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TRAVEL INSIDER : Knowing What to Take When You Hit the Road : Packing: Veteran globetrotters share the items they wouldn't travel without--from eye masks to nail glue.

June 13, 1993|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

It's departure season. The U.S. Travel Data Center predicts that Americans will take 232 million journeys of more than 100 miles this summer (4% more than last summer, 12% more than in 1991). And that's just domestic travel.

Thus, by extension, it's packing season. Think of Americans by the millions, standing over their suitcases as crucial seconds tick away, tossing in shoes, raincoats and phrasebooks, pausing to contemplate that bulky but comfortable sweater, stuffing it in--and then regretting the decision for the ensuing days of straining shoulders and sacroiliac.

I travel as light as I can, but with certain priorities: the extra pair of glasses, the Swiss Army knife, the flashlight, the thin wallet that hangs inside my shirt and carries my passport and some money, a minimum of clothes. Most of the time, this is a source of pride. Then again, I'm the guy who couldn't take his wife to dinner at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite two months ago because my shoes, pants and shirts were all beneath prevailing standards. We settled for lunch the next day, but that night, I fear, shall be remembered.

With such occasions in mind, I've been calling veteran travelers and prying into their packing habits. Their tips ran from underwear stuffed into shoes to sink-stoppers (in case your hotel sink is lacking). If you find your favorite packing strategy unmentioned here, send it to Travel Insider: Packing, Travel Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. In the meantime, may these disclosures enhance your enclosures:

William F. Buckley, author and yachtsman, says he never flies without earplugs and an altimeter, to make sure the airline is keeping the cabin pressure at the proper level.

Joe Brancatelli, executive editor of Frequent Flier magazine in New York, always wears his heaviest pair of shoes on the plane to lighten his luggage load. Like almost everyone I called, he carries his luggage whenever he can, rather than checking it through. "I can do a week in a carry-on bag," he says. He has spent years amassing a collection of tiny toiletries to keep his kit bag small and light--and if he's heading to a high-end hotel, he trusts that his room will have all the shampoo and soap he needs. Sartorially, the former Women's Wear Daily reporter leans towards black, gray and white, maximizing mix-and-match possiblities.

Brancatelli is willing to buy things on the road, from AA batteries to the occasional shirt. He uses soft-sided luggage, dismissing other baggage as too heavy. On long trips to familiar destinations, Brancatelli often send clothes ahead via Federal Express and sends laundry back the same way.

Galen Rowell, a writer-photographer known for his nature scenes, always packs his film in a thick, see-through plastic bag so that he can easily remove it and have it hand-checked by airport security officers. Like most frequent travelers, he keeps his toilet kit among his carry-on baggage, in case his checked-through luggage is lost and he has to make do without it for a day or two. Among the things he stuffs into the carry-on: a change of underwear, a T-shirt, running shoes and running shorts, so that he always has the option of going for a swim or jog. Also, Rowell stretches the limits of carry-on allowances by flying with a small backpack, which he says "is not noticed the way that stuff you're carrying in your arms would be."

Darlene Papalini, director of guest relations for Crystal Cruises in Los Angeles, keeps up her four-times-weekly workout schedule by bringing along a pair of 2 1/2-pound handweights and a CD player, with speakers, for accompaniment. She brings several Dr. Scholl's insoles--spongy linings that stick into shoes--and uses them most on walking trips in cobblestoned European destinations. She brings a baseball cap (useful in sun or rain), a hand-held steam iron for wrinkles, an emery board, clear nail polish (both for her nails and for halting runs in her stockings) and nail glue--"because I have never, ever been able to locate nail glue on the road."

Jon Haggins, fashion designer, writer, corporate spokesman and tour guide in New York, always packs a bathing suit and sunblock--"you never know where you're going to be"--and his own alarm clock, so he doesn't have to learn how to operate the hotel clock or rely on wake-up calls. Instead of folding his clothes, he rolls them from the hem up, usually leaving the cleaners' wrap on, to avoid wrinkles. When wrinkles do creep in, he hangs the clothes in bathroom steam.

Pat Kelly, spokeswoman for Amtrak in Washington, D.C., always packs a beach towel. "On the train, it can be used as a light blanket at night," she explains. "And when I get to my destination, I can use it at the beach or by the pool."

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