You don’t have to rummage through the internet for long to find helpful packing tips this summer. You know, roll your clothing (don’t fold), carry on your suitcase (don’t check) and, of course, pack light. But this vacation season, maybe you really need a few unpacking tips.
That’s right, I’m talking about what to do once you’re at your destination with all the stuff you brought. Do you unpack or live out of a suitcase? If you remove your clothes and toiletries, where do they go? And where don’t they go?
It turns out there’s an art to unpacking, often overlooked by even the most seasoned travelers.
The three-night rule
Should you use the drawers in your hotel or cruise berth or keep everything in your luggage? Experts seem to agree that the answer depends on how long you’re staying.
“For any stay for three nights or more, I unpack into the drawers,” says Carol Rowland, director of tour operations for Recess 4 Grown-ups Travel, a tour operator.
Why three days? Storing your clothes in drawers takes effort, but not as much effort as removing the items and repacking them. The issue isn’t necessarily the ritual of folding, rolling and squeezing them into the bag. It’s the multiple sweeps through each drawer to ensure you didn’t leave anything behind.
I usually follow the three-day rule, but not always. Sometimes, the drawers aren’t in a convenient place, or if it looks as if they haven’t been cleaned in a while — vacation-rental hosts, I’m talking to you — I’d rather live out of a suitcase.
Exceptions to the rule
The three-day rule doesn’t apply to everything. If you brought a suit or a formal dress, it goes in the closet right away. And the cube with all of your toiletries — straight to the bathroom, of course. Same thing with the shoes.
“Unpack all wrinkle-prone stuff, toiletries and shoes,” says Heidi Siefkas, a professional speaker and author.
If you’ve brought wrinkle-free travel clothes like a Bluffworks blazer, feel free to leave it in the bag. It’ll look good no matter what you do.
Also, if you’re traveling with kids or your significant other, here’s another piece of advice learned from years of travel: Bring your own toiletries. Every member of your traveling party should pack the basics, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo and a comb. Some of the fiercest vacation squabbles start with the words, “Who has my brush?”
The plastic-bag trick
The most experienced travelers have one more unpacking strategy, which involves a handful of resealable plastic bags — you know, the kind you use in the kitchen to store food. Beth O’Donnell, the general manager of Thomson Family Adventures, a tour operator dedicated exclusively to family travel, always brings a few Ziplocs.
“They’re ideal for putting dirty diapers in, separating your dirty clothes and putting wet shoes or bathing suits in,” she says. “If you didn’t pack an extra bag, you could at least sort everything into various piles — dirty clothes, clean clothes, shoes, electronics and put them in the plastic bags.”
Susan Stevens, a retired manager for a nonprofit organization and a veteran traveler, says the baggies can prevent a big mess.
“Once an item is soiled and I can’t get it clean while traveling, I roll it into a plastic bag so it doesn’t contaminate my clean clothes,” she says.
Sometimes, your luggage comes with a laundry bag, which experts recommend you bring along. I have an oversize, bright orange laundry bag with “HAZARDOUS MATERIAL” written on it. Hard to miss something like that when you’re gathering all of your belongings.
All of which brings me to the most challenging part of unpacking: You have to repack, and there’s always a chance you’ll miss something. But that’s a whole different topic.
Even more unpacking tips
Use packing cubes for easy unpacking. Linda Scanlon, a frequent traveler and retired assistant clerk magistrate from Medfield, Massachusetts, says packing cubes are an organized way to store items that don’t hang in the closet. “I just pop the cube out of the suitcase and into the bureau drawer,” she says.
Clean clothes out, dirty clothes in. Another strategy used by veteran travelers is to take out the clean clothes and use the empty bag to return the dirty clothes. “On my last day, everything’s back in my bag — and off I go,” says Carrie Pasquarello, CEO of Global Secure Resources, an international risk-mitigation company.
Keep it in plain view. Cepee Tabibian, a social-media marketer based in Madrid, Spain, always places her unpacked items somewhere visible: on the desk, nightstand, by the TV, “somewhere I’m sure to see them.” But never in a closed drawer. “Otherwise, I’m sure to forget about it,” says Tabibian, a frequent traveler who founded the site She Hit Refresh.