By Ariana Arghandewal
I remember the packing disaster of 2011 like it was yesterday. I was preparing for a month-long trip to Europe and the Middle East and somehow got talked into packing everything I owned. The night before my trip, I bounced on my suitcase (one of two) in a desperate bid to close it. It did, but that wasn’t the end of my troubles. Lugging two overstuffed suitcases around for a month was a major hassle – and it taught me a lesson.
Unless you’re a pop star who makes multiple costume changes during your nightly performances, there’s no reason to pack more than a carry-on to any destination. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to deprive yourself of essentials or walk around in the same clothes for a week. All it takes is a bit of thought and planning. To save you from having to do either of these things, here are some tips on how to pack a month’s worth of travel gear into a single carry-on:
- Pack for a week. Traveling for a month? Pack a week’s worth of clothes and mix/match and do laundry a couple of times to make it last. If you’re doing the tourist thing, dress for comfort. Stick to no more than three pairs of shoes: A pair of sneakers, sandals if you’re traveling during the summer, and a pair of dress shoes in case you go someplace upscale. In terms of clothes, stick to casual but bring a dress shirt or something you’d be comfortable pairing with your nice shoes. You never know when you’ll have dinner at a place that frowns upon the casual-tourist look. The key is to bring versatile items that can be worn on a day of sightseeing or dressed up with a simple jacket for a more formal look (so don’t forget the jacket!).
- Pack layers. This is an obvious one, but so many people ignore it. If you have to acclimate to different climates and cultural norms, don’t bring two separate wardrobes. Pack layers. If you’re traveling in the summer, a mix of T-shirts and a light jacket or cardigan is perfect. Traveling someplace cold? Bring a few long-sleeved shirts, a jacket and a scarf in case the jacket isn’t warm enough to stave off the cold. Also, try to wear your heaviest stuff on travel dates. Board the plane wearing that big, bulky sweater that takes up half the space in your bag and keep your carry-on light. In general, having a jacket with you is a good idea, since most airlines turn their cabins into walk-in refrigerators these days.
- Bring things you can toss. We all have old sweats and t-shirts with paint marks and tears that we need to get rid of. Bring a couple of these along to sleep or work out in and toss them at the end of your trip. It’ll lighten the load on the return flight, leaving more room for souvenirs.
- Skip the nonsense. You know those little TSA-approved plastic bottles that came with your carry-on? Leave them at home. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion: These are things you can get free at hotels. If you happen to be staying at the hostel from hell or renting a place on Airbnb that comes equipped with nothing, these essentials can always be picked up reasonably at local drug stores.
- Packing aids. For true packrats, space bags are a life-saver. You may have seen infomercials for vacuum-seal storage bags, which cost around $15 for a six-pack. Simply pack your clothing into one of these bags and use a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out. This frees up luggage space and lightens the load. This packing trick can also be replicated with plastic trash bags, but they’re not as durable. Of course, you’ll need to find a vacuum cleaner at your destination, but most hotels and guest houses should be able to accommodate you.
- Packing cubes are another great packing aid. You can buy these most anywhere and they’re great for keeping socks and undergarments separate. If you travel with lots of electronics, packing cubes are great for keeping all the different chargers in one place. Then simply stick the cube in the front pocket of your bag for easy access.
Once you have all of your items efficiently picked out, it’s time to pack it all in. Always line your carry-on with shoes, and work your way in with your clothing. A popular method is to layer rather than fold your clothes on top of one another. I’m not a fan, because untangling this is such a hassle. Rolling preserves space if you’re not using packing aids. Start with pants on one side, shirts on the other, and toss wrinkle-prone clothing on top. Now you’re ready for a month-long trip, with all the essentials and no excess weight.
Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of http://www.pointchaser.com, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.
Photo from Amanda Luna Photography.