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Travel is a great educator and a source of experiences that last a lifetime. But it's not all fun and frolics. There are many things to dislike about travel. Getting to the airport, standing in lines, then more lines, getting delayed, sitting with your knees in your ears for hours on end, eating flavourless plastic airline food. All can get you down. But my personal greatest hate is packing.
For most of the 15 years since I started work I have been on the road or in the air. From office to airport to customer to airport and back again. My suitcases have more air-miles than the vegetables in Tesco's fresh produce section. But for now I am, so to speak, grounded by forthcoming redundancy and taking time to think about what I've been doing all this time and where I want to go next (both geographically and career wise).
A typical Sunday (though it could be any day of the week) would find me late at night swearing in the bedroom as I pack one of my dozen or so different suitcases for the journey ahead. It doesn't matter if it's a day or three weeks, a holiday or a business trip, a tiny backpack or a giant suitcase, my husband and cats know to keep well away when the cases come out and my language takes a turn for the worse.
So now you know one important thing - that I have travelled a lot. The second thing you need to know about me is that I am pathologically untidy and disorganised. I have read every article in every women's magazine about how to pack and arrive at your destination as a crumple-free goddess but none of them ever made any difference. I have learned that you can't travel and survive without systems for 'keeping your sh*t together' (please forgive the Americanism).
Since others may hate packing as much as I do - or even love it and still want to love it even more, I have decided to share with you my favourite product that helps me to deal with the hatred of packing.
That product is the Eagle Creek Pack-it Folder. And if I get round to it, this review will shortly be followed by the Eagle Creek Pack-it Cube. Together, these two gizmos keep me (questionably) sane when travelling.
What is the Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder? ******************************** First things first. It's called a folder because you use it to fold things not like a folder that you keep your paperwork in - no hole punch required. I would call it a folding system - a way of keeping your skirts, trousers, skirts and anything likely to crease or wrinkle in tip-top condition whilst they are in your luggage.
The system consists of a hard flat oblong of rip-stop fabric with triangular wings protruding from each side. Two of these wings are rip-stop and the other two and heavy-duty mesh. These are laid out like an envelope (think about the shape of an envelope if you undid the glue). The central part - if you like the 'front' of the envelope - has a pouch into which is stuffed a sheet of hard stiff plastic. This forms the firm base of the folder. The wings - like the flap and the back parts of the envelope - close together with velcro and keep the clothes tucked neatly inside. There is a second hard plastic board that goes inside - this is the 'folding board'.
How do you use it? ***************** Choose the clothes that you want to take with you - I'll leave you to figure that bit out yourself but just bear in mind that anything you took last time and didn't wear, probably won't get worn this time either. Be firm, be tough - if in doubt, leave it out. You will use the folder only for the items that most need protecting from creases - e.g. shirts, trousers etc. For all your T-shirts, socks, pants, pyjamas etc. - i.e. the stuff that isn't crease-critical you can just stuff those in your case or use the pack-it cubes (which will be the topic of another review if I sort my act out).
So, all your goodies are hanging over the wardrobe door ready to be folded. At this stage you need a flat clean surface. I use my ironing board but any table will be fine. I don't recommend the bed or sofa or anything too soft. (This applies doubly so if you have cats unless you have shaved their little furry boddies which is not recommended. I have finally trained mine not to sit on the ironing board).
Lay the item on the surface and have a good look at the instructions on the folding board. These suggest the best way to fold any typical piece of clothing to ensure that the fold marks are in the least noticeable places. For example when folding a shirt, you don't want the crease down the middle - you want it either side so that when your jacket is done up, the fold marks are not visible.
Follow the folding instructions or, with time and use, you may find better ways to do this. When the items if folded, pull out the board and slide it under the item. Use the board to lift it into the centre of the folder and then fold the next item. When you have folded all the pieces of clothing, place the folding board on the top of the pile and then fold in the two long ends of the system and velcro them together. Next fold in the two shorter sides and velcro those. If you are trying to save space, you can use the velcro to compress the items.
Then pop the whole folder into your suitcase and pack all your other items around it.
But I fold my clothes anyway so what's the benefit of this folder? **************************************************** So, you are one of those neat and tidy people are you? OK, maybe you can live without this but here are the benefits as I see them: Once the clothes are in the folder they are held neatly together. You can lift them all out in one go. If your shampoo bursts in your case, they are protected. If the customs agents decide to rifle through your bag, they will survive better than loose-packed items. They can be compressed to take less space. By keeping multiple items together, it's easier to find what you want.
Living out of a suitcase ******************* If you are going to just one place and staying for a while you may want to unpack all your carefully folded clothes and hang them up. Good for you! If you are hopping from one place to the next, then leave the items you don't need in the folder. Sod's law says you always want the trousers that are at the bottom of the pile and the shirt that's in the middle. Using the folding board that was sitting on top of the pile of clothes, carefully slide it under the items which are on top of the clothes you want for that day and just lift those other items off and place them to one side. Then take the item(s) you want and lift the carefully folded items back on top. It sounds dumb and pretty obvious but if your clothes are just folded willy-nilly in your case and you want to take something out from the middle, you will usually make a complete mess and crumple half the items.
What sizes are available? ********************* Eagle Creek make these folders in a range of sizes. The choice of size would be dictated by: 1. how much you want to carry 2. how big your suitcase is. I have three in a variety of sizes and use them in combination depending on how much I need to take with me. If you use a folder that's much too big then the velcro may leave the clothes a bit loose inside. If you go too small, you may end up squishing everything and compromising the crease-free objective.
My boards are getting old and a bit tatty so I checked the Eagle Creek website to get you up to date info. They are currently making these boards in the following sizes:
1. 15 inches by 10 inches (sorry, it's an American site, they haven't discovered metric yet). This is the smallest size and it should hold about 7 shirts or (say) 4 shirts, a pair of trousers and a skirt. It will fit into a briefcase and is ideal for a short trip. 2. 18 inches by 12 inches - this one holds 8-12 items and is an ideal size for about a week. 3. 20 inches by 14 inches - this is the big one and will take 12-15 items and is good for bulkier clothes. 4. A full length folder which is really more like a garment bag.
All of my folders are boring black and dark green but they are now making these in some funky colours including cranberry, treefrog (I kid you not) and a multistripe. I guess the idea is to make packing more FUN! But for me nothing less than a full time butler to do the job for me would make it enjoyable.
What do they cost? *************** If you get the chance to get them in the USA then grab it - they are generally much cheaper over there than in the UK. A site I found stocking them in the UK (www.breaking-free.co.uk) has the 15 inch at £15 and the 18 and £18. You can often find them in airport duty free shops - this is where I've bought all of mine but arguably the saving isn't worth it for the inconvenience of not having the board when you are packing.
Are they just for business travellers? ****************************** Absolutely not - I use them on backpacking holidays in my rucksac and they are particularly useful if you are camping and don't have the space to get everything out of your bag when you need to find something.
Any problems? ************* Just two at the moment 1. I can't find where I've put them and I'm going crazy about where they are because packing without them is hell 2. I have lost or damaged all of the folding boards but have been advised by the UK stockists that I should be able to get duplicates. Over time the plastic seems to get more brittle and my two boards (I lost the third) have cracks and are missing the odd corner.
Will they really help me? ****************** If you travel rarely, always stay in just the one place or never take anything that creases then maybe you don't need one of these. But for everyone else, they can certainly made packing and unpacking much more bearable.