How to Pack for a Long Trip

Shawn Forno

Over the past 15 years, a lot of things have changed about the way I travel. I’ve gone from a clueless 20 year-old with a 70L behemoth backpack (and an additional 25 lb “day bag” strapped to my chest) to a long-haul carry on specialist. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all that time it’s this:

You don’t miss the things you didn’t pack.

When it comes to travel, less is always more, especially when you’re on the road for weeks at a time. So here’s how to pack for long trips, and even how you can pack for trips that may never end.

How to Pack for Long Trips in a Carry On Bag

Obviously, your packing list will vary based on the time of year, your destination, and what you like to do when you travel—but honestly, your packing list shouldn’t really change much for length of travel and different locations. Seriously.

Most trips are shockingly similar, and aside from hardcore through-hiking, the following packing lists are good for any trip of two weeks (or longer) and nearly any destination, during any season.  I work and travel full-time—often living and working out of my carry on backpack for months at a time— with nothing more than what you’ll see on these packing lists. I know these packing lists work.

So, while I encourage everyone to tweak these packing lists to suit your needs—adding or removing a few items—the basic structure of these packing lists is pretty darn solid for almost any trip from two week vacations to full-time RTW travel.

What to Pack for a Long Trip: Clothing

 

Not all of the clothing in your closet at home should be considered equally when packing for a long trip. Pack in layers and think about each piece of clothing as it relates to the other pieces in your capsule wardrobe for travel.

Tank Tops 

Tank tops are a staple of my packing list for any trip, any season. They make a great base layer on cold days, and help keep sweat and odors off your t-shirt on warmer days. Tank tops are great for summer, or muggy destinations as your go-to shirt, and help keep button downs fresh between washes.

I think I’ve worn a tank top every single day for the past 10 years. Seriously. I’m wearing one right now. They just give you so much flexibility for weather and different activities without adding much bulk to your bag. Get a few good tank tops, and you’re on the way to a lighter, better packing list.

I have a few merino tank tops, which is nice, but this is one area where a simple cotton tank top is more than fine. Wear one, and pack the other two.

Best Travel Tank Tops: Unbound Merino Wool Tank Top  

Merino Wool T-Shirts 

Once you start wearing merino wool t-shirts, you’ll be mad at yourself that you weren’t wearing them sooner. I hate other shirts now. If you only have one, wear a merino shirt on the plane (they’re great for travel days) and pack the other shirts for a completely functional wardrobe. Merino wool is a great investment since it’s light, durable, goes with everything, and can handle anything.

Best Travel T-Shirt: Unbound Merino Wool T-shirt / Outlier Ultrafine Merino Wool T-Shirt / Western Rise Merino Wool T-Shirt

SS Button Down Shirt or Blouse

A snazzy collared shirt (or blouse for the ladies) that travels well on any trip is a must have. I’m a big fan of my Bonobos button down short sleeve. It’s perfect for a fun, stylish night out or a slightly upscale work meeting or Skype call. I like to pack one for fancy occasions. A simple stylish henley shirt can also be more than enough for a lot of travelers.

Best Short-Sleeve Button Down Shirt: Bonobos casual short sleeve shirt / Hamilton and Hare henley shirt

Long Sleeve Shirt

Pack a long sleeve layer for colder evenings or places where the bugs bite. If you don’t want to hassle with a button down (I usually don’t), Unbound Merino makes a great long sleeve merino shirt, and Public Rec’s long-sleeve Go-To Henley is one of my absolute favorites. It’s warm, stretchy, works as a great all day layer, and the henley collar is nice enough to wear out on the town. If you’re traveling somewhere cold or windy, a nice shirt/jacket can also act as a great outer layer without adding much bulk to your bag

Best Long Sleeve Travel Shirts: Unbound Merino Long Sleeve / Public Rec Henley / Edgevale North Coast Shirt Jacket

Lightweight Hoodie or Travel Jacket

Bulky outer layers are a carry on killer. They take up tons of room in your bag, demand that you always wear them when you’re traveling. Opt for something a lot thinner and add layers when you need to.

