What To Pack on Your Solo Trip

The Editors at St Giles Hotels

We interview longtime solo wanderer Bruce Northam and get his tips on travel gear.

“On any journey, the first thing you pack is yourself,” says veteran travel writer Bruce Northam. Northam the author of THE DIRECTIONS TO HAPPINESS: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons, has been test-driving travel gear for decades, adds, “But, it’s your luggage and packing strategy that can make or break a trip.” After making that claim, St Giles Hotels had a few more questions about the travel lifestyle, especially in places like NYC, Manila, London, Sydney, Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

How does packing for a city vacation differ from packing for a countryside vacation?
Bruce Northam: Surprisingly, city vacation packing is not much different than country vacation packing. Pavement, which resembles rock, is tough on your feet and entire body, so you really do need appropriate luggage and footwear. However, cities, which hold heat during the daytime and invite gusty winds at night, can experience more climate variation than rural areas. So, your clothing, while looking good, also needs to be versatile.

What are some of the things you always pack for a flight?
BN: A key factor in packing is how long you’ll be on the plane flying to your destination. A long-haul flight in coach—or even in business class—can be challenging. Noise cancelling headphones are a lifesaver. Add the AirComfy Multi-Purpose Travel Pillow, which doubles as a lower-back supporter, to your in-flight arsenal and you’re all set. While most travel experts recommend little or no in-flight alcohol, but I’ve found that having a few cocktails while mingling with other passengers at 35,000 feet to not just be fun, but often change the shape of your vacation itinerary.

What are you wearing on the road these days?
BN: My latest discovery in travel clothing and gear is the Craghoppers collection, which [beyond clothing] includes comfy performance socks, nifty hats and dependable luggage. Their stylish and resilient travel collection is both comfortable and able to withstand all climates and environments—from tropical to Arctic. When I’m wearing their handsome short-sleeve Kiwi shirt, people consistently ask where I bought it. Their women’s line also perfectly blends form and function.

What sort of luggage and clothing is best suited for suitable for adventurous city travel?
BN: For rolling luggage, some of my travel journalist colleagues swear by Tumi. If you’re on an adventure that will eventually leave the pavement behind, a backpack becomes your only option, and Kelty backpacks have certainly stood the test of time. Or, you can mesh the best of both worlds with Jansport’s rolling backpacks. Layering is the key to wardrobe simplicity, and it all starts with your base layer.

How about footwear? Is versatility the key if you’re trying to pack light for a trip?
BN: Men and women view footwear versatility differently, thus, this question often sets off a battle between the sexes. A bad footwear choice can destroy a day of exploring. I test-drive all types of footwear and trust that the sturdier the better—with a pack on your back or even just pulling luggage, your feet require additional sympathy. Low-cut sneaker-style hiking boots by Vasque and Merrell are best for still making a fashion statement. But your feet must breathe, too. To save room, attach a pair of athletic sandals to the outside of your luggage. You can’t go wrong with Keen or Teva.

What about personal items? Which of these do you consider indispensable?
BN: Earplugs (noise creeps into every adventure at some point), hydrocortisone cream (breaks from your daily shower routine can trigger rashes in worrisome places), sunscreen (solid stick lip-balm types, liquid versions are too heavy), an external device charger, and sunglasses  (for when you don’t want to see the light.)

And how about electronics? Most travelers today want to take at least a laptop, but how can you safely pack such a valuable, fragile item? What items do you recommend for the techy city traveler?
Funny, while toting my laptop abroad, my most fearsome gauntlet is riding the A-train subway at night to/from JFK. I’ve never met a recently fleeced traveler who bemoaned losing their gadget, only the images, videos and words on it. The cloud seems like an answer to this dilemma, if it works. My on-the-road solution is regularly emailing such data to myself.

If you’re going to be carrying a laptop and/or camera gear, you need to break down and buy a small, tech-friendly backpack. Carrying things on one shoulder is eventually going to come back and bite you, as the uneven load will trigger neck and shoulder pain that won’t go away. I vouch for separating your valuables around your body with Pick-Pocket Proof Pants, as Clothing Arts can style you from head to toe. On the road, or even in your town, peace of mind regarding losing or having your things stolen is priceless.

How can travelers best weatherproof their luggage?
BN: Buy waterproof luggage. If your luggage doesn’t come with built-in weatherproofing, you can slum in a pinch with a thick-gauge trash bag. Another simple in-transit solution is an umbrella.

Finally, what are your top tips for packing light? Which items do you most commonly see being packed for travel which simply aren’t necessary?
BN: As noted, easy-wash, quick-dry clothing slashes your garment load—P.S., nobody with an adventure mindset is calculating your outfit schedule. Open-air footwear means no dirty socks. If something is weighing you down, be prepared to give it away; batteries and liquids (shampoo, etc) are HEAVY, ponder lugging them. Remember, if you’re on the fence about packing something, you can likely buy or trade for it enroute once you’ve tested your actual needs. When visiting impoverished countries, I often give away the contents of my pack as I go and resupply as needed. I know more than one travel professional who ship their luggage via UPS ahead of their schedule.

Catch up with Bruce Northam on AmericanDetour.com.