19 tips for packing your travel bag

18 February 2015

1) King and ruler of all packing tips: Don't take much

Pack light. Take waaaay less than you think. Take a small, easy-to-carry travel bag. Under-pack and buy it there if you need it. Right. Now that that's out of the way, here's some ideas to help you pack right for your next trip.

2) Do not fill your bag to the brim – for easy packing

If everything doesn't fit easily in your bag, it will be a giant pain to find things and to re-pack each morning. Packing and unpacking needs to be fast and simple. If you need to sit on the lid, you have too much stuff. If you need to vac-seal bags of clothes, you are wasting travel time.

3) Do not fill your bag to the brim – so you can fit your day bag in your main bag

Aim to leave enough room in your main bag so your day-pack or shoulder bag can fit in it for easy transiting. The train station is much easier to manage with just one bag. (This also leaves room for the alpaca hat, beaded necklaces and carved masks that you'll be bringing home.)

4) Trial run with ALL your bags

While travelling, you will carry your bags more often than you think. Before you leave home, pack your suitcase or backpack, and also grab your day-pack, shoulder bag, handbag, camera bag – whatever bag combo you'll be travelling with. It adds up. Then head out the front door and jump on the bus to the shops – have a wander, buy an ice-cream. If your bags made that trip awkward, have a re-think.

If you're too disorganized for that, just walking to the end of your street and back will give you an idea. (Even just standing in the hallway, holding your bags, thinking about taking the bus will help.)

5) Pack in units

Don't just put all 52 things you are bringing individually into your bag. Pack in units. A drawstring bag with your undies and socks. A packing cells with your pants and tops. A plastic bag for your shoes. An old toiletry bag for your chargers and bits and pieces. A plastic bag for dirty clothes. Putting 9 things into your bag instead of 52 will save loads of time each day – plus everything will be easy to find.

6) Snap-lock bags are your friend

Snap-lock bags are the answer to all packing questions. Everything snappily-sealed in sturdy plastic. Organised, safe, perfect. (See points 8, 11, 13 and 14 below.)

7) Also consider the possibilities of glad wrap

A good answer for fancy clothes, if you have booked a Michelin-starred Paris restaurant in the middle of your otherwise low-budget backpacking adventure. Roll up that lightweight evening dress, and wrap it tightly in glad wrap. Keeps it compact, clean and tidily-rolled, away from your filthy day wear.

8) Containers with compartments

Compartment-ed lunchbox containers can be the perfect solution to packing bits and pieces. Kids pencil cases can be pretty useful too, with their little sections for this and that. Sturdy and great for organising.

9) Screw-top bottles only

Don't take any toiletry or cosmetic bottles that are not plastic screw-tops. Put all bottles in a snap-lock bag – doubly safe. Plus when you pack your shampoo straight from the shower, the snap-lock will keep the wet in.

10) Collect mini bottles

Keep a collection of hotel shampoo mini-bottles. Tip out the nasty cheap sud-less 'shampoo' and re-fill with your favourite brand. Taking four mini bottles of shampoo and throwing them away as you go is better than taking one big bottle.

11) To buy it there or not to buy it there? That is the question

We aren't big advocates of the theories that say 'don't take shampoo and toothpaste, save weight, just buy them there'. If you need it, you need it, and not carrying it on a plane isn't such a big saving. And when you get off a long-haul flight, you don't want to waste time finding a supermarket before you take a shower.

12) Take some clothes detergent

Get yet another snap-lock and tip a few scoops of clothes washing powder in. Since you don't have many clothes, you'll need to be able to wash them. And most detergent comes in kilo boxes. Not ideal.

13. Take a sarong

Pillowcase, picnic blanket, beach towel, warm scarf, large serviette, long skirt or shawl for mosques and temples  - the most versatile item around. You don't have to be a hippie or a beach bum to take a sarong. They are just a handy rectangle of fabric.

14. Manage your cords

Chargers, cords and converter plugs must be the item most often left in a hotel room. Put each charger into its own labelled snap-lock bag, and put all those snap-locks into another bag. When you take out the charger, leave the snap-lock in the bag. Then when you pack up to go, check that each snap-lock is holding its charger. Nothing forgotten and no tangles.

15. Take some spare plastic bags

Grab a handful of plastic bags and shove them into one of your less-useful suitcase or backpack pockets. Supermarket bags, snap-lock bags, department store bags. They will prove invaluable. Pack your wet togs, use as a dirty clothes bag, pack an open bag of coffee, sit on the wet ground, pack your muddy shoes, carry a picnic... an endless stream of uses and pretty much no weight.

Pack a few rubber bands and safety pins too. Generally handy.  And did we mention snap-lock bags?

16. Pick a clothing colour scheme

Don't take outfits - make sure all your clothes can be worn with all your other clothes. Running with a colour scheme is the easiest way. But no whites. Don't take white clothes. As soon as you dribble a bit of chilli sauce down your front, it's all over.

17) Raincoat or not?

If you are not going hiking and not going somewhere particularly rainy, don't pack a raincoat. Buy one those fold-up plastic ponchos. You'll look pretty daggy if you have to break it out - but dagginess is not such a high price to pay for a kilo less luggage.

18) Hiking boots or not?

Boots are big and heavy. If you are doing a day walk or two, you'll probably get away with a sturdy runner or walking shoe – something that can double as a city walking shoe. If you are doing a serious trek, good (worn in) hiking boots are worth the weight, whatever anyone else tells you.

19) And finally... 'What clothes will I pack?' The definitive answer. 

  •  One warm top, one pair of shorts, one dress or shirt, one pair of bathers.
  • Two pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes.
  • Three t-shirts or tops.
  • Four pairs of undies, four pairs of socks.
  • Five... nothings. Five is too many. Put some back.
  • City travel – add accessories: one scarf, one necklace.
  • Hot weather – add a singlet and a sun hat, swap a pair of pants for shorts or a skirt.
  • Cold weather – add a merino long sleeve, a raincoat and a warm hat. (More for extreme cold.)
  • And just because – add one favourite bit of clothing that doesn't fit in another category.
  • Choose some of these things to wear on the plane. Put the rest in a bag. Packed.

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