Guest post by Nick Hilden
The first time I ever went to Europe, I was a college student going to Paris for several months of study. I had not traveled all that much, and I ended up packing foolishly. When I decided take a break from my studies to visit Barcelona, the recollection of dragging my overstuffed suitcase through the streets caused me to reassess my situation. I threw out full sized bottles of shampoo, gave away most of my books (especially the 3,000 page volume of Proust), left behind my heavy coat (It was the middle of June. Why had I brought a down jacket?), and cut my towel in half. This was a rather extreme, on-the-fly learning situation, but over the years and many more travels, I have come to be something of a expert at packing.
With modern check-in baggage prices (and not to mention general convenience), it is highly advisable to pack everything you need into the carry-on allowances—specifically a small suitcase or duffle-bag along with a “personal item”, such as a purse or laptop bag. The aforementioned personal item is an excellent opportunity to gain some extra packing space. Instead of bringing a small purse or a simple shoulder case for your computer, consider a larger backpack that has a built-in protective area for your laptop.
When I travel, I am working as both a writer and musician, so I usually have an acoustic guitar with me. I used to pack it in a hard-case and check it through, but then I learned that if a traveler uses a soft case, almost every airline will allow them to bring it onto the plane—even if you already have your suitcase and personal item with you. If you’re a traveling musician, pack your instrument case with everything you can. There is the occasional risk that, as you board a flight, the crew will say that gate-checking is not an option and that you’ll have to run the instrument through regular baggage. Remind them that your item is delicate, that it is in a non-protective bag, and remain insistent—they will give in. It does nothing for their reputation to be smashing the instruments of traveling musicians. What do they know? You could be famous.
As for what you’re actually packing along, consider the weather at your destination. Many people think it necessary to pack for good and bad weather—just in case. But in reality you can almost always have a pretty good idea of what to expect. You do not need a jacket in Paris in June. You do not need a pair of shorts in Granada in February. Leave whatever is unnecessary behind.
That goes for more than just clothes. I understand the need for certain comfort items and little pieces of home, but when you’re on the go and lugging bags from place to place in the hot sun or freezing cold, you will cease to care about having the little odds and ends. More than anything, packing well is all about being practical. Are you really going to wear those shoes, or that outfit, or read that book?
And don’t forget—you’re probably going to acquire new things at each place you go, and you’ll need room for souvenirs and mementoes.