I remember the first time I went to Europe. I scoured every travel site I could find.

I was a big fan of Rick Steves (still am). If you’re nervous about heading out to places unknown, you have to watch his series and peruse every book you can find about where you’re going to. Knowledge is the best thing to overcome your fears.

Little did I know that my trip to Europe was the start of something big. I sold my forever home, downsized and minimized to where I now make travel an integral part of my life.

I’m heading out for a writers retreat soon. I have several long weekends planned out in the first half of the year, and a one month trip in the spring.

Yep, that’s all just in the first half of the year!

With all of my traveling, I’ve found a lot of hacks that make the entire process a little easier.

Smaller Suitcases Are Better

When the three of us went to Europe for six weeks as a family, we carried two backpacks (carry on sized), and three tote bags or school-sized backpacks as our personal items. Five bags, six weeks. And there were SO MANY things I wished we’d left at home.

I am not one of those people who overpacks. In fact, after my lesson-learned with my Europe trip, the less I travel with, the better. If I’m staying for a week or under, a carry-on and a tote bag are more than ample.

And when I’m traveling for weeks at a time? I prefer Airbnb, so I can still get by with nothing more than a carry-on and a tote bag. I love having a washing machine to keep things clean.

When you’re traveling, you’re more than likely out and about. You’re hiking. You’re sightseeing. You’re not dressing to impress. So why not keep it simple?

I like things with multiple purposes. I have a great pair of black pants from Columbia. I can wear a tank top when hiking, a t-shirt if it’s cooler, and throw a sweater over it if I want to “dress up.”

I stick with one color theme so I can bring as few shoes as possible. If I’m doing a lot of hiking, I’ll throw in my hiking boots. If not, my workout shoes are good enough. Flats can double up with pants or dresses. And if it’s warm, I’ll add in a pair of sandals I can use for both walking and dress.

Skip the bulky items. I never bring jeans, sweaters, or anything that will take up much room. I bring a scarf and a wrap as they can dress anything up.

A Great Tote Bag

When I travel for more than three or four days at a time, I pack up my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone so I can check-in and work from anywhere. So of course I need a great place to put it all and keep it safe while I tuck it underneath my seat.

I’m vegan. And that poses a problem when it comes to buying really good laptop bags. I don’t like nylon, I still want something feminine. But I found a secret when I went up to Canada a few years ago.

Tucked away in a little shop in Victoria, I found bags by Pixie Mood. Their belief is that great style doesn’t need compromise. You can be trendy, functional, and socially responsible too! They spoke my language. I purchased a small purse made from cork to give it a try. And fell in love! We’ve been back to Victoria twice, and I’ve upgraded and bought more bags each time. I wanted something new for my writers retreat, so I found the perfect thing on their site. Even ordering from Canada, it was here in just a few days. The color is perfect – I can’t wait to use it

Check Travel Requirements Ahead Of Time

In this crazy world, travel is difficult at best. When you show up at the airport expecting one thing, and something else happens, it can throw you.

I’m always amazed by the people who show up with a too-heavy suitcase, or have to get out of line at security because their items don’t meet the guidelines.

And if you think it’s bad here, wait till you try to get into different countries.

It doesn’t take long for you to check in with security requirements for your final destination. Every airport website I’ve been on has a vast amount of helpful recommendations. Google it. Check it out. And pack accordingly. You’ll be the one to zip through, while everyone else stands back and wonders why it’s so difficult.

Plan, Plan, Plan – And Then Leave It To Chance
Some things you have to book early. You have to have your air travel. You have to have a place to stay. And if you’re doing something specific – a concert, a tour, or a hot-spot restaurant – you might have to book in advance.

Everything else should be left up to chance.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan.

As a vegan, I’m always looking for the best places to eat. We can’t just walk into anyplace and expect a great meal.

So I do a little research before I leave and create lists for every place we visit. Then I create a file on Google Docs listing names, websites, and addresses, so it’s at my fingertips from my phone.

This gives us the opportunity to have a little spontaneity in our days, without having to scramble for ideas when we’re tired or hungry.

Look For Cheats To Beat The System

I hate the 1-quart bag rule. Since I almost always travel with carry-on only, it can sometimes be the most difficult part of packing.

What the hell am I going to put in my 1-quart bag? What am I going to do without?

Ah, that’s where the little cheats come in handy.

I love, love, LOVE Lush Cosmetics. Because they have such wonderful things for travelers like me. And they’re eco-friendly and socially responsible too.

Try their tooth tabs. It’s toothpaste in solid form, they come in a small bottle you can throw in your suitcase, not your 1-quart bag. Plus they have a lot of fun flavors that’ll keep your teeth and your breath clean and fresh. BOOM! Anyone?

Then try one of their shampoo bars. They tuck neatly into a tin, and last and last and last.

Choose solid deodorant over gel. Look for the smallest bottles you can. I love the Container Store’s travel section – they have bottles you can use over and over, and bring along your favorite things.

Lingerie Bags

I can’t live without lingerie bags. I think they’re the best thing ever invented.

Have you ever washed tank tops or clothes with ties or tiny buttons? I’ve had more clothes eaten by agitators in washing machines then I care to remember.

These handy little tools are perfect for washing my delicates. But when I travel, I use them to keep my undies separate. I pack two for each of us; one for clean, one for dirty. It makes it easy to know what’s what, especially if we’re staying in different places each night. And then when a bag is filled and I have access to a washing machine, it’s easy to throw the whole thing in.

Plus I like it for keeping all of my “delicates” in a place where TSA won’t paw through it. Have you ever seen the way some customs people search through everything? A shirt or a pair of pants doesn’t bug me. But my undies …

It’s also a great way to keep your smaller items together. If you’re nervous about losing small items, bring along an extra bag. I’ve kept socks, jewelry, hair ties, cotton balls, and more in a bag to make it easy to transport.

When you find good ones, buy lots. You’ll use them in more ways than you can imagine.

Photograph everything

My daughter recently had her backpack stolen while she was traveling. Luckily, she had a smaller travel bag with her too that held her documents, laptop and phone, and other important information.

The truth is, things happen when you travel. You might lose a bag. You might have an accident.

While we never want to think about the bad, the more prepared you are, the better.

My daughter had travel insurance that reimburses her for the contents. But we also learned a valuable lesson that I’ll be implementing before every trip.

When I pack now, I’ll lay out everything first. Roll up the clothes, layout my laptop and phone, separate my toiletries. Then photograph everything.

I create a file on my Google Drive, one I have access from anywhere in the world with internet access. Then I file my pictures in a folder labeled for the trip. If I have receipts for any recent purchases, I put those in there too. I create a list of airline information, hotel or airbnb reservations, event invoice numbers, passport information, insurance info, and credit card numbers. I stick it all in there so I have quick access in case I need it.

And I can share it with others too – my husband or my daughter – so they are kept in the loop.

Traveling – my favorite thing to do. I’ll be leaving soon, with all of these hacks in place.

Do you have any travel tips that help you stay organized?