On Sunday night, I packed for a three-day business trip in ten minutes flat. Those are some good stats, my friends, and I didn't even forget anything crucial, like underwear or lipgloss. I've been traveling a lot this summer---mostly for work, but sometimes for fun---and I've managed to get the packing process down to a fine art. I could do it with my eyes closed. In fact, maybe next time I will. Oh, is that a challenge? Do I hear a challenge? Fine, next time I'll do it with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back. In seven minutes, how about that. We'll make it a YouTube sensation.
If you're like me, you hate packing. I'd say that I hate packing more than anything in the world, but that would be untrue because there is something I hate more in the world than packing and that thing is unpacking. At least with packing there's a vague element of excitement to the whole affair: you're going somewhere! You're taking mini toothpaste! The air is filled with promise because maybe this time you'll actually use those gym clothes you're dragging halfway across the country (again), WHO KNOWS. When you're unpacking, however, there's none of that: all you have is a hotel laundry bag full of dirty underwear and a sense of heavy regret about that hotel gym.
Packing, at least, you can put some science behind. You can get nerdy with packing; you can make it a process. Here are some of the recent ways I've made that process a little more streamlined.
* Have a travel outfit. Now, I've said it before and I'll say it again: have a standard outfit that you fly in. My own involves a pair of gold ballet flats (and a supplementary pair of socks if I take them off on the plane), a pair of soft black pants, a black or white crewneck t-shirt, a pashmina, and some sort of loose and flowy cardigan (I recently bought a black one made of a very thin material; Calvin Klein from TJ Maxx, best thirty-five dollars I ever spent). Knowing what you're going to be wearing on the plane and setting it aside immediately, before you even start packing, will go a long way towards helping you feel organized. Shirt, pants, cardigan: boom, done. Pashmina on the top of the pile. Move on.
* Make your own travel-sized toiletries. More and more frequently, I travel with just a carry-on bag. This, of course, means adhering to the TSA's guidelines about liquids, and friends, I have become a pro at eyeballing a product and knowing whether it's three ounces or less. Lots of things are, of course, and still others come in special travel sizes. But some of the products I like to use---my face wash, my contact lens solution---don't come in ready-made, appropriately-sized versions, and so I keep a constant supply of these things in my own 3-oz containers.
Do this right now: go buy a couple of travel-sized bottles at the drugstore---better yet, snag a couple of hotel shampoos the next time you're traveling and empty them out---and fill them with the products you take with you when you travel. And then---this is the important part---keep them topped up. Every time you get back from a trip, fill them up again. You should always have a travel-sized version of your facewash (or moisturizer or whatever you need) in an easy-to-grab place. Don't be the person buying travel bottles at the all-night drugstore, and then frantically decanting your conditioner into them at 2am before your trip. Uh, not that that's happened to anyone I know, of course. Like me. Every single time I've gone anywhere.
* Have a travel shelf. I just started doing this over the last couple of months, when I found myself on a plane every week, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's changed my life. I dedicated a little corner of my bathroom closet---well, technically it's my hall closet, since my bathroom actually is the size of a closet---to toiletries I take when I travel. Anything wee or mini-sized or freakishly small and portable, I put there: little sample pots of moisturizer, tiny bottles of mouthwash, disposable razors, shampoos and conditioners I've taken from other hotels. I put all of this in this corner---along with my self-made 3oz containers, which are always topped up and ready to go---and then whenever I pack for a trip, I grab whatever I need from the travel shelf. It's all there. No hunting around for that tiny eye cream freebie I know I got a few months ago: it's on the travel shelf. And when I come back, I put everything back there again for the next time.
* Two words: travel toothbrush. This is the best thing I ever did: I bought a specific toothbrush for travel. It goes on the travel shelf, and I grab it when I'm packing. Internet, it's so simple and so beautiful: YOU WILL NEVER FORGET YOUR TOOTHBRUSH AGAIN. You'll never have to remind yourself to throw it in at the last minute after brushing your teeth that morning. Just brush away and forget it: the travel toothbrush is packed. You're covered.
* Collect conditioners. Yeahhhhh, it's not that I'm advocating stealing or anything, but lots of hotels don't give you conditioner. When you stay at one that does, swipe it and keep it on the travel shelf to take with you next time. Chances are, your next hotel won't have it. But you, my smooth-haired companion, will.
* Bring gold shoes. Gold shoes go with anything. On my most recent trip to New York, I brought three pairs of shoes, and all of them were gold: ballet flats, flip-flops, and strappy sandals. When you only bring gold shoes, you don't have to worry about anything else matching. Everything goes with gold shoes. You can't go wrong.
* Speaking of shoes, bring shoe bags. Sometimes when you buy fancy shoes, they come with a shoe bag. If this ever happens to you, KEEP THE SHOE BAG. Shoe bags make excellent underwear bags; I pack my unmentionables in a shoe bag every time. If you can swing it, bring two shoes bags: one for clean, one for dirty. Just make sure the bags look a little different is all. Wouldn't want to mix those two up when you were getting dressed.
* Corral your cords. Whenever I travel, I put all my cords and chargers and adaptors and plugs into a giant freezer-size Ziploc bag. They're all there, they're all together, and you can see them at a glance. You will never lose your phone charger at the bottom of your suitcase again. Plus, you're less likely to forget something in a hotel room if you look at the Ziploc bag and see that something's missing.
* Actually, pack everything in Ziplocs. I use a Ziploc for my jewelry too, and another for important documents, like trip itineraries or visas. I swear to god, I don't work for Ziploc. It's just....the bags are clear! Genius!
* Write yourself a note. Once you're all packed up, chances are you've still got a few things you need to throw in at the last minute---particularly if you're packing at night and leaving first thing in the morning. For me, these things are always my phone, my pajamas, and my glasses. Grab a piece of paper and write them down now, then put the piece of paper on your nightstand. I know you'll feel stupid, but do it: just writing them down will reinforce them in your brain, then you'll have a ready-made checklist to cross-reference in the morning.
So there you go: a few little strategies I've found that make packing and preparing for a trip a little smoother. As for the great folding versus rolling debate, I've tried to convert to rolling my clothes recently---I've heard it takes up far less space in your suitcase---but I often just find myself folding them because it's quicker. Any particularly strong thoughts on the subject? Any other packing tips you'd like to add to the list?