As I packed a bag for my return trip to London to see friends and family last week, I had a strange revelation.
"I've got this!" I whispered to myself. "I finally know what I'm doing."
I was talking about packing. It took me less than thirty minutes to pack up my bag including enough suitable clothes for the unpredictable British Spring weather, gifts for a few friends, some paperwork for some UK admin I had to do and all my camera stuff to capture happy moments at a few family gatherings. This was all just as well as I had to be on my way to the airport in less than an hour. Ahem.
Thirty minutes may be roll-your-eyes slow for some, but for me, Chief Procrastinator and Lazy Packer Extraordinaire, this was close to a record. Furthermore, I felt neither stressed or hurried or worried I'd forgotten anything. In other words, I've changed. Despite travelling regularly for most of my adult life (and living nomadically for two years), until recent months I really struggled with packing. No matter how much I would be looking forward to a trip I used to nearly always be far too lazy to pack for it. I put off packing until the last minute and experience all the stress and worry that would go with it.
It struck me that a few of the things I've learned (the hard way!) to get me to this point may be worth sharing with you, so here you go, my top ten tips for packing for lazy travellers.
Packing tips for lazy travellers
1. Even if you don't do the packing before, think about it.
I'm a weird kind of lazy. For the most part, I like to be organised and on top of things, but there are some activities that I'm still surprisingly laid back about. Packing is one of them. Unlike my boyfriend NewMan who is a classic "night-before-er" it's not unusual to find me still packing 2-3 hours before our plane is scheduled to depart, spoilt as we are by being 45 minutes from Schiphol's departure gates door-to-door.
However, most of the time I am thinking about an upcoming journey for many days or weeks before it happens, and with this I'm able to get some kind of idea of what I will need or not need (just as important!) to pack. The sensible thing of course would be to make a list as I think about this, but hey, like I said, I'm a weird kind of lazy. Yet I'm convinced that simply having an idea of what I need to put in a case helps me get started once the time comes. This is far more productive than thinking about what you need to pack for the first time as you unzip an empty bag...
2. Have a wash bag ready. Always.
Yes, it means buying duplicate cosmetics and toiletries (but I actually mostly use those travel bottles which I just refill) but for me it's worth the small extra expense to always know the wash bag that lives in my bathroom cabinet is ready to go, give or take a few items I may need for a certain trip. This saves me many minutes of running from bedroom to bathroom to my office (don't ask!) to find my lip balm or enough hair bands for a week (honestly, where do they go? I imagine the same place as bobby pins, teaspoons and scissors). I also always keep a small first aid kit in that bag (plasters, paracetomol, travel sickness tablets) and a separate hairbrush for travelling as that's one thing I'm always moving around the house.
3. Keep your travel documents and important stuff in the SAME safe place.
Not knowing where things are is easily the biggest time waster when it comes to packing so I do myself a favour and avoid that as much as possible. I never spend hours looking for my passport because I always return it to the same place. Likewise, all the travel essentials listed in the packing advice below. While I hate unpacking - and often leave it an embarrassingly long time - I do pretty much always return all the important items to their same resting places within a few hours of getting back in my apartment in Amsterdam. I'm the same with all my camera stuff and mains chargers. Again this is something I've learned the hard way and I have to be honest and say it's much easier when you have a "home base". When we were nomadic, we used a hotel room safe as much as we could or we would designate a special spot and keep all the essential stuff in there, always returning things there if we needed them, but though it worked most of the time, it's much easier now having a special drawer in the same place, all the time.
4. Know what's really important.
I have a list on my Evernote account that basically lists all the travel essentials I really need; medication/vitamins, toothbrush & toothpaste, passport, pre-paid credit card (which gives me low currency exchange rates), travel insurance documents, driver's license, any relevant travel documents or boarding passes, phone and phone charger. These are what I need to get to my destination. Once I know I have all these things I am pretty much good to go, insofar as I can afford to forget other things and just buy when I get there, if I did forget something. Checking off this list first (and having it to check again before I walk out of the door) means all the important stuff is taken care of.
