When it comes to packing for a trip, I usually wait until the night before. Because I'm so visual, I like to draw everything I will need on a piece of paper. Then I pack these things into my still-technically-a-carry-on suitcase, roll it out to the front door, and go to sleep, a process that takes about an hour.
Jeff doesn't do that. Jeff has been packed for at least a week now. Prepare to be struck dumb by this man's impeccable knack for simplification and near-pathological organizational skills.
Plain and simple, I need this man.
Soon Kelly and I will be vacationing in Italy for two weeks, beginning our journey in Rome (Roma) and train-hopping north to Florence (Firenze), then Venice (Venezia). This will be our second overseas trip together--the first being our honeymoon, one year ago, to Ireland where we drove across the country in a car slightly larger than a bathtub. That trip, plus numerous press trips in and out of the U.S. in the last year to promote my company’s game, Red Faction: Guerrilla, have compelled me to become obsessive about traveling light. For this trip, though, I believe that I’ve graduated from amateur status, and I’m ready for the packing pro circuit (pro packing circuit?). Everything goes into one SwissGear Computer Backpack that I carry on, so I avoid this airline problem. Total, including 4 pound bag: 19 pounds.
So, here we go. What’s in my bag?
Right after a caveat. Kelly and I stay in hotel rooms, so we don't pack items that might be necessary in a hostel such as hair dryers and towels.
First Need: Clothes
IMO, the two keys to successful one-bagging are the choice of clothes and the way that you pack them. If you choose clothes that you can clean and dry quickly, then you can launder in your room. So I choose:
2 pants, 1 shorts: Except one pair of those pants are convertible to shorts, so I actually have two shorts. This works quite well in Italy where I can zip back on the leg bottoms before entering a church.
5 shirts: 3 short sleeve button, 2 t-shirts. Again, I wear one and pack 4. My shirt of choice for hot weather is the Ex Officio Next-to-Nothing line. It’s stylish, wispy without being transparent (a problem if you have dark skin as I do), and dries in a few hours when wet. Yes, I could go with one shirt, like Tim Ferriss, but I need to vary my style each day so Kelly stays intrigued.
2 underwear: Specifically Ex Officio Give-n-Go Underwear. Their motto for this line is "17 Countries. 6 Weeks. And One Pair of Underwear." I'm going with 1 country, 2 weeks, 2 pairs. Commando is always an option in a pinch (and sometimes with a pinch).
3 socks. Wigwams are my puppet of choice.
1 pair shoes, 1 pair sandals: Skechers Bouyant Lightweight Oxford shoes. Clarks Keating sandals. (both found for $40 at Shoe Carnival.) Clarks makes wonderful walking shoes, so the sandals will be my go-to footwear during the day. I could likely survive only on sandals, but if I want Terre Haute Couture for late night dinners, then the Skechers are ready. As a plus, the Bouyant shoes are each only 9 oz.
1 rain jacket: Marmot Ion windshirt. Black. This jacket is oh-so-light at 3 oz, and it rolls up into a wee little ball that can fit into a pocket. Thanks to the aforementioned Tim Ferriss for this recommendation.
1 hat. I hate hats. Never wear them. Except in Italy. In the blazing sun. So along goes a $5 Boonie hat.
0 swimsuit. One of Kelly's mortal enemies is the sun, so no need for a swimsuit (though there are a few beaches in Italy where we wouldn’t need one). If we do end up in the sand, the convertible shorts will work fine.
Now to the packing. I recommend Eagle Creek packing folders. They will hold your clothes in a compressed state, and their 15" x 10" model slips easily into backpacks designed for 17" laptops. However, I don’t use one. Instead I’ve repurposed a Mead cloth trapper keeper that my daughter used in high school. It's padded and zippered, but more importantly, it gives me 3 inches of additional width (15" x 13") which results in fewer folds, while still fitting snuggly into my backpack.
I did, however, purchase an Eagle Creek half cube to hold miscellaneous tech items, which brings me to my…
Second Need: Technology
iPhone. I have become reliant on my iPhone (and its GPS) as my digital Sherpa. Prior to a trip, I Google Map bookmark the sites that I want to see, and off I go, sans ye olde printed maps or guide books. When hunger hits, I pop up Zagat, and it recommends food near my location. Google is always with me for last second information. Oh iPhone, teacher, mother, secret lover.
But AT&T’s International data charges are shite (see Adam Savage), so I’ll have to survive without instant intarweb access, resorting to the archaic ways of my forefathers. Still I couldn’t help adapting them for the world in which I live.
