Packing is probably the most boring, problematic, annoying, and yet strangely disregarded part of travelling. It is something that is readily dismissed as a job that can be done the morning you are due to leave, and so invariably the morning of your journey is frantically spent running round your house in search of passports, clean socks, headphones, teddy bears and anything else your frazzled mind has time to remember before you scurry off to the airport without any of the things you really need, like an inhaler for my asthma, for example (how did I make it this far in life?). And then you arrive at the airport to realise your bag is 5kg overweight because you packed anything and everything earlier, so have to pay a load more to take your unnecessary stuff on the plane. Paying for extra, unneeded stuff is not the Budget Budgie way, so, having faced several fraught trips with a bag full of useless things and nothing I really need, and pretty much having bought yet another toothbrush from every place I’ve ever been because I’m an idiot and don’t look in the bathroom while I’m panic-packing, I have decided to compile a few hard-learned pointers to ensure your travel life runs more smoothly than mine.
- THINK AHEAD
This is insultingly obvious, and yet who honestly thinks about what they need to pack (aside from my mother who compiles a lengthy hand-written list two weeks in advance)? Thinking ahead is key, especially for long trips that need more stuff. For example, for our Budgie inter-rail trip we had backpacks to last us three weeks. This meant space was at a premium, and the weight needed to be kept low enough to actually carry the bulbous mass around for many miles to reach the obscure hostels Matt had booked. This needed planning and forethought to spare my shoulders a real workout, so I packed essentials and heavy things a full week beforehand, and added to it as I slowly remembered important stuff (my toothbrush finally!), and also removed things as I had time to truly assess my priorities, such as just the one teddy bear. Thinking ahead was essential to this, and any trip where you will really need all of the things you have as you lug your possessions on your back like an excited middle-class snail touring Europe.
2. MAXIMISE YOUR SPACE
Inefficient packing is not just a minor sin, it’s basically evil. Why let that precious space go to waste because you can’t organise a bag? Firstly, and again obviously, put heavy stuff in first. Having spent too long in airports recently, I’ve discovered one of the most annoying things in life (apart from the fact my EasyJet flight has been delayed AGAIN) is seeing people leave their bag or hand luggage and watching it topple forward and cause a domino effect with any other bag or person it hits, all because the owner of the toppling bag has put their underwear and clothes in first, because it’s the most important and obvious thing, and then stuffed all their heavy stuff in afterwards, so the bag is as top-heavy and unstable as a tory government. A base layer of the heavy stuff, all fitted into squares to maximise space, is the easiest way to stop your bag pointlessly crashing into people. Then, with stability ensured, put the clothes.
Also, as I suggested before, form stuff into squares in your bag. treat it like Tetris; you have to fit shapes to the gaps until it’s neatly filled. This is where panic-packing fails and foresight wins.
To fully save space, you could also invest in some vacuum packing bags. They are very cheap and are a surprisingly effect way to pack clothes and reduce wasted space.
3. BEAT THE WEIGHT LIMITS
Airlines love the bag weight limits, that golden opportunity to wait for people to panic-pack or load up on souvenirs and then, with no alternatives, charge them! Be careful to check what you are allowed, because of course the airlines all have different limits to be annoying. I recently had good fun neatly packing my hold bag into my efficient Tetris-squares to discover it was 9kg over the limit. As my good, dear friends EasyJet charge £20 a kg, I broke out my ingenuity to spread the weight:
- Hand luggage is your main ally here, especially on flights that have no weight limit for them (some do, I’ve had my hand luggage weighed before so check). Always go for maximum bag size, of course, and put your heaviest things in there. I squeezed 19.8kg into my hand luggage through magic and cunning (I was moving country before you ask why I needed so much stuff). As long as you can lift it, it’s not too big and the airline staff aren’t mean and weigh the bag, it’s the easy solution.
- The extra 1kg that airlines let you get away with in the hold luggage can be very helpful. Just look a little shocked it’s over the limit but very close, and they wave you through no problem.
- Pockets. I own a pair of shorts whose sole purpose is for stuffing a lot of things into its huge, warehouse-sized pockets. My moving country adventure pushed me to get four books, a computer mouse, a phone charger, a wallet, two sets of keys, two phones (don’t ask) and an ipad into my pockets (a belt was truly essential for this). I reckon I looked pretty weird waddling with huge, misshapen thighs but ah well.
- The duty free bag is also a good friend. If you have a regular airport, get a cheap thing there and keep the bag for future use. You can take an extra rucksack through in the larger duty free bags. Be careful that you use the right bag for the right airport though. And ask for a big bag, they don’t mind changing it (even when I bought 7 euros worth of chocolate with 5 cent coins, and I was too busy counting my change to see what bag she used and had to ask her to change it for a bigger bag while an angry queue formed behind. They loved me in that place).
4. IS IT NECESSARY?
The final, and vital, question you must ask yourself. I’ve packed things I’ve never wanted or needed, but “just in case” I have taken it with me (at the expense of my toothbrush again most likely). Question everything, because it’s pointless taking things you really don’t need. I took a bottle of alcohol around Europe during inter-rail because Alan gave it to me at the last minute and I forgot about it. That is really pointless and unnecessary.
These are just a few pointers, all fairly straight-forward and obvious, that I try and employ to avoid my many previous mistakes. They are simple, but can make a big difference. We will add more as we think of them, and any suggestions you have are certainly welcome in the comments section!