As frequent travelers, we at IndependentTraveler.com like to think of ourselves as expert packers … but even experts make mistakes. As our special Packing Week continues, we’re taking a look at all those important little things that somehow didn’t make it into our bags.
My own personal bugaboo is sleepwear. I’ve accidentally left my pajama pants at home on a couple of trips, and discovered that sleeping in jeans is just not fun. But I’ve learned my lesson; these days, pajamas are the first thing I check off on my packing list.
Of course, I’m not alone in my forgetfulness. Below are stories from six other IndependentTraveler.com staffers who left home without some vital item — or, in one case, whose luggage left without her! Read, laugh and share your own packing story in the comments.
“As a bald male, I’m generally very conscious to always pack a hat in the winter. But upon arriving in Chicago, in March, I realized I forgot my hat. No problem, I thought. There must be hats aplenty in Chicago. So I walked across the street to the Oak Brook Mall (oddly enough an outdoor mall in Chicago). There were no hats to be found. Store after store, nothing. Finally, I went into Neiman Marcus. I did not want to go in here as I strongly debated if there were any level of frigidity that would cause me to spend what they might charge for a hat. Sadly, I did in fact find a hat, succumbed and bought it. The hat was an enormous furry thing, and I looked like I belonged to the Royal Order of Water Buffaloes (remember the ‘Flintstones’?). My wallet was lighter (read: empty), my pride was hurt, but boy, was I toasty!” – Matt Leonard, Director – Traffic
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing
“I once forgot my toothbrush for a week of camping (ugh). On a different trip, I forgot my shoes — tennis shoes with a suit, anyone? And I once forgot my ID. The only thing I had with my picture on it was a credit/debit card (Bank of America — they take your picture). We went round and round and the TSA finally just let me go through! My mom overnighted my ID to me for the return.” – Jim Walsh, Sales Manager
“I’ve been on several cruises where I didn’t bother to pack a sweatshirt and was freezing. On one, I broke down and bought a sweatshirt in Cozumel. On another, I spent a sea day huddling under the covers because my bed was so comfy and there wasn’t much to do.” – Erica Silverstein, Features Editor for CruiseCritic.com
“I forgot the all-important undergarment: underwear! I ran to Walmart (only store open at 11 p.m.) and was the proud new owner of Fruit of the Loom briefs in fruit-stripe colors. Not my usual style, but it was the only thing packaged in plastic wrap that hadn’t been fiddled with and looked safe for immediate use.” – Kim Gray, Director – Sales
“Back when I was younger I went to the beach with my girlfriends for the weekend. We took two cars because some of us worked later that Friday. Since we arrived late, my friend and I went straight to a local bar to do some dancing with our other friends who were already there. We all had a great time but my friend with whom I drove left early, assumingly to go back to the house. When we arrived back to the house, her car was nowhere to be found and there was no answer on her cell phone. She finally did call us the next morning. She went home — two hours away — with all my luggage still in her trunk. So I got to spend the weekend at the beach with nothing but the clothes on my back . Lesson learned!! Unpack upon arrival.” – Jennifer Kuhn, Community Support
5 Common Packing Problems and How to Solve Them
“On my first river cruise, I forgot my hairbrush — and wondered how Eastern European women ever brush their hair because the stores don’t carry any. And that was when we were in ports that even had stores (many were in the countryside). So, for several days, I went from port to port looking for one (with a rat’s nest above my head, natch). Actually, I did find a makeshift brush in Croatia that was literally a wooden stick with some bristles glued onto it. I charged this one item on my credit card at the supermarket, which netted nasty looks from the cashier. It was a piece of crap. Finally, Serbia saved my butt. I bought a great hairbrush in Belgrade that I still use.” – Melissa Paloti, Director – Product Development
What’s the worst thing you’ve forgotten to pack?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
It’s Packing Week here at IndependentTraveler.com, and we’re celebrating by giving away a free handbag. One lucky blog subscriber will win a Villa Cross Body bag from eBags.
This is a great bag for travelers because the strap across the chest makes it more difficult for would-be thieves to snatch. It’s also got plenty of pouches and zippable pockets, including interior sleeves for smartphones or sunglasses. The removable strap is 1.25 inches wide and can be adjusted to suit your torso. At 10.5 x 10.5 x 2 inches, the bag gives you plenty of storage space without being too bulky. And it comes in six different colors: black, navy, sunset, eggplant, sandstone and espresso.
