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Top Ten: Packing Hacks

I've been lucky enough to do a decent amount of traveling in my time. With all of that traveling comes a whole lot of packing. In this Top Ten are my favorite "packing hacks." Some of the items in the list could save your belongings should your baggage get thrown around during the actual flight, and some allow you to make the most of the somewhat limited space in your luggage. Some things you might already know, and some you might not know. When my boyfriend went to Guatemala, he didn't know about some of the things that made it onto this list, so I helped him out a bit.

In my case, my baggage restrictions are as such:
For Jet Blue: 62" in overall dimensions, must not exceed 60 pounds (checked). Personal item: 16" x 15" x 8". Carry on: 26" x 18" x 12".
For Air France: 158 cm/62" in overall dimension, must not exceed 23 kg/50 lbs (checked). Personal item: no dimensions given. Carry on: 55 cm x 35 cm x 25 cm (21" x 13" x 4").

Looks like I'm using the Air France restrictions to pack by. I'd rather be well under Jet Blue's restrictions than paying fees for Air France...

First: How to NOT Pack your bag...

#10 Wrap Up Your Liquids...and Your Unmentionables!
Don't try to bring a brand new bottle of your usual shampoo. If you use an easy to find drug store type brand of product, you'll more than likely be able to find it wherever you're traveling. In my case, I'll probably find it in smaller bottles at more expensive prices, but it'll mean there will be more room in my luggage for more important things like my clothes and medications, and I won't hit the weight limit as quickly. It's always good to go buy the little 3 oz empty bottles at your local drug store and fill them if you can't find trial or travel size bottles of your shampoo, conditioner, lotions, etc. Use those so you have something right when you get to your destination, and pack them in Ziploc type baggies! Actually, pack any kind of liquid in those baggies. If your perfume bottle breaks or explodes during the flight, it might not be too unpleasant, but you may ruin a few pieces of clothes if your shampoo (however little you may have) explodes. Those baggies go double for your skivvies and other things you don't want people you don't know touching. TSA does random screenings of checked luggage, and they go through everything in your bag. Granted, they'll wear gloves, but the idea of having someone grabbing at your negligés at other things can give you the creeps. When I came home from one of my P2P trips and I went to go unpack my back, I opened it and found a little brochure that said my bag had been selected for that random search, and that it had (of course) been searched. Nothing was necessarily out of place or missing, but the idea that someone else had touched my things made me sick to my stomach. So long as your things are in CLEAR plastic zip-top bags, TSA can examine things in your luggage, but they won't actually be touching things. If you put things in OPAQUE (not clear or see-through) bags, TSA has to open the bags and touch things. Another note on TSA: Don't lock your baggage, unless you use a TSA approved lock. If your bag is selected for that random screening, and it's got a lock that isn't TSA approved, they'll break the lock and throw it out to get into your bag. They won't just say "oh, we can't get into this one," put it back on the line, and pick a different bag to search.

#9 Bulk Up: Wear Your Heaviest Items
This one will be tough for me. Though August in France isn't too hot, I don't plan on wearing my rain boots on two eight-hour flights and a five-hour bus ride. I like being comfortable on long trips like that, so I'd much rather be in flats. I will say that if my rain boots are the difference between making the weight requirement, or having my baggage weigh too much, I'll wear them, but I'm going to try to avoid it. At any rate, I definitely recommend wearing your heavy sweaters and your jeans instead of packing them. If you're too warm, the sweaters are easy to peel off on the flight. If you're taking a short trip or traveling light and weight restrictions won't be a worry for you, try dressing up for your flight. If there are spare first or business class seats on your flight, attendants are instructed to give those seats to people who dress nice first. Free seat upgrade just for wearing slacks? Please and thank you!

#8 Film-Loving Photographer? Be Careful!
The screening machines that checked baggage will go through could damage your undeveloped film rolls, but the x-rays and other machines you encounter in security with your carry-ons and personal items won't. As annoying as it may be to have a ton of film canisters with you in your carry-on (I had 20 with me in this manner when I went to Australia for 3 weeks in 2004), it's better to have the film safe and undeveloped than to find out your film is damaged or half-developed when you get to your destination (unless the effect of half-developed film is what you were going for).

#7 Never Forget Anything EVER AGAIN!
You should always make a packing list. I started mine a month in advance just to give myself time to think about clothes I wanted to take, and to go back to the list as I've thought of something I need to add to it. I've been editing it as I go, adding things I've bought and taking things off that I probably won't have room for, or won't want to wear. This site lets you make your own interactive packing list that you print out, and it gives you ideas of stuff you'll probably need to take that you might not have thought of off of the top of your head anyway. Once you've finalized your list, print out TWO copies. Have one with you as you pack, and check everything off as you pack it, and where it gets packed (carry on, purse, luggage, which checked bag, etc). Pack your second packing list, and update your digital copy with where the items were packed to make sure that you don't forget anything as you travel (I forgot things along the way on my P2P trips until I started doing this), and when you come back home. If you've made a habit of forgetting to take your medications (like me), download this handy iPod application (sorry Android users, it's not for you) called Pillboxie ($0.99). It was created by an RN and has a really cool game-like interface that helps you remember to take your pills. You can even set up "nagging reminders" that will bother you every minute until you tell the app that you did indeed take the medication in question. I've input ALL of my medications into the system, but I only take two every day right now. At this time, you can't track how often you take your PRN (as needed) medications, but the developer says that option is in the works.

