Ever since we had to start paying airlines for the luxury of bringing our suitcases, packing has been the worst part of air travel. Actually, no, wait, the TSA line is the worst part of air travel. And the stream of delays. And all of LaGuardia, basically. And the way that you no longer have space to open a book when the doughy businessman in front of you leans his seat back to make room for his girth. And the frequency with which the airlines lose the bags you paid extra to bring. OK, so it’s all terrible. But packing is still pretty bad, because the bag fees compel you to pack as much as you can into as little space as possible. Fortunately, we’ve developed this series of Life Hacks to help, which we’ll share just as soon as we finish punching ourselves in the face for using the term “Life Hacks.” (thwack)
1.) Use your smallest possible suitcase: Immutable law of physics: Like gases, life coaches and pet-accessory stores, the contents of your suitcase will always expand to fill all possible space. If you bring a suitcase capable of transporting a baby grand piano, you will somehow find a way to fill it with pointless periodicals, extraneous chargers and bonus socks. Bringing a small suitcase will automagically limit yourself against packing like you’re quantum-leaping to your next life.
2.) Limit yourself to a week’s worth of clothes — and plan to do laundry: Laundry, of course, is the opposite of vacation. But overpacking is expensive, and most countries have developed the ability to wash stuff. Hotels and cruise ships will do it for you, and most towns have laundromats, which aren’t especially scenic destinations but are better than packing your entire closet. You can spot-wash in a hotel sink or a stream, if you’re being all Bear Grylls about it.
3.) We guarantee you don’t need that many shoes: You need flip-flops, which can do anything, comfortable walking shoes and maybe exercise shoes, if you’re of that sort. Wear the biggest pair you have. If you still need to make extra room, just bring the left ones.
4.) Roll your clothes: Here’s some hot fresh packing math: Wadded clothes > folded clothes. Folded clothes > Rolled clothes. Roll your clothes like they’re tiny little sleeping bags. “Expert packers,” or at least the knobs who call themselves that on Twitter, will say that if your clothes take up more than 1/3 of your bag, you have too many clothes.
5.) Wearing isn’t carrying on: Airlines are run by despotic monsters, but their rules allow for one massive loophole. Seatmates may look at you funny when you show up wearing a Shackleton-grade winter coat and hiking books, but they can shove themselves into a bag of travel-grade pretzels while you smugly think of your packed sandals and light shirts.
6.) Pack only color-coordinated outfits: Grays, whites, tans, maybe a little blue, we’re done here. Exception: If your trip involves playing golf, obviously just wear whatever brutally clashing Skittles colors you feel like.
7.) Keep every last molecule of space in play: Relieve your wallet of extra receipts, membership passes, frequent-shopper cards and cash. Actually, just bring like two credit cards, and you should be fine. If you’re looking to be an expert-level samurai, get a phone case that doubles as a card holder. We’re not big fans of the wallet cases, as they make it hard to take pictures and also make it look like you’re reading a tiny old encyclopedia. But you can find plenty of cases that allow for card storage. Only bring cash if you’re 72.
8.) Bring an outlet extender, you know, one of those tiny genius inventions that turns one plug into three: Then all you need are your USB cords. Outlet extenders are available at Ikea for about 19 cents.
9.) You know those weird pants that zip off to become shorts? They’re actually super-helpful when traveling in different climates. Also you can pretend you’re Marilyn Manson’s tent!
10.) Here’s the one weird synthetic object you should actually bring: A towel, one of those quick-drying ones preferred by campers and Everest hikers. It’s one of the rare cases where some expensive tech is an improvement over the traditional. Also this is not a Douglas Adams joke, we swear.
11.) Lay out everything you want to bring, then turn off the lights, put on soft music and gently remind yourself that you don’t need the vast bulk of it: You’re going on vacation, where the sole purpose is to shake free of your daily routine, and while it’s psychologically comforting to prepare for that by bringing all your familiar stuff, it’s also kind of not the point. Go try something new. You’ll survive. And if not, your phone will probably tell you how to fix it, so just make sure you remembered the charger.