4: Get organized
I was 24 and traveling solo for the first time to meet my friend in Mexico. I got myself from Wisconsin to Cancun unscathed. However, I failed to think through the logistics beyond that point. I didn’t know the name of the shuttle company I booked to take me to Playa del Carmen, or even the name of our hotel. I guess my plan was to call Rachel when I landed without realizing my cell phone wouldn’t work in another country.
Not knowing what else to do, I hopped into a van with a bunch of middle-aged southern women also heading to Playa del Carmen. Into the night we went. My nervous silence contrasted their boisterous buzz. About an hour later, we offloaded in the center of town.
In the far reaches of my mind, the name of our hotel vaguely appeared from one of the emails Rachel and I exchanged regarding trip logistics. I approached a local and tried the name out on her. She initially struggled with my pronunciation, but eventually pointed and told me to walk two blocks in that direction.
She could have been directing me to the place where they round-up stupid travelers. But her directions led me down a quiet residential street where I thankfully found Rachel perched on the patio, casually awaiting my arrival.
Lesson thoroughly learned, I now write down everything I need to know in a single place so I never have to begin another trip in a blind panic. I start with the basic information pertaining to logistics: the name of the airline I’m flying, my connection times and confirmation numbers; the name, address and phone number of my hotel; and if I’m renting a car, the name of the rental company and my confirmation number.
I also write down phone numbers – mine, Luke’s, plus someone’s back home in case I lose or kill my phone.
Then, I write down the belongings I plan to take with me. Initially, this “wish list” is broad and contains most of the clothes in both my winter and summer wardrobes, all of my credit cards and insurance cards, various hair styling tools and most of my shoes.
Then, I get real about what I’m actually going to bring. My packing rules are simple and finite – nothing can be a unitasker and everything must fit inside my carry-on sized duffel. This eliminates 75% of the items from my original list.
The culling-down process is painful, but so is hauling around a 50 pound bag. This is the hardest, most time-consuming part of the packing process, so I allow myself time to spread it out over several days. Do not attempt to do this the night before leaving. It will kill you.
Next, I make a list of the small odds and ends I’m packing. Items like charging chords, luggage locks, small pieces of jewelry and accessories are easy to leave behind when I’m repacking my bag in the haze of vacation brain at the end of the trip.
The final list is the most fun one to create; it contains a running tally of the cool places and things I’d like to check once I’ve reached my destination. This list contains a cross-section of highlights from my travel book, suggestions from online resources and advice from those who have visited before me. It’s a lot like my original packing list – large and unrealistic. But there is no weight limit or overhead bin size restrictions on possibility, so I don’t bother culling it down beforehand.
Creating lists is the most basic, yet vital step in trip planning. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to be this prepared, but it sure beats getting yourself kidnapped. (That’s actually not very funny.)