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Packing for 7 Days in 1 Bag in 5 Minutes

I have watched in wonder as families wheel large luggage carts around in the airport. They seemed to have packed as if their cross country trip were by wagon train instead of by airplane. Similarly, I have watched as people board cruise ships with suitcases and trunks large enough to carry a spare sailor or two. Unless you are planning on smuggling someone onboard the plane or the boat, let me suggest that you may be able to get by with smaller or fewer suitcases than you think. I don’t know anyone who has come home from a trip and vowed to pack heavier next time.

Airlines, in particular, will let you bring one carry-on bag and one “personal item”, in my case a small backpack. The carry-on bag in general has to be 22”x9”x14” and the personal item has to fit under an airplane seat. Switching from the steamer trunk to a carry-on will save you luggage fees and can also easily save you 30 minutes checking your bags and 30 minutes waiting for them at baggage claim, not to mention the occasional hour filling out the lost luggage form because your bag went to San Jose, Costa Rica instead of San Jose, California (you think I am kidding but I once argued with the guy at the airline counter for 15 minutes because he was about to send my suitcase on just such an odyssey).

Packing your bag doesn’t have to be any more difficult than deciding what to wear in the morning…says the guy who clearly doesn’t worry all that much about either.

If I’m traveling for 7 days on vacation I lay out:

• 7 shirts
• 7 pairs of boxer shorts
• 3 pairs of socks
• My SLR camera bag
• One extra pair of jeans
• One small toiletries bag: toothbrush, stick deodorant, razor, floss and fingernail clippers
• One quart liquids bag: sun screen, toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, etc
• Spare sailor

My next trip is to a hotel with a fitness center and a gym so I threw in

• Bathing suit
• Gym shorts
• T-shirt

My camera and camera bag will also fit in my backpack, but I won’t need them during the flight and storing them in my suitcase keeps me from overpacking. If I need more space on the trip home, need a pair of dress shoes, or have to gate check my bag, I throw the camera in the backpack instead.

Many people obsess over packing as if under some sort of conviction that where they are traveling to people have never heard of clothes, toothpaste or hair brushes. Forgetting something is just an opportunity to shop.

My swimsuit was purchased in Cozumel after my old swimsuit wore out in a spectacular and rather definitive fashion while snorkeling on a press trip. My fingernail clippers were purchased in a one euro store in Germany when I forgot mine at home. I bought a coat in Australia when the weather was colder than expected and a sweatshirt in the San Jose (California) airport when I left my coat at home on a winter trip to Japan.

One friend I know will only pack one change of clothes when she travels to India and then will hit the markets. Another friend came on a trip to London and Paris bringing only clothes he did not want to take home again. During the trip he threw them out in a trail of old t-shirts as he bought new and better clothes.

I subscribe to the school of thought that if you roll your shirts before putting them in your suitcase they will come out less wrinkled on the other end. Starting with my carry-on bag, in this case the Pacsafe toursafe LS21 wheeled carry-on, I start with the larger items. I roll my jeans, and half the shirts and put them in the bottom of my bag. I find a spot for my camera bag before I add the rest of my shirts.

I stuff my extra socks in the space above the camera bag and add in the rest of the shirts, each rolled independently. If you are someone who can’t imagine not having another pair of shoes, stuff shoes with socks and small items. I take all 7 pairs of boxer shorts and roll them up together. Typically I also throw in a plastic laundry bag to keep clean and dirty clothes separate. I find a space for the toiletries bag and my bag is getting pretty full.

My t-shirt, shorts and gym shorts get thrown on the top, but the plastic liquids bag goes in an outside pocket. I want easy access to this when I get to the security line in the airport. Just a little forethought, like this, at home can keep you from being “that clueless guy” in the airport security line.

My electronics: my laptop, laptop charger, cables, and iPad go in my backpack along with anything else I want easy access to on the plane. In this case the backpack is the Pacsafe ultimatesafe 22L. My books are ebooks and are loaded in the iPad which also has games, movies and TV shows. An external battery for my iPhone, earplugs, snacks and an eyeshade for long flights will also go in the backpack. I have quite literally days worth of diversions before I would be forced to talk to my seat mates on the plane for entertainment.

I will carry the backpack on my back as I get on the plane but most of the time it just sits on top of the carry-on and I can hold the handle of the carry-on and the handle of the backpack in one hand, which leaves my other hand free for my boarding pass and passport.

If I need more space than the backpack can provide, I can also switch out the backpack for a larger weekender bag, in this case the Pacsafe toursafe LS-W. This bag is still small enough that it should fit under the seat in front of me on the plane, and it is made to connect onto the handle of the wheeled carry-on so that it is even easier to carry on top of that bag than the backpack would be. I have not yet managed the “flip, flip, spin” sort of move that George Clooney managed in the security line in the movie “Up in the Air” but at least I look like a coordinated traveler.

Total elapsed time for packing was around 5 minutes (not counting taking pictures…which I don’t normally take time to do). If you travel often keep your toiletries and your liquid bags packed at all times (you will need a spare toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, etc).

When I started this article I actually lied just a little when I said that this is how I pack for a week. This is how I pack for most trips, even longer trips. Last Summer I had a series of trips back to back to 11 cities over the course of 5 weeks. I packed again with just a wheeled carry-on and a backpack but brought a ziplock bag of laundry detergent and did laundry once a week, just as I do at home. Laundry detergent also helps your bag smell fresher on a long trip. If I am sitting in 7F and you are sitting in 7E and I have been on the road for 5 weeks…you might appreciate my preparations.


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