The primary goal of packing is simple: arrive at your destination with the items you need to look decent, be comfortable and warm (or cool) without running out of socks and underwear and without a suitcase that’s too heavy or too big to fit in the overhead compartment.
Well, it sounds simple of course, but when we’re forced to choose between having our favorite things and sucking it up without them, it gets a lot harder.
Overpacking can cost you more than a little money. You already know that many airlines charge for each piece of checked luggage, and even more for those that are deemed ‘overweight’ (each airline’s limit varies). Overpacking can also cost you personal agony if you arrive much later than expected and there are no porters to help you carry it up a cobblestone driveway. In the dark. In heels (well at least some of you).
The primary key to being a ready traveler is self-sufficiency.
Short of putting only the bare essentials into a daypack and wearing it for a day to be sure you can handle the weight long-term, there are a number of items you can leave behind and still enjoy your trip without looking like a scruffy backpacker. Unless of course that’s your style – but that’s another topic for another day.
1. Don’t pack a lot of camera gear
Unless you’re a professional, of course, then you’ll have a very different angle on this particular tip. You’ll also have spent the cash necessary to carry all that gear in the right pack and you’ll have insured it with a special rider on your homeowner’s policy.
Most of us can get away with a high-quality point and shoot or a DSLR with our most-used lens and that’s enough. Still, you have to consider how you’ll move about your days with the camera.
- Does it fit in your pocket? If so, use a front pocket and keep that pocket zipped.
- Prefer to wear it on a strap? Loosen the strap so you can wear it across your body – still available to lift up and take a photo, but less easy to snatch.
See 5 Techniques to Keep Valuables Safe while Traveling for more details.
2. Don’t pack the entire beauty routine
Sure, at home we have business associates to impress, people who count on us to look a certain way, but hey – you’re in a new place, away from all that. Besides, the TSA will only take it from you and then you’ll just be angry.
Why not experiment with going lighter on the beauty rituals?
Try these tips to lighten your bag:
- If you’re staying at a chain hotel – use their products (they’re included after all). That means you can leave shampoo, conditioner, soap and shower products off your list.
- Pack travel-size multi-use products (3.4 oz or less) like tinted moisture with SPF. Need your eye shadow? Get one with multiple colors in a single container.
- Forget the hard containers – use the snack-sized zippered plastic bags instead. They’re great for nearly everything – vitamins, ear swabs, face cloths, earrings, just about anything.
- Demand perfume samples on your next trip to the beauty store – they’re mini-sized and you can try the scent before you buy the whole bottle. Perfect!
- Traveling with a partner? Share the toothpaste and other products and neither of you will have to carry a lot.
Need your own brand of sunscreen or shampoo? Buy it when you get there (they have drugstores everywhere after all). If you’re absolutely sure you won’t be able to get your favorite, take a leap and try something new or ship your favorite products ahead of time. Just be sure to label it ‘Care of: You’ and tell your hotel or lodge it’s coming. You can also ship what you don’t use back home – along with your dirty laundry so you have room for souvenirs in your suitcase.
3. Don’t pack the weather-related extras
For some reason, people tend to wear hats only when they travel and almost never at any other time. Why is that?
- If you wear a hat and carry an umbrella regularly and are likely to run into the same kinds of weather on your trip, then by all means pack the umbrella and hat.
- If you never wear a hat at home and almost never carry an umbrella but are likely to run into weather that makes you desire those objects on your trip – buy them when you arrive.
If it rains regularly where you’re going, umbrellas will be available everywhere and you can leave it at the hotel when you leave – the next guest who needs one will be happy to partake.
The one exception to this rule is a light waterproof jacket. Many times you’ll find this takes the place of needing a hat and/or umbrella and it folds up nice and tight anyway. Plus, it’s an extra layer if things get chillier than expected in the evening or on the airplane.
4. Be choosy about your clothing choices
Unless you’re on a business trip where you’ve got to dress to impress, it’s time to look plain and ordinary. After all, this helps you blend in and look less like a tourist with a lot of money.
Luckily, there is a way to balance wearing the same smelly clothes the entire trip and changing your outfit several times a day. You’re not a celebrity, after all. Who’s looking?
- One pair of dark jeans is plenty – they can be dressed up for night-time and you can wear them many times without having to wash them.
- Commit to neutrals, few stripes or patterns. The fewer colors you have, the more likely that the pairings will work together.
- Nothing gets packed unless it goes with at least 2 other items. One shirt should go with the jeans and a skirt or pair of shorts.
Wear the bulky items (your favorite hoodie for example) on the plane, so you have more space inside your bag. Shoes go in the bottom of your bag as a frame for smaller items and to properly weight the bag.
Remember, if you suddenly encounter an event that requires something nicer, you can always go shopping.
5. Don’t pack too many shoes
Perhaps you’ve noticed, but shoes are heavy. If you’re taking a cruise and you want all those fancy shoes for those fancy dinners with the captain and you won’t have to carry your bags, then fine.
For the rest of us, we can get away with just one or two pairs in most cases:
- Taking a long hiking or walking tour? You’ll need your hiking shoes and one pair of lighter shoes for night-time activities. Wear the heavy ones on the plane – it’s just a pain when you go through security and have to lace and re-lace on either end. Besides, under the pads in your boots is a great place to stash a little hidden cash.
- Heading out for a snowboard adventure? You just need the weather-appropriate pair on your feet when you board the plane. You’ll have your feet in snowboard boots all day and you’ll be loafing about the lodge at night.
- Going to the beach for a week? Once again, the easy slip-off pair on your feet is enough. Buy a fresh pair of flip-flops when you get there.
- Going to Paris, then London, then Rome and taking the trains in between? Think comfortable shoes that are good for walking long distances. Wear those on the plane and put something nice in your bag for night-time gigs.
Easy-peasy. Don’t forget to stuff those shoes that can be stuffed with small items, like a change of jewelry (the inexpensive stuff, of course) or some of those plastic zippered bags.
6. Watch out for the gadgets and books
Think you might not be able to sleep without your ocean wave sound machine? You might not, but there are lots of high-tech ways around this kind of thing. Download a white noise or sound recording for your mobile device instead.
Need a light to read or find your way around in the night? Pack a small LED headlamp instead. It works as a flashlight if the lights go out and it’s great for reading.
Really, really need your guidebooks? Buy them in electronic form and put them on your mobile devices or copy the pages you need and slide those into a plastic zipper bag.
7. A final word …
The definition of what’s necessary varies from traveler to traveler, so it’s important to ask yourself what you must have, whether you can get it in a smaller form, or buy it when you arrive.
It’s also important to pack what’s useful on a destination-by-destination basis. What you pack for a luxury cruise is very different than what you’d pack for a camping trip in Montana, for example.
In any case, packing less means carrying less and that gives you a greater amount of freedom.
Just don’t forget the travel medical kit. It’s useful and important.