.


  • Shoes. Don't get carried away. You need 1-2 pairs of shoes, max. If you are going to one climate, a single pair of shoes will get you there fine. If you are going to be hiking then you need your second pair (ie: boots). However if it is a warm climate, wear a pair of sandals on the plane and don't worry about any other pairs. Even if you think you might hit the gym while there and want those running shoes, chances are that space in your bag is better suited for extra underwear. Long story short... try to wear your single pair of shoes on the plane, and if you need a second pair, make sure they pack flat like the new “barefoot running shoes” that are out – they are extremely thin and light.


  • Clothes. Keep it simple. Keep it simple. Layers that can be mixed and matched are ideal. Do not pack outfits, chances are you wont want to wear that exact outfit on the day you are there anyway. For two weeks in a climate of approx 50-60 degrees I would suggest (for a female): 4 tshirts, 5 tank tops, pair of jeans, a long skirt (this is versatile for a warmer day), 2 blouse type shirts you could wear to a restaurant, a light fashionable scarf (this can really dress up a tshirt and jeans), a fleece or jacket (wear on the plane to save space since this is a thicker item) and some jewelry (again to dress up a basic outfit). Honestly no one there knows you or will know you are wearing the same jeans over and over. If possible, do laundry. REI sells an amazing pair of underwear that dry almost instantly if you need to wash in the sink. They are about $16 but you could travel the world with two pairs of these and nothing else (not that you would want to.) Always travel with a bit of clothing soap to do laundry in the tub if you need to (just hang on the shower rod or on a hotel balcony to dry). When you're at home and you see all the options in your closet that you'd like to take – resist the urge. Once you're there you will be so happy that you have less to choose from and less to carry around.


  • A fold-up tote bag. I got one free at a trade show once, which was the best piece of swag ever. It folds up to the size of about my hand, so I carry it on my outside backpack pocket, easy to grab as needed. Once I enter through security in the airport, I pop it open and take out my items to have in my seat with me on the plane – mp3 player, boarding pass, book, bottle of water. All other items stay safely in my padded “expensive” backpack and will go under the seat in front of me on the plane. Remember I'm doing all carry-on, so my suitcase is in the overhead bin. (thus those are my two allowed carry-ons). The tote bag isn't really counted as a third carry-on bag if its attached to your bookbag (I have ways of making it seem less than it is!)  I also love it for items acquired along the way, like a bottle of water, a muffin, a magazine purchased at the newsstand. As you discard these items your tote will empty itself and eventually you can fold it back up and it disappears. Also very handy to have for shopping in markets, especially for European travel, where they are not giving you a plastic bag with every fruit or souvenir purchase. So my fold-up tote becomes a very,very valuable item the entire trip. 


  • I like to wear a really flat, small purse on my body – one that crosses over me with a long strap. The one I have has several pockets. I keep my wallet, money, plane information, boarding pass, and passport in it. This way it never leaves my body during transit. Items like this you can't pick up along the way like losing a tube of toothpaste. This same concept could be applied to a waist belt (fanny pack) or pockets in your jacket. Just be careful if you take that jacket off, don't forget it at the gate waiting area! In short, I like these important items ON my person in some way. 


  • Airport food is crazy expensive. Pack 3-4 granola bars before leaving your house. When you're on a plane and starving, it will help you avoid a $10 candy bar purchase. Just dont bring your own bottles of water or drinks, they will be taken at security (any liquids over 3 oz). However, packs of EmergenC (flavors water & has vitamins) are great for adding to boring water along your trip when you're considering a more expensive drink purchase. 


  • Do we need to talk about liquids and security gate issues? I'm sure most of us are aware now... They must be in small ziplocks and nothing over 3 oz, this even includes gel deodorant. Its best anyway, you don't want the extra weight or size of large bottles in your bag.


  • Travel items to pick up... a plane neck pillow – I like the blow up ones (again, found mine at REI) because off the plane I can deflate it and it disappears into my Mary Poppins bag. Its amazing and blows up with one breath, deflates in about 5 seconds. I also like to have an eye mask, if you need to sleep during a day flight.