#6 Things You MIGHT Need... Pack in a Box
I'm not sure if my place of living will have hangers. I obviously don't want to have to buy them when I get there, but I also don't want to have to take up precious room in my suitcases to pack ANY hangers. Let's be honest, packing three hangers of each type is going to be pointless, so I'd need to bring the proper amount, and that'd mean a whole lot of dead space or crumpled clothes, or not enough space for the clothes I really want to take. That being said, I have a plan. I AM going to pack some hangers... in a cardboard box! Diane from OuiinFrance gets things shipped to her from America all the time, and she's figured out how to get her items to her in the best condition possible with the least amount of hassle. I'll pack a decent amount of hangers in a box to ship and clearly mark it as Diane says to, and I'll put a post-it note on it so my mom knows what it is. If I get to my living arrangement in PARIS (I can live without hangers for two weeks in Tours, I think), and there aren't any hangers, I can tell her to take that specific box to the post office, and tell her how and where to send it. Notice how I said "that specific box" in the last sentence. Anything you think you might need should be packed in this manner. Obviously, if you're traveling and NOT staying in one place for a length of time like I am, this tip is pretty pointless for you, but for students studying abroad, I'd say it's incredibly helpful. Check out that link if you haven't already. Diane does a great job outlining how to send packages. Considering I had to back out of sending my boyfriend a promised care package full of toys for the kids he lived with while he was in Guatemala because I couldn't afford it, learning these new tips will be helpful when I'll have to get my mom to send me some things that I can't find in France. Let's just hope sending things to France costs less than sending things to Guatemala!

#5 Don't Fold! Roll!
Your clothes will take up more room in your luggage if you fold them instead of rolling them up NEATLY. The rolling method keeps your clothes neater when it's time to unpack them as well. It's usually a good idea to not take a lot of clothes that require a great deal of ironing or dry cleaning with you, but rolling will keep those "upkeep heavy" garments looking a little bit better than they would if you decided to fold them. If your clothing items are delicate, use tissue paper to pack them like you're wrapping a present in a box.

#4 Keep Calm and Carry On... A Change of Clothes
In case your baggage gets lost, put a change of clothes that bodes well to being smashed and shoved into your carry on (bare minimum: a change of underwear). If you really can't be bothered to pack a change of clothes in your carry on, do yourself a favor and pick up a travel/trial sized bottle of fabric/clothing Febreze. I had a friend in college that admitted she didn't like doing laundry in the communal washing machines, so she'd use Febreze and Downy Wrinkle Releaser as much as possible. Believe me, if you lose your luggage, walking around in the same outfit for 24+ hours is going to make you pretty stinky, so going into an airport bathroom to at the very least disrobe and cover that outfit in Febreze is the least you could do...

#3 Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends!
If you're like me, and you're a girl who thinks she needs to smash her whole wardrobe in her suitcase, enlist the help of a friend (or two, or five, or ten) and get them to help you narrow down your wardrobe selections. DO NOT ASK YOUR MOTHER FOR HELP. Why? When I was going through old clothes in my closet at home (what to keep, what to toss, what to give away), I had my mom go through it with me. We tossed two items because of holes, and put ONE thing in the give away pile. Why? Mom said everything had too much sentimental value to give away. I'm a bit of a pushover with her, so I agreed. I asked my boyfriend to go through everything with me again, and we put more in the give away pile because he didn't have that sense of attachment that my mom did. Granted, this is packing and not getting rid of things, but my mom might try to convince me to take more instead of leave more because "this is so cute" and despite the fact that the item in question is not à la mode (in style) where ever you are going, she might still say "but you look so cute in it." Enlist the help of friends who a) know a lot about and/or like the style of clothing of the destination you're traveling to, b) can be ruthless about your clothing options and aren't afraid to tell you "no" when you say "but..." c) are good at looking at all of your clothing options at the same time and pairing outfits together in his/her head to make sure you won't take any single-use pieces, d) know YOUR sense of style/comfort level, e) ALL OF THE ABOVE. I might run my final options by my mom for a "modesty check," however...

#2 Use the Rule of Three
This rule definitely goes for girls, big time. It's going to be very hard for me to stick to, but I'll have to refer to it A LOT in order to slim down my packing list. When you're dealing with your clothes, make sure each piece can be placed in at least three different outfits. If that's not the case, it's not worth packing. This is a great rule for studying abroad in France, since the main idea for day-to-day fashion is predominately neutrals. All of your pieces will go together, and your pop of color comes from an accessory, like a scarf or a bracelet. Tell this to your friends from the previous hack, and they should be able to help you even better than before!

#1 Chonie'd Chausseurs
Remember those rain boots I don't really want to wear on the plane? This is why! I feel like a lot of people know this tip, but it's definitely my favorite packing hack. By the way, these rain boots are AWESOME. They're not very expensive (they cost about 30 bowls of dog food) and they've held up better than any other pair I've owned, so I definitely recommend them! To try to take advantage of as much space in your luggage as possible, it's good to stuff things in as many crevices as humanly possible, and putting your underwear in your shoes is one of the easiest ways to do it. I'm not going to divulge little details like my shoe size, or my pantie size, or what kind of panties I like to wear, but I did a little test, and I fit a resounding 24 pairs of underwear in only one boot (not neatly, either)! You can easily pack things like bottles of shampoo or lotion (in your zip-top bags) in boots like this along with your underwear or scarves, and underwear easily fits in other shoes like sneakers or flats. 

The main keys to packing involve filling up as much space possible, packing only what you need, and packing carefully to avoid damaged belongings. I'm hoping I can fit everything I need in my bags without having to force my mom to ship anything to France outright, only if I need one of those "maybe" items. Something tells me I'll end up shipping a lot of stuff home, however...

Le vrai philosophe n'attend rien des hommes, et il leur fait tout le bien dont il est capable. - Voltaire

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