Monthly Archives: February 2017

Know Some Signs You Have a Packing Problem

Have you ever paid an excess baggage fee, left your passport at home or cleaned up a messy shampoo spill in your suitcase? If you’ve encountered any of these packing crises, chances are your suitcase-stuffing strategy could use a little work. To help your trip preparation go more smoothly, we’ve pinpointed the warning signs of four common packing mistakes and identified a few easy, effective solutions for each.

Warning Sign No. 1: A Wrinkled Wardrobe

Who wants to waste time slaving over a steaming iron at your hotel when you could be out exploring a new destination? Occasional wrinkles are an occupational hazard of traveling, but if your clothes come out of your suitcase looking like they’ve spent weeks in the back corner of your closet, it may be time to reevaluate your packing strategy.

Top Tips:
Stick to wrinkle-free clothing rather than ordinary cottons and linens, which are prone to creases. You can get wrinkle-free garments from travel suppliers such as Magellan’s or TravelSmith.

Before your trip, lay your clothes out ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need — but don’t actually put them into your bag until shortly before you’re ready to depart. That way you’ll minimize the time they spend scrunched up in your suitcase. On the other end of your trip, be sure to hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive in your hotel. (If they’re looking a little rumpled, hang them in the bathroom while you take a shower — the hot, moist air will relax away most minor wrinkles.)

When you go to lay your clothes in your suitcase, don’t simply fold and crease each garment individually — that’s a recipe for wrinkles. Experienced travelers use a variety of packing methods, including rolling (which works particularly well in backpacks or duffel bags) and interlocking (folding multiple garments together so that they help cushion each other against wrinkles). Other travelers swear by tissue paper or plastic as a buffer between layers of clothing. Read more about these methods in Packing Tips and Packing Tips from Our Readers.

Warning Sign No. 2: Damaged Goods

There’s nothing worse than arriving home only to find that the gorgeous blown-glass vase you bought in Murano has been reduced to a pile of colorful shards in the bottom of your suitcase. Travelers who’ve suffered the loss of a favorite souvenir or had clothes ruined by a messy spill may need a few lessons in packing with extra care.

Top Tips:
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Never put breakable items into your checked luggage. Instead, wrap the items carefully in newspaper, bubble wrap and/or clothing and stow them in your carry-on bag. Smaller items can be slipped inside a shoe and cushioned with a balled-up pair of socks.

If you’re buying a fragile item that’s too big to fit into your carry-on, have the merchant ship it home for you. Stores that frequently handle tourist purchases are pros at packing their goods for shipping — and you’ll often be able to insure your item and receive compensation if it’s damaged en route.

Anything with leak potential — shampoo, sunblock, toothpaste, perfume, you name it — should be sealed tightly and packed in a zip-top plastic bag to keep spills contained. (We knew those TSA liquid and gel rules would come in handy for something!) See our story on the Five Worst Packing Problems for more tips on coping with spills.

Warning Sign No. 3: Too Much Baggage

packing suitcase vacation trip No, we’re not talking about emotional baggage! We’re talking about the carry-on bag that takes two flight attendants to lift into the overhead compartment, or the suitcase that’s stuffed so full you have to enlist your children to sit on it before you can zip it closed. We don’t need to remind you of all the perils of overpacking — excess baggage fees, anyone? — so if this is your major packing weakness, read on to learn how to lighten your load.

Top Tips:
Your first packing mistake might be the suitcase you’re using. If you often find yourself edging toward your airline’s weight limits, it may be worth purchasing a lightweight bag to give you a few extra pounds to work with. See Choosing the Right Travel Luggage for more tips.

Do your homework to prevent packing unnecessary items. If the weather forecast calls for nothing but sunshine, leave the umbrella at home — you can always buy one if you get caught in an unexpected shower at your destination. Call your hotel to ask which amenities will be in your room; odds are you won’t have to pack your own shampoo, soap or hair dryer. For more help, see What Not to Pack.

Pack clothes that can do double duty — like black shoes that are comfortable enough for sightseeing but dressy enough for dinner, or a shirt that can be worn twice with different accessories. Stick to neutral colors so your garments can easily be mixed and matched.

Take your suitcase for a test drive. Pack it with everything you want to bring and then walk with it around the block. If you’re huffing and puffing after a quarter-mile, chances are you’ve packed too much — and there will be a few items in your suitcase that suddenly seem less essential.

Warning Sign No. 4: Pre-Trip Panic

Do you lie awake the night before a trip, terrified that you’ve forgotten to pack something vital? Or, even worse, do you arrive at your destination to find that you actually have forgotten to pack something vital? Pre-trip panic is often a sign that you haven’t done enough preparation for your trip — or that your preparation was too rushed. Staying organized and giving yourself plenty of time to pack will help cut down on your pre-trip anxiety.

