Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Packing like a pro

This post was inspired by the countless articles that say they have the secret to traveling lightly by only using one carry-on bag for a three week trip. Honestly, I'm tired of the shannigans. Their secret is almost always some variation of "only take two shirts and one pair of pants and do laundry while you're there," to which I must respond, ew.

My main gripe with this method of only taking the bare essentials and buying or washing what you need once you get to your destination can end up being very expensive and frustrating. Things like sunscreen and moisturizer can be more costly in countries outside of the U.S. And if you're like me and have sensitive skin, do you really want to experiment with products when you can't even read the ingredient list? 

As for washing clothes, unless you're going to hand wash them, a laundry service can easily run more than $20. And don't count on finding a self-serve laundromat as my travels to London, Stockholm, and Glasgow have all shown that such services are on the steep decline and chances are, the city you visit may not even have one that is close to your accommodations. Hand washing presents it's own challenges since you will have to find a place to hang them (good luck if you're staying in a hostel) and wait for them to actually dry. Do you want to be stuck in the hotel when your only pair of trousers are dripping wet? 

Shopping may not even be an option, especially if you're visiting an Asian country and you are bigger that a U.S. size 2.

So now that I've said all the things that are wrong with this method, I think it's only fair that I suggest something that is more efficient. 

If you're only traveling for a few days, then sure, take the carry-on. That is what it was meant for. But if you're going to be on the road for at least two weeks, I say bite the bullet and check a bag. Before buying your ticket, see which airline will be the cheapest, including baggage fees. Most international flights will give you at least one bag (and usually booze) for free, so take advantage of it.

Now, if you're new to the world of travel, you're probably wondering which bag is best for you. I think few can go wrong with a rolling duffel bag with backpack straps. This is what my friend recommended when I did my first multi-country trip through Europe and it was the best advice I received.

I found this bag on Ebay when a gentleman sold two of them together for only $100. I gave the other one to my mom and she loved it when she took it with her to South Africa. It may look small, but it packs big, holding enough clothes for a three month, 4 country tour. The two large rubber wheels in the back makes it very maneuverable, even on the cobblestones of Europe. It has a large opening on the front, so I can reach what I need without having to rearrange everything inside. Plus, it has a ton of straps and handles, so you can grab it from just about any angle. 

As for carry-on luggage, you have plenty of wiggle room. I tend to go for bags that have either backpack traps or cross body straps, both of which leave my hands free to pull the larger bag. During my Oktoberfest tour, I picked up this lovely bag in Glasgow. After traveling for three months and buying gifts for family and friends, I needed an extra bag to transport all the goodies home

This bag has two main compartments, hidden backpack straps (are you noticing a theme), a removable cross body strap, and handle. It's also expandable, giving me a little extra room when I need it. This was 20 pounds at TK Maxx, which is pretty cheap for a Henry Cottons bag.

For an everyday bag to use at my destination, a vintage Dooney and Bourke saddlebag is perfect. It can hold a bottle of water, camera, and small book comfortably. Plus the inner pockets have zippers which keep my wallet, cash, and passport all nice and secure. I also found it on Ebay for the low price of $30. 

Me, my friend Nicki, and my trusty bag in Amsterdam

Aside from the backpack straps, an apparent theme is my love of Ebay. My adventures with used items have shown that you can save so much money by turning to this site in your hunt for high quality travel pieces. 

As you begin your search for the right piece (or pieces) of luggage, know that amassing a good collection is not an instantaneous process. It's taken me several years and many trips to know what works and what doesn't. So don't be afraid to start off slow with one piece at a time. The goal is to find things that you love and will stand the test of time. Happy travels!

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