Every time I travel, my friends and family always seem to be blown away on how I pack. I still don’t consider myself the best packer in the world, but I manage to fit my necessities into a reasonably sized bag (with extra space) each trip I take. So I wanted to share some secrets on how I do it to hopefully help you eliminate that giant clunky bag the next time you travel.
Step One: The Bag
First things first, the bag is the most important part of travel. The truth is, the bigger the bag, the more you’re going to pack. If you’re going on a short vacation (Eg. A week or shorter) there’s no need you’re going to need a large suitcase—instead, choose a carry-on sized rolling suitcase, or a 40L backpack. Now you may think it’s impossible to fit what you need for a week in a smaller bag, but trust me, it is. For me, I use either a regular sized school backpack or my bigger Alchemist 40L backpack. I haven’t used a suitcase in years, and since I abandoned them, I stopped overpacking.
Step Two: The List
Once you have the ideal bag, now make a list of everything you want to pack. But there’s a few things you should think about when making this list:
Think about outfits. The way I look at outfits is I pick out the bottoms I’d like to bring, and then pick out shirts that will match at least two of the bottoms I’m packing. For example, if I have a pair of pink shorts, and a pair of black shorts, I want to pack a shirt I can wear with both. By doing this, I’m avoiding packing shirts that I can’t wear multiple times, and I’m avoiding packing things that don’t actually formulate an outfit I can wear.
Think about how many outfits you’re really going to need. How many days are you going? You are probably only going to need one outfit a day, so don’t pack enough for a million different outfit variations, and don’t forget that you CAN wear something twice (see next point).
Think about how often you’re really going to wear something. If you’re going somewhere that you may want to dress up a bit in the evenings, pack only one or two “nicer” outfits as oppose to one for every single night. Nobody really notices or cares if you wear the same thing twice while traveling.
Step Three: Cut It Down
Now that you have a list, take out all the clothes on your list and lay them out on your bed or floor. Pick up each item and think about how often you’ll wear it, what it will go with, and if you think you “can’t live without it” while traveling. When you’re just starting out trying to pack lighter, a good rule of thumb is to at least get your pile of clothes cut down to half of what you wrote on your list. Sounds crazy right? Just try it and see how you survive on your trip.
Step Four: Packing
After you’ve eliminated the non-essential items, it’s time to pack them! Grab your smaller bag, and tell yourself that no matter what, you aren’t switching to a bigger bag to fit everything. One of my go-to packing items are packing cubes! I don’t ever pack without these things as they keep my bag organized, and save space. Usually I take two medium-sized packing cubes: one for underwear, pyjamas, bras, bathing suits, etc. and one for the rest of my regular clothes (for longer trips I may separate each cube by types of clothes like pants or shirts).
For most clothes (with the exception of jeans and sweaters), rolling your clothes can help keep your packing cubes organized, clothing easily accessible, and save space. Don’t have packing cubes? Large freezer/Ziploc bags can work just as well.
Still not able to fit everything into your bag? Here are some additional ways to save space:
- Only pack one sweater or pack one sweater and a couple thinner items you can use to layer that take up less space.
- Do you need a jacket and a sweater or do you think one will do?
- Stick to travel sized cosmetics. If you don’t think you’ll have enough of one item, pack two or purchase more in the country you’re traveling in.
- Do you really need your computer or iPad or will your phone be sufficient?
- Photocopy the pages you need from your guidebook. Most of the time you’re not visiting every place within your guidebook anyway.
- Remember that you don’t need a reusable water bottle in countries that don’t have safe tap water—and if you are packing a reusable bottle, try a collapsible one like this one.
- SHOES! SHOES! SHOES! No one needs eight pairs of shoes. Pack two pairs that are the most practical. One pair should usually always be a pair of walking/running shoes, and the other pair is up to you. I usually pick sandals or TOMs in a neutral colour that will go with all my outfits.
Still struggling? Next time you return from a trip, as you unpack your bag, make a mental note of all the things you packed and either a) didn’t use, or b) only wore once. These are the things you can eliminate next time you travel. Before you know it, you’ll be a packing pro once you start paying attention to the things you really do NEED versus the things you want.
Do you have any pro packing tips? Share them below in the comments to help out other over packers.
SarahMay 16, 2016 at 9:41 pm
I don’t have scales at home so it’s always a guessing game and hoping that I won’t be overweight at the airport! Toiletries are always the first to go! Old and disposable t-shirts are great for reducing luggage on the return trip in case of shopping.
LaurenMay 17, 2016 at 2:12 pm
Very true! I often bring clothes that I don’t care if I leave behind.
AnnaSeptember 9, 2020 at 2:31 pm
For evening – one outfit or dress and two scarves to change up the look.
LaurenSeptember 9, 2020 at 4:52 pm
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