When we are travelling, we leave behind our cherished home and office environments and depart for new experiences, bringing a small but essential survival kit with us. This survival kit is our luggage. Here are a few tips to ensure that your luggage and your packing don't risk ruining your trip! (Below, Ursula Andress at the Rome Gucci store, courtesy of Gucci).
While first-class travel deals with luggage transfer in most situations, there will always be times at which you have to handle your luggage yourself. Ideally you should be able to carry all your luggage yourself – and remember that it's likely to get heavier as you buy gifts, products, books and souvenirs. Check the weight allowances for all the airline flights that you will be using. In the USA, there may be an allowance per bag, while in Europe there may be a total baggage limit. Exceeding these limits means extra costs and extra hassle.
If you think you are going to be bringing back a lot of extra stuff, you could consider using two nesting suitcases, packing the inner case and putting it inside the other for the outward trip.
One factor to bear in mind is that the less luggage you have, the less you risk losing something. Reducing the number of suitcases you check in will simplify a lot of things during your travels. Remember the old adage "half as much clothing and twice as much money"!
When choosing a suitcase, the most important factor to take into consideration is that it should be tough and durable. Avoid prominent brand names, showy hardware, gold finish and so forth, so as not to provide tempting signals to thieves. At the same time, add a unique and distinctive touch, such as a colourful bag tag, so that you can quickly recognize it on the carousel, and to discourage thieves for whom a uniquely personalized bag is more of a risk. The bag tag should have complete ID details in case of loss.
Bags should be locked; the most convenient are combination locks, which should have at least four combination wheels. Take a lock for your carry-on bag as well, and use it when the bag is in the overhead locker.
On many flights, you will have to keep your ID document/passport with you in your pocket or hand baggage, and not in your suitcase. Wherever you keep your passport, keep a photocopy of its main page somewhere else. If you have a lot of information that you want to store safely (passwords, bank account numbers, credit card blocking numbers, contact information etc.), put it all into a Word file, protect it with a password so that only you can open it, and save it onto a CD or a USB Flash drive. Keep it in your hand baggage. Leave a copy of this information with a trusted friend at home, because this makes blocking credit cards much easier (one call instead of many). Another way of archiving this sort of information is by storing it online (as a Gmail message or a file in Google Docs). If you are travelling with some valuable items in the suitcase, take digital photos of the contents and store them at home and online, in case you need to make a claim after bag theft or loss.
If you are travelling with a partner, split your cash, credit cards and so forth, so that if one of your bags gets lost or stolen, you can survive with your partner's cards.
Security pouches are a good way of ensuring that you don't lose passport, money and credit cards. The pouch is best worn around your waist, under your trousers, so that it is not visible. Remember that in many parts of the world, petty street crime is common and extraordinarily refined. Take a look at this series of stories from Barcelona: http://jon.es/barna/scams.html
Sticky labels with your name, address and phone number are a good way to label high-tech items such as mobile phones, cameras and computers that could get lost.
If you are taking a guide book, consider making them less recognizable by means of a neutral outer cover, so that you look less like a visitor.
There is always the possibility that security staff will want to check the contents of a suitcase. They will be quicker, and cause less disruption to your neatly packed bag, if your items are in transparent bags. Zip-lock transparent bags are also handy because they can be used to compact fluffy garments such as jerseys by forcing out air and reducing their volume.
The best way to prevent dresses, blouses, shirts, suits and trousers from creasing, is to carry them on hangers, inside dry cleaner bags (which allow the garments to slide) and in the hanger section of the suitcase. If your case doesn't have the hanger compartment, fold the garments in half and place on top of the rest of the items in the case. Remember to take them out and hang them up when you reach destination.
Garments not on hangers crease less if you roll them.
Shoes are best packed in transparent bags, one bag for each shoe. If you are short on space, you can slip small items, such as chargers, batteries etc., into the shoes. (Below, a Gucci archive image, courtesy of Gucci).
Clothing for travel
If you want to minimize the amount of clothing in your luggage, consider coordinating the garments so that you can combine them at will. For example, a man's dark evening jacket can be chosen so that it works both with its matching trousers and with a light grey pair of trousers for more casual occasions. Or, all your garments (and shoes and accessories) could be in black/grey/white, or brown/beige, colour schemes.
For business trips, a suit with two identical pairs of trousers is a good idea. Ensure that the belt you are taking fits the loops of all the trousers.
For men, the best sort of swimming trunks is that which can also be used as a pair of shorts. For women, a one-piece swimsuit or a tankini in a quality fabric can also be worn under skirt and jacket for ordinary day use.
Don't take a brand-new pair of shoes with you when you travel; use only shoes that you've already broken in. Check the shoelaces and replace them before leaving if necessary. Women will find that wedges and chunky heels are more practical than stilettos. Flip-flop type sandals are almost essential to avoid fungal infections in tropical areas.
The carry-on bag should contain everything you need for your journey, plus at least a day extra in case that the checked-in luggage goes astray. This means: ID, cash, credit cards, photocopy of your passport, medication and prescriptions if you need them, contact information, and essential toiletries. You may want to consider a change of underwear, reading material, and cereal bars or other forms of high-energy food. (Below, a carry-on bag by Tumi).
Remember to bring chargers, batteries, and plug adapters according to the countries you are visiting. Check local voltage before leaving, and if necessary bring a voltage converter. Make sure that the batteries you are taking are in new and sealed packs.
If you a taking a laptop, it could be useful to bring an ethernet cable. Wi-fi is free in many hotels, but a direct cable link is faster and simpler to implement, and some hotels have the sockets but not the cable.
In a hot and sunny climate, a soft brimmed hat is useful. It should be a type that can be folded and packed. For intense sunshine, remember the Australian slogan "Slip slop slap - slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat," and bring the sunscreen with you.
According to your destination, consider taking a lightweight over-the-head mosquito net, or even a net that covers your entire sleeping area. Insect repellent for your skin should contain either DEET (diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or Picaridin (RS-sec-butyl 2-(2-hydroxyethyl) piperidine-1-carboxylate). No other substances are really effective. Bring your preferred insect repellent with you so as not to have to waste time at destination.
In some hot countries, it may be necessary to have some extra garments for when you are visiting churches, temples etc, such as a scarf or shawl to cover bare shoulders, or short trousers with zip-on legs, or lightweight long trousers.
If you are planning on sending postcards, you could print adhesive labels with the addresses. This saves time, makes delivery more likely, and helps you keep track of who you still have to send cards to. (Below, cases by Globe-Trotter).
Other useful items could include lip salve (which can also be used as zip lubricant and shoe-shine), Band-Aids, tissue paper, wet wipes, scissors (perhaps in a Swiss army knife, not in the carry-on bag), tweezers. For men, shaving oil takes up much less room than foam (just a few drops are used for each shave), and it leaves the skin moisturized, so that after-shave lotion or balsam is not necessary. A small LED flashlight can be useful in many situations.
A boy scout traditionally always carried "sixpence and a piece of string," and personally I would never go anywhere without a few metres of rope. I prefer synthetic 6 mm rope, other travellers use longer lengths of 4 mm rope. A length of heavy-duty sticking tape, wound around a narrow core such as a drinking straw, also solves a variety of problems. Dental floss is surprisingly strong and can be used for slicing cheese, emergency shoelaces, or as a temporary luggage lock. Happy travelling!