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One of the many reasons I’m difficult to travel with is that I get hot.

And sweaty.

And stinky.

But Hubs and I love exploring new places on foot, so what to do?

Our first line of attack is returning to the hotel in the early afternoon for a shower and fresh clothes. For travel, I generally wear tank tops or light-weight t-shirts with a thin cami underneath. I always overpack underwear (because there’s nothing I hate more than re-wearing undies after a shower!), but I’ve been thinking about just purposely packing two cotton tops per day, plus one or two nicer tops or dresses for evening. That should work fine for our weekend trips, even with my goal of packing for both of us in one maximum carry-on.

But what about when we start traveling for longer? From reading more backpacking-focused blogs, I’ve realized that you can buy clothing specifically designed for travel. And not just frumpy athletic clothes! You can actually find very versatile dresses, such as these from Ex-Officio, in fabrics that are designed to handle your sweat and be easily “refreshed” in a hotel sink.

I checked, and a store in my town does sell Ex-Officio products, but I’m not sure they’ll carry the more feminine pieces I’m looking for. I do hope to try out a specialty travel product from a store or online, but for now, I’m willing to just dress down a little and pack plenty of my lightweight cotton tops.

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Tetris level: Expert

Tetris level expert
Shared on Facebook by George Takei

When I saw that picture, my first thought was: Yeah, I bet I could do that.

After 6 years of road trips from Indiana to Ohio, New Jersey, and countless other destinations, I am a packing ninja. I have a natural talent for fitting things into small spaces. My mom and I lived in some pretty tiny spaces (speaking from a small-town Midwestern perspective, where 500 square feet is unbelievably tiny for an adult woman and her teenage daughter). One place we lived required me to get a new, stripped-down bed frame for my twin bed! I used to credit those experiences for my tight packing, but I realize now that it’s something I’ve always been able to do.

My first job was working under my mother in a custom Western/Equestrian clothing company, and tracing trim because my signature task. I fit those pieces every which way until I squeezed every square inch out of leather. I performed minor miracles with odd-sized remnants and scraps. I was anxiously perfectionistic at the time, and I thought I kept getting that task because it was one of the least important things to do. Yes, that was part of it, but looking back, I realize that I was actually better at it than anyone else!

It’s been important for me to realize that I have a knack for arranging things. Whether I’m arranging a storage shelf, making room for new groceries in the previously-consider-packed freezer, or loading our hatchback, it just makes sense to me. Things look full, but I reassure Hubs that I can rearrange for more room. He’s reluctant to believe me, but lo and behold, I make everything fit — often with more apparent room than there was before!

On our first few road trips, I get extremely frustrated with his packing style. Why on earth would anyone do (insert perfectly innocent misuse of space)? I thought it was the man’s job to pack the car (oh, early-twenties-me who thought myself so liberated and feminist, who knew that getting married would bring out so many gender stereotypes?), so I repeatedly let Hubs pack the car while I did other things. (I don’t know why, but I always have a million things to do the morning of a trip, especially now that we have the guinea pigs, and Hubs is always waiting around for me.) And then I got mad about how the car was packed, and usually repacked it myself.

After so many trips together, Hubs and I have reached some understandings. I drive first thing, because he can nap anytime but I can never fall asleep until mid-afternoon. I also drive after meals, because he gets “the itis” and needs a nap. He doesn’t eat full meals when it’s just him, but I can’t go without, so I let him take a nap (but sometimes switch out after only 45 minutes or an hour if I’m sleepy, too). And, no matter what else is going on in the morning, only I can pack the car if we have more than 3 bags. (And even then I usually re-arrange them a little.)

Unfortunately, ninja packing skills come at a price. Namely, I can fit so.much.stuff into my bags. I have debated about getting the beautiful but pricey packing cubes for the Tom Bihn Aeronaut bag I have promised myself for graduation. Some bloggers (of course I can’t find any to link to at the moment) say that packing cubes are actually one of the lease efficient ways you can pack. But if my goal is to start packing more lightly…well, let’s just say, some external packing constraints aren’t a bad thing. Ninja out.

 

Another guidebook

I did a bad thing.

I ordered another free guide book, this time from Pittsburgh.

They didn’t want me to order it. The Indiana Dunes page practically begged me for my address so they could send me a hard-copy of their travel guide. Pittsburgh was happy to let me browse their guide electronically, but I had to hunt around for a hard-copy request form. (On second glance, I could have just scrolled down to the bottom of the welcome page, instead of my original convoluted path.)

