have one carry-on, will travel (or, how to pack light)

For someone who finds it difficult to part with things (and I’ve the overstuffed closets and refrigerator to prove it), I have learned to pare down when traveling. I laugh when I see people taking weekend trips with rolling suitcases that could fit an average-size child in them. With a little planning, anyone can leave the steamer trunk at home and make do with a carry-on.heavy luggage

Having four kids and always having to take road trips because of the cost of flying, I just couldn’t bring an extra suitcase for just my shoes or fourteen changes of clothes for three days on the road. It would be impossible to pack the entire family and all that luggage into a minivan. So I’ve learned to pare down.

Suggestions for traveling light:

  • When flying, bring only enough for just one carry-on and one personal item. Checking luggage may seem convenient–you don’t have to lift the forty-pound bag into the overhead compartment, for one–but locating the baggage area in the airport and then waiting for the bags to unload onto the carousel after a flight is time consuming when you’re likely exhausted. Skip the luggage merry-go-round and carry your own bag. (A bonus: You’ll never have to file a claim for lost luggage.)
  • Pack clothes and shoes that are comfortable and versatile. Pick colors and patterns that match and you’ll get more use out of them and spend less time staring into an open suitcase. A single lightweight, waterproof jacket with a hood will be great for most any weather in the summer. Flats, not heels, can be worn both day and night, and T-shirts and blouses can go with shorts and jeans or a nice skirt. One pair of athletic shoes for heavy walks or hikes should be enough along with those flats and maybe a pair of light sandals in the summer. Stick to neutral bottoms, but pack enough underwear to last the entire trip unless you have access to a laundry.
  • Download books or videos onto a tablet or phone and eliminate lugging stacks of books. Books and magazines are staples for me when traveling. There have been times that our one-week summer vacation was the only time in the year when I could get a good book read. I would bring four or five magazines and at least two books. I still like the feel of an actual book and will pack at least one, but I also download books onto my Nook or Kindle and read them that way. Most libraries circulate ebooks (and electronic audio books) in addition to hardcovers and paperbacks too, so you don’t even have to purchase from Barnes & Noble or Amazon if money’s an issue or if you’re not sure you’ll like the book after purchasing.heavy suitcases
  •  Take pictures with your cell phone. I bought a digital SLR camera a few years back after having wanted one my entire life, so I will pack that camera on special trips. Weekends away or places I’ve been before, however, I make due with the camera on my cell phone, which makes sharing and downloading the pictures easier during and after the trip, too.
  • Look up maps ahead of time and have them sent to your phone. Even before I have every stop planned out, I know generally the places and towns I want to see. Before a trip, I’ll go on Google Maps and plug in cities. There I can see the distance, the roads to travel, and the time it takes to make the journey. The itinerary can be sent to my phone or email address for when I’m on the road.
  • Bring flat shampoos, conditioners, and lotions or silicone containers. Instead of using bottles, I save up the flat individual cellophane packs of shampoo and conditioner samples that sometimes come attached to full-size bottles. I also pack baby wipes or Wet Ones instead of liquid hand sanitizer. There are new silicone pouches, which are flexible and guaranteed not to leak, that a lot of people swear by. These items take up much less space than those in individual, rigid bottles and are lightweight too.
  • Keep like items together.  Don’t be that guy, the one who unzips his luggage and everything goes flying every which way. Keep all your underwear, T-shirts, and pants together in individual compartments (like mesh bags for socks) and they’ll stay neater and save time when unpacking. I’ve read rave reviews for the new packing cubes that look like small versions of luggage. They are used to keep similar items in one section of the suitcase. Plastic bags with zip closures can also work and cost less. They’re great for keeping small kids’ complete outfits together, too.
  • Leave a little space for souvenirs, including new clothing. It’s nice to pack light and then purchase items on your destination to serve as souvenirs and to wear on the trip. You’ll be happier having a little more room for these items than having to check an extra bag at the airport before heading home.
  • Rent sports equipment, like snorkels and fins and tennis rackets, or buy cheap versions you don’t mind checking (or chucking).

