Traveling during the holidays can be extremely stressful, with countless factors lying outside of your control. As a travel writer, I’m constantly in and out of airports, but that doesn't mean I don’t fall victim to an occasional screaming match with a TSA agent or a meltdown at baggage claim. That’s why my personal strategy for air travel is to always try to minimize the potential of headaches. And the first step is packing my bags. Here are some tips to help you pack up for the holiday weekend:
First off, keep it light. If at all possible, only take a carryon. Even if your airline doesn’t charge the now-standard exorbitant fee to check bags, you’ll eliminate the likely possibility of delayed or lost luggage. It also shaves off the 15 or so minutes you’ll inevitably spend waiting at baggage claim.
A great strategy for fitting everything into one carryon is to use heavy-duty Ziploc bags to compartmentalize your clothing. It’s a great way to see instantly view the contents of your suitcase in categorized containers and it also slightly compresses clothes, making more room in your suitcase. (Bring an extra to use for dirty clothes.) If you’re looking for a step above Ziplocs, check out packing cubes or compression sacks. They’re both extremely efficient and it’s like having distinct, separated shelves in your luggage. If you don’t have any Ziplocs or packing cubes, I recommend rolling clothes instead of folding them. It saves room and doesn’t wrinkle your clothes.
Shoes always seem to take up the most room in my luggage, even when I line them along the sides of my suitcase, so I decided to start stuffing them. It’s usually socks, but I’ve crammed scarves, cameras and even loose change and cash, in them, which saves a lot of space and helps keep my smaller belongings grouped together. Also, I wear my bulkiest boots or shoes on travel days to make more room in my carryon.
Getting gels and liquids through security always seems to be the biggest headache for me. I try to minimize the potential of a TSA shakedown by only packing toiletries and gels that are highly personalized or medicinal. Aside from prescription medicines and custom skin creams and contact lens solutions, you’ll be able to find most toiletry essentials at your destination. If you’re staying with family, there will be plenty to go around and if you’re at a hotel, the concierge at the front desk provides basic amenities, like toothpaste and shampoo, free of charge. Some even provide razors and shaving cream. If you’re traveling with a sibling or significant other, be sure to divide each other’s clothes and toiletries between suitcases.
And if you think you'll be loaded down with winter sweaters or early Christmas presents from doting parents, plan ahead and leave extra room in your suitcase or pack another bag inside. And while you’re saving room, leave some space in your carryon for a homemade sandwich to have on the way. It will save you from spending money on an overpriced lunch, especially since most airlines no longer serve free meals or snacks. Honey PB&Js do quite nicely at high altitudes.