Six Things I Learned From My Packing Challenge

It is time to start packing for another adventure.  Anyone wondering whether I am now a firm believer in One Carry On (OCO) packing?

The short answer is–it depends.  My one month packing experiment taught me a thing or two and  I am happy to share everything I learned.

  1. Climate matters.  Big time. OCO is much easier when the weather is consistently warm because those clothes are SMALLER and lighter weight.
    It gets challenging when the weather at the destination is changeable.  Sometimes warm, sometimes cold, like our upcoming spring trip to Yellowstone.  Yes, yes, I know. Dress in layers.   Still, when the weather is expected to fluctuate between 33 and 75 degrees, with the possibility of thunderstorms and even snow, it becomes tricky.  I can wear my waterproof hiking boots on the plane.  My parka?  I don’t think so.
  2. Self knowledge is powerful.  I learned I really hate doing laundry in hotel bathrooms.  It wasn’t bad during my two weeks in Portugal, because I was in the same hotel the entire time and had my own room.  So, draping my underwear from every available surface didn’t inconvenience anyone else.  When I met up with my husband in Spain, however, and shared space, I was glad that I had used the laundry service in Beja, arriving with everything clean, so the need to do laundry was limited.
    Another insight?  At home, I wash clothes far more than I need to.  Because I have access to a washer and dryer, I wear something once, then toss it into the laundry basket.  Why? It isn’t as if I spend my days mud wrestling or cleaning sewage ditches.   Okay, work out clothes and underwear are “one wear” items, but my black travel pants?  I discovered I could easily wear them two or three times with no ill effects.  Better for my clothes, and much better for the environment.  I’m now doing “multiple wears” at home.
  3. Traveling solo is different from traveling with a group.  If I am on my own, as I was getting from Portugal to Spain–by bus, plane and taxi, then OCO makes sense.  The hassle of doing laundry is much less than the hassle of lugging a bigger bag when moving from one mode of transportation to another.  If I am on a group tour, or traveling with family, then once again, it depends.  Why carry on, if you have to wait for others held up at baggage claim?  On our group tours, our bags magically move from outside our hotel doors to the van or bus.  So easy.  On family trips, I have my personal baggage handler, who never expects a tip.  Still, if we are only spending two or three nights per hotel, it is so much easier if your wardrobe choices are limited.
  4. The airline may make the decision for you. Just because you PLAN to carry on, doesn’t mean the airline will ALLOW you to do so.  If the flight is too full, the airline may force you to gate check your bag.  Bonus discovery–if you gate check, your bag is one of the last ones on the plane and one of the first ones rotating around that baggage carousel.  Not a bad deal.  I’m not sure how it works with connecting flights.  THAT could be problematic, especially on international flights, if your bag is not checked all the way through.
  5. Planned activities are an important factor.  Will I need a “dress up” outfit?  If so, then I will need the appropriate footwear.  Sneakers or Keens just don’t look right with a dressy outfit.  Normally I limit my footwear to two pairs (one worn on the plane, the other packed-and jammed full of small “stuff”).  If I need something dressy, sandals are a good option, don’t take up space and can sometimes be good for walking.  And yes, I either use the hotel’s shower cap or a plastic bag from the fruits and vegetable section of the grocery store to protect my clothes from my shoes.
    Will we be using a pool or going to the beach?  Fortunately flip flops don’t take up much room, and bathing suit coverups can sometimes do double duty.
  6. Packing skills can make or break OCO.   There are those who swear by packing cubes.  I’m not one of them.  I find that zip lock bags work better for me.  I can see what’s inside, the bags weigh next to nothing, and they can be smooshed to fit into odd spaces.
    A combo of rolled and flat methods allow me to maximize space, with small things tucked into any available space.
    For long trips, I find compression bags helpful (except I seem to keep losing the little closure thingy.)  Sometimes kneeling on my zip lock bag achieves the same effect.
    I LOVE my hanging toiletry bag, especially when traveling with my guy.  The hanging bag allows me to let him have the space by the sink, which is usually too small for two.  BUT if I am doing OCO, I will give up my beloved hanging toiletry bag, and revert to zip locks in a plastic grocery bag, which I can hang over the bathroom door knob.  (Most of the time I use cloth grocery bags, but for the few occasions when I end up with plastic, I save them for this purpose.)

So, there you have it.  Before each trip the pros and cons are balanced.  Sometimes one carry on makes sense–and other times, my large duffle does the trick.   How about you?   any packing insights you want to share?