I’m a huge fan of the ultra lightweight Unbound Merino compact travel hoodie (it’s tiny, yet still super warm), mainly because it packs like another shirt. Find something equally thin, either an outer shell or lightweight hiking fleece and commit to one outer layer for your trip.

Travel Pants

Bluffworks travel chinos are my go-to travel pants because they’re insanely light, very tough, and have multiple zippered pockets to keep all my stuff safe and organized while in transit. Outlier Slim Dungarees are also a crowd favorite, and they’ve got a lot more give and stretch if you’re super active.

You don’t need a ton of pants, especially for a short trip. I pack one and wear the other pair on the plane for a streamlined functional wardrobe.

Best Travel Pants: Find your perfect pair here (men and women)

Lounge / Fitness Shorts 

I absolutely love to pack one pair of gym or lounge shorts for when I check in at the AirBnB or hotel. Uniqlo Dry-Ex shorts are just $20, and Manduka yoga shorts are comfy, plus they have a lining that means you don’t have to wear underwear (which is great for sleeping). It’s awesome to slip into something comfy, and it’s great for sleeping in when you travel with mixed company. Plus, you’re always ready for a bike ride, climbing trip, or tennis game 

Best Travel Fitness Clothes: Find the perfect fit here

Day Shorts 

While I like my “comfy” shorts, it’s nice to pack a pair of day shorts that don’t have an elastic waistband. I’ve always found that hybrid shorts quickly become less than ideal once I put my phone, keys, and wallet in the pockets. Bring one pair of dedicated shorts that fit well for exploring the city on warmer days.

Swimsuit  

Always pack a swimsuit. Always. Hot tubs and jumping in a lake just happen, and you’ll feel left out if you forget your suit. Plus, a comfy swimsuit can always double as pajamas or even underwear in a pinch. Heck, I usually wear my swimsuit when I do a huge load of laundry.

Best Travel Swimsuit: Find the best swimsuit for travel here

Buff Travel Scarf 

I love my merino wool Buff. It keeps my warm in transit, acts like an eye mask when I need it, and can even keep me cool on sunny hikes with a little water. Love this things. Versatile, affordable, lightweight. Triple threat.

Best Scarves for Travel: Check out Buff and others here

 Travel Underwear 

If you get the right underwear, three pairs is all you need for a week of travel. The best travel underwear can handle a week of travel on their own, but it’s nice to have a pair to change into while you wash the others.

Best Travel Underwear: Choose underwear that are great for travel here

Socks

I prefer crew length socks because they’re smaller, lighter, and pack better than full length socks, but hey that’s just me. Invest in at least one pair of merino hiking or travel socks for travel days or long days walking around the city. The extra cushion and comfort, not to mention odor resistance are worth it. And merino socks aren’t really that expensive. You can find great pairs for around $10.

Wear a pair on the plane and pack the other two for a lean carry on bag.

Best Travel Socks: Read more and find the perfect pair here

Lightweight Shoes

I recently tried Allbirds wool runners and I’m in love. They’re lightweight, comfy, durable, and look awesome. Plus, they’re made of wool (even the insole), so you don’t have to wear socks with them, which is amazing.

I recently wore a pair on a 10-day trip to the Caribbean and didn’t wear socks the entire time. If you want, you can pack a pair of Tom’s or sandals for showers, but it’s great when you don;t have a dirty, heavy pair of shoes in your bag. One pair of shoes is all you need.

Best Travel Shoes: Find the best shoes for all kinds of trips here

What to Pack for a Long Trip:

Toiletries and Other Things

Mesh Dopp Kit Bag

 As my travel dopp kit has gotten smaller, so has the bag I use for my toiletries. I’ve actually been using a mesh pencil case, and it works like a charm. The mesh lets everything dry out, and it weighs nothing. Also, a small mesh makeup bag works great (seriously) cost nothing, and weigh even less. Who knew?

Toothbrush 

I like my quip toothbrush. The case is travel-friendly, and I can stick it to the mirror for longer stays. Plus, the two-minute timer shames me into actually brushing the way I should. Get one. They rule.

