Packing Light: How Not To Bring Everything You Own
The other day, I got sent a question from Mibell, an intrepid Window Seat reader at the end of her rope. Frustrated with overpacking every time she takes a vacation, she’s desperately seeking an answer to the following question:
“How does one “pack lightly”? I know it should seem so simple, but I am just not capable of doing so. I have not traveled extensively (yet), so far have only been to the Philippines once, Mexico three times, and within California and Oregon. And every single time, I pack as if I’m moving and am prepared for anything in between a blizzard and a heat wave. If I’m traveling for a week, somehow I pack two weeks worth of clothes and many, many pairs of shoes (what if we go to the beach? I need flip-flops? What if I exercise? I need tennis shoes! What if we go out for a nice dinner? I need heels!) However, I have a new goal to go see at least one new country, city, or state per year, and I know that being unencumbered by so much stuff might make it a bit easier and more enjoyable. But at the same time, I don’t want to be unprepared – I’m a bit “Type-A” like that. Help!”
Well, Mibell: welcome to the club! I’m a persistent overpacker myself. Scratch that, I’m actually more of a recovering persistent overpacker, as every time I travel, I’m constantly trying to pick up tips and tricks for bringing less. Read on for a few ways to lighten the load.
* Get organized—SUPER organized: The old adage goes that you should lay everything you want to take out on your bed and then put half of it away. Well, I’ve tried it, but I somehow seem to keep sneaking stuff in afterwards. (“Oh wait, but I really need this shirt! I know I just put it back in the closet, but….”) My plan these days—and don’t laugh, I know it’s a little dorky—is to write down everything I think I’ll need (“green Gap skirt, new gold shoes”—honestly, be as detailed as you can) on one page, and then try and formulate outfits for each day of my vacation on the other. Yes, it’s possibly a little too Type-A for most people, but it really helps you pare down and figure out what you’ll need and what you won’t.
* Stage a dress rehearsal: Once you know what you’re taking, set aside an hour before you pack to try it all on. You’ll weed out things that don’t actually fit or go together, and you’ll feel confident that yes, you actually are bringing enough stuff.
* Be really, really, really honest with yourself: Alright, the hotel has a gym, but are you actually going to go to it? I can’t tell you how often I’ve dragged my sneakers across continents with the best of intentions, and then ended up never even removing them from my suitcase, because what? The treadmill? When I could be lying on a beach reading? Are you crazy?
* Get as much info as you can about the place you’ll be going: Listen, there’s no point bringing your winter jacket just in case it gets cold. Eliminate the just-in-cases and email a friend or acquaintance who lives in—or has been to—the place you’re visiting. If you’re going to be seeing people you know, inquire as to whether they’ve got a spare raincoat/pair of hiking boots/evening gown you could borrow should you need to. Knowing what you’ll be doing on your vacation is 90% of the battle: then you don’t have to pack for every eventuality.
* Bulk up on the plane: Alright, so you’re visiting Minnesota in December—you probably do need that big puffy jacket. But don’t pack it—wear it (or carry it) while you travel. Same goes for boots and big fluffy sweaters. Then you’ll free up space for things you do need.
* Stick with old favorites: Don’t be tempted to pack stuff you’ve never worn before—go with the oldies and goodies that you know will do the trick. Hey, if those black pants have never failed you before, they won’t this time: no need to bring the newer “back-up” pair as well. (Plus, if your new stuff ends up not working out, you’re just going to be tempted to go out during your trip and buy a replacement. And that means you’ll have even more stuff to squish into your suitcase on the way home.)
* Bag it up: When I travel these days, I try and separate my clothes into piles—shirts, skirts, pants, etc—and then place each pile into a plastic bag. It not only helps me keep track of what I’m bringing (which means less likelihood of bringing too much) but it also helps me feel supremely organized, since I always know what’s where.
* If in doubt, don’t bring it: Seriously. Just don’t. If there’s even the tiniest glimmer of “but wait, will I really need it?”, put the item back in the closet immediately. You should be 100% confident that everything you’re bringing will be used or worn at least once during your trip. (Um, except for underwear, I guess. That’s kind of a whole ‘nother story.)
Hope that helps, Mibell! And if anyone else has their own how-to-pack-less tips, feel free to share them in the comments.
(Got a travel question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer on the blog.)