Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Packing Our Bags

With the official departure date coming up quick, it's time to start packing bags for the family's Carriacou holiday. Here's what and how we pack for the trip.

We begin packing weeks before our departure. After having made numerous trips with way too many things we just didn't need, we have learned to start packing early. Well, we don't actually 'pack' early, but we start the process by sacrificing our living room floor to everything we think we need to take. Everything.

Clothing has always been our biggest mistake. The weather in the Caribbean is moderate, with average temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees (F) year around. The dress code on Carriacou is island casual, yet still quaintly conservative (watch how much skin you show in public). We know this, as does anyone else who has researched a Caribbean vacation. So why do we always wind up taking way too many clothes? Ha!

Having access to laundry facilities is a huge help with this issue. You really only need clothes for a few days if you will be able to wash them once or twice during your stay. If you don't have access to laundry, consider packing clothing made of light material that you can simply wash in the sink and dry on the back of a chair in the sunlight.

Regardless of what clothes we pack, we usually live in our swimsuits and other light wear (t-shirts and shorts). Since we do enjoy dining out at a 'nice" place once in a while, we try to take one outfit that is a little nicer (cotton slacks and short-sleeved polo for men, skirt and blouse for women). Shoes are heavy and take a lot of space in luggage. Do your best to limit yourself in this regard. Flip-flops and swim / boat shoes can be sufficient unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking or running.

The family is snorkel crazy, so we pack our own preferred gear. This adds some weight, but we are much happier using our own stuff rather than rental equipment.

Toiletries are available on-island as-needed. However, packing a little shampoo and soap doesn't add that much to the total load and is sometimes necessary for travelers with allergies or other problems.

Having young children can make packing a challenge. They tend to believe that they need to bring a lot of 'stuff' to entertain themselves, when in fact once they get to the island they never touch any of it. This is where laying out all of your items in advance can be very helpful. It at least gives you the opportunity to bargain and barter with your family on what they plan to take. It gets easier as the children get older; then they decide that a good book and an iPod are sufficient.

One thing we do not sacrifice on is camera gear. It's a hobby that the whole family enjoys, so a large camera bag with all of the extras gets packed. This includes a small, notebook computer to offload and store digital images from the cameras. We have never regretted it once we get back home and look through all of the photographs. Those are the memories that help us get by until our next Caribbean holiday.

The plan is for everyone in the travel party to have one carry-on and one checked bag (less if consolidation is possible). Duffle bags are a must! Hard-sided luggage does not travel well when in comes to the Caribbean's light planes and ferry boats. To comply with airline restrictions and our own physical capabilities, we keep the bags to 40 pounds or less each.

So here's the living room floor...
  • Clothes including swimsuits and one 'nice' outfit, including shoes
  • Snorkel gear (fins, mask and snorkel)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, soap, razor, prescription medication, etc.)
  • Entertainment (books, magazines, iPods, etc.)
  • Cameras, notebook computer and accessories
We lay this all out, and then the fun begins. Each day until we leave, we all survey the floor and select something we can do without. Our goal is to take only the essentials. Amazingly, the pile gets considerably smaller by the time we actually pack it all up (the night before departure). This beats starting the process the night before departure, which would have had us taking EVERYTHING that was on the floor to begin with!

The carry-on bags get the entertainment items (for easy access on the airplane), the camera and computer gear and a few clothes items in case of flight delays or lost luggage. Prescription drugs all go in carry-on bags in their original, labeled containers. The checked bags get the rest. With TSA rules regarding carry-on liquids, we try to pack them all in checked luggage for ease of travel.

This may sound like a lot of stuff, but amazingly it is not once you go through the weeks long 'thinning process'. I hope that this idea helps you have a lighter-weight and more enjoyable trip to the Caribbean.