The most important piece of advise that I can give is to PACK LIGHT! We have all made that dreaded mistake of packing way too much for that first exciting International trip. And why do we do that even after reading recommendations not to do so?
For me, it was that feeling of being so far away from home and not having something that I might need, it was that feeling of thinking that I might need something and not being able to find it where I’m at and finally it was that feeling of thinking that I’ll need more than I actually did!
I know the temptation is to bring everything with you for fear that if you didn’t your trip will be ruined. But it really won’t and chances are you won’t need some of these things. So trust me on this one, leave the “kitchen sink” at home.
This is especially true if you plan on taking public transportation. Many train stations (especially in Europe) have several platforms which are accessible only by several stairs and tunnels. Moreover, your lodging (hotels, apartment rentals, B&B, etc.) may not have elevators (lifts) and may only be accessible by using stairs.
You’ve seen me post photos of the notorious luggage my friend and I brought on our Grand European Trip in 2005 on this site, but in case you missed it.
And here are “some” of the stairs we had to tackle on this trip in 2005 carrying these monster luggage. These set of stairs are to get to our apartment in Vernazza, Italy.
LESSONS LEARNED: And here is my luggage one year later. Notice how it fits neatly in the luggage rack above.
MAINTAIN A MASTER PACKING LIST: Use the information that you learned from your research and from each trip and maintain your list as a work in progress. Try to maintain a Master packing list for future vacation trips. Here’s a little secret, the best expert that you should listen to the most on what you need and/or don’t need while traveling is . . . . YOU! Take the time after each trip to decide what items to keep or add to your list. Develop trip categories to adjust to weather, duration and the type of trip (ie., strictly sightseeing, leisure only, adventure, etc). For me I actually, don’t delete things from my list, but I do make a note on why I didn’t use the item. This allows me not to forget what didn’t work on my trip so I don’t make the same mistake twice and bring the item again.
Packing Test: Take your luggage and move it around. Drag and lift it up a few stairs (because that’s what you’ll see a lot of – especially if you’re using mainly public transportation). If you see the veins and biceps bulging from your arms – it’s a definite sign that you’ve packed way too much!
Carry-On and No Check Luggage: Some people travel for weeks with just a 21inch carry-on luggage. Kudos to them. Since I carry my DSLR and Laptop and other electronics with me, I can never just travel with a carry-on luggage as then I wouldn’t have room for anything else in my carry-on. I use my entire carry-on for my camera and electronics. My Check luggage has my clothes, toiletries kit and footwear.
What to Pack: There are many experienced travelers who give excellent advice. Some say to bring layers, mix and match, bring clothing that are easy to wash and dry, etc. Deciding what to bring is in my opinion a work in progress.
My list on what I bring on my trip has taken several years and several trips to develop. It’s hard I think to really know what you’ll use and not use until you’re actually on your trip and traveling. Some things I used but there were some things that I didn’t even touch. They stayed home on the next trip. I have greatly improved after each trip in finding the right formula that works for me. And if I make a mistake, I can always mail stuff home which is a technique that I have used. I’m doing less of that with each trip that I take.
My rule of thumb is this:
– bring clothing that makes you feel comfortable, is suitable for the weather and that you look good in.
– Bring less of things that you can buy anywhere else in the world (ie., shampoos, soap, etc.). If there is a particular brand that you need, you should bring it, if it makes you comfortable. I hate to admit this, but I’m a little particular about my brand of soap and shampoo so I do bring these items along.
– I bring all my medications and cold remedies, because I know that they work for me. In 2005 I caught a bad cold while traveling from Siena to Vernazza. I bought a cough medicine at that pharmacy store in Vernazza, but it didn’t really have an effect on me. Luckily I had brought some Cold Tylenol from home with me on this trip and that is what helped me recover faster. So now I never travel without bringing my own brand of medications. If you have prescription medication, make sure that you bring an ample supply for your trip and bring the RX Prescription for it. I remember that I lost my asthma inhaler on a trip once to Italy but I had my RX information stored on my iTouch and using the description , the pharmacist was able to find an inhaler with the same drug used.
– Bring a very light set of flip flop slippers to wear around the hotel room or apartment.
– Bring inflatable travel hangers and a few packets of Laundry soap. You can buy them there but they don’t weigh that much and take little room in my luggage that I find it more convenient for me to bring them along.
– And if you’re a Gadget Person like I am, go ahead and bring your electronic toys with you. If that is your passion and you are willing to deal with the added weight then go for it.
– Make sure that you leave enough extra space for those treasured souvenirs. I have really learned to limit the amount of souvenirs that I buy on my trips. If I do buy something, it will be something that I consider to be special and unique to the places that I’m visiting.
– Make sure that the weight of your luggage are the weight limits of your airline carrier. Check the website of your airlines for their weight, size and amount of allowable luggage and hand-carry restrictions. Once again, remember that on your return trip you will have more items so and make sure you leave some room for the additional weight.
– The only jewelry I take on my trips is my wrist watch. Everything else stays home. I may decide to purchase a jewelry item on my trips as a souvenir if I find something special. For example, in 2005 I purchased a Swiss watch in Lucerne and a very pretty bracelet from Florence.
– If you make a mistake and brought too much or too little, learn from your mistakes and try not to make the same mistake the next time. Soon you’ll find that your packing list will become more consistent and you’ll become an expert packer yourself.
New technology: Since 2007, I have been traveling with an I-Touch because of the many features that are available. Let me introduce you to a great application
Daily Tracker is an amazing application as I mention in my Applications Page. Not only do I use Daily Tracker as a Daily Journal/Note Taking application, but there is a Checklist feature that you can create and use for your Packing List. The great thing is that you can tailor it to suit your own individual needs for the type of traveler you are.
Rick Steves’ Packing Light and Right