  • I love to journal along the way. A diary of sorts, but for more than just documenting what I've done on the trip.  I do that, sure. But I actually like it for a reference tool while traveling. I highly suggest getting a few Moleskin journals – they are very small and extremely thin. The ones I picked up are the exact size and thickness of my passport. I'll have a few of them, in different colors. I take one for tracking my budget and travel info, and one for a travel journal. For the budget/travel info-- I  write into it before I leave home – every flight #, time, airline, and confirmation number. This way its all there much faster than fumbling for my itinerary I printed from booking online. (you will still want these but you can keep them in your larger bag, among the rest of your items). I also write down all conversion rates, if traveling international. I usually write $1=x, $5=x, $10=x, this way I can quickly reference it while shopping abroad and know what I"m actually spending. Some currencies can be very confusing, like 5000 for an apple?! Wait.. that only equates to $1.00.  I also track my budget along the way, its easy to get carried away with spending when you're on vacation cloud nine. Tracking it keeps me in check.  And finally, I use the other moleskin for a personal journal of my travel - things I've done, seen, tasted, and want to remember. 


  • Meds... don't go overboard, but a few tablets of the following are good – dramamine, tylenol or advil, anti-diarrhea, and ginger candy (it instantly can soothe an upset stomach). Take everything out of the bottles and into tiny snack size ziplocks – label them! This will take less space than the bottles of course. Remember its all about space! Remember to include EmergenC or Airborne, and take it daily! In fact, you should be taking it at least four days prior to even leaving home. 


  • Travel paperwork – be sure to have copies of all your itineraries from booking online or with airlines (car rentals, hotels, and flights). I also will print and carry with me a map of where I am going, hotel phone number and address, and things like cab #'s, etc. Think about this – if you have no access to your iphone when you arrive there – what might you need? Don't rely on the modern way of thinking such as - “I'll google it when I get there.” When you arrive, your iphone could be a dead battery or you could have no access or wifi. It happens, so be prepared. Put yourself back to pre-2005 era.  A printed list of a few translations would be helpful too, if traveling international. You should know how to ask for directions, hail a cab, ask for a telephone, etc - in the language of the country you're visiting. 


  • International travelers... remember adaptors for your electronics, more than one is best. There will be times when you need to plug in multiple'll want to charge your laptop, iphone, camera battery, and use your electric shaver at the same time. Keep in mind that many Euro hotels have a system for saving energy and when you leave your room, your electric will turn off unless you keep your room key in the key slot by the door – so if you need to charge items while out of the room, you'll want to have a second room key in that slot to keep your electric on.


  • Electronic check list: laptop, laptop cord, memory cards, camera, battery for camera, AA batteries, charger for camera battery, card reader to transfer images to laptop, a backup hard drive or flash drive for photos, electric shaver, and if you are an avid photographer you know your lens and flash requirements too. Just think about every aspect of making something work from power to memory.


  • Backing up photos along the way. If you plan to take a lot of photos, or be gone a long time, there are a few options for backing up your photos along the way. First of all, you can choose not to back up anything and just shoot on your memory cards – if they fill up with space, you can go through and delete some photos from the card or buy more memory cards along your trip. Maybe just purchase extra in advance, memory cards are quite cheap these days. The other option is to purchase a hard drive with a memory card slot and copy capabilities – one brand I know of is called “Wolverine”. There are several, so do your research. Basically it is a way to copy your photos from memory card to a hard drive, without a computer. It has slots for all standard memory cards. You put it into the slot, hit the button for “copy” and when it is complete, it will say so such as “Copy complete”. And you're done. You can then keep your photos on the memory card and consider this your second backup, if something goes wrong or you lose your card – or you can take your chances with this being your only location of the photos now – and delete your memory card and continue shooting with it. One thing to keep in mind, as long as you “Delete” the photos and do not “Format” the card – the photos are always still there and you can run a data recovery to get them back. So if you accidentally delete all – no worries. Download the program called “Handy Recovery”, you will find it quite easy to use and works like a charm.


  • Lastly... as a safety precaution – because although it hasn't happened to me, its happened to a friend, take a copy of your passport in case of theft. You should also photo copy the front and back of all credit cards you are taking with you, and another form of ID. Keep them hidden inside the liner of your suitcase or buried in your backpack, if you need them in an unfortunate situation – the process for getting your passport replaced and returning home on time will be somewhat easier (if this process can be easy at all.)


  • Simply put: Lighten your load and your travel will be so much easier... thus making you a happy camper. Or hotel hopper. Whichever you prefer. Here are a few photos from my treks around the world. 



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