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  >  Blog   >  Packing with Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Suitcase

Published: June 24, 2016

Author: Marie Elena

So you’re ready for your trip. You’ve made it to Thursday night and are only a few short sleeping hours away until take off. Finally! It is time for your much needed vacation that you’ve spent months looking forward to. You’ve finished your last workout of the week, you’ve compulsively checked nearly 12 times to make sure your flight confirmation didn’t somehow magically delete itself in your inbox (anything is possible, right?!!), you’ve arranged pet sitting with the friends you’ve kept up with solely for this purpose, and you have nothing left to do except “spend five minutes” packing! True bliss, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about the write about the one and only aspect of traveling that I truly cannot speak genially about. You won’t find many of these posts, but I felt it was important to share with you some of my horror stories (and pictures) so you can see what NOT to do and maybe learn from the mistakes I’ve made again…and again…and again…and then again… and then OK, last week! Essentially, I need this blog post for myself and I presumed some of my readers might often find themselves in this same unnecessary calamity mode before traveling. Hopefully, with these following seven recommendations and stories, I can possibly save you all (and myself) at least a couple of panic attacks, ripped bags, overhead bin meltdowns, and possibly cardiovascular disease.

 Note: This image is not recreated. Any pictures viewed during this post are original and should not be viewed within an hour of bedtime. This is actual footage of a horrendous packing experience in my old apartment before heading to Munich in 2014. Even my cat looks judgemental!

1. Do NOT attempt to combine laundry with packing.

 It’s tempting and seems logical. I know. You have all of your clean clothes carefully laid out in a mildly tamed disarray of what looks like small mountain ranges on the floor, where they can be viewed for careful conscientious consideration. The lucky shirts will graduate to the first layer of your suitcase. You also have your basket of 3 week old laundry brewing in the darkest corner of your closet. God knows what’s in there! Most of your essentials like underwear, workout clothes, and “that shirt you wear with everything” are assumed present. Laundry is such a hassle, particularly when multiple flights of stairs are involved. You figure you will combine the two arduous tasks of packing and laundry into a one-time slightly annoying chore, right? Are you seeing a pattern here? The answer is WRONG!
To spare you from having to mentally relive some possibly traumatizing memories, I will skip right to the solution; do laundry TWO nights before your trip. I’m sure you have at least one extra piece of underwear that can sacrifice itself as your designated day-before-your-trip pair without being personally offended.
Yes, if you’re like me, you’ve already packed your suitcase by the time your clothes are dry. You leave space for only those couple of “shirts that go with anything” and your Lion King socks. When the first load is done, you recognize your best skinny jeans AND your fat jeans (for the end of your trip). Crap! How could you have forgotten about those? You realize that your neatly organized suitcase will need to undergo some major reconstruction. Suddenly, organization has gone out the window and you’re now just trying to fit the jeans in and still complete the zip up! There, you’re done! You’ve spent 25 minutes wrestling with your obese bag. You’re glad no one was there to witness your barbaric behavior of verbose grunts and cussing fits in your bedroom. Now you will just round up your last load of laundry and be done! You’re exhausted and it is way to late to being doing this.
Apparently, you’ve also completely neglected to remember to pack a single hoodie, which you didn’t realize until you were neatly putting your last load of less important clothes away where they belong in your dresser.  You know you are ALWAYS going to need a hoodie and it absolutely must not be left behind. Unfortunately you’re not even going to try to make this one fit. What do you do? Yep! Now you must open up that suitcase and spend 15 minutes trying to eliminate clothes you’ve already spent 15 minutes compacting in the first place! This whole process has taken entirely too long and your vacation excitement that you once felt has turned into one resentful hair-pulling head-banging debacle. Never again, you say! Next time, you are doing laundry ahead of time! Period! You will be much better organized from the start next time. Right? My advice to you is to take your own advice and remember that the next time it’s time to go out of town!

       Want a headache? You’re welcome!

2. When you can, wear your bulky clothes instead of packing them.

This may sound obvious, but if you’re trying to conserve space in a suitcase, the idea is to pack items that take up less space and wear the items that demand excess space and attention in your bag. Darn self-serving pretentious bubble coats! Who do they think they are anyway?!
Just for example, some items you may consider wearing instead of letting win in your suitcase wrestling match you had five minutes ago, include items such as gym shoes, winter coats, hoodies of any kind, long pants of any kind, and that extra sweater you brought along solely to serve as a pillow on the plane. I like to wear as many of these items on my body as possible the day of travel. It generally works out for more reasons than simply space conservation. It works to your advantage to wear warmer clothes and layers on an airplane anyway. Why they need individual air conditioner jets for each seat is beyond me! Where’s my space heater? Not to mention, ladies, let’s not kid ourselves. Wearing our short shorts on a cramped plane where it is impossible to adjust one’s clothing while seated is never a good idea anyway unless you are about the “jean underwear” look. Furthermore, if you have a lot of walking to do to your terminal and to your hotel at your destination, those annoying bulky gym shoes function much better on your poor tired feet than in that giant mass of what once was a backpack weighing heavily on your undeserving back!