Choosing the Right Travel Luggage
The bag retails on eBags.com for $29.99, but if you want a chance to pick up a free one, just subscribe to our weekly blog mailings. Enter your e-mail address here or in the top-right corner of this page before Tuesday, June 19 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for a chance to win. All readers who are already subscribed are eligible for the giveaway.
For lots of great Packing Week content, check out our Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
In The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time, I offer advice on how to avoid checking luggage even on long vacations. Here’s how I put my own tips into action on a recent two-week trip.
I was visiting New Zealand in the springtime, and temperatures fluctuated from the upper 30′s to the low 70′s. To cope with the changing conditions, I packed the following clothing:
-Two pairs of pants: jeans (worn on the plane) and lightweight hiking pants
-One set of lightweight thermal pants
-Five long-sleeved T-shirts (including one worn on the plane)
-One lightweight hooded sweatshirt
-One heavy hooded sweatshirt (worn on the plane)
-Water-proof rain jacket with zip-in fleece liner (worn/carried on the plane)
-Two pairs of shoes: hiking boots (worn on the plane) and walking shoes
-Seven days’ worth of undergarments and socks
-One set of lightweight sleepwear
-Gloves, scarf and knit hat (stuffed into pockets of rain jacket)
This was enough clothing to get me through the first week, at which point I did laundry. To save carry-on space, I wore all the bulkiest items on the plane — jacket, hiking boots, jeans, heavy sweatshirt. And during the trip, I was like a Russian nesting doll, adding and shedding layers of clothing as needed. In the colder regions of the country, I wore both my sweatshirts plus my jacket every day, changing nothing but the T-shirt underneath.
In addition to clothes, I also had a camera, travel-size toiletries, a snack-size plastic bag full of medications, a baseball cap and sunglasses, a plastic rain poncho, a travel journal, a guidebook, an MP3 player and, of course, the essentials — passport, credit cards and air/hotel/car confirmations. All of this fit easily into my carry-on (a roll-aboard suitcase) and personal item (a backpack), leaving room for souvenirs.
Poll: Do You Check Bags When You Fly?
A few things I didn’t bring: a laptop or tablet (I paid a few bucks to visit Internet cafes twice during the trip), dressy clothes (I ate only in casual restaurants) and a hair dryer (I used the ones supplied in hotels). I don’t have an e-reader, so I packed a few used paperback books that I’d picked up at my local library for 50 cents each. As I finished each one, I left it in my hotel room or at the airport for other travelers to enjoy.
This is just one strategy for traveling without checked luggage. What tips and tricks have you used?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive home after a trip? For me, it’s usually catching up on e-mail, downloading photos off my camera or taking a shower to wash away all those hours on a plane. But one thing it isn’t is unpacking.
Some travelers are fanatical about unloading their suitcases as soon as they arrive home. “I can’t relax until I’ve put everything away,” says fellow IndependentTraveler.com blogger Jodi Thompson. “I do it immediately.” Meanwhile, I might leave my own bag sitting on my bedroom floor for a week or more, pulling out an item or two at a time as I need them.
My partner, who generally unpacks within a few days, has accused me of being a slob. And, well, it’s a fair accusation. (I have a similar problem putting away my newly clean duds on laundry day, or putting junk mail in the recycling bin instead of leaving it strewn across the kitchen counter.) But I don’t think that’s the whole story.
4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem
For me, it’s always a little depressing to come home from a trip, and unpacking is the final sign that my vacation has reached the end of the road. Refusing to unpack is my subconscious way, however futile, of pretending that my trip isn’t truly over.
Or maybe I’m just a slob.
Check Out Our Interactive Packing List!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
On a recent trip, I test-drove a set of packing cubes for the first time — and discovered that despite all the raves I’ve read about them, they’ll never make it into my “must-pack” pile. To paraphrase an old break-up cliche, the problem wasn’t the packing cubes. It was me.
Packing cubes are lightweight fabric bags that you can use to separate your suitcase into manageable sections. The ones I tried were an attractive green three-piece set from eBags, with cubes ranging in size from 17.5 by 12.75 by 3.25 inches to 11 by 6.75 by 3 inches.The set normally retails for $29.99 (though the site is currently offering a 20 percent discount).
