Tales Of A Reluctant Unpacker

There are two kinds of travelers in the world – those who unpack promptly after a trip, and those who can’t bring themselves to do so.

I fall into the latter category. More times than not, I am unpacking my suitcase in order to pack for my next trip. Apparently, I’m not alone, because when I asked friends about this on Facebook, I got more unpacking procrastination stories than replies from the tidy.

It’s a conundrum, because whenever I’m on a trip, I unpack my suitcase as soon as I arrive, even if I’m only staying for two nights. Things that need to be hung up immediately are placed in the closet, or put on hangers in the bathroom if a light steam is required. I create an accessories drawer, a T-shirt drawer and one for sweaters. Then I put my empty suitcase in a corner, or in the closet.

My parents were strict unpackers. As soon as we got in the door after a vacation, my parents toted the American Touristers upstairs. “Give me your laundry,” my mother would say, and woosh! Down the chute it would go. Sometimes, she would start a load that very night, and I’d fall asleep to the sounds of the washing machine.

Perhaps that’s one reason why I am in no rush now to get at my suitcase, although I’m getting a little old for parental rebellion.

I’ve decided there are some practical and some psychological reasons why I leave my battered Tumi on the dining room floor as long as possible.

  1. As long as you haven’t unpacked, the trip is still underway. One of my friends cited this thought. I love the idea that an unpacked suitcase keeps you in Paris, or New Orleans or Borneo. The unopened suitcase is like the Pandora’s Box of memories. Keep it zipped, and they stay with you. Open the lid, and they’ll fly away.
  2. I don’t need what’s in there. Usually, when I travel, it’s for business or a specific type of place. As a writer who works from home, I’m not wearing power clothes every day. And, since I try to pack light, I usually have extra versions of my travel wardrobe waiting when I get home. Likewise, I use travel sizes of my shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc., so the full-size editions are on the bathroom shelf.
  3. It means work. Unpacking means doing laundry, or taking clothes to the dry cleaners, or at the very least, hanging things up. If I’m jetlagged, or just tired from a long road trip like the one I took down South this summer, I don’t have the energy to deal with it right away. Also, I’ve usually done laundry to get ready for my trip, and there’s not enough for a full load when I get home, so I like to wait until there is. (Hey, we’re talking excuses here; I’m not saying this is logical.)
  4. If I don’t unpack, I don’t make a mess. I admit it: in my younger days, I was a devotee of the floor-drobe, i.e. things left in piles on the floor. Now, I don’t have that much space, so it’s a dresser-drobe, and I have gotten much, much better at being organized. (I promise!) Given that, a packed suitcase is the ultimate in organization. Nothing is lying about.

Of course, there are instances where I do unpack immediately, at least partially. I generally pack my makeup bag and my eyeglasses last, and I usually need both of those within a day of arrival, so those come out right away.

I also try to reverse pack when I leave, and put dirty clothes and dry cleaning on top, as well as the plastic bag with my wet swimsuit, if I have one. That spurs me to at least deal with that layer. I put a dry cleaning bag or another divider between the mussed and clean clothes, so I’ll know when to pause my unpacking.

And, I unpack any presents or food that are in the bag, although I prefer that those go in my carry on. Lastly, if I know I have a short turnaround between trips, I’ll usually do a fast unpack and repack before too much time passes.

But when you visit my house, don’t be surprised if you see books, travel posters and a black rolling bag stashed in the corner. Consider it decor.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user NiH]

Gadling Gear Review: This Year’s Favorite Gear

I’ve been reviewing gear for a few years now. I wrote for a snowshoeing magazine and a site focused on gear for travelers before I joined the Gadling crew. That means I’m kind of a tough sell when it comes to new outdoor and travel clothing, bags and accessories. And I test everything, I ride my bike in the rain to see if that jacket is really waterproof, I wrangle that roller bag into the overhead bin, I wear those noise-canceling headsets on a long-haul flight. I pay attention to what always makes it into the bag, to what gets used more than once, to what works. Here are six things that really worked from this year’s gear.

