As we head into the busy holiday season, a lot of people may be getting ready to travel for the first time in a while and could be feeling a little rusty.
We wanted to help your winter getaways feel as stress-free as possible, so USA TODAY reached out to some professional travelers for their top tips on how to pack. Advice ranges from the best ways to get organized to planning around traveling with little kids.
Here’s a roundup of tips from influencers and journalists who travel as a day job, so you can pack like a pro.
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Especially if you don’t travel often, it can be hard to even figure out what you need to pack.
“Make a short list of any things you wouldn’t be able to replace easily – passport, medication, prescription glasses, camera – and double check these items,” Alex Outhwaite, a television travel presenter, suggested. “That helps stop me stressing before I leave as I know that anything else other than those items can be easily bought when I’m away if necessary.”
Once you know what you need, you can organize even further by keeping like with like in your luggage.
“The classic Army Roll technique is perfect for keeping clothing as small and compact as possible. Roll up your undies and socks for the day into your bottoms for ease,” said Annette Richmond, who founded the Fat Girls Traveling Facebook group. “I then suggest placing items in packing cubes to save even more space. I would bring at least two packing cubes so that as you accumulate dirty clothes one of the packing cubes can be your laundry hamper.”
USA TODAY travel reporter Kathleen Wong uses a reusable shopping bag to separate out her dirty laundry while on the road, and our other colleague Nathan Diller said he likes to keep his liquid toiletries in plastic bags to prevent any en route spillage.
“It’s much easier to travel when carrying less,” said Jae’lynn Chaney, CEO of Jae Bae Productions. She and Richmond both added that a portable luggage scale can help keep you honest and avoid overweight bag fees. Experts also recently told USA TODAY that it’s usually a good idea to stick to carry-on luggage whenever possible if you’re flying.
Caroline Hershey, who runs the Jet with a Set blog, said that families with young kids can follow this same advice, even if it seems more daunting.
“Pack light. You can usually find a place to do laundry,” she said.
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Leave some space
You don’t want your suitcase to be totally full on departure because you could need more room on the way back, whether it’s for souvenirs or less neatly-folded dirty laundry.
“Don’t pack to the brim. Leave space for new things you buy there,” said USA TODAY travel editor Josh Rivera.
Chaney agreed. “Leave a little bit of room in your luggage for things you might purchase during your trip; this way, you can avoid paying extra luggage fees on the trip home,” she said.
Keep the important stuff with you
From medicine and documents to underwear and chargers, you don’t want to wind up losing something you need.
“Pack anything you think you may need urgently in your carry-on,” said USA TODAY travel reporter Eve Chen. “Pack a few basic first aid things like Band-Aids, ibuprofen and Pepto Bismol.”
Chaney added that it’s a good idea to bring some clothes in your carry-on even if you’re checking a bag.
“Always pack at least one full outfit and an extra pair of shoes in your carry-on bag when flying,” she said. “This way, you have clothes to change into if your luggage gets lost.”
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Track your luggage
As issues with lost luggage escalated over the summer, luggage tracking became increasingly popular.
“Air Tags or Luggage Tracker app will give you peace of mind if your luggage gets lost or delayed,” Richmond said.
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Don’t be afraid to shop while you’re there
Whether you’re traveling to see family or just going on vacation, chances are you’ll be able to get necessities wherever you go as well as souvenirs.
“Any place you go, they have kids there too and you can buy anything on the ground in terms of food or diapers,” Hershey said. “Avoid packing things you can get at your destination.”
Though of course, that advice applies to adults, too.
“Buy whatever you need there,” Rivera, my boss, advised.
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Know your rights
Another way to reduce stress is to be a well-informed traveler. Whether that means knowing how much your airline will let you carry on, or where the gas stations are along your drive, the more you know, the more prepared you’ll feel.
Chaney said this advice can be especially important for disabled travelers.
“As a plus-size woman who lives with disabilities and utilizes both a wheelchair and portable oxygen concentrator when traveling, I always recommend that travelers who are traveling with medical equipment know the policies surrounding their specific device,” she said. “For example, my wheelchair can be checked for free and doesn’t count as checked luggage when flying since it’s a medical device. If you’re traveling with any type of medical device or equipment, know that it can usually be checked with the airline you’re flying with for free.”
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