I don't wanna leave my heart in San Francisco
February 3, 2012 11:24 AM   Subscribe

People who either travel with "gear" (broadly defined) or have to pack "gear" for work--how do you preflight what you're taking, make sure you have it when you go out, and make sure you bring it back when you return? Bonus: how do you label things so that it makes its way back to you if your protocol fails?

I do a lot of photography on the side. On a recent trip, I overpacked, and brought a tripod I didn't need. When I checked out of my hotel, I left my lovely tripod in the lobby (along with my shoes, somehow). I was lucky enough to get everything back, but it was very frustrating.

Photographers, film people, stage people, rock climbers, traveling doodad salesmen, parents, and everyone else schlepping shit around:

1) how do you plan what to take (and avoid, for instance, superfluous tripods);
2) how do you make sure you have everything when you leave home base;
3) how do you make sure you have everything when you come back?

Are you using paper checklists? Something on the iPhone? A photo of your gear?

Bonus: how do you label your gear so you can get it back if lost?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a stagehand. Everything I take to work on a daily basis lives in my toolbag. If I need it at home for any reason, I put it back away in the toolbag as soon as I'm done. I don't need everything every time. Overpacking is, in my profession, unavoidable.

All my tools have my name engraved or sharpied on them, and most have orange tape as well. I work within the same larger group of people pretty much every time. We watch out for each other--if Red leaves his screwgun behind, I take it and call him to set up a return. Sometimes hand tools kick around in my bag for a week or two, if I know I'm going to see their owner very soon.

I go through and edit my tool bag every few months, removing things I haven't used in ages, replenishing consumables, making sure everything is in good working order. I don't wait for this cleanout to add things, though. If I need something, I add it in right away.

I don't have any sort of master list of what I carry in my tool bag. I should probably write one up for insurance purposes. But day to day, keeping the bag always packed means that I never need a list.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:52 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I keep a basic checklist on my computer that I update frequently, and in fact, have several versions (i.e for long vs. short trips, for international trips, for work trips, for camping, for vacation). Each item has two check points next to it - one for packing, and one for making sure it is back in the suitcase(s) when I'm heading back home. I keep this list in my suitcase in a plastic sleeve so I don't accidentally throw it away.

I use luggage tags attached to everything it can be attached to (I work for an adventure travel company, so there are a ton of these I get free), or I tape my business card to things using clear packing tape.

For my iPad, which I did accidentally leave on a plane once - the fake nubuck cover wouldn't let the business card covered with clear packing tape adhere, so I went old-school. I stuck on high quality duct tape to the cover, which did stick very well, wrote my contact info on it with a black sharpie, then to make sure the sharpie ink didn't rub off, covered my handwriting with the clear packing tape ON TOP of the duct tape. It looks pretty ghetto, but I put it on the pack of the iPad cover so it's noticeable, but not the first thing you see.
posted by HeyAllie at 11:53 AM on February 3, 2012

I use a checklist that I keep in my toiletries bag. I review it when packing to go and when packing to return. After packing, I minimize the number of items I need to carry to two or three at most. This means I'm a big fan of packing empty bags in bigger bags. When I go through the airports or hotels I always ask myself "OK. Where are my three items? Do I have all three items? Yes? OK then."

For marking cords, I use mailing labels and packing tape. For black equipment, I use silver sharpies with my phone number and name. For non-black equipment, I use black sharpies.
posted by rw at 11:55 AM on February 3, 2012

Engraving pen for ID on hard tools, key identifier tags - half inch by one and a half - zip tied to cords and other stuff, even use them on jump drives. Print contact info on Avery labels, stick them on the gear and then cover with a layer of clear packing tape to make them waterproof.
posted by X4ster at 12:17 PM on February 3, 2012

The sharpie is my best friend. I travel with a regular and heavy duty kind. The regular can wash off non-porous surfaces but the heavy-duty is fantastic if the label will be forever. Every piece we travel with has a label stuck to it, so backpacks, suitcases, stuffed animals, whatever. I label with my last name and email address, nothing else.

I carry a number of empty gallon zip-lock bags that I label as I toss things in. I try to keep like minded things together, food, electronic plugs, toys, books, liquids for security, etc. The regular travel stuff stays in a ziplock all the time even at home, I replenish as I unpack. I bring a few Rubbermaid-type containers too, that hold things we don't want to break.