I don’t like clutter or waste. I order almost all my books on Kindle, including professional books and even one textbook so far. I feel guilty every time I sign up for a paper catalogue or ad, thinking I could see it all online with just a little more effort. But, to be honest, there’s part of me that’s a hard-copy kinda girl.

And that part of me was so over the magazine-style visitor’s guide by, like, page 5. Out of 108.

I just figured out how to download the guide as a pdf, which is easier for me to read than the webpage-version. So I feel a little guilty again…but the pdf version of the guide is also 100MB, so it’s pretty clunky and slow on my usually-up-to-snuff MacBook. I may see if Hubs can take it down a notch so we can access it on our phones, if needed.

So, even though my tree-hugger conscience is bothering me, I’m not sorry that I ordered the guidebook. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I can add pages directly to my Arc travel binder (I just bought all my travel binder supplies and will be posting about it shortly!). And honestly, it makes it easier for us to see what Pittsburgh has to offer, which means we can make a more informed decision. We only have time to do one or two things, so it’s not about doing everything or fully experiencing the city, but rather choosing something that we’ll really enjoy. (Hubs said that it would be a true test of my “shakeup” abilities!)

The biggest downside is that it takes 3-6 weeks to arrive, which means it may actually come after we leave…but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! In other news, on our morning walk I was telling Hubs about the cool Indiana Dunes trails I’d read about on their page. I mentioned that I thought we’d like that better than swimming, since “we’re not really beach people anyway.” He was disappointed to learn that there were actual swimming beaches at the Dunes, then relieved to learn that I didn’t want to swim. I’m a terrible travel partner in most respects, but it’s good to know we’re on the same page there.

An organizer’s heart

I have an organizer’s heart. I know not everyone does. I dragged my best friend from college into a Container Store once and she almost hyperventilated. She goes with the flow and is fabulous at it. When I try to go with the flow, everything stops flowing because my stuff explodes all over the desk/hotel room/house and I have no sense of what I want/need to do.

So I organize, whether it’s getting ready for a trip or making it easier to use my kitchen. I love looking through Pinterest, though I get overwhelmed at the level of “pretty” some organizers do. I can admire it, but I have no desire to get that pretty. My focus is function and tidiness. When things are in containers, they are “contained.” When I have a designated place for something, I’m more likely to pick it up and put it away. When I have a system and that system is easy, things get done on a more consistent basis.

These are all things I knew, but Nony at A Slob Comes Clean articulates these points in such a clear and practical way. I’ve shared her ideas and experiences with Hubs, and these principles have become integrated into the way we think about our stuff. You’ll hear echoes of them in how I pack for trips, but I try to apply them to many areas of my life. I’m excited to have an upcoming guest post on Nony’s blog about my novel approach to the dreaded-but-oh-so-helpful meal-planning task. (Of course I’ll add the link in once it’s live!)

Anticipation

One thing I’ve noticed about blogging is that it inspires me.

I started this blog after I fell in love with the Aeronaut maximum carry-on. This big little duffel made me think of Hubs and I working ahead during the week so we could dash off to Boston or Baltimore over a weekend. I dreamed of us traveling light, zipping back to our hotel for mid-day naps, and growing chummy with city after city on the Eastern seaboard.

Just after I started this blog, I decided to take the plunge and get an Arc notebook from Staples.  I started small — just a soft-backed notebook and the hole punch (which was pricey, but I planned to return it if I didn’t like the system). The beauty of the Arc system is that everything flexibly works together. It combines the ability to move things around like a binder and to flip it around on itself like a spiral notebook. They sell full-size and half-sheet notebooks in a durable hard-back or a lightweight soft-back, and you can punch any paper to add in.

So with my mind on my new travel blog,I immediately thought of how I could use this as a travel organizer. Translation: I can start being organized about our travel. 

I’ll write more soon about my history with travel organization, how I like to plan ahead, and whether I use travel books. For now, suffice it to say that I want a planning system that is light and flexible. I want it to fit print-outs without being too big. I want to be able to move things around and empty it out at the end of a trip (after transferring some notes to my digital copies in case we want to go back…because in my imagination, I’m that on top of things).

