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My Packing Lessons Learned (or learning)

This post is a tongue in cheek effort to document what I’ve learned (the hard way) about how to pack my bags for tours. It isn’t meant as any criticism of what works for others. If you have a lesson learned or experience to share, please do, especially if it’s humorous.

  1. Weather is More Important Than Dressiness. On our first Tauck tour – a one week river cruise - I packed 2 dresses, a skirt, and multiple dressy pairs of shoes. Thank god I did pack a rain coat too as it turned out I needed it in France in July. If you’ve spent much time on this forum you know that one of the most common (and argued about topics) is what dressy clothes you need. Yes, you do need at least one nicer outfit for special dinners. Not going to get into that argument, but I’ve never had a bad tour day because I didn’t bring multiple dressy outfits but have had ones where I was too hot, too cold, and/or too wet.

  2. Just Because TSA allows 3.4 oz Doesn’t Mean I Need it. Unfortunately, most travel products or containers assume you want the max. I finally did some testing by filling 1 oz containers of items I use daily to see how long they lasted. Turns out 1 oz of just about anything lasts me a month.

  3. The Siren Call of Travel Products. The travel industry is constantly coming up with special products guaranteed to improve your trip. Not just luggage but accessories and specialty bags. I kept looking at travel jewelry organizers only to realize I’d never pack 5 rings and 6 necklaces in a case that may weight a pound empty. If I packed expensive camera or tech equipment I might get something for it but I don’t so I mostly just use Ziplocs or simple zippered bags.

  4. However Big the Bag is I’ll Fill it. I’ve seen toiletry bags that would hold my entire bathroom cabinet. Not only will it take up a lot of luggage space but will be one of the heaviest items in my bag. I have a nicer TSA clear zipper bag and have been working to pare down what I bring so that everything can go in that. Not quite there yet but have gotten much better by following rule 2.

  5. But Just in Case I Need XX. This is a tough one. Amazing the things I’d figure I couldn’t do without. Finally learned to ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t have it"? Or, “How much weight/space does it take up"? Often the answer was I could live without it or find it where I was. I do pack some over the counter meds even though I know they are available in most places. But if you have some dire stomach issue do you really want to track down a pharmacy at 2am?

  6. Avoid Fantasy Packing. Remember what I said in the first lesson learned? Why in God’s name did I think I needed 2 dresses? This isn’t to say don’t pack fashionable clothing. But is about being realistic. If you aren’t likely to wear it at home, will you need it on tour? I know I'll be happiest on tour wearing the clothing that I already like and wear normally.

  7. Each Trip is Different When it Comes to How to Pack. After several trips and watching loads of packing videos that claim to have “the best” way to pack I’ve realized there is no best nor do you have to pick only one. It depends on my luggage, the type of trip, what clothing I’ll bring, unpacking on a ship or living out of my suitcase, etc etc. I tend to use a mix -- rolling socks/underwear, Marie Kondo folding tops, and folding slacks. It’s good to test out different methods and I’ve learned a lot by doing so.

Again, this is mainly meant to poke fun at myself and hopefully others will contribute what they've learned. Have you packed something for a tour and came home wondering "what was I thinking"? Have you learned a packing lesson the hard way?

Peace and Bon Voyage to All

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    Thanks, Claudia! One of my best travel purchases ever was a set of folding plastic coathangers from Amazon. They take up very little space and weigh practically nothing. I usually take 3 or 4 on a trip. I wash out "smalls" (as British calls them) and sometimes a top and hang them overnight. Really cuts down on the packing!

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    My best purchase is an accordion like set of "shelves". With 3 levels that can hold most of my clothes or packing cubes all I have to do is remove the whole assembly at each location and hang it in the closet. This is perfect for Tauck tours which have multiple locations with short stays in each. It's like have a portable dresser. Of course there was the time that the closet was so narrow that the shelves did not fit in, an open drawer was enough to brace the unit and the rest is history. My guesstimate is that the unit weighs less than 2 lbs and we kow that it folds easily into a 24 inch suitcase.

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    This is a fantastic topic that I’ll add my thoughts soon. In reality, we can all agree packing is easier for men than ladies. The argument there is that men’s items weigh more. After all these trips, I still need a packing coach.

