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Packing and Travel Hacks

Hotel deck facing the seaIt’s the end of April. Rain is streaming down my windows. I’m thinking about summer holidays — the kind that require a passport or at least an airline ticket.

Although I know I’ll enjoy my destination, there are two things I dread: making the travel arrangements and packing. Travel arrangements are fairly straightforward. Packing is a project all its own — whether it’s for two weeks or two months.

Over the years I’ve learned to pack light which means I pack about the same amount for any trip. Once I’ve gathered the items, it’s time to fit them into the case. I’m always looking for new tips, and these are the ones I’ve gathered for this year. You may notice some ideas, such as rolling rather than folding clothes, have been around for awhile.

So here are the travel packing hacks for this year’s round-up.


Be sure your passport is current. Some countries require the passport be valid six months beyond your departure date.

Be sure you have any required visas.

You might want to get Global Entry which saves a lot of time when you return to the U.S.

Be sure you have enough prescription medication for the entire trip, and don’t put it in your checked luggage, because you might never see that suitcase again.

Notify your credit card company where you’ll be traveling, or they may block the card.

If you’re getting travel insurance, get it before you leave


I gather travel documents in a separate area on my desk. These include my passport, tickets, confirmations, itinerary, money, credit cards, phone, iPad or eReader, electronic chargers, and a pen. I keep these in my backpack.

In another pile I have prescription medications, glasses, energy bars, and anything else I need to keep with me. They too go in my backpack. By now the backpack is heavy, but by gum, I have my essentials in order.

HACK: The new thing for securing a small amount of emergency cash is to roll it up and put it in a chapstick tube (after removing the chapstick, of course). The rationale is thieves will go for your wallet, money clip or money belt. They won’t think of taking your chapstick. Though if they read about travel hacks, they may know this one by now.

HACK: Loose wires and cables can be stored in a glasses case. Or, they can be wrapped around a binder clip. These clips can also secure sharp objects such a razors.

HACK: Scan your passport and itinerary. Email the documents to yourself. If anything happens, you have a digital copy you can take to the consulate. Unless you’ve also lost your smart phone.

ALSO, pack a change of underwear in your carry-on, because sometimes bags get lost. Shocking, I know. If you’re only taking a carry-on, your underwear should already be safely tucked away.


cat in suitcase The first thing to keep in mind is that only you will notice you’ve been wearing the same clothes on alternating days for the past two months. And if anyone does notice, he or she doesn’t really care. This may help trim your wardrobe. Also, check the weather at your destination. And be prepared for it to be hotter or colder than the forecast predicts. Therefore your best bet is layering light weight clothing.

HACK: When organizing your clothes, keep out the heaviest/most bulky items to wear on the plane. Some people wear cargo pants on the plane for the extra pocket storage. Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane. I once wore a pair of hiking boots which was awkward at security but saved packing space.

SHOE HACKS: I still put my shoes in shoe bags, though they’re rather tattered now. The new hack is to put them in shower caps, one per shoe. And pack your socks and/or underwear inside the shoes to save space, and keep the shape of the shoe.

HACK: As mentioned above, rolling your clothes saves space and reduces wrinkling.
HACK: Roll a belt and put it inside a shirt collar to keep the collar crisp.


  1. You don’t need to take the entire bottle of shampoo, and you can probably get it at your destination. However, if you do have liquids, put plastic wrap between the bottle and the cap to seal the contents. And put them in a plastic bag for extra protection. Even expensive moisturizer can mess up your clothes.
  2. Old tic-tac containers are good for keeping bobby pins in order. Does anyone still use bobby pins?
  3. If you wear make-up, put a cotton swab inside the containers for blush, eye shadow, and powder foundation. It will keep the make-up from cracking.

Fragile LabelHACK: If you’re checking a bag, mark it as fragile. This is supposed to put your bag on top of the other luggage, which means it will come out to baggage claim first. I’m not sure I believe this.


MEDICAL HACK: Avoid flying with a severe cold. I repeat, if you have a cold, don’t fly. The pressure on your eardrums is incredibly painful on descent. I know this from experience.

HACK: If you’re on a long flight, it’s a good idea to wear night moisturizer to counter the dry air.

HACK: About twenty minutes away from landing, use the restroom. This is a really good idea I should try sometime. Some airlines lock the restrooms about fifteen minutes before landing. Besides, you want to get through the airport quickly, not waste time looking for restrooms. But if you must find a restroom, avoid the first one you see. It will be the most crowded.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of travel hacks, but it will get you started. I’ve included two short videos out of the 445,000 YouTube results for “travel light packing.” Mr. Bean spends about four minutes demonstrating how not to pack for a summer holiday.

In the second video a young man manages to fill his case in one minute: twenty-two seconds. Note he already has his items identified and ready. He does demonstrate a useful way to pack shirts.



Photo from seaside hotel by Author.

Passport Photo in Public Domain.

Cat Wearing Glasses by Cardiffchestnut. Creative Commons Attribution.

Photo of binder clip in Public Domain.

Photo of cat in suitcase by Author.

Fragile Tag by Solomon203. Creative Commons Attribution.

23 Genius Hacks. Birchbox. 

Emmanuel Banks. “12 Awesome Travel Hacks.” Lifehack.

Arielle Calderon. “28 Brilliant Travel Hacks. BuzzFeed. June 25, 2014.

Gianni Jaccoma. “10 Travel Hacks That’ll Make Any Trip Easier.” Thrillist. June 4, 2014.

Mani Karthik.”60+ Amazing Travel Hacks.” Supermoney. Oct. 18, 2016.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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