I also want to start prioritizing more clearly. I don’t want to plan trips down to the minute; I’m way too poor of a traveler for that. (One of these days I’ll explain just how bad of a travel partner I am, so you can appreciate Hubs’s patience.) I need lots of flexibility, and we’ve learned that life is better when we schedule rest in the middle of each day. Having lots of options printed in one place, plus the ability to take out and put back individual sheets, would be a great solution. Add a couple zipper pouches for room keys, transfer passes, money, receipts, and maps, and some flags to remind you of not-to-miss activities or restaurants, and you’re ready to go!

This seems to a be first comes office supplies, then comes organization situation. Now that I have such a customizable system, I find myself wanting to fill it! And luckily, I have a trip on the horizon to occupy me. I just ordered a free travel guide from indiana Dunes. We started off saying we’d hang out at the beach, but really, we’re not beach people. We only went to the beach once in Miami, and that was for 10 minutes to say we’d seen it. I’m excited about their Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, and if I let Hubs know there’s butterflies, he’ll sure as shootin’ want to photograph them. Once Hubs books our hotel in Pittsburgh, I’ll be excited to start looking for things to do nearby.

Today I realized that I have the same kind of excitement about building a travel notebook as I used to have for scrapbooking. I recently gave up most of my crafty supplies part of our effort to consume less and de-clutter our household. I love scrapbooking, but I’m such a perfectionist that it takes me forever (and my pages look good, but not that good) and I find myself putting things off. I also stopped doing it because we have no “out of the way” space and I frankly don’t like to clean up after myself mid-project. I decided to embrace another hobby, knitting, that takes up less space and mental energy than scrapbooking, but I missed that focused time on recapping great memories.

Building a travel binder is like doing that, but on the front-end instead of the back-end. As I assemble information and maps, I can dream about the experiences we’ll have. I can think forward to everything, instead of thinking back. My efforts will be useful for making memories, not, well, remembering them. The entire time I work on my travel binder, my anticipation for the trip builds.

And really, isn’t anticipation always sweeter than reflection?

What are your best tricks for building and enjoying the anticipation of an upcoming trip?

Why weekends? Pet care.

Over several years of traveling together, Hubs and I have found that 3-day trips work really well for us. In the “Why weekends?” series, I share ways that weekend travel compliment our lifestyle, personalities, and travel needs. 

When we were thinking about getting pets, several people reminded us that travel would become more difficult.

And we heard them. We really did! But I don’t think we heard them. We thought we were solving the problem by getting a really low-key pet (guinea pigs). But we still stress about travel.

For family visits, the pigs usually ride along. (We visited my family in Ohio and left them behind because it was only a 5-day trip. First question in the door: “Where are the pigs?” My niece was crushed, and kept asking Hubs where they were in hopes that we were just teasing her.) But we haven’t [yet] tried to sneak them into a hotel, which means we have to leave them behind for most of our travel.

This is where weekend trips become convenient. Our pigs need to be fed once per day, but they’re pretty flexible on the time of day. If we go out for 3 days, we feed them before leaving on Day 1 and after getting home on Day 3. It’s usually not difficult to call in a favor to have a friend stop by on Day 2. We can even ask last-minute, because we’re literally only asking 10 minutes of our friend’s time. I make a reminder list of what the pigs need, package up their fresh veggies for Days 2 and 3 (so it’s easy to feed them if we get in late at night), and drop off a house key.

Some pets, like cats, can get by for a weekend with minimal accommodations. Other pets, like dogs, need a lot of attention and care. A cheap and low-guilt way to have dogs cared for is to trade pet-sitting with a friend who has a dog (assuming the pups get along well). Whatever your arrangement, keeping trips short helps you avoid wearing out your welcome.

I just went through the hassle of finding a pet-sitter in a city I haven’t moved to. After we get my apartment settled in Minnesota, we’re going to New Jersey for two weeks to get Hubs settled and celebrate his graduation with his family. I tried Care.com but found their fees unreasonable for a one-time care need, so then I tried Craigslist. I did find a lovely woman to care for my piggies, but it’s still a little scary for me to leave my pets with someone I don’t know for two whole weeks. As much as I love being in Joisey, I wish I could try out a sitter for the weekend first.

First-night bag

We recently had dear friends stay with us for the night. They had just gotten married and were making their way cross-country to their new home in California. Their car was packed. Our neighbor happened to have the same model car, so we could see just how weighed-down their car was!

