If you’re huge de Niro fan, like I am, then you surely remember his famous line
” Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner ” and this applies regardless if the cops are coming to get you or your best friend has just won two tickets on a radio show to Tierra del Fuego and you only have 30 minutes to get to the airport.
I really think that it’s an art, the ability to pack your bag quickly and be ready to go at a moment’s notice, this way never missing an opportunity that you may later regret. A few years ago, I was sitting around an afternoon, chilling with my one of my best friends flipping channels, when by accident, we heard on the weather channel that a snowstorm was about to hit the next day. Being quite tired of shoveling and staying in the cold, we started throwing around ideas about skipping town and going somewhere hot. Banter turned into some light web research and before we knew it, we had two tickets for Barbados in just a few hours. Now, I know this is not the same as being ready in 30 seconds, please forgive me, I was not as experienced at the time.
Over the years I’ve gotten much better being pushed by extreme procrastination and being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. My absolute record is 20 minutes; coming home from work, undressing, showering, packing the bag and out the door heading to the airport. On hindsight, maybe it explains why I arrived in Madrid and my first order of business was to walk into the closest El Corte Inglés and spend €20 on one new pair of underwear. Nonetheless here’s my absolute minimum getaway packing list.
1. IDS, MONEY AND KEYS
Yes I know it sounds immature and foolish to forget to take your wallet or your keys (since you don’t always need cash) while leaving the house. However my mom, to this day, continues to remind me about these three every single time I leave the house, even if only came to see her for a short visit. Honestly, I can’t remember the exact number of times that I forgot my wallet at home, or my keys and had to come back in, and even my passport and only discovered it to be missing after already completing the first flight on my itinerary.
On one occasion, upon arriving at the Canada/US border, the immigration officer looked at my passport and asked me to repeat my name three times, and each time I was saying it he would reply with “No”. I was utterly confused until he handed me back my passport, opened at the picture page and my jaw dropped when I saw that it wasn’t even my passport. Needless to say, I’m never annoyed when I hear my mom’s voice echoing those three words in my mind (IDs, money, keys).
2. YOUR BAG
Even if the bag is not really inside your travel bag, it constitutes in my opinion the most important decision factor in relation to your travel plans. In most cases today, airlines have severely restricted the size of carry-on that you can bring on board and the idea of checking in a bag should never be an option. Given all of the above and keeping in mind your travel destination, your carry-on bag should have the following features:
Wheels (roller blade style is preferred)
Extendable handle (sturdy)
Shoulder straps (so you can carry it as a back pack)
Padded computer pouch with quick access
Small pocket for documents and money
One or two interior straps
My philosophy for choosing a bag is based in my case on a lengthy road warrior experience. You can never take for granted the length of your stay and the conditions that you’ll encounter. Even if after years of being a Starwood elite member, I’m pretty sure that my hotel room will be more than adequate, I can remember one or two occasions when I’ve had to leave my beautiful suite due to fire in the hotel or flooding on one of the floors above.
This is why I have a hard time parting with the bag that is nearing its end and I take my time in picking a new one. Upon a new purchase and once a year or so, I take the time to spray my carry-on with waterproof solution, just in case it has to spend some time in the rain. Also if your bag manufacturer or a local suitcase repair shop can change your extendable handle from plastic to aluminum, DO IT! It will greatly extend the life of your bag. After you’ve done all this additional work you’re finally ready to hit the road quickly.
3. GADGETS AND ELECTRONICS
For years I used to leave electronics till the end of my packing but then again, thanks to the airlines’ changing in rules, I now decide depending on the itinerary which gadgets I will bring along. If one item needs to be left behind then the first to go is always the laptop. As much as I love my MacBook, there are some destinations, such as Cuba, where I will not risk bringing it with me. I’ll spend the extra 2 minutes making sure that it’s plugged into the UPS, that sleep mode is disabled and that TeamViewer is on; and then I triple check that I’ve put the iPad in.