The Science Experiment Continues

In my last post, I blogged about jamming a month’s worth of apparel into my carry on. But can I do better? What about just a backpack? What about just a backpack that was initially intended to accompany a carry on? Well, we shall find out, because Lufthansa lost my luggage. How could that be, you wonder? Isn’t the point of a carry on that you carry it on to the plane so that it is always close to you? Wonder no more, because I’m going to tell you.

When I learned that my connecting flight had been changed because of snow in Frankfurt, I envisioned several inches of wet slush. Jetways are not guaranteed in Frankfort. Sometimes you have to walk from the plane down steep metal stairs, to a bus that drives you to a door where you find yet more stairs, and if you are lucky, a working escalator. Carrying 26 pounds, plus backpack, through all that was not an appealing prospect. So, I checked said bag. But only to Frankfort. I’m no fool. What if the snow was so bad I was stuck overnight in Frankfort? I’d definitely want my jammies.

I was feeling pretty good about my decision as I walked down the stairs and onto the bus (yep, no jetway– but not much snow), but those feelings quickly evaporated as I watched bag after bag arrive. None of them being mine. How could you lose a bag that got on a plane in Newark, that landed in Frankfort? The list of life’s mysteries just got one item longer.

Here’s what immediately went through my jet lagged mind:

  • good thing I bought travel insurance
  • For once in my life, I have a complete record of everything my bag contained. Who knew blogging could be so very helpful?
  • Everything that is not easily replaced is in my backpack: my iPad, iPhone, chargers, camera, passport, money and charge cards
  • I’m so glad I only checked the bag through to Frankfort, because when Lufthansa changed my flight they put me on TAP Portugal. Can you imagine what a nightmare it might have been trying to figure out which airline was responsible for losing my bag? I know Lufthansa is responsible, and more importantly, so do they.
  • Let’s see how I do with this challenge. I only have the clothes that I am wearing and no toiletries. Snacks and a flight pillow aren’t all that helpful now, but the Motrin may come in handy.
  • Will my Amazon Prime work for deliveries in Portugal?

The line for customer service at Lufthansa was surprisingly short. When I asked the rep about the probability my bag would be found the same day, she said it was slim. So, since I was only going to be in Lisbon one night, I gave her the address of my hotel in Beja. She said they would call and email me with updates.

So what little pearls of wisdom can I share from my science experiment?

  • Lisbon has amazing malls, and the staff there actually HELP you, which was important in figuring out my size. I didn’t have the time or the energy to try things on. In Italy, I was saddened to learn only “molto grosso” fit; in Argentina, it was “muy grande”. In Lisbon, I was “medium”.
  • I didn’t need to know Portuguese to translate this sign. Bet you can figure it out too.
  • I CAN get by with one change of underwear, just not THIS one…
  • A tee shirt is still great for sleeping, just like in college
  • Next time, put an adapter in my backpack. Luckily, the mail had an electronics shop, but you can’t always count on that, plus they aren’t cheap – €20 or about $25 for a basic model.
  • My toiletry essentials are toothpaste (the hotel gave me a tiny tube but it tasted terrible), deodorant, a comb and brush
  • Shampoo works fine as laundry detergent
  • Although my underwear was perfectly dry by morning, my shirt was not. Wrapping it in a towel did NOT work. I tried the hair dryer, but it kept switching off after a few minutes. The front desk explained it was a “safety feature” to keep it from overheating. Good thing I kept the plastic bag from my shopping extravaganza for my damp shirt.
  • Not all hotels supply conditioner. It is wise to read labels so you don’t put body lotion in your hair
  • Conditioner DOES make a difference
  • In the future, avoid Frankfort airport. The gate for my flight to Lisbon changed THREE times.
  • Losing luggage caused my adrenaline to kick in. I was able to go without sleep for over 40 hours, then wake up completely jet lag free. Despite that happy side effect, I do NOT recommend you voluntarily replicate this experiment.

Bet you’re perched on the edge of your recliner, wondering how this saga ends? How long will our heroine have to wear the same corduroy pants and Keen sandals with socks? Are her air-cooled, memory foam Sketchers gone forever?

The good news? I got an email Saturday at 6 PM telling me the bag had arrived in Lisbon. The bad news? There was no way for me to get in touch with the courier to tell them to bring it to my Lisbon hotel. No phone number, no email address. The courier promised that EVENTUALLY it will make its way to Beja. I figure I can last a couple more days with what I have.