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    OurTravels34 - The argument there is that men’s items weigh more.

    Especially if you’re 6’6” tall! 😀

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    I'm sure I'll think of more later, but check to make sure your favorite OTC products are in fact available over the counter in your country of travel. Take a screen shot in case you have to show it. So many people in Italy speak English but weirdly, not so much in the pharmacies.
    I made the dressy mistake exactly once.

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    Great comments Claudia, I learned the packing lesson after 2 trips and the more I travel the less I pack, one dress is enough for me, black pants a a couple of tops is just right for night time,

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    Claudia. I bow down to you! Awesome!

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    While connecting thru Heathrow a few years ago, I learned that our TSA clear quart bag is not the same size as what is allowable in England. My clear bag was stuffed with 1 oz containers and guess what? Security made me ditch several products. So from your lesson number 2, when I returned home I asked the gal at the Nordstrom makeup counter if I could have a bunch of sample size containers. Each little container will hold a generous scoop of shampoo for single use, or conditioner etc. I like to carry on enough for 3 days in case my luggage gets lost. I was amazed how much makeup base one little jar holds-its enough for about 3 weeks! I have very curly hair and can’t use hotel shampoo or conditioner so I have to bring my own. Then I pack the single use jars in a clear pill pouch and Lable the pouch. Works great!
    What seemed ludicrous to me was that after I had to throw away my own products staring me in the face was a Boots Number 7 store that was just beyond security! Hummm…..

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    edited September 2023

    Any liquids you buy beyond security are allowed on the plane in the UK as far as I know. I sometimes pick up British supplies in England bigger than 3oz/100mls and take then on the plane. I used to use No 7. Makeup.

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    Great topic Claudia!!!

    I have to admit that I am a horrible packer!! I am going to try the "do I really need this" to cut down on the stuff I bring.

    Before my first Tauck tour in 2011 to Australia/New Zealand, I learned on the old Tauck forum about the packing cubes and, if traveling w/others, to put items of clothing in each other's suitcase. This came in handy when my mother's luggage didn't arrive for a few days after we did, but she at least had some clothes to change into while she waited for her bag.

    For my upcoming Christmas Markets River cruise, I may utilize the wear and throw away suggested by people on this forum. I have a pair of jeans that I was going to throw out, but plan on bringing them and throwing them out over there after getting a wear or 2 out of them.

    I also agree that those little containers hold enough product to get me thru a week or two which is great to conserve space.

    I'm going to do my best to have space for all my souvenirs from the markets!! :-)

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    Kathy-529 - Pack a foldable tote bag for those souvenirs and then check your normal carry-on on the way home, and use the foldable tote as your carry-on.

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    MCD - thanks! I have a small hard shell carry on that I plan on putting in the overhead and have a small Vera Bradley travel bag that I’ll put under my seat so I should have plenty of space….I hope! Lol. I’m also going to Disneyland Paris for 3 nights so I know I’ll be buying souvenirs there, too.

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    What a great topic, Claudia! I am just starting to think about packing for our Treasures of the Med cruise a month from today! I have vowed to not take more than I need this trip….. everything is starting to be folded on our guest bed, and I will pull out or add items depending on the weather forecast a few days prior to us leaving. We have used packing cubes for years and love them.

    Another great item for travel is CADENCE magnetic containers. They are small (2 oz?) hard plastic leak proof containers for liquids, creams etc. I found they are enough for at least two weeks. Your post has made me think that I need to take some stuff out of my toiletry kit that I never use! Lighten the load.

    Normally my husband and I will pack one larger bag to be checked, and each have a rolling carryon that fits up top in the planes. Those have at least 3 days worth of interchangeable outfits and smalls. Also, I always pack a fold up tote bag and then check everything on the way home!

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    • Medium sized medicine bottles work great for storing components for a first aid kit. If you have a rapport with your pharmacist, ask for size 60C or 14C bottles. They also work great for other small odds and ends.

    • I order travel sized AHA/BHA (alpha hydroxy acid/beta hydroxy acid) and other facial products before each trip.

