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It wasn’t until I stepped off the plane in Spain that I realized how much I had forgotten in an embarrassing, “DOH!” moment. Somehow I had managed to pack my bags with about 50 lbs. worth of stuff I didn’t need, like seven pairs of jeans, tennis shoes that weren’t even broken in yet, and horrendously heavy speakers (which actually seemed like a good idea as I packed my bag, imagining myself cooly nodding my head to sub-woofing jams with my arm around a Spanish senorita). To top it off, the wheel of my suitcase broke on the way to my hostel, so I was forced to carry a huge bag of stuff I didn’t need on my back. Spanish children glanced at the tortoise-like creature trudging down the sidewalk before giggling at my miserable state. Needless to say, the mix of shame and anger prompted my switch from pack rat, to the world’s greatest suitcase packer.

 

Though nowadays you can buy what you need if you forget it if you’re going to be traveling in urban areas, but here are a few helpful tips for packing everything you need and still keeping your bag light enough to carry easily for hopping on a jet charter, off a bus and a train, and in and out of a cab.

 

  • Illumination: if you’re doing any kind of hiking or rural travel, a headlamp will come in handy, if not and you’re staying in the city a small flashlight can be a life saver. Keep one no bigger than your finger on you at all times. You never know when you’ll need to check a map on a dark street or get into your toiletry bag at a hostel without waking your dorm mates.

  • Maps: Even if you’re traveling domestically and feel comfortable asking for directions, a good street map is a necessity. If you end up in a city you hadn’t planned on visiting, there are usually maps at visitor centers, bus/train/subway stations that not only outline the city, but also public transportation stops and routes. It can be fun getting lost, but it is also fun getting to your intended destination and making it back home again without walking in circles for hours.

  • Layers: Stable and predictable climates are rare and interior heating and air conditioning is common. Make sure that you carry the four important layers: light base, mid (sleeves), sweater/fleece and either light rain or heavy coat depending upon the region.

  • Swimsuit and Towel: The swimsuit is one of the most forgotten travel items, and it doesn’t matter where you’re traveling, there is probably a hot tub or swimming pool in the vicinity. Set travel plans to certain hotels may not require bringing a travel towel, but compact, sammy-like travel towels nearly always come in handy.

 

Don’t forget to bring appropriate footwear; walking shoes are always good to have on hand. My uncomfortable tennis shoes definitely didn’t last as I tiptoed awkwardly around Barcelona. Some of these tips may seem intuitive; however, I myself have forgotten these basics. Take this as a cautionary tale: always pack light and only take the essentials with you!

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