How to Pack Light

dog travelWhile traveling for a conference last week, I couldn’t help but notice the different amounts of luggage many of us had for the five-day conference.  Some like me had just a carry on roller bag while others had large suitcases and one person had more than that.

Before I started traveling a lot, I used to be like that.  I think I tried to fit everything in my closet into my suitcase.  What if I changed my mind and wanted to wear something else?  What if it got cold/warm/rained and I needed something I didn’t bring?  After traveling, though, I just didn’t want to be bothered with all the luggage.  Plus, now that airlines are charging for checked bags, it doesn’t make financial sense.

So, how did I manage five days with more than one outfit per day and four pairs of shoes from just a carry on?

I started with a plan.  I looked at my schedule each day and figured out what I needed.  Meetings in the day with a casual evening?  I grabbed a blouse that could be both dressed up with a skirt, heels, and jewelry in the morning, then kept the blouse but with a pair of capris and flats for the evening.   Since I had only worn the capris for a couple of hours that evening, I made sure that they matched another blouse a different day and reused them.  I also only brought shoes that were neutral so could be worn with several outfits.  Plus, I brought one light sweater that could layer over my clothes if I got cold.  By ensuring that my clothes could be multipurposed, I was able to pack less.

With that same plan and knowing what I’ll wear each day, I don’t pack more than I need.  It’s hard not to give into the temptation that I might want to wear something else while I’m there, but it’s rare that I regret it once I’m there.  Don’t pack for worst-cast scenarios; they rarely happen and you can always purchase something if you have to.  I should mention that I do make one exception to the worst-case scenario rule.  If I am going to be outside a lot and if the forecast shows rain, I bring a small, emergency poncho that you can get in the camping supplies at WalMart or Target for a $1.  They are so small and so lightweight that they don’t take up any room anyway and save me from needing a raincoat or umbrella, which take up a lot more space. I also remind myself that the hotel does have self-serve laundry if I get desperate, but I’ve never needed it.

I also pay attention to the fabric of the clothes I’m packing.  Knit works so well because it doesn’t wrinkle much and I can roll it up really small.  I have found that rolling my clothes takes less room and can be better fit into the puzzle that is the interior of my luggage, although I usually lay suit jackets or delicate blouses that don’t roll well across the top.  Denim also doesn’t wrinkle much, but I have to be sure to roll it tight so it doesn’t waste space in my bag.

Speaking of wasted space, be sure to pack things inside your shoes.  I can easily fit numerous pairs of socks and other small items inside a pair of tennis shoes.  I also fit high heels inside each other to make space.

Remember what the hotel or your destination will provide.  Do you really need your own hair dryer or can you make do with the hotel one for a week?  Do you really have to have your own pillow?  Most hotels will swap out for hypo-allergenic ones if you ask.  Some hotels have even started providing workout clothes and tennis shoes for a small fee.  Look to see what you can get at your destination and leave that stuff at home.

Finally, even if you’re checking a bag, keep your toiletries small.  Will you go through an entire full-size bottle of shampoo while you’re there?  Probably not and you can buy more if you need it.   I know a lot of people who just use the shampoo offered in the hotel.  I prefer to continue using my home products, but I never bring full-size.  I purchase the little clear bottles, fill them with what I want (even my perfume) and label them well.  I even found a small container I can use for my loose makeup powder.  Of course, this is a must if you’re only bringing a carry on.

As Rick Steves says, “Remember, in your travels you’ll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had.” Now to your challenge – how long of a trip can you pack for using only a roller carry on or smaller?


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