3. Bring a light shoulder bag as a carry on or a “personal item.”

No matter what your specific airline has you calling it that day (depending on if you have to pay extra if it’s a “carry on” or they make you call it a “purse”), I always like to bring a shoulder bag with me on an airplane. I even like to bring one on road trips just in the car. I use the bag for items that I need easy access to or frankly, just don’t want to get lost in my sea of “real luggage.” Some items I tend to include are travel journals, a book, Sodoku puzzles, pens, my camera, a phone charger, and snacks (but don’t forget about these at the bottom of the bag or you’ll be sorry). The best part about a bag like this is that you can potentially stuff your ACTUAL purse and those extra “sweater pillows” in it if the flight crew were to give you any trouble about having too many carry ons. Brilliant, eh? By the way, those of you who still bring “overnight bags”, as you call them, just in case your luggage is lost again, this kind of bag functions perfectly for that purpose too!


4. If you plan to exercise on your trip, Actually USE those extra 15lbs of clothing balls and gym shoes you brought! Oh, and pack your workout clothes in a separate or special compartment.

Ok, I realize that not everybody runs or works out on trips like I do, but I felt like I just needed to add this one in here because I’ve had so many issues with workout clothes. If you know me at all, it’s no secret I’m a runner. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when traveling is to go for a morning run in a new city. I still remember the first time I ran right by the coliseum in Rome and realized just how much of a city you can see just by doing your morning workout! Ok, so the point is, is that I USUALLY run, but often, especially on shorter trips, I don’t, simply because of time or because of a crammed early morning schedule. Even if you are one of those hotel gym buffs, this suggestion is relevant to you. 
Really think ahead about if you’re realistically going to need those extra clothes before you go. If you think you might go for a morning run some days but not others, just bring a couple of pairs of shorts and athletic shirts. If you’re a die-hard “must workout 7 days a week” kind of person, well OK then! Bring a pair for every day! Those clothes earned their front row pouch! Also consider if there might be laundry available where you’re going. Are you staying with someone or staying in a hostel? Chances are, you can always wash your gym clothes and re wear them. All I recommend is that you put some thought into it because I cannot explain how many times I have brought a separate pair of shorts, shirt, socks, and “running underwear” for each day of my intended vacation, and never even went for one run. Those were definitely not some of my better decisions.
When all is said and done, once you’ve determined the extent of working out you’ll be doing and you’ve rationed your exercise clothes, it’s best to place these clothes in separate compartments of your suitcase, or even in a bag by themselves if you’ve got the unlimited luggage allowance. There is nothing worse than having to dig through your catastrophic heap of regular clothes to search for each item you need for your morning run. It’s a 20 minute long ordeal, which is often made worse by the fact that it’s dark in the room because the person you’ve traveled with is still in bed sleeping and you’re not to wake them at an ungodly hour (10am) to exercise! Are you crazy? Oh, and when you’re finished, it’s best to put those clothes BACK into a separate pouch and not put those sweaty clothes back in the bag with those nice “shirts that go with everything” and clothes you plan to wear out tonight.

Just finished a run in Prospect Park in Brooklyn last summer. It was a beautiful place to be and was located just across the street from my sister-in-law’s apartment. Talk about running where the locals do!

5. Don’t fret about items you “can’t pack yet.

I don’t know why I struggle with this one so bad. I tend to have high anxiety about “imperative” travel items that I just cannot leave behind (even though, in reality, it would be completely OK if I actually left those items). There is something about having that sense of “I’m done packing” that we like. It bothers us that we can never truly be done packing until just minutes before we walk out the front door. For example, you need your phone charger the night before your trip. You need your shower supplies but you also need a shower in the morning. You need your running shoes, but you plan to wake up early for a run in the morning before you go (Ok, I swear I’m done talking about running!). Is it possible to just brush your teeth twice tonight, pack your toothbrush, and just NOT brush your teeth in the morning?” You wonder.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that you’re not going to die from not being 100% packed the night before. You’re PROBABLY not even going to forget any of those aforementioned items. But if you do, I promise you, it won’t ruin your vacation. Most places have stores and if you’re going somewhere without stores, maybe you don’t need whatever you think you needed in the first place (cough-iPod charger)! Just enjoy your trip! If it is that important that you have the item, most airports have stores that make big bucks by predicting exactly what we might have forgotten and could be potentially desperate to buy. We hate how accurate they are but yet we need them anyway. Oh, the love-hate relationship!
If you really still feel you’re going to have a panic attack at any moment and your OCD has already kicked into high gear and the anxiety about forgetting to pack items in the morning is just way too grandiose, then make yourself a written list and use it as a sort of a pseudo completion of your packing job. Just don’t fret over it. You’re leaving and getting on a plane tomorrow and that is suppose to be exciting! Ain’t nobody got time for that!