Top Tips: Don’t make the mistake of packing the day — or the hour! — before your trip. Instead, begin making a list of items you think you’ll need about a week prior to departure. Starting early will give you time to go shopping for any items you may be missing.

checklist check list box markerUse our interactive packing list to jog your memory about items you may have forgotten.
Mentally walk through your trip itinerary, putting aside each day’s outfit and identifying any accessories or equipment you’ll need for the day’s activities. As each item goes into your suitcase, check it off your list. (You may even want to bring this list with you on your trip to make sure you don’t leave anything in your hotel room.)

Finally, keep your worrying to a minimum by remembering that outside of a few admittedly vital items — such as prescription medications and your passport — there are few things you can’t purchase on the road if you forget to pack them.

All About Car Rental Tips

Need wheels on your next trip? Renting a car can give you freedom and flexibility when you’re traveling, and in some parts of the world it’s the only feasible way to get around. But a rental car can also add complications to your trip — like trying to find the best deal or sorting out exactly which insurance options you need. Read on for our practical tips on saving money, understanding your rental agreement and avoiding problems with your car rental.

Choosing a Vehicle

Think carefully about what kind of vehicle you’ll need. If you’re traveling with children or with a lot of gear, you may want a large sedan or SUV. If you’re simply looking to save money on rental rates and gas, you’ll want to reserve the smallest available model.

But size isn’t the only factor. Looking for something environmentally friendly? Many car rental companies now offer hybrid vehicles. Can’t drive a stick shift? Be sure to reserve a car with automatic transmission. (In many countries, a manual transmission is the norm — so read the fine print before booking. Learn more with our International Car Rental Tips.) Also, be sure that the company from which you’re renting offers any extras you might need or want, such as a ski rack, car seat or GPS system.

Booking Your Car

You’ll find major international car rental agencies all over the world — think Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty. But depending on where you’re traveling, locally owned companies could offer lower rates; before booking, read reviews to be sure their companies are up to the standards of the majors.

Always shop around. Check the major booking engines and aggregator sites (such as Expedia, Priceline and Kayak) to get an idea of what rates are available, but you should also visit the car rental companies’ websites as well — they often offer exclusive discounts.

To lower your rate, ask about discounts for any major national organizations, frequent flier programs and credit card programs to which you may belong. They’ll frequently offer deals on car rentals. (Those offered through AAA can be very good.) If you’re employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.

Before you book online, do an Internet search for coupon or promotion codes to put into the booking engine of your car rental company’s site. Just type the name of the company followed by “coupon code” into the search field and you’ll often find special promotion codes that could save you anywhere from 5 to 20 percent off the cost of your rental.

Tips to Pack for an Active Outdoor Vacation

Hitting the great outdoors, regardless of the season, can be an exhilarating vacation. But the sheer complexity of gear can leave you stumped — and your suitcase overflowing. Your main concern will be staying dry and warm while keeping the amount of stuff to a minimum, especially if you’re the one hauling it.

hikers view
Overall Plan: If you’re spending a significant amount of time outdoors, layers that fold up easily are key. Camping enthusiasts will want a backpack, preferably one that’s ultra-light with an internal frame. But even if you just buy a daypack, make sure that you load it and road test before you go. What seems light at home will seem five times as heavy after you’ve been carrying it for eight hours.

What’s Essential? While blue jeans may seem like the ultimate outdoor outfit, they can get wet and heavy. It’s better to get pants that are water- or wind-proof, or can be converted into shorts. A pair of tights or long underwear add an extra layer. Look for T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and hoodies in breathable, synthetic fabric that absorb sweat better than cotton. You’ll want to pack an emergency poncho or some other form of rain gear to protect from sudden storms.

Your footwear will depend on what kind of activities you are doing. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots can handle many conditions, but you might need something sturdier for rockier trails. Kayaking or rafting trips could demand durable water shoes. Scarves, gloves and hats can make a big difference in comfort at higher altitudes, even in the summer. Insect repellent to prevent bites — and anti-itch cream to soothe them — are must-haves.

Secret Weapon: Pack multiple pairs of non-cotton hiking socks to keep your feet dry. Adhesive bandages and moleskin can go a long way toward keeping blisters from ruining your hike (make sure you expose them to the open air during the night). Bring some Neosporin to prevent infection.

Safety First: When you’re heading into the back country, bring a whistle for bears or other unsavory creatures, especially if you’re a woman traveling alone. Dehydration can be a problem on the trail; bring a reusable water bottle and refill it often. (You may need a water purification method to make sure your water is fit to drink; see Drinking Water Safety for specifics.) Bring a flashlight or headlamp for night hikes, along with plenty of batteries. And be sure to check in with rangers if you’re going to a remote area.

Leave at Home: It goes without saying that this is one trip where you won’t need heels or dress shoes. No one on the trail cares what you look like. And while I’m a big fan of using an e-reader to save space in your luggage, I wouldn’t lug a Kindle, iPad or laptop into the wilderness. You should be unplugging anyway, right?