We met them in the parking lot so we could give them our parking spot (after all, they had most of their earthly goods in their car!) and move our car to street parking. They brought in a few bags then, and assured us they’d get the rest later. When we got in for the night around 10:30, they dug around in the car for a big suitcase (one of several) and a few more bags. They started asking each other “Do you remember what bag my hairbrush is in?” and “Is this the one with my pajamas?” I remember those days.

The drive from our grad school town to Hubs’s New Jersey hometown is 13 hours, plus stops. We have made this drive about a billion times (seriously, at least 10 times in 5 years). The first several times, we were like our friends. Packed car. Everything was in there somewhere. And we’d get the suitcases later, which meant that no one could shower the next day until someone went out to the car in pajamas (or whatever we found to sleep in) and dragged all the over-packed bags upstairs.

And my Ohio hometown is along the way from grad school to New Jersey, so we used to stack those trips. Meaning that the suitcases would get haphazardly re-packed (as long as it zips, we’re good!) and the drama would repeat. I’ve slept in driving clothes because I was too tired to care, and I’ve reworn clothes to avoid dragging the suitcase in. Not pretty.

So if I had been there when my friends were packing, I would offer this advice: Pack one bag (duffel or carry-on) for your trip. Only things needed for the roadtrip go in this bag. Things like toiletries and underwear, you’ll probably have more packed elsewhere, but this bag is just what you’ll need for the next week. If you can’t fit all your clothes in a carry-on, don’t go to a bigger bag! Instead, use Ziploc Space Bags, gallon-sized Ziploc bags, packing cubes, grocery bags, or any other kind of bag to designate the next “batch” of clothes to pull from. Put all your batches of roadtrip clothes and some clothes for unexpected weather in one bigger suitcase, and keep it in an easy-to-reach spot where you can find things and get them out without taking the suitcase out of the car. If you run into unexpected weather or go through everything in your carry-on bag, then open your bigger suitcases, get out extra clothes, and stash your dirties (we like Space Bags for this).

After years of long road trips ended by too many bags, I’ve developed a first-night bag system. If I’m going somewhere with more than one bag, I make sure that our smallest (and easiest to reach) bag has the following:

  • Pajamas
  • Toiletries
  • Underwear/socks/bras
  • Next day’s clothing

Suddenly, getting in at night is easy. We know that we only need to grab one bag, and it’s a light one. Everything else can be dealt with the next day, after we shower and put on clean clothes, I get breakfast, and Hubs gets coffee. (But sometimes we still leave our big bag in the car until we’re completely out of clothes…planning can only help lazy so much) If we’re going on a one-bag trip, I make sure to pack the pajamas and toiletries on top or in a side compartment. The goal is to make the first night and morning of the trip go as smoothly as possible, so I try to anticipate what we will need.

Other things to consider for your first-night bag:

  • Layers (sweatshirt, shorts)
  • Slippers or flip-flops
  • Shoes for the next day
  • Swimsuit
  • Medications
  • Granola bars
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Travel guide
  • Travel binder
  • Book, magazine, Kindle
  • Water bottle
  • Jewelry

Even if you carry all your luggage into your destination the first night, it still helps flow to have one bag with everything you need for the night. And if you plan to leave the rest of your things in your car or another questionable location, make sure all your valuables are in your first-night bag.

Spoiled

Hubs is having a hard time booking a hotel.

On our last trip (turning apartment-hunting into a weekend shake-up), we got spoiled.

le meridien main

A lot.

le meridien bar
Photos from Le Meridien Chambers in Minneapolis.

Now we’re trying to turn our drive from Minnesota to New Jersey into a weekend shake-up. Not a long vacation, but a chance to experience a new place’s energy and shake off the doldrums. And poor Hubs is doing his best to find a good deal in Pittsburgh or Cleveland (including being flexible about our dates to find the best deal), but everything pales compared to Le Meridien.

I had to break it to him that Le Meridien was awesome, but it is unlikely to become our new standard. Cue the Charlie Brown sad music.

AD charlie brown
From the Arrested Development Wiki page. Hubs really did this walk in our kitchen. There really were lounging guinea pigs in the background.

My packing goal

PHOT0086.JPG
From Car Gurus. This is a near-exact replica of my first car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, which I got circa 2003. Mine had the rain-guard upgrade…after-factory.

As a teen, I (sort of) lived out of my car. That’s a pretty generous packing area.