Best Travel Toothbrush: Ministry of Culture Bike Messenger Fanny Pack / Decathlon Fanny Pack

Toothpaste 

Travel size toothpaste is a no-brainer, but I still see people packing bulky tubes of toothpaste. Pick up a multi-pack of travel sized toothpaste and it will last you a surprisingly long time.

Bar of Dr. Bronner’s Soap

 You already know that Dr. Bronner’s doubles as soap, shampoo bar, shaving cream, and laundry soap. It’s a workhorse. But did you know that Dr. Bronner Soap also comes in a bar?

For a short trip, you can even cut it in half (I do). That way you’re bringing even less bulk in your bag. My girlfriend also swears by her Sea to Summit pocket soap leaves. They even have a laundry pack for small loads of hand washing.

Best Travel Soap: Get the full run-down on travel soaps here

Disposable Razor 

I don’t usually bring a razor on any trip less than 5 days (unless it’s a wedding). When I do bring a travel razor, I use a simple disposable head razor and swap out the blades before any long trip to stay looking sharp. I also ditch the shaving cream in favor of the Dr. Bronner’s soap, which works great.

Best Travel Razor: Gillette Mach 3 Disposable Razor or, the best electric travel razors

Make-up

This is going to be a really personal decision and everybody has their own particular preferences. For longer trips, the more you can move towards dry makeup items and away from the wet ones, the more room you’re going to have in your TSA quart sized zip top bag.

Decant your items into smaller containers. Contact lens cases are great for little bits of powder or cream. Bring only what you’re absolutely going to use for your trip. If you’re not brand conscious, buy what you need when you get there.

Best Travel Makeup: Here are the essentials

Other Things to Pack for  Long Trip

  • Tortuga Daypack
  • Fanny Pack (Bum Bag)
  • Mophie battery phone case (or portable battery charger)
  • Phone and dual usb charging adaptor w/ 10 ft. charging cable
  • Noise cancelling bluetooth headphones
  • Water bottle
  • Small carabiner
  • Pen & paper
  • Snacks

Setout Packable Daypack

This day bag is lightweight, sturdy, and perfect for exploring the city with a book, snack, hoodie, water bottle and daily essentials. It packs into the front pocket when you’re not using it, for ultimate packability, and gives you a great grab-n-go option for day trips and short hikes. 

Fanny Pack 

Yes, you should bring a fanny pack (or“bum bag” if you prefer). They’re insanely useful, especially for walking around the city with a cumbersome day bag. I even use mine on flights to keep my charging cord, headphones, pen, and a snack handy while being able to just chuck my bag into the overhead compartment.

Fanny packs rule, and even if they’re not your style, you can use them to keep important documents and valuable items organized in one place inside your bag. I keep my passport in my fanny pack along with credit/debit cards when I travel so all my sensitive things are easy to take with me.

Mophie Battery Phone Case

 This thing is incredible. It easily fits on most phones, and acts like a super portable battery charger that you can turn on with the touch of a button for extra juice. And, the best part is that it charges when you charge your phone at night. No extra cords, cables, or chargers. It just fits on your phone and works.

I’ve gone up to 4 days without needing to charge my phone with this thing attached, which is saying something. If you’re going off the grid, or just hate huddling around outlets at the airport, pick up a Mophie phone charging case. You’ll love it.

Dual USB Charging Port With 10 ft Braided Cable 

Get a dual USB charging port and do yourself a favor. It just makes sense and takes up the exact same amount of space as a single. Oh, and pick up a braided charging cable. They’re just plain better than the thing that came with your phone. 

Noise Cancelling Headphones 

The ability to block out the whine of a jet engine is nothing short of miraculous. I actually can’t remember what it was like before I had a pair of noise cancelling headphones. They’re just part of how I travel now.

I’ve been rocking the Avantree Bluetooth ANC headphones for a year now, and they’re great. Pick up a cheap pair during Amazon Prime Day, or opt for last year’s models at ridiculously low prices. The Tortuga team tends to travel with Bose, of various types.

