How Travel Veterans Pack For a 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?

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