Sunday, June 22, 2008

Travel Tips: Packing Light

As promised, I’m going to start answering your questions now that I have some time on a sea day. One popular subject has been questions or tips on packing light for such a long vacation. I’m not sure that I can answer this effectively as I think packing is a very personal thing depending on your travel style (particularly on a cruise). But, I’ll explain our methodology, and you can adjust accordingly.

First, I think it’s helpful to think about the climate (which this time of year is generally warm – although England can be a little cool) and the itinerary (days on land, days at sea, days in port, “formal or not” evenings, opportunities to do laundry, etc.). You’ll also need to factor in what you plan on doing, as some activities will make clothing less repeatable than others. We actually planned roughly what we thought we’d likely wear each day.

We had the benefit of being able to easily do laundry in London, as the timeshare includes a combo washer/dryer right in our flat’s kitchen. This meant we could almost “restart” with a fresh set of clean clothes for the cruise. Thus, we were effectively packing for only a couple of weeks versus a full 23 days on vacation.

In addition to laundry in London, we planned for the ship offering one (or more) “laundry specials” where they’ll do a bag of laundry (wash and fold only) for a flat $19.99. As it happens, they’ve offered this twice so far. We’ve taken advantage of this once (as planned). In a single bag ($19.99), we managed to wash numerous undergarments, a multiplicity of socks, a few t-shirts, a couple of polo shirts, a few shorts, and two pants. One word of caution: I believe they wash these in boiling hot water with caustic detergent and then dry them in a blast furnace (okay, not really – but it’s not the gentle cycle at home on your high-end Maytag or Whirlpool). As such, don’t subject anything that is overly prone to shrinkage and/or wouldn’t hold up to fairly harsh treatment. We anticipated this and planned for it (both in what we packed and what we sent out for cleaning). To be honest, travel is generally hard on clothing and airlines are apt to lose luggage (indeed, I believe in only two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost). So, I wouldn’t bring anything too expensive or favored… you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Anyway, back to what to bring… given that the laundry opportunity means that you won’t really have to go more than 10 days without washing, I suggest you plan what you pack based on that duration. What does that entail? Here’s roughly what I brought: four shorts, a couple casual pants, two dress pants, two dress shirts (for fancy dinners), about 5 casual button-down/polo shirts (for in port and more casual dinners), a few t-shirts, nicer swim trunks (which can double as shorts on sea days), something to wear to the gym, something to sleep in, a couple of ties (which I haven’t worn), and enough underwear/socks for about 12 days. I picked all styles and colors that mixed and matched (e.g., no shirts that only matched with one pair of shorts or vice versa). For shoes, I brought three pair: sandals (my beloved Birkenstocks), good walking shoes (New Balance), and dressier shoes (Echo – deck or boat shoe style). Libby brought a similar mix of clothing and shoes operating under the same principals – for example, “mix and match” dressier tops and bottoms for evenings. This allowed her to bring a single pair of black heels (in a sort of sandal style) as her only evening shoe and reduced her need for a variety of accessories. She did much the same for her day wear – though she opted for a lot of capris rather than shorts (a wise choice for Europe, especially as shorts are problematic in religious sites). She even only brought a single two-tone brown / black purse that basically worked with everything, which is no small concession for Libby (a purse-arista extraordinaire). For other shoes, she’s worn casual sandals (Birks as well) and good walking shoes (Earth). I stress good walking shoes… they’re of #1 importance when traveling in Europe.

If you’re looking to wear more formal attire (evening gowns or suits / tuxedo), it’s not possible to pack as light as we have done. Likewise, if you’re not willing to repeat a shirt or pant without the being washed, you won’t be able to pack like us either. The same is true if you want shoes and accessories to be a perfect match with a unique coordinated outfit… packing light isn’t going to happen.

That said, I think you’ll find it easier and less stressful to travel light. It may also save you money with the airlines (who really charge now for overweight and extra bags). Finally, on a ship, your closet space is limited. What we brought has fit perfectly, so I think we’ve done it about right. With other cruise lines, we too would have needed to pack more. But, NCL’s Freestyle Cruising really makes it possible to look good without having to go overboard (pun intended) on the packing.


Amy said...

Thank you very much. All your info will help me pack for our trip. I enjoy reading your blog everyday.

Alan said...

"indeed, I believe in only two kinds of luggage: carry-on and lost"

I submit two others:

* location known but completely incorrect

* correct location but no longer intact

Paul said...

Alan -- I'll accept those and add them to my luggage taxonomy.