6. Pretend you’re organized.

Notice I did not say “organize your stuff.” My name is probably the last name in the world you’re likely to associate with the word “organize”. I’ve had organizational problems since I was a child. I still remember being in trouble at school almost weekly for my desk looking like a rare form of modern art. I use to hear my teachers demanding that my “dog-eared” papers and folders be removed and thrown away immediately and that I MUST remove all 3 or more week old lunches at once! Ridiculous, right? How controlling! Needless to say, my tendency to let my possessions and personal spaces become unkempt and disorderly within an alarming speed has sort of always been a specialty of mine. I haven’t changed much from 6 to 28. I don’t mean for these things to happen. They kind of just do. Ask any of my friends about my makeup bag!
Ok, so this blog is suppose to be about packing. Sorry, it’s my disorganization! When I’m packing a bag, I try to PRETEND I’m organized. For example, I TRY to put socks and underwear in a side pouch. I TRY to put pants on the bottom of my suitcase and yes, I TRY to remember to put nicer clothes that might not look as good wrinkled near the top of my bag. I TRY to steer away from placing these nice clothes next to my tubes of shampoo (you’d be surprised by some of those stories).  I also TRY to remember to put pajamas at the very top of my bag so that I have easy access to them later that night once I’ve reached my destination.
Unfortunately, especially if you over pack, after the first day, your organization has gone out the window. It happened after you had to dig to the bottom on the first day of your vacation to find just your jeans. At least you will know the general vicinity of clothing items needed for most of your trip, which trust me, is at least somewhat helpful. Oh well! By the time you’re ready to pack to leave for home, it’s every shirt for itself!

 I just rediscovered this one from 2013. This was apparently me in my old apartment looking for clothes I needed after dumping out my suitcase after a Mediterranean cruise. I specifically remember that morning. I was in an unthinkable bad mood that day. I wonder why!

7. Not to beat a dead horse on everyone else’s recommendations, but do TRY to travel light.

I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again. I hear it myself every time I go anywhere. “Travel light.” “If it were only that simple”, we say. How many of you have brought far too many “just in case” items thinking you’ll be prepared for anything and any weather condition only to realize later that not only did you NOT need all of those clothes, but you actually didn’t even bring half of what you SHOULD have brought. You think you’ll do so much better next time….until next time.
My advice is to really only bring what you think you need. Chances are, you’re going to need something you didn’t bring anyway, but at least you won’t have the burden of having half your unused wardrobe with you through your entire vacation. You can bring something for every weather condition if you think you need to (like me), but you probably don’t need to bring four different forms of each of these articles of clothing. For example, instead of bringing those “skinny jeans” AND those “fat jeans”, consider bringing your medium jeans instead! “Yeah, right”, you think.
But seriously, think about what you’re truly going to need and don’t just throw clothes in your bag. It will save you that 25 minute pruning ordeal of subtracting your less favorite of your favorite clothes  just so you can make your bag zip! Plus, if you never have them in your bag to begin with, you don’t feel like you’re taking away from yourself and eliminating items you want! It’s almost like a psychological game. You just never had those clothes in there to begin with! I know that suitcase looks large, but when you have bulging side pockets of socks and undergarments jutting out from the inside, that space just got a lot smaller!
So all in all, think ahead about the clothes you’re going to bring. If you’re going on extended travel or if you’re going to have access to laundry, chances are, again, you will be able to wash and re-wear your clothes. The perk is that you’ll have room for your souvenir shirts! If you’re backpacking and planning to pretty much carry your entire life on your back, traveling light is even more important. I’m not sure what kind of medical attention your coverage might get you in some countries, but I wouldn’t want to find out what spinal reconstruction costs!

 I thought I’d include this picture from a road trip out west that I took with my dad last month. We were on our way to Yellowstone National Park and were driving somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. If you look close enough, you can barely make out the cows in the rear view window. They were parading in the streets giving literal meaning to the sign that said “Caution-Slow Cows Ahead.” In addition, you can see my multicolored handbag. This is the infamous shoulder bag that I’ve been referencing. It seems I used it for the same purpose even on a car trip. That bag gets around!

So there you have it! You now can call yourself a worry-free packing expert if you remember these seven basic tips. When your next vacation eve approaches, you can give a small smirk and pretentiously blow subtle amounts of air out of the corners of your lips and think “Hmph! I got this. I’m anxiety free. My laundry was done yesterday, I’ve picked out only my necessary attire for the week, I’ve got my workout clothes in my separate compartment, and I’ve got my snack bags of vegan-gluten dairy-free organic kale biscuits at the very top of my shoulder bag. I’ve got no clothing mountain ranges on my bedroom floor and I”m not even worried about forgetting my toothbrush tomorrow!”  I’m so in control.” Hopefully you’ve remembered to book your flight and hotel. But if not, it’s cool. Those are just details. That’s what mobile internet is for (unless you forgot to pack your charger).


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