One of the main advantages of these packing cubes is their versatility. You can put pants in the large one, tops in the medium and socks/undies in the small. The Baby Bear-sized bag could also make a good home for a pair of shoes or some toiletries; meanwhile, Papa Bear can hold a decent-sized pile of dirty duds. For the organized traveler, the possibilities are endless.
Trouble is, I’m not a particularly organized traveler. Or, to be more precise, keeping things organized is less important to me than maximizing every inch of suitcase space. I typically roll my clothes into compact bundles that can be wedged neatly into gaps between other items, a strategy that’s allowed me to travel solely with a carry-on even on trips as long as two weeks. With the packing cubes, I found myself trying to work around three bulky rectangular shapes that, yes, kept things compartmentalized — but also left me with lots of wasted space.
And frankly, I didn’t really need a special organizer for my dirty laundry. Instead, I used what I always use: a plastic bag from the grocery store. (Cost: free.)
Four Signs You Have a Packing Problem
That said, here are a few examples of travelers who might benefit from using packing cubes:
-Partners who share a suitcase: Stow your clothes in blue bags and your hubby’s clothes in red ones so you can easily tell whose stuff is whose.
-Travelers who will be moving a lot from one hotel to another: Sort your outfits accordingly and you’ll only pull out what you need in each place, rather than turning your whole suitcase inside out.
For those travelers and more, I’m offering up my gently used packing cubes to help improve your next trip. If you’d like to receive my three-piece set of packing cubes, leave a comment below by Sunday, February 19, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. ET. We’ll pick one person at random to win the cubes. Be sure to include a valid e-mail address so we can notify you if you win.
11 Multi-Purpose Travel Essentials
– written by Sarah Schlichter
After another year of covering the highs and lows of the travel world, we’re taking a look back at the stories that really got our readers talking — or ranting, as the case may be. Below, we count down our five most popular blog posts of 2011.
5. It’s no secret: The airlines are one segment of the travel industry that our readers love to hate. But which ones are truly the bottom of the barrel? Earlier this year, Consumer Reports put out a list of the Best and Worst Airlines. More than a dozen readers responded, including a wry Matt Leonard: “The worst airline to me is generally whatever airline I last flew.”
4. We polled our readers back in April to discover The Hotel Amenity Travelers Want Most. (Hint: The answer is something you’re more likely to find at cheap hotels than at luxury properties.) If you missed the initial vote, it’s not too late to weigh in with your own preferences in our poll.
3. Readers were up in arms over European carrier Ryanair’s plan to remove all but one toilet from its planes, which carry up to 189 people. (Can you imagine the line?) “I wonder if they will be selling ‘piddle paks’ or just ‘Depends’ in the in-flight boutique? Anything to make a profit,” quipped reader Debra in the comments. Reader Jackie said simply, “I will be voting with my feet — which will carry me to a different airline check-in.”
2. More than 550 comments poured in for our post about The Suitcase That Beats Baggage Fees. This petite powerhouse of a suitcase is sized specifically to help travelers avoid Spirit Airlines’ fee for carry-on bags (up to $40), and we gave one away to one lucky commenter. Didn’t win? You can still check out our Five Ways to Beat “A La Carte” Airline Fees.
1. Readers sick of paying big bucks for bland chain hotels flocked to Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay, in which we suggested creative alternatives like monasteries in Italy and farmstays in New Zealand. Reader nassautravellers chimed in to agree with our vacation rental suggestion: “We travel a lot around the Caribbean and most often rent vacation properties — condos, villas etc. We find this to be the most cost-effective way. Usually, the rates are cheaper per night than hotels and we can get our own groceries saving on restaurant meals (and the waistline!!).”
Which topics will get us talking in 2012? Check out our Nine Predictions for Travel in 2012.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
My carry-on bag and I had a long-term relationship. I don’t know our anniversary, but I must’ve traveled with the same plain, green, cheap-brand rollaboard for at least 10 years. I knew how to pack it so all my clothes would fit perfectly for a weeklong trip, and I was confident that it would fit in the overhead compartment of any major airline because that bag had already racked up serious frequent flier miles. It was love.
And then, this summer, it died.
