Several years ago, I had a conversation with a veteran travel writer who confessed that after decades of constant travel for both work and pleasure, the thing that still stresses her out the most before travel is packing.
In many ways, I share that stress, even though packing for a bike tour is much simpler since you have a much better idea of what your day-to-day activities will entail.
WomanTours president and travel guru Jackie Marchand put together this fantastic and fool-proof packing list for traveling only with a carry-on back in 2014, but its wisdom remains timeless. WomanTours also offers this very practical list that might require a checked bag. I have followed both, and they really work—when you stick to the list.
Still, I am a nervous Nelly around a suitcase or backpack, so I have developed a few more habits that have made packing less traumatic. Here they are for anyone who shares my neurosis.
Make a list and keep to it. Knowing ahead what you need to bring is essential. That’s why Jackie’s blog and the WomanTours suggested packing list are so helpful. Start there and customize based on your needs. For example, I am stone blind without my eyeglasses, so I always have a spare pair in my back pack, and a copy of my prescription in my wallet in case I need a second spare pair.
Start early. I put all my packing items on the guest bed or dining room table at least a week in advance. That gives me a few days to think about if I have forgotten anything, and to practice fitting everything in my suitcase. When I wait until the last minute to pack (and I have done that before), I tend to throw in too many pants and not enough shirts, or I bring clothes that don’t match at all, or I totally forget the underwear category. It’s a bad scene.
Practice rolling/folding everything in your suitcase/travel bag. Choosing to fold or roll depends largely on the kind of carry case you are using. My experience? Backpacks and soft duffel bags lend themselves to rolling while suitcases work well with folding. Which type of luggage you use depends on your comfort level.
Check your list. As you pack for real and put your belongings in your luggage (for me, that’s a couple days before leaving), be sure to check your stuff against your list. This is most often where I discover what I missed or where I overpacked.
If it’s new, wear it several times before you pack it. Being on tour is NOT the time to try out a new pair of bike shorts or helmet, or even pants, underwear or socks for that matter. You want to make sure everything you bring is super-duper comfortable and well-fitting, and you are at ease with all the button holes, Velcro straps and hidden pockets. Plus you want to wash and dry it and see how it behaves in the laundry before you take flight.
Clean freaks do it in the shower. I like clean clothes. A lot. So much that I will stay awake an extra hour to wait for the washer and dryer to become available in the hotel. I pack a roll of quarters with me, and a few laundry pods. And if I am at a hotel where laundry facilities are not available, I have learned how to wash my sweaty biking duds in the shower, jumping in fully clothed. After me and my clothes are clean and rinsed and rung out, I use my shower towel to roll up the clothes and get as much moisture out as possible. Then I hang them to dry using a portable travel clothesline. If I do this as soon as I’m done riding, they are almost always dry by morning.
Don’t be afraid to leave it behind. Not only do I tend to bring the tried and true along on tour, I also sometimes bring the nearly worn out bits of wardrobe, and leave them behind at the end of my travels. This leaves room for any new trinkets I might want to buy and bring home.
Put your wallet and personal care case on a crash diet. These two things are often where I can most easily lose weight. I take out library cards, Starbucks gift cards and the like, and bring only the essential ID, insurance cards, credit cards and cash, stashing them in a slimmer travel wallet. Same for my hygiene bag. Who needs makeup, fancy creams and jewelry when biking anyway? And I am ok using hotel shampoo for a week or two so I don’t have to pack any. Small containers of other essentials like toothpaste, sunscreen and lotion are fine. I can always buy more on the road if I need it.
Oh, and the stuff for Covid. Yeah, we still have a pandemic going on. So for the time being I always have a copy of my vaccine card as well as a photo on my phone. I have N-95 masks (or similar high-grade masks). I also carry a small container of hand sanitizer and some test kits in case I develop symptoms or am exposed to someone who tests positive.
Good luck as you get ready for your trip. If you have questions, don't hesitate to call the office at 585-424-2124. My colleagues are all packing pros. And if you have other tricks that work for you, please share them with me via an email.