Category Archives: Traveling

Travel Lessons Learned

luggageI recently completed a 2 1/2 week trip to Europe. It was definitely as amazing as it sounds. But getting ready for the trip was not the most fun I’ve ever had. Trying to cram 2 1/2 weeks worth of stuff into a suitcase was a challenge to be sure. Plus, like I tell my friends, it takes a lot to make me look presentable. When I travel, and because I always manage to be packing at the last possible moment, I need lists or I forget things (one of the side effects of being 60).

I typically travel at least annually to a meeting for my professional association in addition to a weekend trip here and there throughout the year and a big trip every 2-3 years. For many years, I used a wardrobe matrix and a packing list to help me make sure I had everything I needed. Some of my friends made fun of me for my wardrobe matrix, while others requested a copy. So I thought maybe others could benefit from my years of traveling experience (and forgetting things) by sharing my brand spanking new matrix/packing list. By the way, I also pack my wardrobe matrix so I remember what I had planned to wear each day (and why) so I’m not standing at the hotel closet wondering why the hell I brought THAT! I also generally hang the entire outfit on the hanger together (one less thing for me to think about in the morning on a few hours of sleep). Here is a sample matrix with some information filled in:

Sample packing list2

Some explanations may be helpful:

  • I need to know what is going on every day I am at conference to bring the appropriate clothes. Some things (like actually being a speaker) require a different wardrobe than attending seminars. A social or networking event requires a different wardrobe than an awards lunch or dinner. So this “event” area helps me make sure I’m OK in the “what I should wear” department.
  • The clothes section can be (and usually is for me) much more detailed if I have specific pieces of clothing I want to wear on a specific day.
  • The shoes section should help narrow them down so you don’t have to bring every pair you own. I said “should”!
  • The accessories section is the same thing. If I have a statement piece that goes with a specific outfit, I list it there.
  • The packing list portion is brand new. I used to have one on my phone, but somewhere along the way it disappeared.
  • Some comments about specific packing list items might help:
    • Outlet Strip – I’ve found that if I pack a 6 plug outlet strip, I can charge my phone, iPad, chargers, etc. in one place and only take one room plug. This helps specifically if you are sharing the room with another person or two who have to charge all those same things.

      • Plugs to charge USB devices. While I usually remember to pack the charging cords, I don’t always have a place to plug the charging cord into the electrical outlet.

      • This past trip, for the first time, I included one of those travel storage bags that you force the air out of so they are thinner and easier to pack. I put my dirty clothes in there and at least zipped it closed each time. It helped with the dirty clothes smell (especially with the glass of wine that was spilled on my jeans one day) and kept them separated. Something like this is what I used and will be using every time in the future.

    • I included a foldable duffel bag since I knew I would end up with more stuff in my suitcase–which was just under the weight limit on the trip there so I knew I would exceed it on my way back. Since the overweight fee was the same as a second bag, I thought I could check the duffel if necessary. Well, it was necessary. I put all my dirty clothes (in the sealed bag) in the duffel and checked it so I had plenty of room for my souvenirs in my more secure suitcase.

    • Speaking of souvenirs, in my first trip to Europe, I felt the need to bring something back for everyone I knew. My husband (and my budget) wasn’t happy about that and made me promise that I wouldn’t do it this time. And I didn’t. I did, however, have an agenda at each location.
      • First, I have my whole life collected Christmas ornaments. I love putting my trees (yes, plural–that’s what happens when you collect ornaments for so many years) up so I can relive the story of each ornament. On my last trip to Europe, I knew I couldn’t be trusted with the glass ornaments so unless I absolutely positively love it and will be responsible for not breaking it, I started buying keychains. There is always a huge assortment, so I can choose one or two to tell my story of the location. And, more importantly, they pack very easily!
      • Second, my daughter-in-law collects refrigerator magnets and wants them from anyone who travels (while I prefer my ornaments from places that I’ve actually been or that have a story, but that’s me being a little weird), so I collected lots of magnets for her and she was ecstatic. My personal favorite was from Florence and was a David statue with clothes you could add. Magnets are usually very small and most are unbreakable (two extra points for me!).
      • Third, this year my son was collecting postcards for a friend who is using them to teach his daughters about geography over the summer. I’m all for anything that can be used to teach kids and keep them interested and postcards are even smaller and lighter–and, thus, easier to pack–than keychains and magnets, so he ended up with quite a selection.
    • Here are a couple of other things about packing I’ve learned over the years:

      • I actually keep a packing cube with my electronics which includes the outlet strip, extra charging cables, adapters for non-Apple accessories, plugs for charging cables into electric sockets, and extra chargers. I keep that packing cube with my travel stuff and just grab it when I’m packing. It isn’t expensive to buy extra charging cables and plugs, but it is so much more convenient for me to keep them together so I don’t have to go searching them down and hope I have enough while I’m gone.

      • After several trips to the store at different destinations to replace what I’d forgotten, I finally put together a packing cube with hair products, combs, brushes, hairspray, travel dryer, and travel straight iron (and anything else I decide I need). It is an extra set of everything, but bought over time, it didn’t hurt me that much and now I don’t have to worry about forgetting something I need. I keep this with my other travel stuff.
      • I keep a box in my closet with my travel stuff. This includes the packing cubes filled as indicated above, any travel adapters, a travel purse, anything else I need only for traveling. That way it is in one place and I don’t have to search high and low to find it when I’m packing at the last possible moment (yep–that’s me!).

Hopefully this will help you have less stress with packing for your dream vacation. Did I forget something important from the list? Let me know by commenting below and I’ll add it. If you’d like to use the list yourself, check out the Files section of the website ( and you can download it there.

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Get Lost!

get lost!When I go on vacation, I really like to take advantage of the new locale. In another state, it might be dining at a local restaurant rather than a national chain. Yelp is really helpful for this. In international cities, it might be eating what that region is known for–at least once.

If you don’t take advantage of learning the most you can about an area, you are wasting part of your vacation. Taking advantage of local customs really makes you pay attention to where you are. Particularly if you can (safely) venture off the beaten path.

In my first European trip, I tried cassoulet in France and we got lost (intentionally) in the streets of Venice. The cassoulet was delicious and was different from what I would have normally chosen, but I was pretty proud of myself for venturing outside of my comfort zone. And I didn’t die! So I will be testing that again on my next trip.

In Venice, we just meandered. We stopped for cappuccino when we saw somewhere interesting and stopped where we saw interesting things to admire–like Italian leather purses. If we had just stayed in the “touristy” areas, we would have missed it all, we would have missed the window boxes, the curtains in the windows, the age and architecture of the city, and REAL people living in REAL houses. It was–quite simply–amazing. We are returning to Venice next year and are already planning to get lost again.

I can’t imagine traveling that far to visit McDonalds or Starbucks (although I actually did do that once in Spain!). Venture outside your comfort zone and try it out–even just once. It may just make the time and money you spent to get there worth even more!