Guest Author - Emily Wilska
In honor of the start of the summer travel season, here are five simple steps that will help you pack for your next journey in a more organized, less stressful way.
Step 1: Do your homework
Summer is the season for shorts, tank tops, and flip flops--unless you're coming to San Francisco, that is, where it's the season for sweaters and long pants. Only visitors who do some research before they come here know to pack plenty of layers in June, July, and August, when fog and wind keep the city cool.
Before your next trip, take the time to find out what the weather will be like in your destination and whether there are any local customs or mores you should be aware of when you plan what to bring. Even a quick look at a weather site and a guidebook for the area can prevent you from packing clothes that may be inappropriate for the climate or the culture.
Step 2: Choose clothes that can multi-task
White linen may seem like the ideal fabric for an island vacation, but its tendency to wrinkle quickly and show dirt easily make it an imperfect choice if it'll be stuffed in a suitcase. Wherever you're traveling, try packing clothes and shoes that won't need to be ironed, can be mixed and matched, and will stand up to a few days' wearing without needing to be washed. Also be sure to take shoes that will be able to make the transition between the various activities you'll be doing.
Step 3: Think light
To me, one of the most painful parts of travel (at least air travel) is having to battle to get my luggage once I arrive at my destination. So I try to limit myself to carry-on bags whenever possible. Not only does this make it much easier to check in for flights and get out of the airport quickly once the plane lands, it also limits the amount of stuff I'll need to lug around with me once I get where I'm going.
It's not always possible to go the carry-on only route, of course; sometimes, checking bags is more convenient, necessary, or both. However, even if you aren't porting your own bags onto the plane, and even if you aren't traveling by plane at all, it's worth aiming to pack light anyway. You'll have less to deal with, less to worry about, and less to lose.
Step 4: Keep it together
Once you've decided what to pack, take the time to fold or roll it neatly and divide it into packing cubes, packing folders, or other simple containers you can use inside your suitcase to keep things together and in order. (Even basic Ziploc bags can be helpful; the freezer-size bags are large enough to hold shirts, shorts, and swimwear.) "Containerizing" your clothes, shoes, accessories, and toiletries can go a long way toward keeping your suitcase from descending into chaos, and can also make it easier to find what you need when you unpack.
(Packing cubes and folders are available at The Container Store, Organized Living, department stores, TravelSmith, and many local travel goods retailers; see the Related Links on the right side of this page.)
Step 5: Know what won't fly
Finally, to avoid any frantic unpacking-and-repacking scenes at the airport (or train station, if you're traveling by rail), be sure your luggage doesn't contain any items prohibited by the Transportation Safety Administration, including cigarette lighters and aerosols. For a complete list of what's allowed and prohibited in both carry-ons and checked luggage, see the TSA's Permitted and Prohibited Items list. (Note that countries outside of the US may have varying guidelines for what can and can't be transported by air; if you're traveling abroad, check with the government of your destination country for more info.)
Also be sure to keep valuables (including laptops, cameras, PDAs, audio players, jewelry, currency, and prescription drugs) in a bag you'll have with you at all times. Most airlines take no responsibility for valuables that are lost or stolen from checked luggage. And think before you pack your valuables; as a general rule of thumb, it's a good idea to leave at home anything that's irreplaceable or that you'd be devastated to lose.
Use these simple tips to make packing less stressful and more organized. They can't help you avoid beestings, sunburn, or traffic jams, but they can make your summer travel less harried and more enjoyable. Bon voyage!