    • A good luggage store will also offer an array of travel sized products--razors, shave cream, combs, brushes, deodorant, et al. It took many trips and much trial and error, but we can now fit all our toiletries into my husband's small travel/amenity kit that came with our luggage.

    • For those who enjoy crocheting, you might wish to make your own tote bags (like what is typically used for carrying produce in European markets). I make them with cotton yarn in various sizes and with different sized mesh openings depending on what I plan on carrying. I will take two on the holiday cruise this year. One for my use and one for the gift exchange.

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    I have a master packing list on the computer that I modify for each trip. I also have a list of what I've packed for each trip. It would come in handy if I lost my luggage and had to file a claim. I have hard copies of my credit cards, insurance cards and ATM card (front and back) that I take on the trip as well as photos of each. (OK, I'm old.)

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    MCD - This guy is looking for you to be in his next commercial. (Just teasing - you're prepared for anything) :D

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    Smiling Sam - these are my favorite commercials! I so relate do portions of each one, especially the one when they are at the airport. I always arrive early and have snacks!! :-)

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    MCD - Well done! I do something similar by using pivot tables in Excel. I can summarize/sort quickly based on the parameters I wish to see. I maintain a separate table of airfare prices, airlines and destinations for comparison purposes.

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    When I pack I put a white flat bedsheet on the floor and layout my clothes so they hopefully mix and match including shoes and take a slow video of everything. I have a list of toiletries and meds. I take a picture of my suitcase too. I take pics of my credit cards, and essential cards and put them in the hidden section of my iPhone (password protected). I also use AirTags.

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    Smiling Sam -- I love those commercials! Can really identify.

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    edited September 2023

    I learned by accident years ago that security worldwide ignores skincare sample packettes and tiny tubes of toothpaste, etc. when I forgot to put them in the Ziploc. I test this theory now & then and have never had a problem; of course it matters only when I'm not checking a bag. I remember being mid-trip traveling home from Australia when the 3.4 oz. rule went into effect, which made for some frantic repacking at the airport and a bathroom facial (my Ziploc was stuffed with Aesop b/f the brand was available in the US).

    And just learned that you can bring a fishbowl, w/fish, onboard:
    https://www.rd.com/list/items-over-3-4-ounces-that-can-still-go-in-your-carry-on/

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    SGF, helpful comments, thanks. Kudos for casual but cool in all senses of the word, esp. on vacation.
    Note if this link is to be believed, cough syrup of any size is now ok in carry-ons. Who knew?
    https://www.rd.com/list/items-over-3-4-ounces-that-can-still-go-in-your-carry-on/

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    TSA is for US rules and not necessarily the case in airports in other countries.
    There is a great article in Wirecutter in The NY Times this morning about travel items, bags, clothing etc

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    We are going to Spain and Portugal in October, do we have to bring our meds in the original bottles or can we put them in a daily med organizer?

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    Bonnie88 - do we have to bring our meds in the original bottles or can we put them in a daily med organizer?

    Rightly or wrongly, for my 15 tours I've always used the little daily ziplock bags from CVS for my pills. It's easier for me from a packing perspective and from not putting more of the meds at vacation risk than I have to.

    I've never had an issue (knock on wood). :D

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    Been putting my meds in weekly containers for some time now. Always take a printed list off my hospital/doctor website to show any official that asks. Did take photos of each pill but the generics change appearance I’ve given up on that. Used to take pics of the containers too. Apart from the extra bulk of containers, I don’t want to lose more drugs than necessary. I know you can ask for spare containers from the pharmacy but I go away too often to keep troubling them. If the label is out of date, that might not look official to an agent. I’ve never ever been asked about my meds. None of my meds are controlled drugs and not likely to be banned in other countries. People have mentioned here on the forum thst they have had vitamins taken from them, I think that was Australia. If anyone is taking strong pain meds, or even sleeping pill type things, it”s worth checking about the country you are going to…..you can google.

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    In the airport in Australia in 2011, it was funny because we could take a bottle of water thru security, but they confiscated my cuticle clippers. They also took a womans knitting needles which she was able to bring over from the US so they had different regulations than we did.

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