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Packed Out: The Traveler's Dilemma

Credit: Asad Photo Maldives from Pexels 
Hamid Amirani - 1.23.20

We've all been there. You get to the hotel you're staying at for the duration of your vacation and you're faced with a dilemma: to unpack or not to unpack? Your suitcase, that is. Do you empty it out and fill the wardrobe so that your hotel room feels more like home, or do you take it day-by-day and remove what you need?

It might sound trivial, but this is a real issue for many travelers. So much so that Lauren Sloss of The New York Times recently did a piece on the matter, speaking to friends and even a psychiatrist, Dr Jean Kim of Georgetown University, who says, "Unpacking, literally, is a way for people to get control of their surroundings." 

What is evident is that a lot depends on the length of your travels and your method of packing. The latter was examined in an earlier article in The New York Times by Shivani Vora and Michelle Higgins.

Credit: Edgar Okioga 

Keeping it Essential 

Vora and Higgins offer helpful advice in terms of exercising restraint when packing for your travels, not least with your choice of suitcase. The bigger the suitcase, the more you're inclined to fill it to the brim. Get a compact hard-sided suitcase, and when it comes to choosing your clothes, they recommend the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule if it's a weeklong trip. This entails restricting yourself to five sets of underwear and socks, four tops (not the band), three bottoms, two pairs of shoes, and one hat. If it's a beach holiday, you can add swimwear. 

The other aspect of only taking what is necessary is compiling a list of what you think you need and then editing it down: "Fully get rid of the ‘just in case I need it’ category. If and when you need it, you can buy it," says Ben Nickel-D’Andrea of the BoardingArea blogger network.


A happy medium between fully unpacking and not is to semi-unpack. This can be in the form of individual bags stored within your suitcase. Such an approach has led to the popularity of packing cubes that enable the traveler to neatly arrange and store items in a suitcase, which they can take out as needed. 

An alternative to the packing cubes is a suitcase with built-in shelving that can function as a portable closet. This is the method that Laura Wass, founder of Brooklyn jewelry brand WXYZ, swears by. "It makes so much sense to streamline, even if you’re unpacking while traveling," she says. 

For the Duration 

Ultimately, what method you choose also comes down to the length of your travels. A weeklong break will necessitate a suitcase and a certain amount of unpacking. But for a short trip of a few days, you can take all you need in a backpack. Dan Pierson of Bolt Travel likes the compartmentalized approach. "All of my clothing lives in a dry bag where it’s rolled up, military style, to prevent wrinkling. I’m able to drop that bag in and out of my backpack. Each item, like chargers and toiletries, have their own home within my backpack. That helps me keep track of everything."

It's therefore very handy that Cecilia's Backpacks have lots of space, with pockets and padded dividers for customizable compartments to carry all your essentials.

With 22" x 14" x 9" being the maximum carry-on luggage allowance on the major airlines like Delta, American Airlines and United, the Mercator is the perfect carry-on at just 19" x 11.75" x 6".

Happy Travels 

What about Sloss herself? If she's away for more than three days, she likes to fully unpack. "I’ve come to terms with the great peace and satisfaction I now find in fully unpacking." Dr Kim, on the other hand, prefers not to unpack, as she wants to avoid the risk of leaving anything behind. 

As for me, I found myself smiling at what Sloss's husband does, because I do exactly the same. When they were last on holiday, she says he "stuck to his tradition and happily kept his clothes in the suitcase and neighboring piles on the floor." Finally! I'm not the only one! 

Credit: Daria Shevtsova 

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