I’m sure that once you spend some time on the road, you’ll decide which conveniences you can’t live without. Here’s my list:
Ear bud headphones
Bose QuietComfort headphones
Apple and micro USB wires
Heart rate monitor
This list is extremely personal however, regardless what you have on yours, make sure that it all fits in a soft pencil case style pouch. Most of the items remain permanently in my carry-on even when I’m home, further saving time when getting ready in a rush.
4. DAY BAG
At the bottom of my carry-on there is always a soft little backpack that I’ll use during the stays on the road. Even if my carry-on can turn into a backpack, it’s too bulky to carry around to the gym or on grocery runs. Ideally you want something that can mold well to the contour of your bag and is very thin. I don’t recommend the skinny laptop backpack as a day bag, since you can hardly fit anything in them and they’re too rigid.
TIP: That being said, when traveling to Europe, where they’re particularly anal about bag sizes, I often wear my skinny laptop backpack on my back, yet under my lite rain shell hoodie so they can’t see it at check-in.
I generally like the backpacks that have some lacing on the outside, in which case I can use it to store my water bottle or my squash rackets. By the end of the trip, the day bag can turn into a laundry bag however, if you do this then you should consider washing it once you get home.
This is a particularly hard topic to tackle since it really depends where you’re going and if you need hiking boots then you should consider wearing them instead of packing them in your bag. On the other hand flip-flops are extremely useful and comfortable but I always keep a pair in my carry-on. They tack in nicely between the wheels and provide additional cushion while your carry-on is standing up, just in case on your return you’ve picked up some great Chilean wine bottles.
It took me quite a while to find a way to combine the outdoor running shoes and the indoor court sneakers. I’ve now settled on a pair of Nike Free 5.0+ which even if they wear out in less than a year, yet I find them extremely comfortable for outdoor running and because of the non-marking soles I can wear them indoors.
If you also need casual business footwear, I would suggest some leather loafers that can fold well, one on top of the other and take little space in your back. While packing your bags for the first leg you can just toss them into the mesh pocket to create some separation between the less soft carry-on cover and the rest of the bag.
6. WORKOUT ACCESSORIES AND WEAR
Most hotels have some semblance of a gym or fitness center, which may or may not include a pool. I like to be ready and take advantage of the amenities offered and if nothing was available there is always good old jogging that can be done anywhere. However, if the weather does not cooperate, it’s a good idea to take 20 to 30 minutes and do a lite workout even in your hotel room. This is why our carry three elastic bands that are used for stretching and warm up and a tangle free skipping rope into the side pocket inside my carry-on. They’re permanent fixture in my travel bag.
Always make sure to have one pair of shorts and three T-shirts for workouts, as well as a pair of swimming trunks regardless of where I’m heading. For the ladies I would recommend at least two sports bras with the same principle in mind that while you wash and dry one, you can use the other.
I’m a huge fan of EC3D compression gear and because of this I always have three pairs of compression socks as well as two compression shorts and one pair of full leg recovery compression pats which I wear on me for any flight longer than two hours. I find them extremely comfortable and breathable I got used to wearing them since I also find that in hot weather they keep me nice and cool.
In time, I’ve adapted my wardrobe for the traveling lifestyle that I have. I would recommend that you do the same since purchasing everything from scratch and without some hefty rebates can get mighty expensive. There are few brands that I prefer since they’ve survived my rigorous test of time. The North Face products, although heavily overpriced in retail stores, are my hands down favorites followed closely by Marmot. I usually buy the long-sleeved wrinkle free wool shirts since you can roll up the sleeves for that two in one advantage. I’ve also noticed that items made in Vietnam last considerably longer. Because I’m quite thrifty when it comes to shopping for clothing, I look for end of season products on Amazon as well as in stores while I’m traveling (because you’ll never find me at the mall, unless I’m dragged by force, while on at home); places such as T.J. Maxx & Winners can have them for under $20.
