I’ve been doing an awful lot more travelling for work this year. Most of it has been between Edinburgh and London, but I’ve also had last-minute trips to San Francisco and Shanghai that required quick packing.
To stay sane and organised, I’ve tried to streamline my luggage as much as possible. I’ve always travelled light, but it turns out there’s always more you can do, and every little bit helps. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Clothes and Toiletries
- Always take an eye mask and disposable earplugs: you’ll sleep much better on the plane. You can buy earplugs in bulk from Amazon.
- Keep a packing checklist with sections for extra things to take on holidays, business trips, beach stays, etc. It’s easy to forget to pack a swimming costume if you’re in a hurry.
- Layers! A combination of a light waterproof hoodie, T-shirts, and shirts is good for most weather.
- I wear a Mountain Hardwear sweat-wicking base layer for long-distance travel. It works well in heat and cold, and it’s lightweight.
- Take as few shoes as possible. My ideal is a smart-casual shoe with a trainer base – acceptable for all but the most formal occasions, but comfortable enough for lots of walking.
- I still haven’t found a good collapsible water bottle.
- For long trips, you want to wash your clothes halfway through to avoid taking too much stuff. AirBnbs are especially good for this, but you can also wash stuff in a sink if you can’t afford laundry service.
- However many things you’ve packed, take out that one thing that you know you won’t actually wear.
- Buy a Tide To Go Stain Remover Detergent Pen. Seriously, do it. Right now. These pens are pure magic – they let you remove stains on the move.
- Major caveat: I identify as a man and I work in tech, so it’s much easier for me to dress informally.
- Don’t unpack your tech gear and travel toiletries between trips. Yes, it’s more expensive to have two sets of every cable and adaptor, but if you keep everything in your bag then you’re much less likely to forget or misplace things.
- Take extra charger cables with you, along with a multi-port USB adaptor. If you’re out and about, you want to be able to charge as many devices simultaneously as possible when you’re back at base.
- Take an external USB battery, but don’t go overboard on the size, because you should be carrying it with you at all times. 10,000mAh is more than enough if you charge it every night. I use the Jackery Bolt, although Anker has a lot of good (and more compact) options.
- ABC: Always Be Charging. As soon you get to your hotel room or apartment, plug everything in, even if you’re just there for a moment. It’s also crucial to charge while connected to WiFi, as this typically is required for iCloud backups.
- Set up a backup system for your phone. God forbid that you lose your phone, but if you do, you want to make it as easy as possible to restore it. I also use Google Photos to have a second backup for my photos, and I open it occasionally to begin the background sync.
- My MacBook isn’t just light – it charges via USB-C, which means I don’t need a separate charger brick. Most new laptops have USB-C charging, so you’ll get this for ‘free’ soon.
- I don’t bother taking a tablet or a Kindle unless I’m planning to do a lot of reading; the weight/benefit ratio just isn’t high enough. My iPhone X has a reasonably big and very high quality display, and you may find it worthwhile to also get a larger-screen phone for the same reason.
- AirPods are surprisingly convenient if only because you don’t end up tangled in wires all the time. Their only problem is that they have very poor sound isolation, making them impractical on flights.
- Download offline maps from Google Maps before you go (unless you’re visiting China, in which case don’t bother since it doesn’t work at all). Favorite/star your hotel and other points of interest.
- I make herculean efforts to stay online while abroad. Often, my Three Feel at Home plan does this for free; other times I have to buy a local data SIM, which is getting easier and easier.
- I don’t bother taking a camera as it’s yet another thing to charge and carry.
- I have a Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack. It’s arguably overkill since I was pretty happy with my old Jansport, but the Peak Design looks much nicer and has lots of very thoughtful pockets and compartments, eliminating the need for packing cubes and such. The 20L doesn’t actually fit all that much stuff and it’s quite expensive, but it’s fantastic for trips of a few days, and it feels indestructible.
- I’m a big fan of carry-on duffel bags versus trolley cases. I’ve been using the same TravelPro duffel bag for around 15 years (sadly no longer available) and it’s still going strong. Duffel bags weigh less, provide more space, are deformable and expandable, and are less likely to get forcibly checked on full flights, because the staff know that they take up less space in overhead compartments. They’re also easier to carry anywhere that trolley cases struggle with – staircases, rough terrain, etc. Of course, duffel bags are definitely not suitable if you are unable or unwilling to carry them across airports, but if you are, you really should consider them.
- Never check anything if you can avoid it.
- Empty your wallet of unnecessary crap like membership cards, coins, credit cards, before departing. You’ll have a lighter load and less to lose if it’s stolen.
- I’ve started taking taxis to the airport, especially for early morning flights. It’s a good way to reduce stress, and if you want to rationalise it, flights are cheaper than ever.
- Pack healthy snacks – I like Kashi bars. Just make sure you put them in a separate, easily accessible compartment if you’re travelling to the US, since there have been reports they’ve started searching for food.
- Take a pen!