Pack Light for a Trip: How To Guide

You’ve probably heard the golden rule of packing, “once you’ve determined what to pack, take half out and then you have everything you need”. But is this really the best way to do it? Let’s explore below how to pack light for your next trip.

I’ll admit it, I used to be a notorious overpacker. I once was able to pack two and a half weeks worth of clothes into a carry-on suitcase for a multi-country trip throughout Europe. I was so proud of myself!

But it wasn’t an efficient way to pack. Vacuum seal bags were required to fit everything in my roller bag. Once those bags were open, it was so frustrating to fit them back in the suitcase and properly close it. I forced my suitcase closed by sitting on my suitcase multiple times so it would zip up! Does this sound like you too?

The funny thing about that European trip is that it was during winter. I wore a jacket and scarf on the entire trip. All of my photos from this trip are me in the same jacket and scarf. I didn’t actually need a different top for every day, because no one would see it in the photos! I joked later that I really just needed to bring 7-8 scarves for the trip. But was I really far off from the answer?

I’m the type of personality that likes to be prepared for whatever occasion. I don’t want to be left with only hiking boots if we also go into a city to explore. I want to be able to fit in wherever I go, and I thought that meant having multiple outfits, just in case.

But, that is not the case! After taking multiple international trips and trying to keep what I pack to a minimum, my ideas and tips for how you can pack light for your next trip are below.

1. think about how you are traveling

This is probably one of the key overlooked things when trying to figure out how to pack light. First, think about why you want to pack light. Is it because you will be backpacking around Europe and will be bouncing from place to place each night? Are you going on an extended trip? Once you know why you need to pack light for your trip, think about the best way to transport your items based on the travel you will be doing. Is this in a backpack, a duffel bag, or a roller suitcase?

Using a large backpack might make more sense if you are bouncing through European cities so that you aren’t having to use a roller suitcase on cobblestone roads or busy streets. But a duffel bag may work best if you’re traveling to a destination where you aren’t having to carry your bag for long distances at a time (hello, shoulder pain!). A roller suitcase may work well if you’re staying in the same hotel for a long period of time or are jumping on a cruise. You can see that it’s not a one size fits all approach. What you pack is just as important as what you pack it in.

2. Make a plan

Wow, groundbreaking information, I know. But stay with me. Whether you have a detailed itinerary or are more go with the flow, think through what you are planning on doing before you start packing. You may think you need that nice top for dinner, but make sure you’ll be going to a restaurant where a nice top is warranted. If you’ll just be eating on the go or at low-key restaurants, you probably don’t need the nice top. Put it back in the closet!

Before you start packing, always look at your itinerary and categorize each day into a certain type of day. Is it an “activity day”, a “leisure day”, or a mix of the two? Think through what you’ll actually be doing before you pack. Will you be sitting in a car, exploring a city, or walking a lot? This helps you determine what type of clothes you need to focus on packing. Once you know the types of days you’re going to have, use a list like this “Pack This Notepad” to help get organized. Being organized is the key to making sure that you pack light and only pack what you need.

3. Stick with basics

When packing, try to choose pieces of clothing that can be used for multiple occasions. This way, you’ll always be prepared no matter what your trip throws at you! I have plain tank tops that can be used for active hiking days, mixed with nice shorts, or can be used as a layering piece with a cardigan over it. That’s three different ways to wear one item! I have them in both fun and neutral colors – maroon, black, and orange. They go with so much and are always a staple in my bag.

If you stick with basics, it makes it much easier to mix and match items. One pair of black shorts can go with so many different tops. I also live on the “leggings are pants” train. My athletic leggings that I wear for a hike can also pass for nicer leggings with a long tunic sweater and booties. Pack a nice pair of sneakers that can be used for exploring a city as well as going to dinner. Try to get creative with your wardrobe and you will be amazed with how versatile it is!

4. Reduce the bulk

Take a look at what you’re planning on packing and look and see what the bulkiest items are. Are you traveling in winter and have large sweaters? Are there multiple pairs of shoes that you want to take on the trip? Do you have your straightener, hair dryer, and all your full-size products? This is where I would recommend reducing the most. Check where you will be staying to see if they have hair dryers available in the room instead of bringing your own. Look in your makeup bag and only take the basics instead of all of your five different eyeliner options!

If you’re certain you need that many pairs of shoes, use the space in the shoe as storage for your socks, underwear, or smaller items. When packing multiple bulky sweaters, think of how long you’ll be wearing them each day to determine if it’s really worth it. Remember, reduce the bulk! If you’re planning on being active all day and only wearing the sweater for 2-3 hours at dinner, ask yourself, “do I really need this or can I rewear something I’m already bringing”?

Once you’ve reduced the bulk, compartmentalize your clothes and use packing cubes or stuff sacks to help you pack everything into your travel bag of choice. This really helps make it easy when traveling. When I pack, I use different stuff sacks for each type of clothing item – one for underwear, one for socks, one for tops, and ones for bottoms. Depending on the type of trip, I might also break it down more (depending on how many stuff sacks I have available) and break active clothes and leisure clothes in different bags.

5. Do laundry on your trip

One thing that my husband and I have started doing on our longer trips is laundry. You might think: “Ugh, we are on vacation! Laundry and vacation should not be in the same sentence!”, but hear me out. The whole goal is to pack light, and by rewearing your items more than once on the trip you can reduce your bulk and keep your travel bag of choice light during your trip.

When I travel, I always bring a travel size of detergent with me. This travel detergent is small, doesn’t take up much space (remember, reduce the bulk), and is concentrated so you don’t need a lot of it to do your laundry. This is probably a good travel staple to have even if you decide against doing a larger set of laundry, just in case you get a stain or spill that won’t come out!

Check where you will be staying to determine if there’s a washer/dryer available. If you’re staying at a vacation home or AirBnB, it might only be a minor inconvenience because you can pop your laundry in and head out on your day without it sidetracking your trip. If you’re staying in a hotel, check to see if they offer laundry services (remember to check for fees!), or see if they have a washer/dryer on site that’s available for guests to use.

If you don’t have a washer/dryer available, you still have options. Use what’s available in your bathroom to wash and hang dry your clothes. You can use your sink to wash the clothes and your shower to rinse the clothes. Squeeze the clothes real good to get out excess water before hanging them to dry. Dry them using the hotel’s hangers, or check to see if there’s a clothing line in the bathroom. This has worked really well for me when traveling. If I have a chance to check-in to the hotel at a reasonable time, I’ll do my laundry first thing so it has enough time to dry overnight. If it’s not completely dry, there’s always the option of using a hotel hairdryer or potentially laying them out in your rental car to continue to dry. I’ve done both!

Thanks for reading my guide! These tips and ideas above should give you confidence to pack light on your next trip. If you have any other tips or liked what I shared, let me know in the comments!

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