It’s tempting to bring extra clothes for every occasion conceivable on a trip, but most of us can get along with less. After all, our adventures–and not the straps from our overstuffed bags–should leave an imprint on us.

roomless in seattle: playing hotel roulette sometimes shoots you in the foot

seattleI’ve been trying to find the perfect hotel in Seattle for next weekend. Yes, next weekend. See, I thought I had the perfect hotel picked out for me and my family months ago. In fact, I had two hotels booked in case one proved a better choice than the other. But then my family started weighing in, and the hotel on Lake Union or the one at the very edge of upper downtown/lower Queen Anne proved to be not what they were looking for. My husband is usually OK with whatever I pick, but this time even he said, “If we’re going to be near downtown, why not actually be within walking distance to everything?”

And you know what? He was right. After getting into town exhausted, as I’m sure we will be, why not be amid the action? Why not be able to walk out the door and find a great restaurant and not have to worry about driving back to the hotel and finding parking? Or why not be able to  get up early the next morning and check out the city, the actual city, as it wakens, walking down to the waterfront, sampling coffeeshops or waiting in the long line at the original Starbucks, or, even better, watching the fish throwers at Pike Place?

So off I went, hunting down the perfect hotel, a daunting task because none exists. Either the rooms are too small, the housekeeping staff cleans like a bunch of teenagers, the front desk fails, the check-in is like the line to get into hell, the parking fee could feed a family of four in Malaysia for a month, the noise from the elevator sounds like pigs being dragged to their deaths, or the view is of a brick wall. But let’s be honest, my real problem isn’t finding a perfect hotel. I’m super good at comparing and contrasting numerous places, searching every search engine, and scouring websites for the best deals. I go on Google maps to find the street view and get a feel of what it’s like to walk the streets around the hotel. No, I’m a seasoned hunter and gatherer of hotel rooms. My real problem is trying to please everyone else. Like a lot of women, I am a people pleaser.

Two days ago, when I thought I’d found the “perfect” spot, right in the middle of the Pike Pine retail core, i.e., the shopping mecca of Seattle, just blocks from Pike Place and a shortish walk to the Space Needle, I hesitated, as I’m wont to do, and my perfect hotel filled up. Because the hotel chain is running a “second day at 40 percent off” deal, everyone and her sister is booking the Friday night of the Thursday-Friday-night combo I need. Panicking, I called the hotel (yes, directly to Seattle instead of Mumbai, India, or wherever the 800 number takes you) because when I was in the middle of booking, with my personal info and credit card number input, I got a message saying the dates were unavailable or there was ongoing website maintenance or both. The nice woman at the hotel confirmed that there were no rooms available. She suggested one of the other nearby hotels in the chain, which are more expensive and have exorbitant parking fees (as if “my” hotel’s $57 was a bargain!), I might add, but I booked at one of the others anyway and continued trying to book at the perfect spot. The hotel rep had suggested I keep checking as rooms get cancelled “all the time.” So I tried later that night, but still nothing.

The next morning, I gave it another shot and what a surprise! A suite opened up and it was under $400 a night. Yes, people, that is a good price in the heart of Seattle in the middle of tourist season (if only Washington and Oregon kids started school in August like the rest of America instead of after Labor Day), and one week before my visit. I did the same as the previous day: put in my info, my hotel club number, my credit card number, my third child’s middle name, clicked on the Review button, and once again was told that I was too late.

I ended up booking at a nearby hotel, cancelling the overpriced sister hotel I’d booked the day before. But the hotel I booked at doesn’t have the glowing reviews of the one I wanted, nor does it offer the breakfast I was hoping for, but it did have a room when I needed it–and free wine in the evenings, which I will need as well. But I didn’t stop at booking one room there. I booked a room with two queens and then another room later in the day that’s a suite and will fit all five of us. For $90 more a night (which is a lot, I know, but…), I figure we would each get a bed to sleep in instead of someone having to sleep on the floor. There are a few perks at this hotel, too (did I mention the wine?), although it sounds as if it’s trying to please a younger, hipper crowd than I mingle with on a regular basis. But at least I have a couple young adults with me who will appreciate it, I suppose. The teenager will be left out and middle-aged me and my husband, too, but you know, you can’t please everyone all the time. I hope I can remember that next time I’m booking a hotel.

Now if only I can make it not rain….