Many travelers have the noble intention of packing less but most find it difficult, if not impossible.
Have you found yourself in this scenario? You lay out everything you want to bring on your trip. Then you try to fit it into your luggage. No dice.
Breaking away from what you think you need is tough. “Pack less” isn’t actionable enough advice.
Below are 11 easy-to-implement tips to pare down your packing list.
1. Get Rid of Half
When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.
This advice sounds like a copout, but it’s actually helpful.
Sometimes the simplest, most obvious solution is the best one.
I find this advice especially helpful when packing more than one of an item like t-shirts, socks, or underwear. You can usually get by with fewer of these redundant items. Plus, if you follow the next bullet point, no one will notice that you’ve worn the same shirt three times.
2. Wear Plain Clothes
Packing light means keeping your color palette simple. All of your clothes should be basic colors and interchangeable.
You should be able to turn 3 shirts and 3 pairs of pants into 9 outfits, not 3.
Dressing in neutral colors, while not exciting, will give you more total outfit combinations and require less effort to plan.
If you’ll miss wearing bright colors and patterns, use accessories as your “flair.” When not in use, they’ll take up much less room in your bag than a bedazzled shirt or zebra-print dress.
3. Dress in Layers, Not Bulk
If you’ve ever packed away your winter wardrobe, you know that sweaters are space-eaters.
Don’t pack bulky items for cold-weather trips. Pack clothes that you can layer.
Instead of a heavy sweater, pack a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, and a thin cardigan or sweater. Collectively, they’ll take up as much (or less) space as the thick sweater, but you’ll have a much more flexible wardrobe.
4. Buy Quick-Dry Fabrics
Quick-dry fabrics can be hand-washed and hung to dry overnight, meaning you can carry fewer items since you won’t need to carry enough to get you between 1-2 week laundry cycles.
ExOfficio and other performance apparel companies make moisture-wicking, quick-dry versions of every item of clothing you might pack.
Underwear and socks are the most beneficial since you wouldn’t wear either again without washing them. I hope. Plus, most performance apparel is fairly ugly so you won’t mind relegating it out of sight.
If you aren’t sweating profusely, most pants and shirts can be worn more than once without being washed or becoming smelly.
5. Don’t Buy Clothes Just for the Trip
You could easily fill your bag with a whole new wardrobe of travel clothes from Magellan’s or TravelSmith. Those clothes may have lots of nifty features, but, if you don’t wear them at home, you won’t want to wear them on the road.
With limited space in your bag, you can’t afford to carry something you won’t wear. Plus, if you wore all technical gear, you’d probably look like a jackass.
Instead, pack your normal clothes. You’ll feel more comfortable and look better.
6. Even on Extended Trips, Pack for Two Weeks
Traveling for a month? A year? No matter.
Pack as if you were traveling for two weeks. You’ll have to do laundry by then anyway.
Many travelers make the mistake of imagining everything they wear or use in a year then trying to fit that into a backpack.
Don’t create your packing list based on your entire trip. Break it into a smaller chunk: two weeks.
Earlier, I mentioned that 3 shirts and 3 pairs of pants should work out to 9 outfits. That’s already over a week’s worth of clothing.
Special props to Anil at foXnoMad whose post put this idea into concrete terms for me.
7. Keep Your Shoes on Your Feet
Many people pack their shoes first. Then, even before packing anything else, they realize they’re already low on space. Here’s an easy fix: don’t pack your shoes.
Bulky shoes should be worn, not packed.
Wear your sneakers or boots onto your flight. If you need another pair of shoes, bring flip flops, sandals, or flats in your bag. They can be packed without sacrificing much space.
8. Use Packing Accessories
Compression straps in a bag are great, but packing cubes and stuff sacks can help you further maximize your space.
Packing cubes are great for organization but also offer some compression.
Stuff sacks are less organized but great at squeezing the air out of your clothes to condense them down. Be warned: they’ll probably come out extremely wrinkled.
9. Don’t Pack Anything Cheap
Whether it be toiletries or accessories, if it costs less than $10, buy it at your destination.
If you’re flexible on brands, you can easily forego any liquids in your bag (saving you time and hassle at airport security) and just buy them at your destination. In many countries, you’ll actually save money.
The trip to the grocery or drug store can even be a fun little adventure.
If you don’t speak the language, ask an employee for help. Please don’t poison yourself in the interest of packing light.
10. No Toiletry Gadgets
Ladies, no bathroom appliances.
Guys, no electric shaver. Use a disposable razor, like a real man.
Remember, these gizmos are for beauty, not hygiene. You don’t NEED them.
Some electronics are inevitable, like a cellphone or, if you’ll be working, a computer. A good rule of thumb is if you use it in the bathrom, you can leave it at home. A Kindle can be an exception.
11. Buy a Smaller Bag
Here’s another tip that should be obvious.
Clothes have a mysterious way of expanding to fill the amount of space in your bag. If you have a carry-on-sized 45L bag, you suddenly become a minimalist, but, if you buy an 80L bag, you’ll pack your entire closet.
Give yourself constraints. They’re surprisingly useful.