Summer is approaching and many suitcases are now being pulled into the daylight from storage rooms, attics and basements. Tickets are bought and hotels are booked. Long-awaited vacations are around the corner! Now a good question arises: what to pack? Seasoned travelers probably have their own lists, and there are also much packing advice shared through the web. It seems like a tempting idea to use a someone's existing packing list. Well, maybe it is a place to start, but once you run across more than two or three of them, all of them with different suggestions, it becomes a problem. "Take a pair of jeans, it is a must!", "No jeans for European travel, or you will look stupid!", "Wear sneakers!", "Do not wear sneakers!", "Pack three t-shirts!", "Pack six t-shirts!" and so on... It might be pretty overwhelming, to say the least. I recently went onto YouTube and typed: "Packing videos". Wow! There are hours' worth of videos with all imaginable variations. I switched it off after half an hour, feeling dizzy and very confused. While I agree with some items, I have never used nor missed some of the "must-haves" and I did not see some stuff that I personally consider very handy.
I won't download to your mind another packing list of my own, simply because I am not you and you are not me. I'd rather give you a tool that will allow you to come to a smart solution that works perfectly (or almost perfectly) for you as a person, taking into account your destination and vacation style. Are you ready for the journey before the journey? Let's take off!
First things first
Documents. I am very meticulous about my documents. But nevertheless, I pull out our family's passports at least a couple of months before departure and check the expiration dates again. I know people who had planned perfect Caribbean vacations and on the day before departure, during an online check-in for the next day's flight discovered that their daughter's passport had expired a week ago. At least they had grandparents to leave child with. Otherwise it would ruin the whole family's vacation. If you are a US Green Card holder and are traveling to your home country - make sure you pack your Green Card. Unless you do not plan to come back... And do not forget that children grow fast, but their passports expire even faster. Usually they are valid for no more than five years.
Credit cards. I wrote some general advice on traveling with credit cards HERE.
In short, check your cards' expiration dates, set up travel notifications and write down phone numbers to call in case a card is lost or stolen. Yes, those numbers on the back of your card. Otherwise, if a card is lost, the numbers are lost, too, right? Most banks, if not all, nowadays have mobile apps. It makes managing accounts much easier, so take a moment and install them. But do not forget to set up a lock screen with a password. Phones get lost or stolen sometimes, too... If your card doesn't have a chip - call the bank and ask for a new one with a chip. In most places in Europe they do not use stripe readers anymore. And contact-less cards are even more common. Now that you have your passports and money ready, it is time to pack your suitcase.
Here is a cheat sheet:
Step one. Check the weather in your destination. Do not assume that it is always hot in beach towns or that it is always chilly and foggy in England or Norway. You could be in for a surprise. And re-check this weather again a day or two before departure. The closer the dates are, the more trustworthy (or less flimsy) is the forecast. In fact, it might differ significantly from what was promised two weeks ago.
Step two. Now it is time to use your imagination! You already have some vacation plan, haven't you? Sit down, relax, close your eyes. Imagine yourself having already arrived at your destination. What is the weather like? (Remember that forecast?) What are you doing? Are you strolling through the city? Sunbathing on the beach? Hiking in the mountains? What do you prefer to wear and use for this activity, in this weather? Run your inner eye through morning, day, evening... Move on to the next day. And so on. Now write it all down, and that will make the first list. This is your starting point. For most people (myself included), this first list is somewhat long. I have a wild imagination!
Step Three. Now that you have let your inner optimist taste that long-awaited trip, it is time to free a place for your inner realist to step up. Your inner realist will ask some questions, I am sure. Questions such as: "Do you really want to change outfits three times a day and every time come back to the hotel to do so?", "Do you really think that you will survive six hours in those nice-looking high-heels?" "Will those polyester pants (really cool-looking, by the way) be comfortable at 100 F, 90% humidity?" and so on. Common sense also comes in handy: are most of the tops matching most of the bottoms? You've got the game. This way the list will become shorter and more organized.
Step Four. Perform a test-packing. Ideally, your suitcase should be filled no more than three-quarters. People usually buy souvenirs, new clothes or tasty treats to bring home. A cabin-sized suitcase should be sufficient for one person's two to three week summer trip. If your stuff doesn't fit - see what you could leave at home. For example, you do not need a new t-shirt for every day of the trip. Same for socks and underwear. These small garments could be easily washed in a bathroom sink and dry well in one night. In most hotels in Italy and France (and in other European countries, I am sure) there is a cloth line in the bathroom for this very purpose. It runs from wall to wall over the bathtub. In old hotel buildings in Italy there is often an old-fashioned cloth line just outside the window, so you can contribute to the famous authentic look of Italian towns with your air-drying outfits!
While I appreciate a Douglas Adams' advice to travelers to always carry a towel as it comes in very handy at times, I personally do not follow it. Unless you stay in a tent in the wilderness, there will be a towel provided, rest assured!
If the heavy rains are not forecast, I skip on an umbrella. I used to carry one in my travels "just in case" but when it was raining, my umbrella was, of course, peacefully resting in the hotel's room, because there was a nice sunshine in the morning... Also, in most touristic places, with the fall of the first raindrops dozens of umbrella sellers appear everywhere. And gift shops sell affordable umbrellas, too.
If my vacation plan includes a lot of traveling between different destinations, I definitely skip on the foam neck pillow. They take up a lot of precious space and never really hold my neck well. So instead, I use a tightly rolled sweater. Works just as well and saves space in the suitcase.
Go again through your test-packed suitcase. Is there some "just-in-case" stuff? 99% times, this particular 'case' you're preparing for won't happen. Do not, however, skip on a first-aid pack, especially when traveling with children. Just make it reasonably sized. A thermometer, fever-reducing medicine and some insect bite remedy are a must.
To summarize all the points above
1. Get your passports ready.
2. Get your credit cards ready.
3. Take an imaginary trip and create a first draft of the packing list.
4. Eliminate all unnecessary items.
5. Enjoy your trip lightly-packed and well-prepared for travel!
Oh, yeah, the final step! When you come back - well tanned, excited and full of impressions, go through this list again and edit it. Cross out all the things you did not use and add what you've been missing. Save it. Now you are truly seasoned traveler with your very own packing list!
More on getting ready for a trip: