Picking, packing and pimping your pack


Preparing for a trip is a great feeling. There’s a lot to do and a great buzz of impending departure. One of my favourite things to do (besides hopping on the plane) is pack.

I know this sounds crazy, but I really do enjoy it. Making sure I have everything that I need, but not things that I don’t need (even though they still sneak into my bag somehow) and that my pack can still be closed is a huge equation that I thrive off of.

I know some people hate it. If I could pack for them, I would. Maybe they just haven’t found the right method or they don’t have the right luggage.

Choosing your luggage, your packing style and even changing your pack to fit your needs can hugely influence whether packing will be fun or torturous. It’s different for everyone, every trip and every location. I’ve found what works for me and by following a few general pointers, packing can be quick, easy and relatively painless.

Pick your luggage

What you pack in is the first thing to determine. You don’t want a bag that’s too small, too big or too awkward.

If you plan to go on hikes or carry your pack further than from the train station to wherever you’re sleeping, a traditional top-loading backpack might be the way to go. The top-loading aspect keeps things in place and near to your body and the suspension system takes some of the weight off your shoulders. If you’re only going into your bag on occasion, you might want to sacrifice accessibility in exchange for something that carries well.

If you don’t want to carry your bag on your back, traditional rolling suitcase might be a good fit. You’ll have easy accessibility to all parts of your pack and you don’t have to carry it. Keep in mind where you’re going – if you’re sleeping somewhere with no elevator, lots of stairs or cobbled streets, you may have a tough time. Wheeled luggage is also a little heavier, but if you don’t mind the weight or if you have back issues, wheels can be a lifesaver.

When I travel, I generally move from one city to another once or twice a week. I am not taking my bag on hikes, long walks through cities or any activity where I have to carry it too long.

For my situation, it’s best to have a bag that allows easy access to everything inside. I’ve got a backpack which opens like a suitcase so everything is easy to get to. My bag is the Osprey Waypoint pack but they don’t seem to sell it for women now (I bought mine in 2009 and it’s still going strong). Osprey does have what looks like a similar line of packs now, called the Farpoint series.

This works great for me. It’s comfortable enough to carry from location to location, but I don’t have to unload everything to get to my buried toothbrush at the bottom of the bag. To top it off, the shoulder straps tuck in when not in use – perfect for checking my bag for flights.

If you’re buying a new backpack, be sure it fits. Try it on like you would clothes. A good outdoor store will help you find the right size pack (important if you’re short like me) and will help you adjust it correctly to your torso. They’ll often have bags of weight so you can test out how the bag carries when it’s full of something besides air.

Remember, when it comes to backpacks, one size does not fit all, more money does not always mean a better bag and just because your friend loves their pack does not mean it’s the best choice for you.

Utilise packing gadgets

There are many packing gadgets that can help you keep organised and save space.

I am in love with Eagle Creek’s packing cubes. They are lightweight fabric or canvas and mesh cubes with a three-sided zipper that can fit several tops or a couple bottoms in each. The cubes come in different sizes, some with two compartments, and some pouches. I’ve got a few to separate my clothes, toiletries and shower stuff. I have them in different colours so it’s easy to tell what’s inside without unzipping them. They act like drawers in my bag and make packing, unpacking and finding things simple. After using packing cubes, I can’t imagine travelling without them.

Of course, depending on what type of luggage you’ve picked, you might already have a built-in organisation system. Most top-loading backpacks have a few smaller pouches and one large rounded compartment, so square packing cubes might not be ideal. Of course, they would still work, but they’re best used in square travel packs or suitcase.

One potentially bulky item every traveller needs is a towel. There are plenty of quick dry towels out there now. The one I’ve got is the REI MultiTowel. I bought it years ago and it still works well. I intentionally bought it in a bright colour (orange) so there was less chance of me leaving it behind.

One of my favourite travel gadgets has to be humangear’s GoToob. These handy little squeeze tubes are perfect for shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. They stay closed in my bag (I’ve never had a leak) and the larger tubes have a suction cup which is handy if there’s no shelf in the shower (although the suction doesn’t last long, so don’t rely on it too much). The tubes have large openings so filling and cleaning is a breeze. Seriously, I love these things.

Pimp it out

Whatever type of luggage you get, it isn’t made specifically with you in mind. There’s always something you can do to make it fit your needs.

My travel pack came with an attachable day bag. I found I never used the day bag and it makes my pack really long, so I leave it at home. I’ve tried putting a small reusable Reisenthel shopping bag in its place, but I found it would easily slip out. I MacGyvered my bag with six velcro strips (bought at a craft store) – half of the velcro is on my backpack and the corresponding bits on the Reisenthel bag. Now, I can put a coat, food or something small inside the bag and attach it to the outside of my pack. It’s easy to get to if I need it and it’s held securely in place with the pack’s straps and my velcro. When it’s empty, it doesn’t take up any space at all.

Making your pack work for you often needs to be done. The company that made it had general travellers in mind, not you specifically. So pimp it out and make it your own!

Your final packing session means that you’re really going. It’s not a time when you want to be stressed out or realise you have too much stuff to fit in your bag. You want your luggage to be easy to carry, organised and fit your needs. If you plan ahead enough, practise packing and realise early on what you do and don’t need, packing will be much easier. It does take some planning, but it’s all worth it when you’re not stressed by your luggage.

If you still don’t like packing, I will gladly come and pack for you.

You can find more travel planning posts here and tips on how to prevent overpacking here.

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