Guest Author - Emily Wilska
Ah, spring break. If you're in a part of the world that's currently being hammered by emphatically wintry weather (March--in like a lion, indeed), you may well be looking forward to escaping somewhere warmer in the coming weeks. Even if your sights aren't set on the tropics, though, perhaps you have travel plans for one of the upcoming holidays.
Wherever this spring takes you, make your journey a more pleasant and less stressful one by keeping some basic guidelines in mind while you're loading up your luggage. As always, these tips are especially important if you're traveling by plane (particularly if you're flying on an airline that charges for checked and heavy bags), but they're also worth following if you're going by train, boat, or car.
Here's how to pack smart.
Start with sturdy luggage
Still using one of those suitcase with four tiny wheels and a flimsy pull strap on the side? It's time to trade up. You don't need to spend a lot to find quality luggage; check out discount retailers (like Ross or TJ Maxx) for brand-name bags on the cheap. I recommend at least one suitcase that can be used as a carry-on--meaning one that's no longer than 22 inches--and one larger bag for times when you'll need to check luggage. Consider bags in colors other than black so they're easier to identify.
Consider your activities schedule and the weather
What you're planning to do on vacation will help determine what to bring. If you're planning an active getaway, you'll need to pack differently than you will if you will be spending the better part of your vacation relaxing on a beach. Having at least a general idea of what you'll be doing will make it easier to ensure that you have what you need, and that your bags aren't cluttered with clothes you won't wear. Another smart pre-packing move: check the weather at your destination (I use weather.com).
Whenever possible, opt for things you can wear more than once--such as solid colored separates--rather than clothes you'll only get one use out of, especially if your vacation will be a week or longer. Clothes made of relatively easy-care fabrics are generally much less of a headache than things like linen, which will require ironing (and if you're anything like me, ironing is the last thing you want to do under any circumstances, let alone on vacation!).
Even if you're willing to ante up the fees to check a bag, you're going to have to wrestle with that heavy, bulky suitcase plenty of other times during the course of your trip. Save yourself and your back some stress by taking the time to be selective about what you pack, rather than bringing one of everything. You don't need to live out of a backpack and wear the same pair of pants all week (unless you want to), but you also don't need to bring two changes of clothes per day.
Know what you can carry on board
If you're traveling by plane in the US, be sure to check the TSA's list of prohibited items before you pack. Also remember the 3-1-1 rule for toiletries: you can carry on toiletries in 3-ounce (or smaller) bottles, packed inside a 1-quart zip-top bag, with a maximum of one bag per passenger. Hint: Minimus is a great resource for travel-size versions of a huge array of toiletries and snacks. (See Related Links below.)
Plan for expansion
Finally, if you're planning to bring back souvenirs from your vacation spot, be sure to plan accordingly: leave empty space in one of your suitcases, invest in an expanding suitcase (with zippers that can increase the storage space inside the bag), or pack a few zippered tote bags or other collapsible sacks in with your luggage. With extra space in your luggage or extra bags, you won't need to worry about overfilling, having to leave things behind, or having to pay to ship things home.