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How To Pack for A Pathfinder Tour

This is a Guest Post from Tricia Holda, International Program Consultant at ACIS. She is about to embark on a Pathfinder tour with a group heading to France and Switzerland. Pathfinder tours offer private groups (with as few as 13 participants) experiential activities, all led by tour managers that challenge students to eat, shop and explore like locals. Pathfinder travelers move around like locals too, which makes “light and flexible” the key mantra for packing. Tricia is our resident fashionista at ACIS Boston, so we love her simple solutions for packing travel attire without over-stuffing your suitcase. Take it away, Tricia!

How do I go from having a closet like this:20150322_231832

To packing 9 days of my life into one small carry-on roller bag and still leave a bit of wiggle room for European shopping? Not quite sure…

Please don’t misunderstand, I’ve always considered myself a terrible packer, but I’ve learned from my mistakes in over-packing, and I’ve paid the price when lugging around too many suitcases or overly heavy overnight bags. I now pack very conservatively, and still manage to have at least one different outfit for each day I’m traveling, except for airplane travel days – when I wear the same comfortable outfit that day to save a bit of space.

It’s satisfying to come home and realize that I had a different outfit on every day, and wore 90-100% of what I brought. That is now how I measure my packing skills.

So what am I packing for, exactly? I’m going on the ‘La Francophonie’ Pathfinder trip. It’s a 9-day trip, starting in Paris for three nights, then taking the high speed train to Switzerland, staying in Lausanne (in Lake Geneva) for two nights, then finishing with two nights in the gorgeous city of Lyon!

In addition to the obvious (fabulous food!), I’m really excited for the “Sketch Paris” lesson in Montmartre, as well as the visit to the Château de Chillon in Montreaux while in Switzerland, and going up to the hilltop district of Fourvière while in Lyon. While I’ve already visited the main cities on this tour, all of these activities will be 100% new to me, so I’m so excited to experience them! And of course, I love taking the train and living like a local when traveling, so I am thrilled that public transportation is the foundation of this tour.

For a typical 9-day getaway, depending on the destination I’m visiting, I may have packed a larger checked bag, or packed for seasonal weather predictions and the standard of clothing worn by locals on a normal basis.

But packing for the Pathfinder tour, I’ve decided to do things a little differently. I’m packing all of my 9 days into a standard carry-on sized roller suitcase, and a backpack. The last thing I want is to haul a big suitcase onto a train or city bus or subway filled with busy Parisians and have them glare at me for the size of my luggage! Also, the backpack is easier since it will distribute the weight better than carrying a heavy shoulder bag for a more extended period of time. But I will definitely be wearing my backpack on the front of my body when on public transportation, to safeguard against potential pick-pockets.20150322_232148

Why am I packing light? Pathfinder tours offer a glimpse of the city typically saved for the locals, and while I would love to have a variety of outfit options, I’d rather breeze through with light luggage than be the obvious tourist schlepping over-sized bags. With the right tips and tricks, packing light is easy!

My Tips For Packing Light:

  1. Bring only one heavy jacket and wear it on the plane so you don’t have to pack it.
  2. Don’t bring a big purse, just a cross-body bag is best, for comfort and convenience while walking around all day, as well as the minimal packing space needed – it must fit in your suitcase if a roller bag and backpack are your carry-on and personal item.20150322_231932
  3. Bring ONE pair of nicer shoes for the nicer nights out, either brown or black, whichever goes best with the two nice options  packed – no more than two nice outfits packed. The other two pairs should be sneakers and flat boots – I always bring a pair that can be dressed up or down.
  4. Bring just 3 pairs of pants and 4-5 tops – mix and match the entire time.
  5. Jewelry can sometimes significantly change the look of an outfit, so I always bring a lot of choices, since that doesn’t take much space at all. Nothing valuable, though!
  6. Layering is key. I always bring one pair of heavier tights for winter/spring, because a dress takes less space than an individual top and bottom.
  7. As I said before, just one jacket that can be worn every day is enough. I always bring an easy neutral sweater or jean shirt that I can easily layer with most everything I’ve brought, for chillier days when I need to bundle a bit more.
  8. Most importantly, LIQUIDS! This is the biggest struggle I have, but I make it happen. All hotels at least have shampoo, soap/body wash, and body lotion so I leave those behind and only bring my conditioner in travel size. I recommend washing your hair every other day while on tour to stretch out the limited supply of conditioner. I bring make-up remover wipes and pack those in my roller bag, so I have less space taken in my clear plastic bag. Then I just bring one small tube of facial scrub, for a deeper clean three or four nights while on tour. Voila! You can fit all other liquids into one plastic bag, even for 9 days!20150322_231700

One other tip to keep your feet happy: I make sure that I coordinate the same color families for my very slim shoe selection. If I have an outfit that I want to bring that doesn’t work with the shoes I need to bring, I leave that outfit at home. I only bring things that work easily with my 3-pair shoe supply. Since I’ll be using local commuting options instead of a tour bus, I’m going to be sure to bring better –  i.e .flat – shoes that have insoles in them, and my backpack instead of a shoulder bag for comfort.

If I can go from an over-packer to traveling light, you can too!

Bon voyage, Tricia! Tricia jets off for her European Pathfinder tour this week, so we’ll be sure to follow-up and see how her packing tips panned out when she returns from her Pathfinder tour. Keep up with her travels – follow her on Twitter!

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