Best Headphones for Travel: Check out the bluetooth options here

Collapsible Water Bottle 

I love filling up a water bottle for a long flight, in fact, dehydration is one of the leading causes of jet lag—not just time zones. Skip the (terrible) in-flight coffee and suck down some sweet water from your ultra portable Vapur water bottle.

And when you’re done, it rolls down into practically nothing. I love the .75L design, but you might want the full blown 1L option.

Best Water Bottles for Travel: Compare them here

Optional and Seasonal Items

  • Toms shoes
  • Eye mask (w/ ear plugs)
  • Packable hat
  • Swell bottle
  • Portable battery charger
  • Long-sleeve button down shirt
  • Lounge pant 

Toms Espadrille Shoes 

Lightweight, affordable, comfy, stylish, and they pack flat. What’s not to like? These make a great second shoe, especially for beach trips and warmer destinations

Eye Mask and Ear Plugs  

The REI lightweight sleep mask is like sleeping with a cloud on your face. If you’re in a dorm, you need this

Read more about the best eye masks and earplugs for travel.

Hat 

Buffs makes a whole line of great “pack and run” caps that fold down to practically nothing and help keep the sun off your dome. Not for everyone, but if you’re outdoors a lot, it’s great

Best Hats for Travel: Pick one and learn how to pack them here

Swell Insulated Water Bottle/Coffee Mug 

I don’t always bring the swell coffee mug/water bottle with me on short trips, mainly because it’s a little extra bulk, and my Vapur water bottle does just fine. But if you really need your coffee or tea, it’s a great buy.

Portable Battery Charger 

Everyone loves these portable battery chargers, but honestly, since I’ve switched to the Mophie battery phone case, I haven’t needed to use a portable battery charger. Ever. Chargers are nice to have, but you really don’t need them, especially for shorter trips.

 Long-Sleeve Button Down Shirt

This is really your call, since long-sleeve shirts can be a little hard to travel with. Bluffworks makes a great wrinkle-proof button down, but it’s still something you might not need.

Lounge Pants or Pajama Bottoms

If it’s cold, I’ll add a light pair of yoga pants or lounge pants for hanging out in my accommodation at night.

 

How to Pack for 9 or 10 Days

(for guys – gals, scroll down)

This packing list includes everything you’ll need to bring for any trip that is nine or ten days long. And this list includes the clothes that you’re wearing. Don’t try to sneak something onto this list by wearing it on the plane. That’s cheating. If you see multiples of anything on this list, it’s because you’re probably wearing the other one.

Here’s an overview of all 36 items that I wear and pack in my carry on bag for trips ranging from 9-10 days:

Clothing: 23 Items

  • 2-3 tank tops
  • 3 merino wool t-shirts
  • 1 “nice” SS button down shirt
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 lightweight hoodie / jacket
  • 2 travel pants
  • 1 shorts
  • 1 gym shorts
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 buff travel scarf
  • 3 travel underwear
  • 3 merino wool socks
  • 1 lightweight shoes/sneakers

Toiletries: 5 Items

  • Mesh dopp kit bag
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (3 oz.)
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap Bar
  • Disposable razor

Miscellaneous: 9 Items

  • Headphones
  • Fanny pack (bum bag)
  • Charging case or external battery
  • Day bag
  • Water bottle
  • Phone and dual usb charging adaptor w/ 10 ft. charging cable
  • Small carabiner
  • Pen & paper
  • Snacks

Optional or Seasonal Items: 6 Items

  • Toms shoes
  • Eye mask (w/ ear plugs)
  • Packable hat
  • Swell bottle
  • Portable battery charger
  • Lounge pants

Choosing the Right Bag for a Long Trip

 

If you’re taking a longer trip, odds are good that you’ll be packing a little more than you might for a long weekend. Feel free to max out your carry on allowance by choosing a full sized, 45 L, travel backpack. Which one, depends on your budget and how you like to pack.

Outbreaker 45 ($299)

The fully-featured carry on for organized travelers.

Rolling suitcases aren’t up to the demands of city travel, and hiking backpacks are disorganized.

An ideal travel backpack combines the best features of both: the ergonomics and portability of a backpack with the obsessive organization and easy packing of a suitcase.