Rubber bands are also excellent. I like the heavy kind that come with produce.

For valuables, I email myself a list and keep it in my inbox the whole time I travel. I suppose it would be great to email to another person.

Last time we traveled, I packed breakables in a big bubble envelope, which we used to mail things home (like laundry and things we didn't need).

We tend to pack very lightly and simply and do without big items. Everything needs to fit in some sort of bag with something else, no special bags for any one thing.
posted by mamabear at 12:18 PM on February 3, 2012

I think I'm just unusually fastidious about bags. Every kit has its own bag, and when it's not in use it lives in the bag. So, if I'm bringing my camera on a trip that means bringing the whole bag. I also don't usually unpack in hotel rooms or elsewhere, so when I'm done with stuff it goes right back in the bag. I've got a business trip bag, camera bag, climbing bag, bag for bike gear, etc.

It's hard to overpack this way due to luggage restrictions on airlines, and it also means I only need to remember one thing (the bag). The downside is that if I forget the bag, then I've lost a lot of kit, but luckily that hasn't happened yet. I guess putting address tags on the bags would be a good idea.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:24 PM on February 3, 2012

Start your nametags with the words "Stolen From..." -- it work wonders. An engraving pen is also good for long-lived stuff.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2012

There are some good answers about labeling things in this recent question.
posted by soelo at 12:31 PM on February 3, 2012

Check out Pack TM on the iPhone. I used it during a rapid-fire tour of 7 cities through multiple time zones and lost only one cheap thing (a drain stopper). Also, it helps to set up systems: The tripod always goes in the right side of the hard case. The USB doojob always goes in the interior mesh pocket of the day pack. And so on. That way, checking to make sure you've packed something means just quickly looking in the spot where it belongs.
posted by ceiba at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2012

I should point out that the best list in the world probably would likely have not helped you. The time you would have checked your list is when packing to leave your room. Setting something down and and absent-mindingly forgetting it is a different issue, and not one that will be solved by a list or labels.

Personally, always, always, putting stuff back where it goes seems to be the key for me. If the tripod was always lashed to your bag, you'd still have it.
posted by COD at 12:38 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I put small stuff in clear ziplock bags labeled with Sharpies.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:58 PM on February 3, 2012

I travel with my scuba gear. a) I have a checklist of all my gear in my logbook, which always comes along. b) I pack my bag the same way every time, and it all just barely fits, so it's clear when something is missing. c) Almost all my gear is labeled with my last name (using high quality marker pens from the dive shop). My bags have frequent flyer tags attached to them, so the airline can definitely track me down if necessary.
posted by ktkt at 1:33 PM on February 3, 2012

I'll chime in here as a person who regularly travels to multiple varied destinations, spreads gear all over the place, and doesn't label or keep a list. If you get in a rush, you won't have time to reference that in the first place.

First, I avoid loose bits (like your tripod) whenever possible. Try to squeeze it into a bag somewhere. Know how many bags you have. Pack tight for the plane, expand when you arrive.

I fly with exactly 4 bags: backpack, audio mixer, checked gear case, and checked luggage. My boom pole gets disassembled so it will fit in my luggage and packed with my clothes. If I had to keep track of it during flight, I'd lose it. When I land I know I need to be walking with 4 bags. I count. Every time.

At the hotel, I expand. My battery chargers go on the floor, as close to the door as I can put them. My boom pole gets assembled and put next to the door. Mixer bag goes on the floor near the door. Gear case on the floor. Near the door. I always wear a hat, so I take my hat off, put it upside down on the desk, and put my wallet, keys, earbuds, change, room key, memory cards, etc in the hat. When I leave for work, if I've remembered my hat (always do) I've got my keys and everything. If I've left my room, I have remembered my batteries, mixer, case and boom pole because I literally had to step over or move them in order to get to the door.

My #1 tip: Everything goes near the hotel room door. If I can't see it, I'll forget it.

Instead if making lists of specific items, I just keep counts. At the end of a work day, I need to have 4 wireless mics in my hand, two camera receivers, 4 big batteries, 4 headsets, etc. If you know exactly how many of each thing you have, you will find it easier to see what's missing.

When I'm leaving for the next destination, I stuff those 4 wireless into their little bag. I have two of those little bags. They go into their special spot in my case. Case, mixer, backpack, luggage. 4 bags. 4 bags.
posted by stephennelson at 5:30 PM on February 3, 2012

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