4 Easy Tips for Packing and Traveling Light

4 Easy Tips for Packing and Traveling Light

  • 2015-06-30

I traveled 9 times in the last year. Which means I should have figured out the whole 'how-to-pack' thing, right? Wrong. This is my basic packing strategy, join me in commiseration:
 
Step 1: Spend weeks thinking of what to take, go shopping, go shopping again.
 
Step 2: Start a pile of all the things I want to take with me, watch the pile grow larger.
 
Step 3: Two days before my flight, I spend an afternoon trying on everything in my closet, so I can plan my outfits and “pack light” ya know?
 
Step 4: 8-12 hours before my flight, toss everything I need, think I may need, or that is laying within 50 feet of me, in my suitcase (Yes, I need to bring 3 scarves, and no I don't care that it is July in New Orleans, what if it gets cold at night, huh? WHAT IF??!!?)
 
This is not a good way to go about packing, or even traveling. Beyond that, I only end up using about 40-50% of all the things I pack. Which means I end up lugging luggage around in a place I'm not too familiar with and feeling like a tourist. On top of that, every time I pack like this, I forget to repack one thing, because when you already have so much it's hard to keep track of it all.
 
This year though, I have sworn to pack only what I need, and no more. To quote Rick Steves, “The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels.” I am going to be the best traveler I can be. Want to be a good traveler too? Well let's do it together! Here's 4 quick and easy steps to get you packing and moving like a pro.
 
You are only allowed one bag.
 
Read it and weep. One bag only. Only one bag. The importance of this can't be stressed. You know that feeling you have when you're making it from your car, taxi, or train with your bags and heading to the baggage counter? You remember how hard it is to get through the doors, maneuver the crowd, find your ID and boarding pass, pick up the luggage again, and then eventually drop one of those babies off and heave a sigh of relief? Only to be greeted at your destination by the same dilemma again. Turns out you can avoid that whole unpleasant experience by packing just one bag.
 
Think you can't do it? Yes you can, and you will be happy when you do. For one, you will do more walking with your luggage than you think you will. Whether you're in the continental U.S, visiting Europe, or in South America, there will always be more walking than you expect and you will be grateful for the sweet mobility of only one bag. One bag also means you don't have to check luggage, so you can carry your own luggage, lowering the chances of it getting lost, broken, or stolen in transit. With only one bag, you are fluid, fast and in control of your luggage at all times.
 
Bring only what you need.
 
“But I need everything” you're saying to me. I know, I do too. Good travelers (like we are soon to be) do not need everything. Actually plan your packing list, don't just wing it; think ahead and make a list. From that list bring only the things you absolutely need, not the things you think you might need. Do not plan for disaster, but plan for the best case scenario, and remember anything you may end up needing you can buy at your destination. Carrying only the essential items will also help you stick to that one bag.
 
Here's how to go about picking and choosing what goes in that sacred space. Once you have everything you think you need for your trip, spread it all out, and pick up each item, one at a time. As you hold it in your hands ask yourself the very difficult question of whether you truly need it. If your answer goes something like, “Well...” or “Maybe...” you do not need it. Repeat with me, “I do not need it." Try to get away from thinking of what might come in handy, and more what you can do without — after all, the reason you are getting away, is to get away right? So don't bring everything with you.
 
Let's Talk About Clothes
 
This is where it gets really hard for most of us. We're accustomed to having an entire closet to pick from, and clothes to suit whatever mood we are in. Traveling means being denied this comfort, but it also means getting to see the world, meet new people, and do new things. So traveling shouldn't be all about how we look, but what we do.
 
The first step to minimizing your clothing is to keep things multi-purpose. Try and pick neutral colors, and clothes that can be worn by day, or night. A sarong is the perfect example of a multi-purpose garment; it is a skirt, a blanket or a scarf on a chilly night, a towel on a beach, and a bag for the shells you collect along the way. Another way to keep things light is to pack lightweight clothes always. If you think it may be cold, think layers rather than one heavy jacket- which also gives you more clothing options. If your clothes are lightweight, they will also dry quickly if you need to do laundry. This means you're not waiting around for wet clothes while on vacation.
 
Pick your shoes carefully, and bring only what you need. Shoes take up the most room and will also make or break your trip more than your clothes. Clothes can be adjusted, but shoes cannot, and you will be on your feet no matter where you are in the world. Because shoes also take up the most room when packing, it's good to think ahead. Ask yourself these questions: What sort of things do you plan on doing on your trip? Are you going hiking, or just lying on a beach?
 
The rule of thumb as you are picking what to pack is 'three of each'; three shirts, three pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, etc. Start with only 3 of each item of clothing, and if you still have room, build up from there. For women, pants work better than skirts or dresses as they can be worn more often. Save the heaviest or bulkiest items of clothing for your actual travel day. This gives you more room in your bag for other things.
 
Actually Packing Your Suitcase
 
We're almost there! Now we just gotta pack our suitcases, head for the door, and never look back (at least for now). Getting everything to actually fit is easier than you think. These are the tricks you already know and use (or should be using).
 
Pack ahead of time, not the night before, or morning of your flight. You will be rushed and not thinking clearly. This means you are more likely to pack things that you don't need or even want to bring with you. Pack as far ahead as you can.
 
Fold your clothes as you pack. Did you hear that? Fold your clothes, don't just throw them in your bag, they will take up more room unfolded. A better step is to fold and then roll, which will save you even more space.
 
Take advantage of the conveniences of modern life. Bring toiletries in solid form whenever possible i.e. a (possible, such as a) bar of soap instead of liquid soap, and carry only what you need. Even better, get any non-specific toiletries that can wait, when you get to your destination (e.g., body soap, shampoo, and toothpaste).
 
Place the bulkiest items at the bottom of your suitcase, the lightest at the top. Shoes should always be at the bottom. If you absolutely need to, you can use compression packing bags for your bulky items- these bags take excess air out of clothing making it easier to store. This should be a last resort though. Instead, always try to pack less bulky items if you can get away with it.
 
If you're carrying necklaces, earrings, watches, bracelets, etc., throw them into your shoes, roll them in your socks, a jean pocket, or fold them into your pants instead of bringing a whole other bag, or box for these things.
 
Pack, repack, and pack again until you have it just right! Now head out, you savvy traveler.
 
By Kari M.
 
                                                                 
 
Kari is a freelance writer born and raised in Nairobi and currently living in the Midwest. When not mulling too deeply over things, she is making lists out of her lists. You can follow her on Twitter @the_warm_fruit.