Not every trip is an epic adventure. More often than not, we travel for less than a week at a time. You may be tempted to reach for your usual suitcase to pack for a three-to-five day trip. Resist! Packing for short trips is different than packing for a week or longer.
Short trips are usually to a single-destination and always quick. You won’t need as much, and forgetting something isn’t a big deal. You’ll also have a better idea of the weather and your activities, making it easier to limit your “just in case” items and stick to a carry-on-only packing list.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler looking for smarter and lighter ways to pack or a green explorer (welcome!) trying to get your bearings straight, here’s what you need to know to pack well for a short trip.
Use a Small Carry On Backpack
If you already travel with carry on luggage, well done. However, you might want to consider using something even smaller than your usual bag. Carrying a larger bag might tempt you to fill those empty pockets and extra space with more stuff than you need. Instead of maximum-sized carry on (45L), consider a more moderate 35L backpack.
Check the Weather and Your Itinerary
A day or two before you leave, check the weather at your destination. Since your trip is short, you’ll get an accurate idea of whether you’ll need your umbrella or not. Knowing the weather, you can cut out unnecessary things, choose your travel wardrobe well, and make sure you bring the things you’ll actually need.
You should also think through your itinerary. Even if you’re more of a go-with-the-flow, spontaneous traveler, decide if you might be hopping on a trail or not before you start rustling through your closet.
Start With the Essentials
We always pack the following essentials no matter how long of a trip we’re taking. These must-haves are the unchanging base of every packing list.
Travel and In-Flight Essentials
For short trips, keep everything under 3.4 ounces to save space and weight, even if you aren’t flying. I recommend buying a set of one or three ounce GoToobs, and filling them with your essentials.
Don’t already own all of the essentials? Take a look at our flight gear buyer’s guide for direction.
Short Trip Packing Checklist
Clothing is the most varied element of any packing list. You’ll always need your wallet, phone, and charger. You won’t always need seven pairs of underwear or two sweaters.
For three-to-five day trips, limit yourself to two or three outfits you can easily mix and match. As an example, here’s a basic short trip packing checklist that I use this for four-day trips. I pick my in-flight outfit from this list, not in addition to it.
- Boots or flats
- Flip flops (optional)
Once you’ve gathered everything, use packing cubes to sort and organize them in your bag. With just these items, you’ll be ready for everything from a hike in the woods to a nice dinner out.
Laptop or Smartphone
Even the lightest laptops add a few pounds and bulk to your bag. Work trips aside, ask yourself if you really need it before slipping it into your laptop sleeve. Since this is a short trip, challenge yourself to be present and to unplug.
Your phone will allow you to do everything you absolutely need to do, and everything else can wait until you’re back.
How to Pack Quickly and Be Ready to Go
I actually enjoy packing. (I know, I know, but did you really expect anything else from a woman who writes about packing?) But I don’t always have the time to spend more than twenty minutes getting my stuff together.
This is especially true before short trips since they have a way of either coming out of nowhere (spontaneous getaway!) or creeping up out of nowhere (wait, it’s August? When did that happen?).
To pack quickly every time, here are my two main tricks:
Leave your base items in your pack. Keep the things you only use while traveling, like your travel toiletries, in-flight gear, or packing cubes stored away in your backpack. This tactic will save you time when packing.
Use a capsule wardrobe. Whether you create a capsule wardrobe for your everyday life or one specifically for travel, having fewer clothing options on hand makes choosing what to pack easier. Always have a few go-to outfits you can grab quickly and feel confident in while on the road.
If you’re about to head out for a three-to-five day trip and need to know what to pack, start with the items you always travel with, like your wallet, phone, chargers, toiletries, and in-flight essentials. Then, check the weather and choose two or three weather-ready outfits you can easily mix and match.
Put it all together and pack it in a smaller carry on bag rather than pushing the limits of your carry on luggage allowance, so you can easily move about and avoid overpacking.