Pack It Up: Part 2 in a Series

As I mentioned in the earlier post, travel accessories are helpful when you pack. We’ve accumulated ours over almost a decade, so there’s no reason to lay out a lot of cash for one trip. If you have these handy, great, if not, there’s no rush to buy them. We simply get a lot of use out of them.

For long, long trips, I have the compression bags similar to the ones below (mine are from Walmart and are fairly ragged at this point). From experience, I can tell you that you can get three weeks worth of socks and underwear down to a mass roughly the size and shape of a footlong from Subway. Plus it has the benefit of sealing all your clothes in waterproof bags, which is a handy thing. This is how I got everything I needed for 3 months in Europe down to a carryon suitcase.

So we don’t have to go digging in our bags and cause a massive explosion of clothes in the hotel room or friend’s living room, we have about five packing cubes in the full and half sizes. Shirts and pants in the full sizes, undies/socks in the half. This will be super-useful when we have the baby to keep all of its accessories and outfits contained. These in conjunction with the compression sacs or extra-large Ziplocs are good for holding the dirty laundry–then the rest of your clean clothes don’t end up smelling like feet.

Speaking of Ziplocs, I had an exploding bottle of lotion in my backpack on a flight to London in high school and that taught me to either wrap your toiletry kit in a plastic grocery bag or go by the TSA guidelines and seal the liquids in a 1-quart baggie. I like the regular rectangle kits, mine came from L.L. Bean in 2001 so they don’t carry the exact model anymore, but the one below is pretty similar–I have one less front pocket and two pockets on the sides. Their top-selling toiletry kit is one that hangs up, which is okay–I never see my sister travel without hers–but it doesn’t sit flat on a countertop and that’s a dealbreaker for me. Ours is big enough to hold both of our toiletries, even at TSA-approved bottle sizes.

It’s a good idea to bring a raincoat wherever you go. It really came in handy in San Francisco in general and again Maui when we went to the upcountry–it was cold and misty. I got a Columbia packable rain jacket three years ago and the $50 price tag felt a little high, but it looks fantastic for how long I’ve had it and I bring it everywhere (totally unrelated plug–this is the tenth year I’ve had my L.L. Bean ski parka. It was $250 when I first bought it, and I don’t think it’s so much as faded. It’s in storage in Maine until we move somewhere cold so I think I will easily get 15-20 years out of it). Plus it has a “packable pouch” stitched inside so it folds up into a pouch about the size of a 5″ x 7″ index card and about an inch and a half thick, so I can throw it into a day purse easily. Makes a halfway decent airplane pillow too! The Columbia Kona Rain Jacket is comparable to the jacket I have. Tom has a spiffy one from Helly Hansen that goes with him.

The last two items are specific to a certain kind of travel: budget backpacking/camping/crashing on people’s floors. With the baby coming along, our days of pulling up a bit of floor space at a willing friend’s apartment are coming to an abrupt halt (*sniffle*), but we forsee doing a lot more family camping. However, I bought the Therm-a-Rest Lite self-inflating sleep pad in Chicago and it has been a wonderful purchase. It rolls up small enough that I can just use the straps on the side of my backpack to clip it in place. The price tag feels a bit high but Tom has had his since he was a child and it’s in good enough condition that we can give it to our baby to use on camping trips and Tom can get a grown-up size one (his feet hang off the end, poor dear). Everyone who has used it has been surprised by how comfortable it is.

The last item is a camp towel. We just bought fabulous ones from REI on sale, but it’s similar to this one on Amazon. We have two full body size towels and two hand towels, which I think came to about $19 at the REI sale. Stacked up together, the four are less thick than a single full-size terry bath towel. It saves a ton of space and they dry ridiculously fast, so no musty-towel smell. We’re looking forward to using these for camping, at cheaper hostels where you provide your own linens (possibly also coming to a halt with the baby in tow), and on our island-hopping adventures so we can bring them to the beach and don’t have to get extra towels from the hotel service.

So that’s what we have! Over time they’ve made packing into a brief and relatively painless process. Next up: how to pack a carry-on and dress for the airport.