You have an organized place for everything in the Outbreaker Backpack. Feel free to overpack, because it will feel comfortable no matter how much you’re carrying.

Setout 45 ($199)

The just-right carry on for city travelers.

If you’ve tried dragging a suitcase with cheap plastic wheels over the cobblestone streets of Paris, you know why rolling luggage doesn’t work in a city.

Cylinder-shaped packs for “backpackers” aren’t much better. Since you pack them from the top, like a garbage bag, they leave your stuff a jumbled mess. They’re also too big to be carried onto a plane, so you’re stuck with checked bag fees, the hassle of baggage claim, and the stress of lost luggage.

The Setout travel backpack packs like a suitcase and carries like a backpack.

How to Pack for 11 to 13 Days 

(for gals – guys, scroll up)

The women’s packing list is super similar to the men’s packing list with only a few additions, namely more travel underwear and toiletries.

Clothing: 30 Items

  • 2 tank tops
  • 3 merino wool t-shirts
  • 1 “nice” shirt or blouse (for going out)
  • 1 linen or cotton long-sleeve button down shirt (sun cover-up)
  • 1 lightweight hoodie/sweater/jacket
  • 1 travel pants
  • 1 skirt (elastic waistband if you can)
  • 1 shorts
  • 1 gym shorts/beach shorts
  • 1 leggings
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pashmina / sarong
  • 2 bras
  • 1 sports bra
  • 5 travel underwear
  • 3 socks
  • 1 warmer “cozy” socks
  • 1 lightweight sneakers or athletic shoe
  • 1 sandals
  • 1 “nice” shoes (small heels or stylish sandals)

Toiletries: 12 Items

  • Bathroom bag
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (3 oz)
  • Dr. Bronner’s soap bar
  • Face wash bar 
  • Moisturizer
  • Facial sunscreen
  • Disposable razor
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Menstrual cup (or other feminine products)
  • Small brush or comb

Makeup: 10 Items

  • Makeup bag
  • Foundation 
  • 2 lipsticks
  • Mascara
  • Eyelash curler
  • Eyeliner (or “eye palette” if you’re getting fancy for a wedding or something)
  • Brow gel (or pencil)
  • Makeup remover
  • Chapstick 

Miscellaneous: 8 items

  • Daypack
  • Fanny pack (bum bag)
  • Charging case or external battery
  • Water bottle
  • Phone and dual usb charging adaptor w/ 10 ft. charging cable
  • Small carabiner
  • Pen & paper
  • Snacks

Optional/Seasonal Items: 6 Items

  • Toms shoes
  • Eye mask (w/ ear plugs)
  • Packable hat
  • Swell bottle
  • Portable battery charger
  • Lounge pants

How to Pack for 14 Days (or More)

If you’re traveling for longer than two weeks, you don’t need to reinvent your packing list. Seriously, just add these four items to the packing list, and you’re all set:

  • 1 more t-shirt
  • 1 pair of shoes (Toms will do nicely)
  • 1 Swell insulated bottle/coffee mug
  • 1 Laptop w/ charging cable

That’s honestly all you need to travel for two or three weeks—even longer. The whole point of a capsule wardrobe and streamlined packing list is that you can add literally four things to your kit, to work and live from anywhere without ever checking a bag. It’s amazing, and once you get started, you’ll never want to stop.

How to Pack for One Year

(aka as long as you want)

That’s the packing secret that “travel experts” don’t like sharing—packing for a year is almost the same as packing for a two-week trip.

You bring about the same amount of stuff on any trip—the only difference is how many times you wear everything. So the longer your trip, the lighter your bag should be. And that’s largely due to multi-purpose items and more expensive, quality travel clothing that streamlines not just your packing list, but your actual travel no matter where you’re going.

Here are the things to look for in long-term travel clothing and gear:

Clothing That Fits Well

Fit is my #1 criteria for travel clothing, above everything else. If I don’t like how it looks or feels I’m not gonna wear something for six hours, let alone six months. Choose stuff that fits and that you like wearing.

Quick Dry Clothing

When you wash your clothes regularly, it’s nice when they dry overnight (if not sooner!). Quick dry clothing is a must. Look for items that are going to hang dry well and don’t require a lot of special care.