Once I got over my grief, I realized I would need a new carry-on. While my trusty suitcase had probably been a hand-me-down from my mom, I was now overwhelmed with the choice of picking out my own. At eBags.com alone, you can choose from 570 different rolling carry-on bags. From wheeled duffels to colorful hard-sided bags, spinner wheels to roll-aboards-cum-backpacks, the choices were endless. Which would make the best travel companion in the years to come?
Choosing the Right Travel Luggage
Just as I was going cross-eyed from reading too many customer reviews and considering therapy for my loss, I got an e-mail from a PR rep for Lipault of Paris, touting a new bag making its U.S. debut. The Lipault Travel Buddy was described as “light as a feather, ultra-durable and accessibly priced.” (It retails for $189.) I was attracted to its bright colors — red, orange and purple — as I hate straining to figure out which bag is mine on the carousel. And I was most intrigued by the claim that it squishes down to fit into a four-inch case for easy storage. When you live in an apartment and cruise a lot, compressible luggage is key.
So I got a free sample from the company to test out on a recent cross-country flight — a carry-on bag blind date, if you will. While I don’t think the Travel Buddy is the new love of my travel life, here’s my review of its, ahem, performance.
What I liked:
- The bag is definitely lightweight and compressible, made of strong 210-denier nylon twill fabric (I don’t know what that means either). I expected a thinner, floppier material (a la LeSportsac bags or ultra-light camping equipment), but it’s actually pretty sturdy. I carried it onboard one way, and could easily lift and carry the bag, while simultaneously pushing a stroller and carrying a backpack. I checked it on the way back, and it came back to me with no scuffs or tears. And it truly does squeeze down into a compact storage case that would fit easily under a bed, in a closet or in the corner of a cruise ship cabin.
- It’s very stuffable. I used it as my family’s laundry suitcase on the way back from our trip and just kept cramming more dirty clothes in, and the little bag just kept taking them. Though the bag looked full, I think I could have added even more with a little extra squishing.
- The carry-on fit easily in the overhead compartment with room to spare, even in the odd space over the lip between two compartment openings.
- The bag stood out, not only for its bright purple color but because it didn’t look like the typical carry-on. I even got a comment on it from the airline rep at bag check — and you know she sees a lot of luggage every day!
What I didn’t like:
- The bag has official dimensions of 21.6 x 14.2 x 7.9 inches (the PR rep calls it a 22-inch bag, while the Web site lists it as 20 inches). But as you can see from the photo, it appeared much smaller than my husband’s bag, the REI Tech Beast (official dimensions: 22 x 14 x 8.5 inches). As a tall person, I’m not sure I could fit a week’s worth of clothes in there (especially once you add in shoes). The next size up, the 25-inch bag, is not carry-on friendly.
- The outside pocket is in the middle of the bag, yet the pocket runs the length of the bag. It was awkward to pack, and once the inside compartment of the bag was maxed out, it was nearly impossible to squeeze anything into the exterior pocket. Also, while the bag expands to the limits of its flexible material, it does not have a zippered expansion section.
- The $189 price tag is a little high for a small-ish carry-on whose only real feature is its compressibility.
Final verdict: I enjoyed my time with the Travel Buddy, but I think we can only be friends.
11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without
If you know an eligible bag good for a former frequent flier, now toting a tyke, who likes international travel, outdoor adventures, urban escapes, extra legroom seats and long walks through a terminal, let me know in the comments section below.
– written by Erica Silverstein
Every Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.
Last week, we explained how old nylons, ratty towels and empty egg cartons can be converted into useful travel gear. (Check out Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash if you missed it.) But our ideas were just the tip of the garbage heap.
We asked our readers to weigh in with their own thoughts about how to transform trash into travel treasure — and you responded. One of our favorite tips came from member lynclarke, who wrote:
“Save that big oversized shopping bag from one of the ‘good’ [department] stores. Put it in the front flap of your suitcase. It will be an instant raincoat for yourself or your suitcase. [Also], save those ‘Mylar’ mailing envelopes which seem to be the rage these days. Make sure your travel documents, receipts, reservations, all important papers and ALL ELECTRONICS are wrapped in one. There is nothing more discouraging [than] to find your carry-on bag will be stored underbelly in one of the small planes BUT right now it is sitting on the tarmac in the pouring rain.”
I’m also a fan of reusing those simple plastic grocery bags that always seem to proliferate in my kitchen. They’re ideal for padding fragile items, separating dirty laundry from the rest of my clothes, and wrapping up wet swimsuits or muddy hiking boots.
