Solo Traveler: Packing Tips

Solo Traveler: Packing Tips


In the last column I talked about traveling light, taking one carry-on suitcase and a large purse-like bag for electronics. That sounds fine and dandy, but in reality, how do you pack everything you need for a month (or six) in two small carry-on bags?

It might help to take a look at what constitutes “need.” We’re familiar with the travel-sized packages of lotion, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste. Unfortunately, the TSA has a limit on the amount of solids, pastes, and creams that can be carried onboard.

The bottom of the suitcase unzipped to pack flat items. Photo by Sherry Hardage

So a better approach might be to take toothpaste, a hotel giveaway shampoo, razor, and a comb, then buy everything else when you get where you’re going. After all, people everywhere have the same grooming issues. There will be stores that sell everything you want, though maybe not the brands you prefer.

How many clothes does a person really need? To be honest, if what you’re wearing on the plane is one day’s worth, then pack for three more days. If you take a length of thin nylon cord (9-12 feet should do) and are willing to wash your own clothes, you can hang them up to dry overnight. OK, pack several more days worth of underwear just to be safe. Other clothes can be worn a few times before they have to be washed. It’s usually not difficult to find a laundry. Three to four days of clothing is just about a kilogram, the minimum wash load for most laundries.

Depending on the season, you may need to pack bulkier clothes for winter. Choose carefully and take only what you absolutely need. In cold climates, there are plenty of stores with warm clothing for sale, and if you purchase at second-hand stores, you can donate the extra clothes when you leave. (Note though, not all countries have second hand stores. Some cultures frown on reusing clothes of unrelated people.)

A friend of mine went on a two-month trip through Australia. She bought clothes she needed along the way, and when she wanted replacements, she mailed the extra clothing home. All those embroidered tablecloths, trinkets, and colorful hand-woven items can be mailed home, too. There’s no sense in clogging up your nicely designed packing system. Note however, international mail has gotten a lot more expensive in the last few years.

Rolled garments and items in a zip-lock bag. Photo by Sherry Hardage

Once you have decided exactly what to take, you still have to pack it into those two small containers. One suggestion is to roll your clothes. They take up less space that way. Just be sure to roll them carefully or they’ll emerge quite wrinkled.

If you take supplements, the bottles can eat up a lot of space. One good technique is to use the snack-sized zip-lock bags for each type of pill. It’s best to put a slip of paper with the name of the pills inside. Magic-marker labels on the outside of the bag tend to get smeared over time. Prescription meds should be in their original packaging however, or customs agents may try to take them away from you.

Another packing tip is to put underwear and thin clothing in zip-lock bags, then press all the air out and zip it. You’ll have a thin package with all the underwear in one easy-to-find place. Travel stores sell an expensive version of this idea with a tougher bag, but a zip-lock works just fine as long as it doesn’t develop a leak.

The luggage Sherry Hardage takes when she travels. Photo by Sherry Hardage

Most roll-on suitcases have ribs inside the bag (for the handle) with a cloth covering. There is usually a zipper that allows access to that part of the case. I’ve found it convenient to tuck clothing between the bars. It helps to even out and flatten the bottom of the suitcase.

When you carry electronics, it’s a good idea to keep the cords and chargers organized. Most of those can fit inside a large zip-lock bag, too, which in turn keeps the carry-on “purse” organized. Take along extra rubber bands and small clips to keep the cords manageable.

It may sound like I’m a poster child for the Zip-Lock company, but when there’s a product that works consistently and is so convenient, why not take advantage of it?

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, Europe, and Asia since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website:

Follow the continuing adventures at Sherry’s blog:

Hardage welcomes comments via email:

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