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Summary:

Here are some practices road veterans try to follow when preparing and packing for any trip.

One of the more nerve-wracking moments a traveler can ever experience is waiting for a checked bag after an airline flight, knowing that prescription medicine or a valuable piece of electronic gear has been out of your control for hours.

If that’s ever happened to you then you probably already follow Rule No. 1 for hassle-free flying: Never pack in checked bags anything that would make you ill or heartbroken if the bag isn’t returned to you immediately upon landing.

The vast majority of passengers’ bags don’t get lost, and theft from bags in transit is rare. But jewelry, iPods, PDAs, cameras, chargers and other electronics will be the first items to disappear if you’re a victim, and airlines specifically exempt them from reimbursement if they’re lost.

Important papers or electronic storage devices should be in your carry-on bag as well. Airline web sites, including those for Delta and Usairways, have big sections on baggage policies but vary in how far down you must drill to find specific information.

Here are some practices road veterans try to follow when preparing and packing for any trip:

  • Plan on using two carry-on bags, one a rolling type that will fit in an overhead bin and the other a briefcase or large purse – with those prescriptions inside – that holds more than just a laptop. I often check the rolling bag but only for a discrete reason: Since I write about this stuff, I want to gauge the quality of different airlines’ service.
  • When shopping for luggage, check the weight of the empty bag. If the bag itself is as heavy as the contents, it’s harder to heft into an overhead bin, or could be subject to an overweight fee if it’s checked.
  • Another factor to consider when buying a rolling bag: How easily does it roll, pivot and take corners? Pull and push it around the store to see if it could tip over easily when it’s full.
  • Buy shampoos, lotion and other liquids in 3-ounce bottles or buy empty 3-ounce bottles and label them (so you don’t do as my wife almost did recently and use hand lotion on her hair). Carry them in a quart-size plastic bag because airport security is picky about it. The Transportation Security Administration’s web site is loaded with detail on the rules.
  • If you’re not particular about brands of shampoo or lotion, don’t pack the little bottles at all and use those the hotel provides.
  • Wear socks and slip-on shoes for that especially irritating part of security screening.
  • I’ve read this tip for years and usually follow it: Take only the apparel you will really wear. Lay out all your clothing and shoes on a bed before packing and be tough on yourself.
  • Take clothing that’s in neutral colors and doesn’t wrinkle easily. I’ve ordered several items from travelsmith.com that are specifically designed for life on the road but there are myriad other brands available.
  • If you’ll be traveling for more than four or five days, use a hotel with laundry facilities. At Hilton, Marriott or Choice Hotels’ sites, look for guest services or amenities.
  • Pack heavy items like shoes on the bottom of the bag – provided you can’t survive with just one pair of shoes.
  • Don’t take a travel iron or a hair dryer because most hotels provide them now. After you get to your room, but before the next morning when your hair is wet, turn on the hair dryer to make sure it works.

What tips do you have for packing for a trip?

  1. I bought a belt with a plastic belt buckle that does not need to be removed when going through a metal detector. But it does not cinch up very well.

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  2. LED chain flashlight, foam earplugs, duct tape, assorted plastic bags, and a bunch more.

    I’ve traveled as a consultant for years. Wrote a post on the subject last year if you want to search for “packing” on my site.

    Aloha, Jeff

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  3. I keep my toiletry kit always stocked and packed. Saves a ton of time and hassle when packing. Just grab the little bag and throw it in. I also put together a kit of all my electronic stuff like chargers, extra headphones, various cables, and that lives in my traveling backpack. Again, I know its there and I dont have to worry about grabbing a car charger out of my car when I’m heading out. Recently I’ve added a small portable hard drive to backup pictures to when I’m on the road. I dont want my laptop to die with the only copy of my vacation pictures on it. Even a large flash drive would work for this.

    I used to do the “make copies of all your important stuff and stash them in you bags” thing but now I just scan and email them to myself which I can get to from anywhere. The necessity of using a computer outweighs the risk of losing a bag and having someone not only get my underwear but the address and information to get even more of my underwear :)

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  4. I didn’t think travel “veterans” used rolling bags (and the attendant loss of usable packing space in that kind of bag)…

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  5. If you do bring another pair of shoes, stuff socks, undergarments and other smaller items in the cavities to save space.

    Keep your travel toiletries bag always ready to go.

    Make sure the roller bag has an outside hook where you can hang your briefcase/computer bag to expedite moving through airports.

    Get a plastic file folder (one that is closed on 2 sides, with just one side and the top open) that is colored – keep your boarding passes, maps, rental itineraries, airline itineraries and receipts in this one folder for easy access.

    If you frequent airports that allow you to use the Clear Card (flyclear.com), get the card. It saves so much time and hassle and you can cut down the extra time you have to be at the airport before the flight.

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  6. I agree on the rolling bag. I used that until I switched to the Red Oxx Air Boss.

    I packed for seven days of travel with a formal event in just that back, I could have even fit my laptop in, but wanted another bag as a day pack.

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  7. My pro tips are food related, since I like to eat something better than airport food.

    Peanut butter and similar products (hummus, etc.) are a “liquid” if carried in a tub, but in the eyes of the TSA, they magically become a solid if spread between crackers or on a sandwich.

    Also keep in mind that the ziplock bag is for all liquids. You can bring a 3 oz. container of hummus or salad dressing in the ziplock with your toiletries.

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  8. A few more tips: I save all the cotton that comes with new vitamin/medicine bottles and stuff the cotton in half filled jars of pills so that they don’t jangle around in my luggage.
    I also roll up my clothes instead of fold them. It saves room and they don’t get as wrinkled.
    Stuff your shoes with socks or anything that will fit in there.
    Put duct tape on the luggage that’s going to be checked so that you can identify it.
    Wear a shirt with a pocket to carry your glasses, gum, or whatever.
    Buy a sandwich or snacks just before boarding so that you will stave off hunger before arriving at destination.
    Bring a book or newspaper with you to read, unless you are flying Jet Blue, where you can change channels on the tv in back of seat.

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  9. +1 for the Red Oxx Air Boss. I spent 3 weeks away (Michigan, France and Singapore) using only that bag!

    Pack just enough toiletries to get you by for a day or two until you can hit a drug store. Or pre-ship materials to your destination.

    Just assume you’re going to have someone do your laundry on the trip. Spending $50 at the hotel for laundry service sure beats carrying a massive suitcase through airports.

    Even a few pounds matter: Scale down everything you possibly can: laptop, cords, clothes, etc.

    Another +1 for the Fly Clear card. It’s saved me hours of waiting in security lines in the last year. Well worth the price.

    Make sure your home/work computers are available for logging into and grabbing files. You never know when you’ll forget an important file. Or have all your documents synced to the cloud.

    Most importantly: Have a sense of humor. Traveling with the general public can be stressful, so learn to laugh it all off.

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  10. Would these be the same “travel veterans” who, refusing to EVER check a bag, insist on cramming their oversized rolling bags into the overhead bins so that everyone else’s jackets and backpacks have to go under seats, thereby making boarding take twice as long as it has to?

    Just checking, as this is exactly what has happened on every single flight I’ve taken in the last few years.

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