Packing for a Monthlong Trip
April 28, 2013 • Travel
I’m leaving this week for a trip to Italy and Ireland, and as I prepare for my adventure, I’ve been asked at least twenty times how in the world I pack for a four-week trip. My response is simple: I always carry on and it seems whether I’m packing for a weekend or a month, I fill that suitcase. But then it dawned on me that it isn’t that simple, and perhaps readers of my travel blog would benefit from knowing my packing strategy. So please read on to learn my packing secrets as well as other tips for how to prep to be gone from home for an extended time!
Pack wash and wear clothes – avoid things that need dry cleaning as you won’t be able to wash them out in the hotel sink if needed. Thinner fabrics will air dry quickly, but something thick like denim might take a full day or two to air dry, depending on the humidity levels. Wash things you don’t need that day in the morning so they have a full 24 hours to dry before the next day. And when possible, select fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily, or can be quickly touched up with a hotel iron. Avoid heavy wrinkling fabrics like linen unless you make peace with the rumpled look.
Think lightweight – this is not the time to break out that bulky cable sweater, even if you’re going somewhere cool. Thin shirts that are comparable to t-shirt fabric and thin sweater sets or cardigans can be folded down to take very little space. If you need additional warmth, layer up, add a scarf, and put on your coat. A faux silk (aka polyester) or washable silk top is whisper thin when folded but can be dressed up for evening wear.Pashmina type shawl – when that silky top is just not warm enough on it’s own, pashmina to the rescue. When the airplane is set to subzero (why do they do that?), pashmina to the rescue. When you have a freak snow storm in Prague on Easter (my trip last year), pashmina (layered under your coat for another layer) to the rescue. When it’s too cool for no coat, but too warm for your coat, pashmina to the rescue. This doesn’t need to be a “real” expensive pashmina shawl, just something thin, warm, and preferably black as you won’t really be able to wash this during the trip.
Coat – invest in a solid black (so it doesn’t show dirt) waterproof raincoat with a warm liner. You can unzip the liner if you need to or add it back for warmth, and wear the coat on the plane, train, or other transportation so it doesn’t take up suitcase space.Anchor your wardrobe in black – in many countries, especially in Europe, they dress more conservatively and with less bold colors than we do in the US anyway, but more importantly, the dark colors won’t show as much dirt. One dressy black outfit (washable, of course, in case the waiter pours your glass of red wine down your shirt like happened to me once) can usually make it through a couple of weeks of wear if you are just wearing it for a few hours of dinner each night. Black pants can be dressed up for evening or dressed down for daytime.
Think solids and limit patterns – if all of your items have a pattern, they won’t mix and match. Pick a color scheme and try to stick largely to that. For me, that means black, white and denim for cooler weather, or black, white and khaki for warmer weather. I throw in a couple of thin sweaters in a bright solid color to break up the monotony a bit and 1 or 2 of those thin dressy silky tops mentioned above.Accessories – a few strategic accessories can dramatically change an outfit and limit the need for too many pieces. A dressy necklace (costume, of course, so that you don’t worry about theft while vacationing) can turn a simple black outfit into dressy cocktail attire. A thin (so it doesn’t take up space) but colorful scarf can bring a white t-shirt and jeans to life. Invest in the pouch type of jewelry holder that allows you to fit many items into one small organized pouch that you tie shut. I consider a very small and very lightweight umbrella to be an accessory – although you can usually buy them on any city corner in the world during a rain storm, I like to know mine will hold up to the first breeze.
Shoes – let’s face it, many women love stylish shoes to go with every outfit. But while you’re traveling, it’s just not that important and you need to focus on function over fashion. Limit your shoes to 1-2 pairs of very comfortable walking shoes (I use a mary-jane style rubber sole Ryka shoe and a black sneaker) and one pair of shoes for evening. Wear one of the walking shoes on the plane and if you’re taking a second, pack it. For the evening shoe, think a comfortable patent leather flat or comfortable dress sandal – while you want it to be dressy enough for evening attire, you still want to be able to walk 6 blocks on cobblestones if you need to. Remember, most of the time your dressy shoes will be hidden under the dinner table. And most importantly, wear all of your shoes and break them in before the trip to be sure they are going to work for you without causing pain or blisters.Toiletries – for starters, skip the hair dryer and make due with the hotel dryer. If it’s horrible, buy a cheap one in a local drugstore and leave it when you return. Bring only enough of each item that you need. Instead of the 2 ounce foundation bottle, pour a small amount into a small travel bottle. Instead of large prescription bottles, have your pharmacy label smaller bottles that will hold just what you need. Invest in leakproof travel bottles (I get mine at The Container Store) and only take what you need. Use the hotel soap, shampoo, and lotion instead of bringing your own. Unless you are going to a third world country, remember you can usually buy anything you run out of.
