When I was eleven, my grandfather died somewhat suddenly. He had cancer and we were sad and I still miss him, but that’s not the point of this story.
The point of this story was that my parents told us to go pack for a weeklong trip, bringing nice clothes and play clothes and things to entertain ourselves and our cousins while the grown ups made arrangements and grieved. We were to jump on a cross-country flight in the morning.
My middle school self packed in my new duffle bag, a birthday present, and threw in clothes and books and games and my entire nail polish collection.
There were two problems with this: unlike everyone else’s luggage, my beautiful giant duffle bag didn’t have wheels. My dad, always the gentlemen, hauled my two-ton bag of stuff through the airport like a champ but gave me crap for packing so much. This only got worse when they discovered I’d brought all 40 bottles of nail polish I owned. The entire extended family teased me mercilessly, and one aunt in particular still brings is up every time I see her. It’s been fifteen years, people!
I will point out that every single woman there used my nail polish that week. So I think I won this round.
All of this to say that I’m now a MUCH better packer than that. I’ve been lucky enough to have taken several month-long trips to Europe in a carryon. I spent 3 weeks in New Zealand living out a bag smaller than my microwave.
Packing light isn’t as hard as you think! Here’s a few tips to get you get started:
- Plan ahead: If you want to do this, you absolutely cannot start packing the night before. It won’t work. Start pulling things out at least a week before – you’ll need to look at everything together, even if you have to keep wearing that favorite pair of jeans before you leave.
- Stick to basics: I’ll be the first to admit that I love color and pattern and struggle with this one the most. But seriously, make everything match everything. I always pick either brown or black accessories, not both. Throw in a scarf or two to mix things up. Or even better, buy one along the way as a fun souvenir!
- Plan to do laundry: I can’t stress this enough. Bring a week’s worth of underwear (or less) and find laundramats or wash in the sink.
- You don’t need much in terms of tech and toys: I’ve never take my laptop because smartphones are wonderful and many hostels have computers you can access. I rarely take my iPad, but occasionally do just in case. Most of the time I can live without it. My weakness is books, so I try to go the audiobook/ebook route, and any paperbacks that make the cut are dense (so I don’t need ten of them) and I always leave them in hostels once I’ve finished.
- Plan to wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane: one less thing to stuff.
- Use packing cubes: whether you’re using a backpack or a wheeled suitcase, it keeps things organized. Which is perfect if you’re trying to quietly get dressed in a dorm full of sleeping travelers. They don’t have to be expensive: I have these and love them.
- Channel your inner minimalist: When it comes to toiletries, what can you abosultely not live without? Cut your routine back to its bare essentials for daily use. Things you use weekly, skip. You don’t need seven shades of eye shadow. If you’re traveling with someone, team up on shampoo/soap/toothpaste. You can buy sunscreen there if you’re worried about liquids.
- Pack clothes you don’t mind ditching: The fashionistas will probably disagree here, but I love doing this. I always pack clothes I wouldn’t be sad to lose if my luggage disappeared. Then I take it a step further and pack about half things that are worn and on the way out, then I leave or donate them along the way. It frees up space in your bags for purchases!
- Strategize: I’m a huge proponent of just taking one suitcase, and a carryon at that if you can help it. But if you do take two, have a system. For plane travel, that means split your underwear & essentials in case one gets lost. I’m currently spending nine weeks (!!) out of suitcases, so I confess I have two. But one has my PJs, toiletries and most-worn clothes while the other holds my coat, extra shoes, and less used items. This way, if I’m only staying somewhere one night, I just bring in one bag and leave the other in the car.
Here’s a basic list to get you started:
Keep in mind, this needs to shift for weather, activities, and purpose of travel. All my previous trips involved backpacking, so I either skipped or made do for any nice events. (On one I ended up going to a ball! Luckily a friend lent me a dress. But that’s another story.)
I just ventured out for a two-month jaunt in the southeastern US, and I confess my list is a bit longer than this. But between a wedding shower, a theme party and a black tie gala, I needed a bit more nuanced options, shall we say. I still managed to pack everything in two suitcases, which thanks to Southwest Airlines were free to check! Anyway, give yourself some wiggle room, but keep in mind that you’re the one who has to haul everything back and forth every time you move.
What’s that one thing you always take on trips? For me it’s my camera, I can’t live without it. Comment below, I’d love to hear!
Opinions are my own and I didn’t receive compensation for my writing. The links above contain affiliate links, which means I get a few cents (at no extra cost to you) if you book or buy something via that link. This helps me keep costs down and posts up! All images copyright Teaspoon of Nose.