How do you put your trash to good use when you travel? Weigh in on our message boards or leave a comment below.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
My dream suitcase is a perfectly arranged kit complete with clothes rolled just right — as to unfurl with nary a wrinkle — and everything in its place; I’ve never achieved this. My real suitcase usually looks like a raccoon’s been rifling through it, and I often lose things like jewelry or toiletries within the rumples of my balled-up clothes.
Consequently, I’m intrigued by luggage organizers. Products like space bags and packing cubes promise a perfectly packed bag. But do they deliver? Try one for yourself. Subscribe to our blog by Tuesday, October 18 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time for a chance to win this set of Packing Cubes and Travel Shoe Bags found exclusively at GreatUsefulStuff.com (if you’re already a subscriber, you’re automatically entered to win):
The following is an overview of three common packing aids. How do you organize your suitcase? Share your strategy in the comments!
Compression Sacks & Space Bags
Last month, I reviewed the Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sac, a space-saving bag that compresses its contents by allowing air to be pushed out from inside the bag. The verdict? The bag did what it was supposed to do: it squashed a large pile of clothes into a tight, heavy chunk of clothes, creating a good deal of extra space in my suitcase. But when I arrived in my destination, my clothes were, as I had suspected, very prune-like. And while the compression sack makes clothes less voluminous, it certainly won’t help you beat airline weight limits for baggage.
Packing Cubes & Organizers
You can buy packing folders and cubes, toiletry kits, and shoe bags from virtually any travel supply store. These serve to separate your provisions into manageable compartments, and prevent wrinkles and spills. We recommend these products for travelers embarking on multi-destination itineraries that involve lots of unpacking and repacking. But don’t overdo it. Although packing cubes and kits promote organization, they won’t help you fit more stuff into your bag.
A simple plastic grocery bag makes an excellent suitcase organizer. It’s free, you can label it and it’s wonderfully lightweight. The downside: A suitcase filled with lumpy plastic bags won’t win any beauty contests. For more ideas like this, read 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash.
– written by Caroline Costello
While I’m not sure I’d call myself a “lazy traveler,” I do like to keep things as simple as possible. After countless road trips and plane rides, I’ve developed a few tips and strategies that will make your next trip more comfortable. These tips work for short or long trips and do not require a degree in rocket science in order to apply them to your travel style.
1. Wear slip-on shoes. Whether you are working your way through airport security or headed out on a long road trip, slip-on shoes make life much more relaxing. At the airport you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking up the security line because he’s untying his shoes. Just make sure you have clean, hole-free socks — and ladies, if it’s summertime, we recommend a fresh pedicure.
Airport Security: Your Questions Answered
2. Books and e-readers are nice, but audio books are better. Carrying an iPod or mp3 player is much easier than lugging around a book or Kindle. On our last flight, my husband and I actually shared headphones, each using one earbud, in order to finish up a book we’d both been listening to in the car via my mp3 player. It was a riveting storyline and our two-hour flight was over in no time.
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
3. Always pack a hat. Having a hat is essential to comfortable travel. It not only warms your head, but if necessary it can also be used to cool the neck by tucking hair up into it. Hats shield the eyes from outdoor glare, and can block the light if you’re trying to catch a few Z’s at an airport or on a bus. And if you haven’t washed your hair in a few days? A hat hides a multitude of sins.
Another Reason You Should Always Pack a Hat
4. Bring bills. This one may seem irrelevant in the age of ATM’s and credit cards, but I find it’s always nice to have a little traveling cash on hand in order to tip the cab driver or buy a sweet treat from a street vendor. You might even discover a cool little cash-only restaurant — yes, these establishments still exist, and the smaller the town, the more likely that you’ll stumble across one. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on the world’s best eggs Benedict just because you didn’t have a little cash in your pocket.
The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas
5. Keep headache medicine and antacids readily available. No matter how laid-back you are about traveling, there’s bound to be something that causes a little headache or upset stomach along the way. Travel usually comes with a change in diet, which can be tough on the digestive system, and lack of sleep or dehydration can result in a headache. It’s better to be prepared than to have to track down a $10 aspirin in the airport or at a tourist trap.
Avoiding the Airplane Cold
– written by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, a journalist and freelance writer from Northern Colorado. She is also the Mayor of HeidiTown.com, a blog about Colorado events and festivals.