There are few things which fill even seasoned travellers with dread more than the thought of packing for a trip. With airlines continually hiking up charges for hold baggage, and as long as nude travel doesn’t become a trend, it’s a stressful balancing act to make sure you have everything you need for a trip, without having to fork out hundreds of dollars in excess baggage.
Having spent the last 10 years travelling almost constantly for work and for pleasure, I like to think I’ve learned a few things about how to pack. You can, of course, cram everything you need into a bag, but if on arrival it is unbearably creased or soaked in exploded suncream, you may as well not have bothered. Packing efficiently is an art form, and so on behalf of all TNT readers, from backpackers to business travellers, I’ve produced this handy luggage guide.
Short trip: Weekend away, or single city business trip
Minimalism is the name of the game when packing for a short trip. This likelihood is that you’ll be staying in a hotel or a private home, so items such as towels, shampoo and soap will be provided, and if it does happen that you forget, or don’t have space for, your favourite brand of face cream, it really isn't the end of the world.
On a short trip, you don’t want to waste your valuable sightseeing or meeting time checking in your baggage early, then waiting for it to reappear at the carousel, so opt for hand baggage only. Most airlines will let you take a cabin size case plus a personal item such as a handbag or laptop, so there’s ample room for what you need.
My current favourite cabin bag is the Samsonite Uplite Spinner (www.samsonite.com; 55 x 35 x 22 cm), which weighs just 1.8kg. It has four, multi-directional wheels, which is a real bonus when you’re sprinting through the airport to catch a tight connection. Two good-size pockets inside the lid will keep your dirty washing or cables separate from your clothing, and the external pockets are large enough to take your tablet and cosmetics, ensuring they are easily accessible when you pass through airport security. The case is expandable, giving you an extra 3cm of depth should you need it to accommodate a special souvenir or wedge of paperwork on the way home.
Week long trip: Travelling with friends or family
If you’ve booked a week-long vacation, you’ll probably be staying in one, or maybe two, different places, and will need space for half a dozen different outfits, a spare pair of shoes, and some personal items. If you are going to be travelling on buses and staying in hostels, a backpack still has its advantages, though my preference these days is still for a suitcase: wheeling a bag is definitely preferable to having to carry the weight; and thieves find it far easier to steal things out of rucksacks when you’re looking the other way.
The suitcase which gives me most joy at the moment is my American Tourister Bon Air (www.americantourister.com; 66 x 46 x 25.5 cm). It comes in 10 different gorgeous, summery colours, including hot pink and bright green, so you’ll easily spot your bag on the airport carousel. The shell is made from lightweight polypropylene, so the mid-size version weighs just 3.4kg, including the wheels, which isn’t bad at all. The TSA combination lock will keep your belongings secure if your bag is travelling in the airplane hold, or it is otherwise out of your sight.
Inside, the case is divided into two halves, with a zipped section segmenting the two. You can therefore use the case all at once if you are transporting items which are bulky, or divide clean clothes from those which are dirty, or clothing from cosmetics, guidebooks, electronics, and other personal effects. Elasticated straps with clasps ensure everything remains in place, even in transit, and there are zipped pockets in the central divider to keep small items from getting lost.
Long-term travel: Backpacking or multi-country odyssey
Packing for an extended trip, and particularly one which includes multiple destinations and climates, is the biggest challenge of all. You need a great deal of carrying capacity, but don’t want a bag which is too bulky or heavy, as it will be inconvenient to carry, especially if you expect to be hiking or using public transport. Finding what you need, when you need it, in a cavernous bag is also pretty tricky.
Having tested a huge assortment of suitcases, rucksacks, and duffel bags, my luggage of choice for a long trip is now the Eagle Creek No Matter What Rolling Duffel (www.eaglecreek.com; 91 x 38 x 36 cm). It comes in a variety of sizes, but the XL version has a 120 litre capacity and weighs just 1.9kg, far less than anything else with a similar volume. When you’re not using it, it packs away to almost nothing (unlike a suitcase), but it still has the advantage of wheels for portability, and there is a heavy duty shoulder strap as well, which is handy if you have to navigate stairs.
The duffel has a number of important features which long-term travellers will love. Firstly, the fabric it is made from is not only water repellant, but also abrasion resistant, so it is durable even in the desert and jungle. The seams are reinforced, so even if you pack it to bursting point, it isn’t going to split on you and spill your underwear out onto the street. The wheels are large and have a proper tread on them, which means you can pull the duffel along on rough surfaces and through mud. There’s a stuff pouch where you can keep muddy shoes and wet or dirty clothing, and there are multiple zipped pockets so you can separate out different items.
To aid organisation, and to keep at least one smarter outfit looking presentable for meetings and/or parties and special occasions, I also have the Eagle Creek Specter Garment Folder, which will fit inside any duffel or suitcase. This novel packing system enables you to fold one or more items in such a way that they remain completely flat, uncreased, and looking presentable. It’s a life saver!