Packing Light Tips

So, you're taking a trip? Here's how to not stress by packing light & packing efficiently.

Flo getting ready for Japan by Henrik Moltke on flickr

Tip # 1: Start Now with a Packing List

I never write a packing list before a trip... because I have one from years ago that I use every time!

Using a packing list is my number 1 efficient- and light- packing tip. It saves you from all the heavy, last-minute, unnecessary items you throw in "just in case."

How do you make a packing list? Pay attention to what you use. For your very first packing list, keep a piece of paper and pencil handy with you for one week. Write down everything you use that you would use away from home, too (toiletries? yes. Kitchen appliances? No.)

At the end of this week, review. Categorize the items on your list as you go through it, with some common sense in tow, too: you don't really need 5 forms of entertainment on the plane, even if you engaged in that many over the past week (see tip # 8).

This packing list grows and evolves as you travel. I'm usually crossing items off when I return from a trip with, for example, unused binoculars or extra clothing I could have done without.

Tip # 2: Avoid checked bags

I personally recommend only packing a carry-on for trips; checked bags are for moving to a new home or transporting cargo (like a suitcase full of gifts you’re delivering while on a trip). Carry-on-only packing lets you keep everything with you and reduces waiting time.... and it encourages you to pack light!

Tip # 3: Good Luggage

I always use a sturdy daypack. Some people prefer a small, carry-on size suitcase with wheels, but I find that since sidewalks aren’t perfectly even, ramps aren’t always available, and people tend to trip over rolling suitcases, a backpack works much better. Plus, I can always dump out the contents during the day and carry the pack on a shopping or hiking trip!

Tip # 4: Don't Double-Pack

Any shopping plans during your trip? Don't waste space by packing something you'll buy there, just to need that much space again for the new purchase. If you plan to buy a souvenir shirt, pack one less shirt, and wear the new purchase during your trip. If you know and like the local snacks (or are adventurous!), only pack enough to get you through the first flight.

Tip # 5: Limit Clothing

I used to come home from each trip with at least one shirt I never wore. As you're moving around, you quickly realize you can wear your clothes longer than you might at home. You're traveling, so only people with you (hopefully people who love you!) will see what you wear each and every day.

For weekend trips up to 10 days, I generally take the number of mornings I’ll be getting dressed away from home, divide it by two if it’ll be hot (i.e. I'll be sweating more) or four of it’ll be cold, and bring that number of shirts, including the one I wear the morning I leave. I never pack an extra pair of shoes, and if weather permits, I wear sandals to double as shower flip-flops and to avoid the need for socks.

If you’re willing to wash your clothes in the sink or shower some nights, you can even get by with just two of everything: one to wear while the other’s drying. Of course, consider special circumstances (business meetings or events where you have to dress up) when you pack for your trip.

Tip # 6: Think about Materials

Denim is not a traveler’s friend. It gets uncomfortable on planes and trains, takes forever to dry if you get stuck in a rainstorm, and uses a lot of room in your bag. Try light cotton (layered with long underwear for colder climates) clothing instead.

Tip # 7: Wear it, Don't Pack It

Several things you might want to pack could be more efficiently brought on your body. I usually bring just one long-sleeve shirt, which I can tie around my waist until I arrive at the cool-climate destination. I also wear a watch (yes, it's for kids) with an alarm rather than packing a separate alarm.

Tip # 8: Enjoy the People & Places (not your suitcase's contents!)

Remember the packing list from tip # 1? During your week-long list-writing, it’s likely you read a book, watched a movie on your laptop, knitted a scarf, looked through a magazine, listened to music, and drew a picture... but assuming you’re not traveling somewhere to sit idle in an empty room, you probably need only enough entertainment to keep the family happy on the plane ride. I like bringing one book to read and one activity to share, like a notebook with colored pencils or, our family favorite, the Settlers of Catan: Travel Edition. Even the book can be left behind if I look up some Bookcrossing spots ahead of time.

Tip # 9: Tiny Toiletries

A lot of pro-Green folks discourage using those tiny plastic toiletry bottles, but to be honest, you probably already have them. Little toothpaste tubes show up as free samples in the mail, you or your friends probably have hotel shampoo and body wash bottles, etc. Almost all of these are refillable (I try to NOT use the single-use, throw-away plastic shampoo envelopes from hotels), so you can use them again and again. I find that the airline's liquid regulations are sufficient for enough toiletries to last 2 weeks, and if you're traveling longer than that, you should probably just borrow or buy more while you're out, anyway.

Tip # 10: Ummm...

I haven't decided yet! Comment with your favorite travel tip, and I'll post the one I like best.

Inspiration from Others

One Bag
Simple Mom
on Packing Light with Kids
ohdeedoh on Traveling with Children
Transitions Abroad

"To know what to leave out and what to put in; just where and just how, ah, that is to have been educated in the knowledge of simplicity."
-Frank Lloyd Wright