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Barcelona's Hidden Courtyards

Barcelona is attempting to turn back time, to re-capture the public green spaces and courtyards originally envisioned for the Eixample district. http://bit.ly/4hNPHr

United loses 'United Breaks Guitars' guy's luggage

Some time back I posted about United Breaks Guitars, a music video on YouTube, written buy musician Dave Carroll. The song, now with over 6 million views, was his way of working out his frustration after United Airlines had smashed his $3000 guitar and refused to pay for it.

Well, it seems Dave was headed to Colorado Springs, and the only reasonable way to get there from his Nova Scotia home was via a United Airlines flight. And United lost his luggage. Rather humorously, Dave was headed to a speaking engagement, where he was to give a keynote speech on customer service. See the full story here: http://bit.ly/4rCwUQ

News from Europe

Tourists now out number locals almost 3 to 1, as Venice prepares for its own funeral. http://bit.ly/SfXUX

Packing 101: Organizing your bag

Suitcase Chaos

Once you've picked out the perfect suitcase -- sturdy, light, and small enough to handle easily -- it's time to fill it. A suitcase is basically a big, empty hole. If you just toss things in, they're going to wander around until it's a complete mess. Your bag needs a little help keeping things organized.

Clothing Folders
When packing for a trip, most people lay everything nice and neatly folded in the suitcase, tie it all down with the built in straps, then stand the suitcase up — and all of the clothes promptly end up in a heap at the bottom of the bag.

Clothing Folder, open

This is actually the cause of all those wrinkles in your clothes. A few years back, experts in packing pushed the "bundle" method, where you would lay out all of your clothes, flat on top of each other, and then inter-fold them to form a bundle. That kept them neat, but meant that whenever you wanted something from the bundle, you had to take the whole thing apart, then re-fold it again. It was just more hassle than it was worth.

Clothing Folder, closed

In step these genius little packing folders, which hold everything in neat, orderly and wrinkle-free bundles. Fold your clothes as you normally would, stack them onto the folder and then close up the flaps to complete the bundle. This forms the core of what goes into the suitcase. Other, smaller items will nest around this core. Folders come in a variety of sizes, including 15", 18" and 20". The 18" folder is perfect for my 20" suitcase (remember that the 20" dimension is the exterior measurement, including wheels). For a 22" suitcase, the 20" folder is better. If you're using a 24" or 25" suitcase, get a couple of the 15" version and lay them in sideways.

Once in the hotel I'm perfectly happy to leave the folder in my suitcase and get things out as needed, but I know many people like to feel a bit more "moved in" when they check into the hotel. With a clothing folder, this easy. Pull the clothing folder out of your suitcase, open the flaps and lay the whole thing in a drawer and, voila!, you're moved in. Packing up again is just as easy.

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes

Basically zippered versions of the clothing folders, these cubes (and half-cubes and quarter-cubes) are perfect for all of the little things that roll around in the suitcase looking for a place to hide. I stack them in groups on top and around the core formed by my clothing folder. I have one for my underwear and socks, another for electrical adapters, spare AA or AAA batteries, and non-camera-related electronics, and a third that I use to hold spare camera batteries, memory cards, a card reader, and other photo-related gear.

Toiletries kit
OK, I admit that there are going to be major differences here, and not everybody will take to my minimalist approach. My wife's toiletries kit looks vastly different from mine. Being a male, with very short hair (what's left of it), my needs in this department are minimal. Some would say Spartan. That extra 2" of suitcase (the difference between my 20" and the maximum carry-on size of 22") should be plenty to accommodate for a larger toiletries kit and still keep you under the carry-on limit.

Toiletries kit

I like to be able to hang my kit, since many European hotels have limited or no vanity space (pedestal sinks). This also keeps it out of any water that may splash onto the vanity. There are quite a few toiletries kits that include a built in hanger, as well as other nice features like a removable mirror.

To keep your toiletries kit on the smaller side, everything you take should be travel size. Current TSA requirements for liquids, pastes and gels limit you to containers no larger than 3-oz., all of which must fit into a single, 1-quart clear plastic bag. You can purchase travel sizes of things like shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, deodorant, etc. at most grocery stores, or you can buy empty bottles and fill them with your favorite brands.

The question is, just how much of anything (shampoo, conditioner, etc) are you going to use in a two week trip? Find out now by measuring out a specific amount, write down the date, and see how long it lasts. This is how I know that a standard 0.85-oz. travel size toothpaste will last one person 15 days if they use the recommended pea-size amount twice a day.

Day bag
In addition to your main suitcase, you'll want a smaller piece, like a tote bag or day pack, that will rest on top of the main piece. The small piece should slip over the handle or hook on in some way, otherwise it will constantly want to fall off while you're walking.