I had lived with my mom, but after she died of cancer, I bounced around a few different houses. I changed locations to start taking college courses and settled into living with a wonderful couple who are now second parents to me, but I still visited my dad often. And a weekend visit would mean the trunk of my car would be packed.

I was afraid to miss something. I wanted all my entertainment, and as many outfits as possible, at my disposal. I didn’t use suitcases often; instead, I would just fill up a few laundry baskets and totes. I would bring huge bags of makeup and hair tools, even though I’ve always been one to wear the same products every day and my hair always ended up in a ponytail within half an hour. But who cared? I had a huge car to stuff.

When I moved to grad school, I would have my car slam-full for 3-week trips home to Ohio. Then Hubs and I started doing joint trips to both Ohio and New Jersey. Around our wedding, we would literally have an entire hatchback filled to the brim; the passenger seat wouldn’t even recline.

I was so worried about being bored. Or not having the right clothes. Or shoes. Did I mention that I wanted all my crafts and hobbies? And I needed to take tons of books and papers, because I was going to be super productive. And with all that packing…I rarely crafted, almost never studied, and still ran out of clothes and shoes.

I’ve slowly gotten better. I’ve started flying places, and as a cheapskate, I have yet to pay for checked luggage. Our 9-day trip to India in March 2012 was a crash-course in dragging stuff I don’t need halfway across the world. I started experimenting with leaving things behind. At the same time, I started simplifying across my life. I gave up on crafts like scrapbooking and  glass mosaics. I enjoyed them but rarely worked on them because they take too much space (and, because I wanted each thing to be perfect, too much time). I fell in love with the Kindle and have sold off all but a handful of sentimental books and a shelf or two of professional resources.

Most importantly for packing, I weeded out my wardrobe, time after time, layer after layer, until I became ruthless. I didn’t miss the clothes I gave away or threw out, because they all had issues. They didn’t fit well. They had stains or holes. They weren’t my style. They didn’t match anything. They were never right for the occasion. They didn’t work. 

It turns out that when you pack mostly clothes that don’t work, you end up “running out of things to wear” no matter how heavy your suitcase is. Same thing with shoes; when none of them are comfortable, or they only match this one outfit for this one occasion, you’re going to be packing a lot of shoes to get by.

I’ll talk more in the future about my downsizing (rightsizing?) process and how I’ve learned to pack (and live) with less. But for now, I want to show you my packing goal:

Aeronaut
The Aeronaut, from Tom Bihn

One “maximum carry-on” bag with stow-away backpack straps. Without wheels. For me and Hubs. If the size doesn’t limit me, the weight will. (I imagine that Hubs and I will trade off carrying this and his camera bag.) I’m tired of being tied to bulky suitcases, even carry-ons. If we get to a city early in the day, I want the option to just go about our day, with our weekend suitcase in hand if we don’t want to swing by our hotel to check our bag.

And yes, Tom Bihn makes lots of custom-sized packing cubes. Yes, I want them. Especially the one that converts to a lightweight backpackI can’t wait to graduate so I can get this as my graduation gift!

New trip on the horizon!

Exciting news in the Shakeup house — we’re going on a trip!

We were always going to travel from Minnesota to New Jersey, but we had been debating between flying and driving. Now we have pet-sitters lined up and have picked out our travel stops. We’re going to spend one night at the Indiana Dunes and another night in Pittsburgh (or Cleveland…but probably Pittsburgh). Dates are still up in the air as Hubs is looking for great deals.

Once we have it planned, I’ll start researching places to eat, things to do, etc. I’m going to experiment with using the Arc system from Staples to organize our travel plans. Our last few trips have been under-planned, and although we had fun, I’d like to try doing more research beforehand. Hubs likes to go all digital, but I need to see things on paper when there’s a lot of info flowing.

We’ll be taking a lot of luggage, because Hubs is staying in New Jersey at the end of the trip. I’ll be in NJ for two weeks, then have a several-day trip back to Minnesota. I’ll probably pack in our fūl 30″ drop-bottom duffel bag and a carry-on, but I’ll try to keep our road trip stuff in the carry-on.

My goal is to keep all our luggage and bags in the way back of our Honda Fit hatchback, even with a 2-week stay. As always, I’m saving up podcasts for our drive, and I’ll try to pack snacks and drinks so we’re not completely dependent on gas stations.

I’m looking forward to planning (and blogging about) this trip!