Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#390 Packing It In

Before we head to Milan, I wanted to take some time to discuss packing.  Last February Julie and I attended a AAA Travel Expo.  I saw a flyer and noticed there was going to be a packing demonstration.  I think I’m a pretty good packer but am always eager to learn new tips. 

We arrived and were immediately overwhelmed with the products and services available.  We walked around and then went to the packing demo.  Anne McAlpin, a packing expert, put on the demo.  It lasted an hour and was invaluable!  She travels a lot, especially internationally, and consistently packs all her items in a carry-on bag plus one personal bag.  Amazing!  She talks about what to bring (wear items multiple times throughout your trip) and how to pack to maximize space. 

When traveling internationally, your first checked bag is free.  However, I didn’t want to risk losing my luggage on the way over.  We planned to walk to our hotels in each city (I eventually made reservations at hotels close to the train stations), and was prepared for some of the hotels to not have an elevator.  Add in cobblestone streets and having to lug a suitcase on and off a train, and I wanted to travel as light as possible.  Julie was a little more skeptical. 

After the packing demo we each ended up buying a Travelon cross-body purse and a Baggalinni tote for the plane.   (Let me just say that the AAA prices were great at the expo.  I did NOT pay $95 for the Baggalini tote.  It was more like $70.)  Both bags have so many pockets and the cross body purse's safety features are great too.  My hunt for the perfect carry-on bag was next.  I saw a few at the expo but luckily one I was initially interested in was sold out.  It had the four wheels at the bottom that you push around.  After further thought, I realized how much space you lose with those types of bags (wheels take up valuable space in the plane's overhead compartment) so switched my search to a basic rolling carry-on with two wheels.  I found it at Brenner Luggage.  I got the Mosaic two-wheel 22” carry on in platinum.  I love it.  It’s a mid-range price but I felt like it was good quality and had a suitor and other nice features.  I also like the color.  I wanted to avoid black again.  My other carry on was ok, but was pretty narrow and I couldn’t fit as much in it.  Let’s face it, when you wear a size 12 shoe, half your bag is gone after you put your shoes in there! 

Aside from the luggage and other bags, we also bought security belts for our passports and extra cash, a clothesline to hang any clothing we would wash along the way, a neck pillow, TSA luggage locks and some travel packets of Woolite. 

My next mission was to find just the right shoe.  I knew we would be walking a ton (and doing some hiking) so I wanted something that didn’t look like a sneaker but felt like a sneaker.  I don’t like to look touristy when I’m touring.  My foot size is an issue again but I found a pair of Clarks that were on sale that I really liked – the Inframe Ease in stone.  Very cushiony, waterproof, with great ventilation.  They also have a zip tie “shoestring”.  I bought these and then "stalked them online", finally finding a pair $20 cheaper.  Exchange!  Ca-ching!  My last purchase was a vest from Eddie Bauer with lots of pockets.  Layering is key when traveling light. 

Julie ended up buying a new carry-on also, and fitting it all in.  My packing list included the following basic clothing items:

Shoes – Clark’s shoes, Clark’s casual sandals, slip-on flats for evening, and rubber flip flops for wearing in the hotel room. 

Tops – we traveled in late September/early October.  Temperatures ranged from the 50s in the morning to 80s during the day.  I layered a lot.  I brought four ¾ length tops and four t-shirts, one long-sleeve dri-fit, one short-sleeve dri fit and one sport pullover. 

Bottoms – two pairs of jeans (should have brought just one), two maxi skirts (these were great for the cool mornings and also for the hot days), one knee-length skirt, one pair of shorts and one pair of workout knickers.

Coats – one rain coat and the vest I mentioned earlier. 

Scarves – three scarves.  I also ended up buying one in Venice.  Scarves are great for layering, using as a “blanket” on the plane or using as a sarong when you are wearing shorts and need to get into a church in a pinch. 

Hats – I brought one baseball hat and one wide-brimmed hat for hiking.  I am big on sunscreen and protecting my face from the sun.  Sunglasses and hats are a must. 

When deciding what clothes to pack, focus on one color scheme (black or brown) so everything goes with everything. That makes it easier to pack when all shoes go with all clothing, and all clothing is interchangeable. 

I also brought an extra empty duffel bag for bringing items back.  Make sure it's small enough to not take up much space in your luggage, but large enough to hold items you intend to buy.  I ended up putting some of my gifts and souvenirs in that bag as a carry on and I checked my luggage on the way home.  It had an expandable zipper to fit more items in there too.  It’s amazing how your clothing grows as you travel.  It’s the same stuff!  How does it take up more space? 

Anne suggesting packing toiletries in ziploc plastic bags so you can see everything.  She also suggested a hanging toiletry bag.  Most bathrooms are small and it helps to have all items in one place that you can hang from a towel rack.  I happened to have one and it worked great. 

I did a practice packing run a couple weeks before our trip to make sure everything fit.  Yes!! 

My luggage held up well on the trip and has also served me well in traveling in the good ole United States.  I carry on whenever possible now.  Not only does is save me some money, but it’s better to travel light.  As Anne says, bring half as many clothes, and twice as much money. 

Next stop (for real), Milan! 

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