Over the past twenty years, my wife and I have traveled domestically and internationally on commercial and military aircraft for work and leisure.
When I first started traveling―before baggage charges―I always checked two suitcases, each weighing close to 50 lbs. I also brought a roll-on suitcase and briefcase, which I took into the aircraft cabin. My wife and I now each travel with a roll-on [sometimes we check it, sometimes not] and a backpack. So, what did we learn?
Make packing checklists: one for personal trips and one for business trips. The business checklist should be an extension of the personal trip checklist. The checklists will save you from last minute omissions like forgetting your wallet, watch, passport, tickets, et al.
After you finish packing, run through the checklists to be sure you packed everything. The checklists will also keep you from over packing and help you double check for essential items.
Make a departure checklist to remind you to set timers for lights, turn off the coffee pot, set thermostats, leave a radio on, and set the alarm on the way out of the door.
A packing checklist should include some or all of the following:
- Cell Phone: cords, a/c charger, d/c charger, plugs, cords, earphones
- Tablet(s): cords, a/c charger, d/c charger, plugs, cords, earphones
- Computer: cords, a/c charger, d/c charger, plugs, cords, earphones
- Casual attire: short and long sleeve shirts, shoes, belt, sweater
- Medications: generic and prescription (check your itinerary to determine whether you need to take your prescription with you)
- Camera: batteries, film, extra digital storage cards, tripod
- TSA locks
- Extension cords
- International plugs
- Business attire: suit, dress shirts, tie, dress shoes, dress belt (and in my case, a robe to wear on the bench)
Pack a wardrobe which is interchangeable, i.e., pack sweaters, socks or shirts you can wear with business or casual.
Pack with the idea that you can layer everything you wear depending on the weather and situation. You should be able to wear casual attire with your business attire and vice versa.
Bring two pair of shoes and assume one will get wet. Have several pairs of socks, assuming some will get wet. Make sure shoes are good for walking and suitable for what you will be doing. Flip-flops or sandals are not a good idea on aircraft.
Lay Everything Out
Take everything you want to pack and lay the items out. We use our spare bedroom. If you pack as you think about it, you will over pack. Go through everything to ensure you really need what you packed.
Pack and unpack
Then pack everything in your suitcase(s) as if you are ready to go. Now unpack everything. As you unpack ask yourself if you really need each item? If not, set it aside.
Suitcase vs Backpack
Use your backpack or roll-on for things you may need immediately and do not want to be lost. Pack a change of clothes, cell phone,
When packing, assume your checked suitcases will not arrive at your destination with you. Cosmetics can go in the roll-on, backpack, or checked bag depending on whether or not they are replaceable.
Use clothing made from microfilaments [polyester-polypropylene] instead of cotton. I took 10 pounds out of my suitcase just changing fabrics from cotton to polyester-polypropylene.
Parkas made from nylon and goose down compress to the size of a small pillow and are very light. They also double as pillows. Look for sweaters made with Merino wool and jackets made with polyester and nylon. Both are lightweight, dry easily and are warm. Hand knitted Qiviut scarves and headgear made from Musk Ox hair are light as a feather and incredibly warm.
Use suitcases with wheels which expand. We currently use two-wheel suitcases and hear positive comments about four-wheel suitcases. You get what you pay for, so buy a really good suitcase and check the warranty. Some people prefer soft side (we do), others hard side.
Expandable suitcases allow you to bring purchases home without buying a new suitcase. Our suitcases have several hundred thousand air miles on them and are designed to be repaired. I initially purchased an inexpensive name brand which fell apart after six months.
Pack a soft-sided, collapsible ‘tote’ bag in the outer pocket of your suitcases for purchases and souvenirs. We take one suitcase outbound and use the ‘tote’ as a second suitcase when we return.
Make your suitcases distinctive. In Japan, you can buy fancy decorative wraps to enclose your suitcase. Attach a few pieces of colorful ribbon or duct tape to the handles. You can also use a combination of distinctive name tags and ribbons to mark bags.
Do not forget TSA locks.
Pack and Roll
I read about this technique and thought it was nonsense until I tried it. I found I could get more in the suitcase with less wrinkling by rolling my clothes and packing. Ultimately, it allowed me to drop from two suitcases to one.
Wash and Wear
Travel garments should be microfilament, which can be washed in the sink and hung in the shower or room to dry. If you know you are going to have laundry facilities available, pack accordingly. We pack for seven days, regardless of the length of the trip. Before the seven days are up, we wash and repack.
The secret to packing a suit or sports jacket is to turn it inside out, fold it in half, and roll it before putting it into the suitcase. Roll the pants from the bottom to the top. Both will take up less room and will have less chance to wrinkle.
Use dress shirts made of “All Supima cotton” which are non-iron. You can wash them in the shower or sink, hang them to dry and wear them again. That reduces the number of dress shirts you need to pack.
When you get to your final destination, unpack the suits, sports coats, shirts, and hang them up. If they are wrinkled, turn on a hot shower, steam up the bathroom, turn off the water, and hang your clothes. After a while, the wrinkles should fall out.
If traveling for leisure, leave the computers at home, and carry cell phones, tablets, et al. If you need a computer, take only what you need, e.g., use the touchpad, leave the keyboard at home. Purchase a cable for your computer so you can secure it to a desk.
Pack extension cords. Older hotels are not designed for all the electronics we pack. I found a very short extension cord in Japan which folds up to the size of my fist. I put that in my backpack and pack a longer one in my suitcase. The one in your backpack comes in handy while flying if you have more than one thing you want to plug into the outlet or need to share an outlet, or at the hotel where they have one plug by the bed and you have a phone, CPAP, and/or another device you need near you at night.
Layout all your electronics before packing. See how many use the same plugs, cords, chargers. If you have four plugs and cords to charge three devices, take two. ALWAYS take more than one set of charging plugs, cords. NEVER pack them together or in checked luggage.
Portable cell phone chargers are a great item to purchase and use. We picked one up in Japan that will hold a charge for hours and we use it to charge our cell phones and tablets on long trips. We actually take two with us.
Hints & Resources
Most hotels now have toiletries, shampoos, hairdryers, et al. If you know those will be available at your destination don’t pack them.
Get tips from camping and outfitter stores and websites
E.g., break your toothbrush in half; it is now half the weight. Take a small comb instead of a brush. Take a small toothpaste tube. Many stores sell travel items which are less bulk and weight than normal sizes. Every ounce you take out is one less ounce you have to carry. My single suitcase now weighs about 40 lbs. on average.
When you return from your trip try to keep travel items separated from everyday items―it makes it easier to find and repack them.