How to stay organized on long trips with packing cubes and the rule of two
Packing cubes and the rule of two are just a few ways to save room when you're trying to travel light. (Angela Mulholland)
Published Wednesday, November 23, 2016 6:11AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 23, 2016 6:12AM EST
When I imagined the idea of travelling Europe for six months, I pictured sipping coffees in charming cafes, hiking to the tops of cliffs with inspiring vistas, sitting in pubs and meeting friendly locals. And already, there’s been plenty of that -- a dream trip I know I’m lucky to be on.
But there is also a lot of late-night planning and worrying as well, co-ordinating train and bus times, booking rentals, planning itineraries that will be both interest the kids and hopefully exhaust them a little too, making sure we have what we need to get through customs.
That takes a fair bit of organizing, and after two months on the road, I think we’re finally getting the hang of it (we’re slow starters). Here’s how we’re doing our best to stay organized on the road.
Print off all travel documents: There are lots of great travel planning apps out there, such as TripIt and TripAdvisor, that can help organize travel itineraries and the sites on your must-see list. I’m more of a do-it-yourself organizer and keep everything in documents I can access online, such as through Google Docs or Sheets. But no matter how great the app, it’s still a good idea to double up with paper form.
I’ve sailed through check-ins using e-tickets or boarding passes downloaded to my phone, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve accidentally left an app open only to have my phone battery drain out. When you’re only metres away from the customs desk and you can’t pull up your documents to show you have booked a flight back out of the country, you realize why having paper forms of everything is so important.
Paper lists are also key when travelling to countries with a language you don’t know. If you need to ask for directions or hire a taxi and you can’t pronounce the address, you’re going to wish you had it all written down.
Delegate duties: Travelling days are stress days. There’s the corraling of stuff, the corraling of kids, the worrying about flight and train times, the passports. We’ve found it’s best to split the duties. I’m good with maps and with people, so I’m in charge of liaising with Airbnb hosts and finding directions. My husband’s good with numbers and schedules, so he’s in charge of all timing and money affairs.
And the kids are in charge of their own stuff. That means it’s up to them to pack their backpacks with the pencils, papers, earbuds, and snacks they need for each journey. If they forget something, well, that’s just a lesson to be more organized the next time.
Pack light: The key rule of keeping four people organized during months of travel is to simply carry around as little stuff as possible. That means a minimum of clothes, no more than two pieces of footwear per person, the bare necessities of toiletries, e-readers instead of books, and for the most part, no picking up souvenirs or gifts for family back home.
This has been a hard lesson for our kids to accept, since they are attracted like magnets to shops with “cute” things they absolutely have to have. But the point of this trip is to go out and see things, not acquire more stuff. What’s more, extra baggage is a drag and expensive on flights, so the less we carry with us the better.
Stick to the rule of two: It isn’t easy trying to pack for different countries with different climates. We’ve been to beaches, the chic streets of Paris, and the damp forests of Ireland, all with the same wardrobe. We’ve made a rule to keep no more than two of anything -- two pairs of pants, two T-shirts, two sweaters. It means choosing items carefully and picking items that can do double duty.
My black turtleneck works in both nice restaurants and the hiking trails, for example. Same with my husband’s no-wrinkle pants. We aren’t turning heads with our fashion choices, but we’re keeping things light and simple.
Refine your wardrobe as you go: Even with our wardrobe, we’ve still had to make some adjustments. We have already had to send home a padded envelope of things we no longer use, including shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt or two. (For the kids, we found a donation box in Dublin since the clothes won’t fit by the time we get back anyway.) But that’s ok; the cost of shipping wasn’t much and was still cheaper than buying a third suitcase or paying baggage fees.
At the same time, I’ve also picked up a few things, including a wool coat and a couple of toques at a charity shop for about $20. Before we hit the next warm place, I’ll find another charity box and donate it all back.
Unpack immediately: Living out of a suitcase gets ridiculous pretty quick. We’ve found that packing cubes are really helpful because not only do they keep each person’s things separate, they compact your clothes down for more space during packing. Then, when we reach our next destination, they making unpacking a breeze; we simply take out our cubes and dump them directly into separate drawers.
Manage photos every day: We’re taking a crazy number of photos on this trip (more than 1,000 already and it’s only been two months), so that means daily photo maintenance. The shots I take on my phone go right to the cloud when I’m on WiFi, but it’s still important to go through them each night, purge the bad ones, re-name the rest, and file them into folders.
The same goes with my point and shoot camera. I download them onto our laptop each night, purge, edit, and organize them, and then clear out my camera’s memory card so I’m ready for the next day. And of course, I also back up my photos every day either to cloud storage or to the USB flash drive we brought along.
Better to get a handle on photos each day than to come home to a mess of unedited shots later.
Check back on CTVNews.ca, where I’ll be sharing my experiences regularly on Dream Big Wednesdays.