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE…

It’s ALL good. My bag arrived in Beja before I did. Not only that, but it was waiting for me in my room, so I didn’t have to carry it up a flight of stairs in this elevator deprived hotel.

Lufthansa has not mentioned any compensation for delayed baggage, however I have saved my receipts, and so far, they owe me €99.90, or about $125. Travel Insurance would cover up to $100, but I’m going to call Lufthansa customer service to inquire where I should send my receipts and how long before I’m reimbursed.

One Month Travel With One Carry On??

Packing is one of my biggest travel challenges.  I always intend to travel light, but sometimes I get carried away at the last minute.

I’ve been able to go for two weeks with just a carry on.  But a month?  Can I get everything I will need into my trusty eagle creek carry on and my backpack?  I’m going to try.   I hope others find my attempt helpful.  If not, at least this post will allow ME to remember what the heck I stuck in my bag.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been “auditioning” my clothes to see whether they dry quickly, are versatile enough for weather that will vary between the 40’s and 70’s and, most importantly, can be crammed into my bag.  I’ve tried out different combinations to see how comfortable I am at NJ’s current cooler temperatures.  My discovery is that lightweight pants, when paired with silk long underwear work out just fine.

For past trips, I have either used local laundry facilities or I packed enough to get me through the entire trip.

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In Pokhara, Nepal, doing the laundry was a cultural experience.  The promised “tumble dry” only works if the government doesn’t shut off the electricity for several hours every day.  Bet you know what happened while I was there.

THIS time, my plan is to wash as I go.  I don’t normally hand wash clothes at home, so I gave it a whirl.  I wanted to see how long it took for different items to dry, and I was also curious as to how my duds would look after I had sloshed and wrung them out.  The verdict:  I figured my technique needed a little work.  Then I remembered a tip from a fellow traveler.  She nixed the wringing, instead opting to gently squeeze, then wrap her garments in a microfiber towel.   She swore her clothes were dry by the next morning.  So, I ordered a microfiber towel  from Amazon and gave it a try.  My technique still needs work.

Because I expect to do a lot of walking, I wanted to make sure that I had comfortable shoes.  I found a pair of Sketchers that should do the trick.  Air cooled? Memory foam?  My feet may be in better shape than my head.

I have super sensitive feet, so I am reluctant to put all my toes into one basket–or one pair of shoes– so I’ll be wearing my trusty Keens on the plane.  Yes, I WILL wear those Keen sandals with a pair of socks, and YES, I DO know that is a huge fashion faux pas, but hey I’m old enough not to care.

Here’s how I started out:IMG_5673

Then I had to make some choices.  One white knit top and pink bathing suit – out.  (I found another bathing suit that squishes up smaller)  Hanging toiletries bag, replaced by a zip lock bag, which also freed up space for my hair dryer and adaptors.

There are those that swear by rolling clothes, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Some might think I am REALLY obsessive compulsive, to take everything out, and try to put it all back without rolling.  Others would realize that I am completely committed to the scientific method.  YOU can pick whichever explanation you prefer, but I’m going with the latter.

Want to know the result of my “science” project?  Both methods produced the exact same result.  Conclusion?  Do whatever brings you joy.  I wasn’t going to take everything out and roll it up again.  I’m not THAT crazy, so I left everything packed flat.  Here’s what made it into the bag.

  • 6 long pants – 1 corduroy, 1 jeans, 4 quick drying (one lined, three lightweight)
  • 6 long sleeved cotton tops. 1 knit, plus 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 1 pajamas and  1 long underwear set that can double as pajamas
  • 2 long underwear bottoms and 7 underwear, 2 bras, 8 socks
  • 2 scarves
  • hair dryer (which I can use to dry clothes, if needed)  and toiletries
  • laundry kit
  • 1 Sketchers black air cooled shoes, with memory foam and flip flops for shower (or if I’m lucky, pool)
  • index cards (for teaching). According to our team leader,  former volunteers have left supplies behind, so i don’t need to bring a white board or other teaching materials.
  • 1 waterproof windbreaker with hood

Plus, of course, I’ll have the clothes I wear on the plane, like my fleece and the zip up sweater that would have fit in the bag if I had unzipped the expandable part.  (But then, it might have been hard to get the bag into the overhead.)

My back pack will carry my money, credit cards, passport, travel info, iPhone, iPad, chargers, my mobile “pharmacy”, camera, , pens, snacks, sun glasses, water bottle and travel pillow.

Total weight of carry on–26.5 pounds, something I can easily hoist into that overhead bin.  I think I’m all set.  We shall see.