Friends, I write this post as a reformed over packer. I’ve been there, I know the feeling. “Maaaybe-I-might-possibly-if-there’s-a-tornado need this …” Sound familiar? I get it. But it’s truly freeing to learn the art of letting go – of simplifying life, even in your packing. It becomes less of a task. Even unpacking is simpler! Everything is dirty, so it all goes in the wash. Done and done.
With the understanding that everyone’s travel experience is different, this post is less about what to pack and more about your mentality behind packing.
Okay, let’s do this.
The smaller the bag, the less you’ll pack. It’s that simple. Choose a bag that both suits your needs and limits your load. We never pack in more than a carry-on, no matter the length of our trip (more on that later).
Leave Extra Room:
- You’re always a little less organized when you pack to head home, so your “roll and stack” technique might turn into “shove and run” at the last minute. Leave some extra space in case your clothes end up being bulkier than you remember.
- If you’re traveling to a new destination, chances are, you’ll want to bring souvenirs home. Leave space so that you don’t have to sacrifice something later!
For almost every trip, I begin with my clothes because they take up the most room in my bag. To stay organized, I lay everything out on my bed (but any clean surface will do). Start by thinking through how many days you will be gone. Three? You’ll need three outfits, perhaps less, but not more. Never pack for longer than a week (I’d argue even less), because you can always wash clothes. Unless you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail or in a remote village, you will have access to both a place to wash your clothes (if needed) or a store to grab a cheap shirt (if one rips). Determine what you want to bring, and then revisit. Do you need to bring three pairs of shorts? Could you wear one pair twice with two different shirts? Get creative.
- Pack neutral colored clothes that can be styled in various combinations.
- Wear your bulkiest shoes, pack your lightest. Shoes require a lot of space, keep them to the essentials.
- Invest in packing cubes to stay compact and organized.
Depending on what type of person you are, toiletries might be your weakness. It was mine. But on a trips away, you often do not need as much as you’d think! Hotels provide most of the basics, friends can lend you various items, and you could always stop by a convenience store to grab a travel sized shampoo if it doesn’t fit in your carry-on approved quart-sized bag.
- Pick up a quality set of reusable travel sized bottles to bring your favorite products. You’ll save space and reduce your environmental footprint by reusing the bottles later.
- Invest in a toxin-free shampoo/conditioner bar. It won’t count as a liquid and you can use it as soap in a pinch.
- Towel: If you’re not staying at a hotel or visiting a friend, you might need to bring a towel. Consider purchasing a lightweight travel towel or a flat-weave style towel (ex: Turkish towel). Both are compact and the Turkish towel is extremely versatile.
Trip Determined Items
Going to the beach? You’ll probably want to bring sunglasses, a book, and a pair of flip-flops. Planning a snow-capped mountain getaway? A hat and gloves are essential. Depending on your trip, your list will change. Try to always pack the lightest options. Ex: If I’m going somewhere cold, I bring layers and a nano-puff jacket rather than my “dead of winter” parka.
As a photographer, it’s difficult not to overpack in this area. But I try to pare it down to the basics. I bring my lightest lenses and usually leave the tri-pod at home.
Do you need to bring your laptop and iPad? If you’re on a getaway, it might be nice to disconnect. Challenge yourself by asking if it’s truly needed – if it will add value to your experience or distract you.
Lastly, the odds and ends. Again, you don’t need everything, but bring what adds to your joy and health. (Ex: We always pack reusable water bottles to fill up at a water fountain after we go through security.)
An example of the essentials: Wallet, passport/traveling papers, cell phone, book, ear buds, chargers/portable charger, water bottle, vitamins/meds, head lamp, etc.
Minimalist packing is not a formula, but rather a mentality. Push yourself to choose only the essentials. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s worth it. Traveling from airport to airport with only a backpack and without the concern for checked luggage is positively freeing.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
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