A warm welcome to all readers from ricksteves.com! I am delighted to be the blog of the month again for April. As a tour guide and professional traveler, I typically like to write about all of the various topics that pass through my mind–mostly art, history, food, culture. You can find out more about my adventures and the pretty places I go on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, each one has a unique feed. The one topic that you will find well discussed here is the one I consider daily on the road, packing. I’ve complied a short list of highlights of my packing tips.
A well packed bag can really help to make a trip easy. It’s something that, when done well, you don’t even need to think about. A poorly packed bag can cause headaches and waste a lot of your time and energy, mostly by replacing forgotten items, lugging overly heavy bags across cobbled streets and so on. I am here to help alleviate the packing dilemmas for travelers, if I can.
You’ll find lots of articles on my blog on packing topics with as much advice as you could ask for. I’ve been at this life on the road for over 16 years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve also learned from veteran road warriors in our office, as well as from Rick, who actually practices what he preaches and carries a very light bag. I hope you’ll find something useful that inspires you, and you can also check out the packing video I did for Rick here.
If you don’t have time to comb through my recommendations, I’ve compiled a short list of the most important tips I can think of for packing a light and versitile bag, certain to make your life a little easier on the road.
1. Pack Early
I suggest packing a bag up to two weeks in advance. The worst bags I’ve ever packed were done at the last minute and I regretted it. Do it early, you’ll be glad you did. After you’ve packed, you have some time to think carefully about what you might have forgotten. My rule of thumb is to think it over and try to remove at least a few things from the bag before departure.
2. Take Your Bag for a Walk
After your bag has been packed, take it out for a nice long walk. Walk with it for a minimum of 15 minutes, over a variety of terrains, especially over gravel. Can you maneuver with it? Is it too heavy? Would a different kind of bag work better? It’s always better to figure these things out before you go, rather than suffer later. I recently discovered that the swivel wheel bags with four wheels are nice in airports but are terrible on cobblestones. Better to know that stuff before you go.
3. Weigh Everything
I know it seems crazy, but the game I’m playing here is one of weight. You can really take whatever you want with you, but you must keep your bag light. I aim for 16 pounds, which is the maximum weight for carry-on bags on European airlines. Weighing all of your possessions and marking them with permanent marker is a great first step. It helps you make choices. I love my new scale from OXO, it’s very accurate. I use a rubber band to bundle up clothes into balls to be weighed. After the bag is packed, I use a bag scale to see how I’ve done.
Shoes can make or break your trip, and choosing carefully is one of my most important packing tips. You will be on your feet much more than normal as you travel, so sturdy and comfortable footwear is a requirement. You can easily do with two pairs for any trip, sandals and closed-toe walking shoes. I typically bring three and maybe even four, as long as they are compact and light weight. The current favorite amongst travelers are Skechers Foam shoes. They are super comfy and very light to pack. I’ve seen them just about everywhere, on men and women alike. My pair is a cute and feminine model that looks like a ballerina flat, but the most popular with tour members male and female is a simple slip on model. I also like to bring sturdy sandals and a pair of flip-flops. I typically rip out the insoles in my shoes and replace them with Superfeet, an insole replacement that you can choose for your particular foot. You can read more on shoe choices here.
5. Toiletries, Less is More
I know this is a sensitive topic, but scaling back the toiletries will lighten every bag. You don’t really need full sized toiletries for any trip, you can always buy local products if you run out. Use small containers and fill them with your favorite products. Try and keep to the 3-1-1 bag size limit, especially because larger bottles will force you to check your bag. If you have an elaborate beauty regime, try and simplify. Leave the curling irons and hairspray at home. You are beautiful just as you are. Seriously! More thoughts on toiletries here.
6. Use Packing Cubes
This is where we separate the casual traveler from the pros. Packing using “cubes” or pouches will make your life so much easier. I seperate my things into cubes. One is for tops, one is for underclothes, one is for toiletries and one is for electronic odds and ends. I have a flat-fold envelope for my pants and dresses, to keep them from being wrinkled. The Rick Steves ones are great and fit into the bags like a puzzle. I use the Eagle Creek set, as it’s a little more heavy-duty.
7. Roll Baby, Roll
Before putting my clothes in their their cubes, I fold them in half, half again and then roll them up like a sausage. This keeps my tops from getting wrinkles, but it also allows me to see what I’ve got quickly. If I’m a little tired, I can grab a pair of pants and hold it next to my tops to make a decision. I try to keep the sausages in order, from sleeveless to longsleeved.
8. Become a Scarf Wearer
Scarves aren’t for everyone, but they should be. A nice big scarf can have a million uses, and comes in handy for everything from warmth to a quick escape (you know, like in James Bond? Tying to a balcony and rolling down?) I bring or buy one nice big scarf to use as a pillow, picnic blanket, impromptu cover-up, slingshot and so on. More on that here.
9. Skip the “Travel Clothes”
So many clothing stores are selling “Travel Clothes” these days, and not one of them has impressed me. The fabrics they use are usually too heavy and are made of synthetics that don’t breathe and make me stinky. Natural fibers like cotton and cashmere are much better and more comfortable in changing weather. It is also probable that you have everything you need in your closet already. Take things you know feel good on, don’t buy a new wardrobe of “vacation clothes” that you may feel uncomfortable in and you’ll never wear again. Spend your savings on a cool experience or a nice bottle of wine.
10. Bring a Luxury Item
After being very careful about your packing and keeping to a weight limit, be sure to add in something that will make you happy on the road, something that you don’t really need but will increase your quality of life. Examples of splurge items may be a pair of heels in the summer, some really fun jewelry, my favorite noise cancelling high quality headphones, a framed picture of your kids to put by the bed. My splurge every time is a down pillow. It makes me happy and I sleep better, almost feeling like I’m at home.
I hope these packing tips will help you pack lighter and smarter. There is so much more to tell you! Stay tuned for more packing ideas, some fun stories from my life on the road and things I’ve learned. I’m so delighted with the community that has grown up around this blog, I hope you will join in on the adventure!