Lately, I have been doing a lot of open-ended research – better known as “qualitative research”. It
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Midway through a road trip, I realized that my packing scheme was all wrong. My typical trips are either short trips to conferences, or longer international trips. Conference trips require two bags: one bag suitacse for clothes / toiletries, and one laptop bag. The clothes / toiletries bag is generally a small suitcase, with a few pockets. The longer international trips require a large suitcase with bulk of clothes, extra books, and some presents (if I am visiting family). The carry on luggage comprises two bags. One is the stuff I’ll need on the flight itself: books to read while travelling, a bottle of water (stay hydrated!), a sweater. A second carry-on bag carries a change of clothes, and basic toiletries (I am always afraid airlines are going to lose my luggage).
For a road trip, especially a trip that involves camping, one always ends up taking too much. Our “stuff” was distributed in a number of bags according to item type. We had one bag full of books, one bag full of snacky food and cooking gear for camping. Another bag had sleeping bags, camping knick knacks, beach gear etc.).
We discovered within the first two days that this architecture does not work. When we stopped at a beach, we had to dig into three separate bags for food, beach towels, and books to read. Also, while on the road we would often need to look up into one of our numerous travel books / maps. This being a small Honda Civic with little space in the front, this required the passenger to make dangerous maneouvours looking for books in the backpack. Folks, let me warn you. This is not ideal. Same happened when one of us wanted a snack while on the road. It was no mean acrobatic feat to retrieve the bag of potato chips deep in the food bag while wearing the seat belt.
Another problem occurred if we reached our camping place late in the day. Searching in bags for random items with a small flashlight is not ideal. I maintain that it was information architecture which led to my brushing my teeth with mosquito repellant! Ok, maybe lack of coffee in the morning also contributed to it.
We experimented with a number of ways of dividing up the luggage. The scheme that seemed optimal was one that divided items according to when they would be needed: a task-based information architecture.
-Books were divided into two bags. One open bag had all the travel books and one book each we were currently reading (this was kept within easy reach in back seat). Other books were kept in a backpack in the nether regions of the trunk.
-Snacky food was kept in a plastic grocery bag in the back seat. This also had some paper plates, napkins, plastic sppons and forks (we were eating bread and cheese along the way).
-All drinks were kept on the top of the ice in the cooler. (again, in the back seat)
-One beach bag had towels, beach wear, hats, sunblock. This also had dirty clothes at the bottom. This was kept in the trunk.
-A camping food bag had all other food for preparing meals while camping. It also had all our cooking gear. (in the trunk)
-Main camping gear: tent, sleeping bags were stacked (in the trunk).
-Both of us had a small waterproof bag with our toiletries and towels. The bags were kept in the trunk. We would put current clothes and take this with us when we went to take a shower in the camps.
Note: Good information architecture during a road trip contributes to marital harmony. Talk about the ROI of usability.