Anti-Odor Fabric

Merino wool is slowly taking over my closet and my backpack, mostly because it’s the best fabric on the planet. Great for heat, cold, and everything in between. Plus, it doesn’t smell, even after multiple wears.

3 Tips for Packing Better for Long Trips

If you want to travel like a minimalist (aka: in a carry on bag) you have to embrace at least one, but hopefully all three of the following minimalist travel habits:

  1. Invest in (a few) pieces of high quality travel clothing
  2. Regularly wash your clothes
  3. Don’t wear bulky layers

Quality Travel Clothing is Worth It

I want to be incredibly clear about this: You do not need to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive travel clothing to pack light and travel like a minimalist. Buying a mountain of new travel clothes is the opposite of carry on packing. Please don’t spend your whole wad on expensive niche travel gear.

It’s not absolutely essential to travel with merino wool t-shirts and ultra lightweight travel shoes. However, a few carefully selected travel clothes will let you pack a lot less while getting more wear and versatile use out of fewer items.

A great travel t-shirt can be worn for days without needing a wash. Heck, sometimes you can wear a shirt for weeks, without having to wash it depending on how much you sweat and the weather. No, seriously. I’ve done it with zero complaints from anyone (including my girlfriend). Instead of packing ten cheap shirts, I can pack two great travel shirts and still look, feel, and smell great.

And that’s kind of the whole point of minimalist carry on travel—you can pack a handful of things and love the way you look every single day. The same is true for travel underwear, travel pants, and quality hiking socks. When it comes to travel clothing, you get what you pay for.

I understand that a $100 superfine merino t-shirt is out of a lot of people’s budget, and that’s more than ok. There are some great budget alternatives to top-tier travel clothing.

Budget Travel Clothing

One of the best ways to pack less is to invest in one or two pieces of quality travel clothing. l suggest getting a pair of Ex Officio or Saxx travel underwear for guys. But Uniqlo Airism underwear is almost as good, and costs less than $10.

 Start small. Shop annual sales and find gear you can afford, adding it piece by piece to your packing list. You’ll be surprised by how it easy it makes packing, and you’ll love how long your travel clothing lasts. I’ve been wearing more or less the same travel clothing for years. Sticker shock is real, but remember that a great merino t-shirt can last forever (if you take care of it).

Pro Tip: A great merino t-shirt and just one pair of travel underwear can be a game changer. One pair of quality crew length hiking socks can also get rid of a lot of extra gear, and they usually cost less than $10 or $15. Take it up a notch and pack just one pair of travel pants and leave the rest at home.

Minimalist Travel Laundry Tips

When I travel for long periods of time—usually 10 days or more—I wash some or all of my clothing about once a week. When you pack less, you wash stuff more often. That’s just how it works.

My general practice for travel laundry is simple—I wash my clothes when I shower. Here’s how to do laundry on the road:

  1. Wash travel underwear after several uses — Yes, I know this is different for men and women, but men’s travel underwear is designed to be worn for days at a time, and I’ve found this to be largely the case. Women generally need to pack more travel underwear and change them daily.
  2. Wash t-shirts after heavy use, typically once a week.
  3. Don’t wash travel pants… ever really — If I’m staying somewhere with a laundry machine (and it’s free to use) I’ll toss my travel pants in, but the best travel pants—and travel jeans—honestly don’t need to be washed for weeks at a time.

How to Wash Travel Clothes Like a Minimalist

Here’s a great minimalist travel tip—wash your clothing while you shower. It sounds a little weird, but you’re already all wet and sudsy, so why not wash a few items of clothing at the same time?

