Regardless if you decide to carry on or not, here are some general packing tips:
- Bags within bags within bags: Almost everything that goes in my backpack is packed in a bag which is then packed in yet another bag. For instance I have my "electronics pouch" that has my ipod cord, camera charger, extra batteries, spare memory cards, etc. There's another little bag for laundry powder, my sink plug and a laundry line. There's another bag for my medkit. These pouches are in turn packed into waterproof stuffsacks: http://www.rei.com/product/766291 I love these things. Let me say that again, I LOVE these things. Talk about double duty. They waterproof from the outside and leakproof from the inside (let me recommend that one stuffsack is used only for things prone to leaking). I was using ziplock bags prior to these stuff sacks but found they punctured easily or the zipper would break rendering them useless. The stuffsacks can be used to reliably waterproof cameras or camcorders on board kayaks or boats (trap some air in there and if you capsize it might just float). I use them to haul wet laundry to a clothesline, I've even used it as a kitchen sink while wilderness backpacking. I carry an empty one in my daybag, in case it starts raining I can throw the camera, wallet, ipod, guidebook or whatever else doesn't react well to water if I get caught in a rainstorm. I have a minor obsession with waterproofing as I tend to get stuck in rainstorms. One stuffsack is for clothes, another for books, one for all the other little pouches of items.... it helps keep me organized and from leaving things behind.
- Email your important documents to yourself: Scan the passport, birth certificate, plane tickets, social security card, driver's license, whatever you'd normally keep a paper copy of. I'm convinced there is no place left on earth that is not within an hour's reach of internet. While you're at it, copy your mom or significant other on that email.
- Take a photo of your luggage: If you plan to check have a physical photo with you in case the luggage is lost. That way you can just show the photo to the person who doesn't speak your language well and they can write out the lost luggage claim in their native tongue without painful misinterpretations. If you do plan to carry on, go ahead an attach that photo to that email you just sent with all that important info. In case your luggage is stolen or lost use the photo to help describe it.
- Don't use a backpack as your day bag: I prefer to have a messenger style bag I can sling across my body. That way I can wear my backpack and my daybag at the same time and have both hands free. You should never keep valuables in a backpack, it's easy to slash or open zippers without you being aware. With your goods close to your body and in sight in your daybag, it's much harder to pilfer. Also you look a little bit less like a tourist with a more normal looking day bag. It's absolutely necessary for my daybag to completely close with a zipper. I want to be able to stow it in buses and airplanes without stuff falling out. Although the daybag (also dubbed "the survival bag") never leaves my side. It has my camera and ipod, guidebook and journal and I would be devastated without it. If you need a backpack for a hike, simply empty your main backpack and use that (easy to do if you don't have a lot of stuff and if that stuff is packed in stuffsacks).
- Secure your bags: I have a cable lock that I use to physically attach the bag to an unmovable object (see the red object dangling from my pack in the main blog picture?). That's also where I sharpee in my name and address for a luggage tag (it can't be removed!!). I also have little luggage locks to lock the zippers. This creates a "safe" I can use to store my ipod or camera in my room.
- Hide your cash: I won't tell you where I keep mine, but it's pretty difficult to get to. However if you snoop, first you're going to run across a decoy bundle. This has an old expired passport, some credit cards that won't work and less than 20 in cash. It's worked before.
Anyway, I hope that was helpful, and I'll post more as I think of them!