Carry On! – I once lost my luggage for 3 days while trying to work a trade show in Germany – ever since then, I always carry on. That forces you to limit your clothing selections to just what will fit in that size bag (I use this one but there are certainly cheaper ones – mine was a gift). Even if you decide to check that bag, try limiting your selections to what fits in a carry on size suitcase; choose a bag that expands so that you can fit any purchases into the bag and check it on the way home. I also carry on a Victorinox tote bag (this one). I fill my tote bag with things that won’t be coming back with me – snacks for traveling, magazines (give them to the flight attendants on long haul flights and you’ll make a new best friend), gifts for friends I’m visiting, printed travel itineraries and confirmations that I discard when no longer needed. The tote is then free for carrying breakables home, or if I’m filling my suitcase with wine and olive oil, I just put my shoes and bulky items into the tote.There are all sorts of other “tools” out there for packing your suitcase – everything from storage cubes which separate items to vacuum systems that suck the air out of bags and flatten your clothes – but I’m just not a fan of any of those things. Compressing clothes just allows you to bring more than you need, and then you’ll need to get them “flattened” each time you change venues on your trip. Think simplicity, small, simple and you’ll be a pack light pro before you know it.For the second half of my trip my husband will be meeting me in Ireland with friends. That means I need to make sure I leave him any info he needs before I go as well as prepare for the time we’ll both be gone. Here’s my “get out of town” checklist:
- When I am leaving before my husband, I create a list of reminders for my husband – things like when the recycling needs to go out, things he needs to do with the sprinkler system, when he needs to take the dogs to the kennel, and reminders for locking doors and setting the alarm. I start this list weeks in advance and just keep the file open on my computer so that as I think of something I add it to the list. It’s not that my husband couldn’t figure these things out on his own – he is the CEO of his company! – but rather I don’t want to keep worrying while I’m away that he’ll forget something. This makes us both feel assured that things will run smoothly in my absence.
- I create an itinerary with contact information and share it with family, friends who might be looking over the house, and caregivers for my mom. Again, it’s not that my cell phone isn’t almost always working, it just makes everyone feel better that they can track you down in an emergency.
- I arrange with a neighbor to be point person for the house and give their name and contact information to our alarm security company. I provide the neighbor with instructions, contacts and a key.
- If we are going to be away for any extended period I do a mail hold with the post office and a vacation hold with the newspaper. Both of these can be done online in advance so there’s no need to wait until the last minute.
- After checking the weather forecast, I create a strategy for the clothes I’m going to take a week or more in advance, and lay them out in a guest room. This allows me to visualize if everything will fit in my suitcase and lets me see if I need to purchase anything before the trip. This is especially important during season changes. It’s been largely winter in Denver up until this weekend, but I’ll be needing spring clothes – which I haven’t worn in 6 months – in Rome. Better to see them, try them on, and purchase anything I need in advance.
- I clean out my travel tote bag (see above) and start organizing what I need to take weeks in advance. For me that means a few critical things: my small fabric bag that holds all of my charges, cords, and batteries; my camera; my Italian workbook and dictionary; a small bag of snacks including things like nuts in case I’m ever trapped and need some protein; my sunglasses and reading glasses; a few magazines; medications and personal items like gum, floss, etc.; a pashmina for on the plane; a Miracle Ball or inflatable travel pillow; and my passport. On the day of my trip I add to this bag my phone, my iPad, and my boarding pass. Note: I use my tote bag as my purse while traveling to Europe and pack a flat, lightweight, cross-body purse in my suitcase. When I arrive at the hotel I remove the things from my tote bag and fill up my purse.
- I get my iPad ready for the trip. I determine if I’ll need a data plan and how large of a plan I need and sign up with my provider. Depending on how long I will be traveling, I select movies to download to my iPad (since I rent, not buy them, the rental is 30 days on iTunes so you don’t want to do this too far out). I also make sure I have at least 2-3 books on my iPad that I’m sure to love.
- I really like to get all of my office work completed before I leave town. For me, this is things like paying bills, filing, completing my monthly expenses, pre-scheduling some blog posts, and closing out any event scheduling or planning for clients I will be working with upon my return. The same is true of chores around the house – doing any loads of laundry, emptying any leftovers that will just spoil while I’m away, doing the dreaded ironing and putting it away. While it may feel stressful to get this all done before you go, having a clean slate when you return let’s you really relax while you are on vacation and makes re-entry so much easier.
- I notify all of my credit card companies that I’ll be traveling internationally so that they can note my account and don’t put a security freeze on my card while I’m trying to buy dinner in Rome. I also check my daily ATM limit for my checking account and if needed raise that temporarily for the trip (important if you are going to a place where credit cards are not commonly accepted).
If you have any travel planning tips or tips, tools or products for packing light that I can share with my readers, I’d love to hear about them! Just leave a comment below!