Birki’s Skipper Slides
: You could not have told me that a shoe from Birkenstock would become a (fair weather) travel favorite, but they’re great for long-haul flights, easy to get in and out of at the airport, they do double duty as slippers or flip-flops when you’re running down the hall to the ice machine and, though they may not suit your style – they’re very casual – I love these things and think they’re great if you’ve got room for a second pair of shoes in your bag.

Ozone Ultralight Roller from Osprey: Just about perfect as a weekender, at its smallest size, this super light bag holds everything you need for a three-day getaway. What’s causing it to miss the 100% mark? It needs a shoulder strap for when it’s not appropriate to roll it. That aside, this is an extremely well designed bag with lots of pockets in sensible places – there’s even a place for your netbook or tablet – and it looks cool.

Gregory’s Border Laptop Backpack
: Everyone’s got a system for getting you through the TSA checkpoint with your laptop pack; most of them are fine. They all seem to use the same open flat configuration, but that doesn’t mean they also make a great day pack. The Border pack is full of sensible pockets that are exactly the right size and shape for whatever it is you’re carrying. If you can’t find the right place for it in this pack, you don’t need to be carrying it. (Ok, one exception: it’s not built to carry a DSLR.) This is, hands down, the best laptop pack I’ve tested.Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Addicted to your phone for travel apps, podcasts, photography, etc.? Yeah, me too. Which means I’m always burning through the battery. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles the life of your phone by wrapping it in a case with an integrated battery. Strategists can shut down some of those power sucking things like Wi-Fi or data to get even more time out of it. That’s a terrific extra for the mobile addict.

Panasonic Lumix: I’m a devoted photographer and at times I carry a big heavy DSLR with big heavy lenses. But I sprung for a new Lumix this year and I left my DSLR at home for two big trips. I’ve been so happy with what the Lumix offers me – excellent optics, works beautifully in low light, all kinds of customization settings for photo nerds, and it fits in my pocket. I love this thing. Love it.

SmartWool Anything: Lots of brands are making nice stuff out of merino wool these days and it’s good stuff. Icebreaker makes styling clothing and base layers, Nau makes cool pieces that pack well; it’s all great stuff. SmartWool has been around forever, though, and while they’re not the cheapest and don’t always have the edge on style, they’re stuff is consistently excellent and it lasts for a very long time. I have SmartWool gear that I purchased more than ten years ago and it’s still in great shape. Their gear fits, wears tough and lasts. Get whatever you like, but the midweight stuff that they came out with this year? Aces. It’s rare that I’ll endorse a specific brand so whole-heartedly, but I am never disappointed with their gear. Never.

[Image credit: Packing for NZ by herdingnerfs via Flickr – Creative Commons]

What Does Your Luggage Say About You?

We’ve seen travelers dragging everything from Louis Vuitton to what looks like a used trash bag through airport security of late, and new research shows that most travelers are closer to the latter than the former.

A new study from Virgin Atlantic shows that one in five of us (20%) can’t remember the last time we bought new luggage, while more than half (55%) would only upgrade their suitcase if it was worn-out or broken. That said, the lifestyles of the rich and famous are quite likely to influence us at the wheelie shop; 25% of 16-24 year olds admit they’d buy a bag based on what their favorite celeb’s been seen toting at check-in.

Women are also more likely to upgrade their luggage than men (11%), while around one-third would consider buying new luggage based on their holiday destination.

There is also a bit of one-upmanship going around – more than one in ten (12%) have bought luggage in the past to make sure it is better than their traveling companion’s.

[Flickr via o5com]

Photo Of The Day: Tibetan Travelers

One of the travel world’s more annoying debates is backpacker vs. rolling suitcase. Those with backpacks scoff at travelers wheeling suitcases along cobblestones, while the roll-aboard lovers might want to avoid the connotation that “backpacker” implies. Even backpackers are being criticized now for taking too much. In the end, it’s just a place for one’s stuff. We can all agree that seeing pilgrims walking for many miles with very little stuff at all is pretty impressive. Today’s Photo of the Day is from Tibet, where some pilgrims are returning from a trip. Flickr user abhishakey photographed the travelers coming from Lhasa, where thousands travel each year to visit the Jokhang Temple with little more than a prayer wheel.

Share your best travel images with us by adding them to the Flickr photo pool for a future Photo of the Day.