5. Always "underpack".
When it comes to travel, there's not much that stresses me out more than having too much stuff crammed into too small a suitcase or bag. Just the appearance and weight of "too much stuff" makes my skin crawl. Furthermore, I like to be physically capable of carrying my own bag (and it seems a bit stupid not to be!). I also find that the more stuff you have the more likely it is that you'll need more time and technical know-how to actually fit it all in your case. While I certainly applaud the merits of rolling your clothes and shoving socks and knickers into the insides of shoes, I try to avoid doing this as much as possible because it just makes my bag heavy and makes re-packing much slower and longer. Besides, where are all the goodies you buy when you're away going to go if you're bag is full to the brim before you've even got there?
And if you're flying with a budget airline and want to avoid the wrath of going over their stingy weight allowance? Well, I'm afraid you won't like my advice, which is don't even try to beat them. Instead, avoid them. We all know they have strict allowances, so either play along or buy extra weight. Of course, it's a personal choice, but my standpoint is that I'd much rather pay an extra €50 for a "better" airline (with free drinks!!) with more generous baggage limit than suffer the stress of sweating my way through check-in and boarding because I'm way over their limit (or wearing all the clothes that I couldn't fit in my case!).
6. Take minimal jewellery.
I used to take a small bag of jewellery with me wherever I went, because "you never know". Except, yes you do know. You will know if you have a special smart occasion to have jewellery for, or not. It too me an embarrassingly long time to realise that I rarely wear more than two pairs of earrings (day and night), one jazzy bracelet or bangle, two rings and one necklace when I'm away and if all of these match each other, why do I need more? It's not forever!
I also never wear jewellery on a flight because I hate having to take it off when I go through airport security - I'll happily write more about how to get through security in a breeze if you'd like? - and I find my fingers often swell when I'm on a plane (especially at the mo' with a bun in the oven). Jewellery is heavy and as per the previous tip, I hate feeling weighed down. I also never take valuable stuff with me, it's just not worth the risk or hassle worrying about it, in my opinion.
7. Guess what? They have shops in other countries too!
Of course we prefer a certain brand of shampoo, toothpaste or underwear, but do we really need to have this with us during a 3-day city break in an exciting new country? There are very few places in the world where you can't get the things you need one way or another. I'm not saying you should deliberately go without your home comforts or the things that keep you clean, but if you do forget something, what's the big deal? For me, sometimes heading to a foreign supermarket to try and find body moisturiser or cotton wool pads proves much more entertaining than I imagined, and it's also worth pointing out there are several places where these things are often cheaper than in your home country.
8. Leave it late, but not too late.
I think my optimal time for packing is around five hours before the flight is due to depart. This makes it pressing, but not rushed, and it needs to get finished as much as it does started. Any later and I'll be panicked, any earlier and I'll allow distraction or procrastination get in the way. You need a deadline to get started and finished but be kind to yourself and make it one you can at least meet without raising your blood pressure.
9. Wherever possible, once you've arrived - unpack.
This refers to while you're away because, like me, if you're lazy about packing before a trip you'll also be fairly reluctant to spend hours on re-packing to go home. I find unpacking helps me speed this up and if I'm honest, I also enjoy "being unpacked" when I'm away. Most people will know that re-packing a half exploded suitcase is more time consuming (and frustrating) than packing an empty one from clothes stored elsewhere so do yourself a favour and unpack as often as you can. I find it's worth it even if I'm only away for a few nights.
10. Don't forget your perspective!
Tell me what's more important: Having more knickers than you need, or watching the sunset over a new city?
Tell me what's more important: Trying lots of exciting new dishes, washed down with a local coffee or wine, or being able to wash your hair with your chosen brand of shampoo and conditioner?
Tell me what's more important: Wearing your favourite T-shirt, or hiking up to the peak of a viewpoint that lets you gaze across the landscape of a new-to-you country?
Because, really, it doesn't matter what is or isn't in your bag, it's what happens when you get there. Remember this the next time you're packing for your next adventure!
Photo by Kohlman.Sascha
Frances M. Thompson
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