10-ish Rules of Packing

Here is some food for thought as we each begin to think about what must accompany us to Europe. Always a struggle, often an battle of dreams vs. reality, packing need not be precursor to an existential crisis. Queen’s 10 rules are far from perfect, but they present a thoughtful and humorous approach to considering what stays at home and what finds a place in your luggage.

Please note, Karen’s oft-repeated, but never overstressed, number one rule of travel is also Queen’s “Golden Rule”

Courtesy of Aric S. Queen (National Geographic, Intelligent Travel blog24 February 2012) with annotations and alterations from Justin D. Shanks.

When you’ve spent more than a decade on the road, you get asked some pretty interesting questions. The one query I get most, though, is about packing: what to take, what to leave, where to put it. I’ve taken scads of trips, but every time I get back, I know I could have gone even lighter. Let’s save you some trouble and start with the basics of my lessons learned.

The 10 Rules of Packing

1. The Golden Rule: Take half of the clothes you were planning to bring and twice the money. I cannot stress how true this is.

2. Take only what you can fit in a carry on. We’ve all lost luggage before, and it’s a pain. But when it’s 3 degrees in Poland and you’re rocking those horrible sweats you insist on wearing on long flights, hearing “as soon as we find your bag, we’ll send it to you” can really put a damper on your first day. And — no offense to the Polish — but having to buy an entire wardrobe in Warsaw might not be exactly how you want to spend your travel pennies. This also means you’ll have luggage with wheels, which is worth its weight in gold. EDITOR’S NOTE: The carry-on only rule is great…in theory. If you can pack with frugality, but still abide by the professional expectations of GPP, then by all means, carry-on. However, please keep in mind that our nearly two-week immersion will involve numerous micro-climates and requires professional (i.e. on the business side of the business-casual spectrum). Carry-on the critical stuff (e.g. toothbrush, fragile items, have some business-casual attire in a carry-on or on your person); wise carrying-on will help if your faced with misplaced luggage. Please see rule 4 for additional sartorial guidance.

3. If you simply must check luggage, ask them to put a “Fragile” sticker on it, which helps ensure your bags will be put on top of the pile and be first off the plane. [The editor remains skeptical of the efficacy of this rule.] Also, yours is not the only black suitcase, so slap a sticker or red ribbon on it — anything that will help you pick it out in the crowd. [Yes, a very easy and useful tip.] Think airport security is scary these days? Try making it through customs with someone else’s bag. [Seriously? Has anyone ever done this?! Just double-check before leaving the baggage carousel.]

4. Mix and match. Bring three shirts and three “bottoms.” That’s 9 outfits. EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes! Save for UniBasel, we will see each group only once. Therefore, you can, in good conscience, repeat outfits. Pack wisely. Save room for chocolate, wine, and other souvenirs.

5. Books are sexy. So are vinyl records. But save yourself the extra pounds and fill your Kindle (or iPad) with every book/country guide you need and stick to your iPod. EDITOR’S NOTE: I (dis)agree. This is a tough one — tablets contain a lot more “pages” in less space [usually less weight] than a printed book. That said, I pack a book every time I leave my house. Totally up to personal preference. Just be sure to bring something to read. Zürich also has some great bookshops (including Orell Füssli), if you need a new book after the transatlantic flight.

6. Don’t be a diva. If you’re the type who has to travel with your own hair dryer (and won’t use the hotel’s), then I might suggest a weekend in the Smokies over the Alps. EDITOR’S NOTE: This one might seem a bit harsh (and it is). The suggestion does ring true — there will be plenty of hair dryers (definitely a surplus at CESA) and other “necessities” at various points throughout the trip. The basic idea here is this — you cannot pack everything you might want and/or need. It would be great to teleport (technological capability pending) all the contents of your house/apartment to Europe, but that wouldn’t quite be the same, immersive experience. Travel is about new experiences, alternate perspectives, openness, excitement, and so forth. When packing think about what you truly need to make the most of your travels.

7. Jackets and sweaters take up a lot of precious bag space and weigh you down. Unless you’re going to Russia in winter, layers work just as well. EDITOR’S NOTE: Check the weather. Pack wisely. Layers are super versatile (also refer to rule 4). Wool pieces can work for various occasions and remain scent-free for weeks.

8. If you can bear it, stay away from jeans. This is huge and I should have moved it up to number 2. They absorb dirt (and odors), are bulky and take days to air dry. Cotton and khaki are the way to go. The Editor believes that you probably have room to bring some denim (if so desired).

9. If it’s important and can’t fit into your daypack, leave it at home. Stuff gets stolen no matter where you go. As big as a pain as it is, I am constantly carrying my computer, cameras, etc. on my back — and in crowded places, as ridiculous as it looks, in front of me. EDITOR’S NOTE: A bit alarmist, but also intelligent. If your thesis, dissertation, or other important documents reside inside your laptop, don’t leave it lying around. You wouldn’t leave the only paper copy of those documents sitting on a table in a random room, would you? Nevertheless, pack wisely (with an eye toward svelteness) and you needn’t worry.

10. Every country I’ve ever visited sells soap. And shampoo. And socks. And t-shirts. i.e. What you forget, you can buy.

One last thing: those plastic gardening shoes that somehow made it into the acceptable mainstream of fashion footwear? Do your country a favor… and don’t. The Editor elects to let sleeping dogs lie.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions about packing, luggage, attire, cultural dress code conventions, travel logistics, among many other topics.

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