Maps: Navigation will be provided by our new pocket map of choice: Knopf Map Guides. Okay, while this is not technically technology, check these out in the bookstore, and you’ll understand why a geek would appreciate the way in which information is organized around city districts, then presented succinctly using pop-up book apparatus. There were maps available for the iPhone, but they weren’t nearly as information dense as these guides.
Amazon Kindle iPhone App: No need to purchase physical copies of Rick Steves’ (His web site is named “Europe through the Back Door”? Really?) travel books to enhance what our pocket guides didn’t provide; instead we opted for the cheaper and portable electronic versions. We also grabbed inexpensive Dolphin Books compilations from wikitravel.org for Rome, Florence, and Venice.
Skype App: With a Wi-Fi connection, we use this to make International calls for 2 cents per minute.
Compass App: Now part of the 3GS, out this comes when we [un]intentionally get lost.
Air Sharing App: Copy any files to my iPhone, including PDFs which I can read using the built-in PDF viewer.
iPhone Camera: I use the Panasonic for sight-seeing trips. This I only use to take pictures of our passports before we go.
iPhone Video Camera: It’s there if I need it. Surprisingly good quality, and I can edit the video prior to saving.
So many notes to myself. Direction to each hotel and numbers. Who to
call if our cards or passport are stolen. Food recommendations in each
city. Itineraries.100 useful Italian phrases.
Italian Language Apps: Again, fewer trees meet their maker thanks to the iPhone. These I used in the months leading up to our trip, so that I might say, "But then your daughter would lose a father, instead of gaining a husband," in Italian.
In truth, the iPhone has become so useful to me that I often travel without my laptop. This would be near-perfect if Apple (and I mean you, Mr. Steve One-Button-On-A-Mouse-Is-All-Anyone-Will-Ever-Need Jobs) allowed use of a Bluetooth keyboard to handle lengthier correspondence. But since Kelly and I are both internet addicts, two weeks of email, Achewood, and XKCD on a 3x5” screen would cause our eyes to go all Large Marge. So a computer is a necessity. But will it be Kelly's or mine?
Fujitsu P1510D. No contest. Kelly's Mama Cass Lap Top might win in a Photoshop fight, but my older, nimble Fujitsu 1510D is better on the back. It's roughly the size of a trade paperback book and weighs only 2.2 lbs. It has a touch screen that rotates around to lay flat, making it very similar to a Kindle. Here’s a call out to the Firefox extension, Read It Later, that marks web pages to download for offline reading. A mini Logitech USB mouse tags along as another necessary convenience.
Panasonic TZ5 Camera. The iPhone has a camera, but it's a rather pitiful specimen. So in goes my Panasonic TZ5. It's pocket-sized, but still has wide angle and 10X zoom lens. The wide angle captures more landscapes and architecture, while the zoom permits shots impossible for other travel cameras. TIP: Since I have a genetic hand shake, I'm always interested in methods to steady my shots, and since I'm traveling light, I'm even more interested in methods that don't involve a tripod. Here's my two best tips.
1) Loop a long rubber band around a belt/belt-loop, then loop the other end around the base of your thumb before grasping your camera. Now you have a poor man's steady cam. Tuck the unattached rubber band end into a pocket when not in use.
2) When you're sitting the camera on a wall, chair, or historic relic to steady your shot, also use the camera's timer. Then there's no shake at all during shutter time.
Third Need: Sundry Items
Keychain Mag flashlight. Street lights are not as ubiquitous in European cities, so it’s nice to have some light when you’re map reading at night.
Travel Iron. This is an old Sunbeam travel iron that folds to one inch flat. I found a used one on eBay.
Sleeping Mask, earplugs, travel pillow. I don’t sleep well on planes, but I take along these tools of the trade to make a go of it. The travel pillow clips to a carabiner on the outside of my backpack.
Shampoo+conditioner, razor, shaving sheets (dry sheets that convert to shaving oil when wet), toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, Tylenol, travel detergent.
Power adapters, phone and camera charging cables, USB cable, retractable Ethernet cable, small ruled Moleskin and pen, travel lock and cable, travel wallet.
Collapsible Platypus water bottle. When empty this rolls into a pocket-sized tube.
Sunglasses and case.
AND, in conclusion, two actual bound paper books, because, to paraphrase Cicero, a backpack without books is like a body without a soul. One book from my collection—“Difficult Lives” by Italo Calvino, and a biography of Michelangelo da Caravaggio from Kelly’s.
That’s everything. We’ll toss a paragraph into one of Kelly’s future blog entries about Italy to let everyone know what worked, what didn’t, who slept with whom, and what famous Italian politician was caught doing something he shouldn’t have.
Thanks for reading,