Generally, I wash whatever underwear, shirt, and socks I’m wearing when I turn on the shower. I travel with Dr. Bronner’s soap bar—which doubles as fantastic laundry soap—so it’s kind of a no-brainer. Here’s how to wash your clothes while you shower:

  1. Bring your undies and socks (and t-shirt if it’s a little ripe) into the shower
  2. Rinse them each thoroughly
  3. Rub ’em up with some suds, focusing on the crotch, toe, and armpit areas
  4. Rinse them out to remove all the soap
  5. Give em a quick wring to speed up drying times
  6. Hang ’em over the shower curtain or hooks
  7. Wash yourself, you filthy animal

Ta-da. You just did a decent amount of laundry in less than 5 minutes, and you didn’t have to spend a dime or Google the “closest” laundromat. For trips under ten days, I usually just do a quick hand wash for my socks and underwear in the sink or when I shower, but you probably won’t have to do much washing. So that’s even easier.

It took me a while to shift into this style of travel laundry, but when you stop treating laundry like a whole big thing and incorporate little bits of laundry into your daily life, you barely even notice it anymore. Plus, I don’t shower every single day (come at me, bro), so it’s not a constant hassle. Just a few times a week is more than enough to keep you and your clothing smelling great.

Pro Tip: For more expensive travel clothing, I like to let it dry over the rim of a tub or the back of a chair instead of hanging on a hook so it doesn’t stretch the fabric out, but use what you can. My girlfriend strings up a theraband resistance band, usually from her bedpost or convenient spot and uses it like a travel laundry line (don’t waste money on those).

Stop Wearing Bulky Layers

Here’s a quick tip about how to packing bulky travel clothing: Don’t do it.

A lot of “packing experts” recommend that you wear your “bulkiest items so you don’t save space when you pack.” This is terrible packing advice unless you’re traveling in winter and have to bring that big sweater or coat.

Aside from a short trip when you know you’ll only have to pack once, this strategy is one of the worst ways to travel because it forces you to wear the same heavy bulky clothing every single time you pack your bag. And on a long trip, that quickly becomes a huge pain in the ass.

Remember, that you’re wearing your bulkiest clothing because you didn’t have room to pack it. So you’re basically saying, “This is what I’m going to wear every time I go literally anywhere”—even if the weather changes.

Your “travel uniform” won’t be your comfiest, most travel-friendly clothing—it’ll be the stuff that’s too big to fit in your backpack. Call me crazy, but that just sounds terrible.

The solution to bulky travel clothing is to pack thin, quality clothing that layers. Merino wool makes an amazing base layer that performs in the summer, and keeps you warm under a simple thin jacket in the winter. If you’re really worried about the weather, pack a thin long sleeve shirt and a tank top for a few extra layers. Ladies can also pack a bamboo or light wool scarf, pashmina, or sarong for a makeshift travel blanket on cold flights or an extra layer on chilly days.

Quality always trumps quantity. Adding just one or two light layers will round out your packing list for nearly any season.

A Minimalist Travel Anecdote

I recently had the super fun experience of not reading the fine print on a United flight to New Orleans. Essentially, their new “economy” ticket doesn’t even include a free carry on bag. You’re only allowed a “personal item.” Hooray. Oh, and for this story to make sense, I was packing for a ten-day trip to New Orleans during Mardis Gras and a 7-day swing dance themed Caribbean cruise (complete with formal dress and theme nights and special dancing shoes).

Luckily, I’m a ninja and managed to fit everything into the Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag (which fit the dimensions of a personal item perfectly), but I had to wear some of the bulkier stuff to get through the one packing bottle neck – the flight.

And I hated it.

Wearing stuff just because it doesn’t fit into your bag is a terrible plan that should only be used as a last resort—not your go-to packing technique. Always pack your bulkiest items (or don’t bring them!) because you’ll quickly see how much space they take up in your bag.

TL;DR

Packing less will let you see more—it really will. Take a hard look at your packing list and see if you can shave the total number of items down to 30 or 40 items like you see here on these lists. It might seem daunting, but you can pack the same amount of clothing and gear for short weekend trips as you can for weeks of adventurous travel.

And better yet, you can do it in a carry on bag.

  • Two t-shirts is good enough for weeks of travel if you pack tank tops for undershirts
  • Two travel pants can take you around the world
  • One pair of lounge shorts or pants is all you need to be comfy
  • Three pair of underwear is plenty (although five is better for the ladies)
  • If you wear a pair of shoes that doesn’t require socks, life gets a lot easier

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