As far as pants are concerned, three pairs are more than adequate for any trip lasting up to two weeks. Always wear a pair of black or grey stretchy jeans while I’m flying since they also can be part of a business casual attire when adding a simple sports jacket’s. Packed away is a pair of wrinkle free stretchy convertible pants, which I find great for daily activities as well as backcountry escapades. If there is a need for formal wear, you can easily include a full suit or just parts of one; in this case I use the straps to make sure that it wrinkles as little as possible.
TIP: Although it’s not a very ecological solution, you can hang a suit or shirts in the bathroom of your hotel room and turn the hot water fully on in the shower allowing steam to build up for a few minutes and thus sparing you the hassle of ironing.
8. UNDERGARMENTS AND ACCESSORIES
I’m always impressed and somewhat jealous when I travel with women since they always seem to have an endless supply of fresh underwear. Yes it’s true that out of the material of one man’s pair of underwear you could possibly make six or seven for ladies. Nonetheless my unbreakable rule, ever since the Madrid incident, is to have one pair for every two days of a trip. Because I only buy the sports briefs, I know that I can quickly wash them in my hotel room and have them dry overnight.
The same principle applies to socks however, since as I mentioned before I’m huge fan of compression, I’ll pack an assortment of equal number of short ankle height pairs and full-length compression business appropriate pairs. Through trial and error I’ve discovered that packing socks into bundles takes more time and space in my suitcase. This is why, when I take my socks out of the dryer, I put the pairs together with plastic bag clips. In this matter I’ll always have plenty of bad clicks with me for any situation and all my socks fit as one layer in the carry-on.
Since you never know exactly how a trip will unfold, it’s a good idea to carry a belt with you. Personally, I recommend one of the reversible types of which one has to be black. Because of past experiences, I’ve opted for a much longer belt than my waist size, having used it on more than one occasion to hold my carry-on together when the zipper had decided to quit.
If you travel often you most likely have a dedicated toiletries bag that never leaves your carry-on. From time to time you must however remember to replenish what’s running low were finished. This is a very nice theory which I would love to have applied however given my high dosage of procrastination, I’ve never been able to. And since I always have more time for myself and to get organized while I’m on the road that home, I make a pharmacy run during my trips.
Given airport security regulations around the world and in particular the extremely frustrating and anal-retentive staff at Heathrow Airport, I have decided that is not worth wasting even a second extra that I have while passing through security. This is why all my liquids are already parked in one see-through bag and all containers are less than 100 ml. There are always one or two extra Ziploc bags in my toiletry bag just in case the one I’m using breaks or if one of the containers decides to leak.
I also make sure purchase the formats that are less susceptible to pressure differentials since often enough I’ve had problems after using them on the airplane and then again once I reach the hotel. You could also experience this phenomenon when going from Mexico City to New York given the altitude difference between the two.
A must-have item that I found extremely useful through the years is a mending kit, which you can find in most high-end hotel rooms.
Regardless if you’re on an ongoing treatment, there are a few items that should always be part of your carry-on. The bane of my existence and after Heathrow, the highest ranked location on my avoid list is Beijing. I’m still not sure if it’s because of the pollution yet, every single time I’m there I experience debilitating migraines within hours of my arrival. I’ve learned to tough through it at the beginning, or to spare myself the pain and carry some Excedrin extra strength liquid gels with me. Keep in mind that they do expire from time to time.
Although I’ve only experienced Delhi belly once in my life, I don’t care to repeat the experience. Even if I’ve never had problems anywhere else in the world drinking the local water, it’s a good idea to have a few Imodium with you.
And just to be safe should also throw in some Band-Aids, some gauze strips and one elastic tensor just in case you twist an ankle while running or on a hike.
I truly hope that my experience will be useful to you and that the next time you’re packing in a rush some of my words will have stayed with you making your adventures even more memorable. Cheers!