Day bag options

Once you board the plane your main bag is going to go into the overhead. This smaller piece will go under the seat in front of you, so use it for things you want access to during the flight, like reading material, a pen, eye glasses, medications, etc.

I use a briefcase, since I'm always carrying a laptop and other electronic gear, but you might prefer a day pack. This can double as your day bag, which you'll carry with you when you're out sightseeing to hold camera, maps, sunglasses, lip balm, etc. The only drawback to a day pack is that many museums will require you to store this in a locker or a secure luggage area while you're visiting the museum. For this reason I use a smaller guide bag (my man purse), which can be taken into most museums.

Locks are useless for airplane travel. Unnecessary for carry-ons, and often cut off or opened for security checks on checked luggage. They are handy to keep prying eyes out of your luggage while it sits alone in your hotel room, though none will stop a determined thief.

Luggage tags
Use a business address, if possible, and luggage tags with a flap covering the address section. Thieves have been known to hang around airports, checking tags to see who’s going to be gone for a while. Bright colors and unique designs make it easy to find your bag on the carrousel.

1qt. zip-close plastic bags
Zip-close plastic bags have multiple uses, starting with putting your liquids, pastes and gels in one, and then putting that in an outside pocket of your suitcase. You’ll need to have this out and available when passing through airport security. Also great for storing receipts, transporting wet wash clothes, and protecting electronics in damp environments.

Next time: Choosing the right wardrobe

Packing 101: The Suitcase

The Suitcase
First of all, I think most people approach packing for a European vacation the same way they would a weekend get away by car. That is, they throw a bunch of stuff they may need into a suitcase, thinking they'll haul it ten feet to their car, hoist it into the trunk and drive off to their hotel, where they hoist it out and roll it along smooth walkways and up ramps and large elevators to their room. This is how I travel on weekend jaunts, too. This does not reflect how you'll be traveling in Europe.

A better test would be to pack your suitcase, carry it down the stairs (if you don't have a two-story house, borrow one), walk two blocks with your suitcase -- going up and down a few curbs along the way -- then, once you're back home again, carry it up the stairs. Are we having fun yet? Now it's time to rethink what you pack and how you pack.

I personally prefer to carry my bag on to the plane, which means sticking to the maximum size allowed by most airlines: 22"x14"x9". But even if you plan to check your bag, this is not a license to go hog wild on packing. Regardless of whether you plan to carry your bag on or check it and put your fate in the hands of the baggage handlers, you'll need discipline in choosing and packing your suitcase for a European trip.

Eagle Creek 20

Rather than laying out everything you think you may need and then finding a suitcase to hold it all, pick your bag first. Choose a bag that you'll be able to lift and maneuver easily. Stick to one main piece, plus another small piece, like a tote bag or day pack (more on that later). Hard-sided bags weigh a ton empty. Soft-sided bags are a lighter choice. Look for rugged, in-line skate type wheels, a handle that extends and retracts smoothly, and a comfortable grip and handle height.

My perfect main bag is a 20" rolling bag like the Hovercraft 20 or the Tarmac 20, both from Eagle Creek; or the Swiss Army WT-20 from Victorinox. I have never had a problem carrying on my 20" bag, even on smaller commuter planes. You won't find these at your local discount department store, and they're not cheap, but my Eagle Creek roll-on has served me well for over 10 years. Considering that I am on the road for 3 to 4 months of each year, that probably equates to a life time of use for most people, which is pretty amazing. I admit to being on the extreme end, but years of experience have taught me that small plus light equals happy.

For those who want to carry on their luggage, but need just a bit more packing space, all three of the bags listed above are also available in 22" configurations: Eagle Creek's Hovercraft 22 and Tarmac 22, or Victorinox's Swiss Army WT-22. A cheaper alternative to these, and the bag that my wife prefers, is Rick Steve's 21" Roll-Aboard. It easily fits into the overhead bin on most airplanes, has all the features of more expensive bags (in-line skate type wheels, smooth handle action and a comfortable height), and that extra inch equates to a lot of space. Hundreds of people have taken my tours, where I limit the suitcase size to 22", so believe me, it can be done. Some of these bags have an expansion feature, which is meant to accommodate some souvenirs you may pick up along the way. If you start out with your bag expanded, you're in trouble . . .

If you go bigger than 22" you'll have no choice but to check your bag, but I still recommend sticking to something 24" or smaller. I've hefted a few of these over the years and, trust me, when fully loaded a 24" suitcase weighs a lot. Swiss Army makes a 24" bag (WT-24), as does Rick Steves. Eagle Creek stretches it a bit more (since you need to check it anyway) with their Hovercraft 25 and Tarmac 25. I strongly discourage anyone from taking a bag larger than 25", unless you're traveling in high-style, with door-to-door delivery and bellhops to carry your bags for you.

Next time: Organizing the inside . . .

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