Ever wonder what it takes to pack light? Just about everyone out there who travels likes to take along half the bathroom, and the majority of the wardrobe, but the truth about traveling…unless one is hauling medical equipment for a chronic condition, there probably isn’t a need for all that stuff. Packing light isn’t always necessary (if the trip does not involve changing hotels, it probably isn’t), but knowing how to do it always saves a lot of aggravation, and money if airlines are charging for checked bags that weigh more than a specified amount.
After years of travelling – cruises, tours, camping, family visits and a whole lot more – a number of packing habits have evolved that keep the luggage lighter and organized. Not every trick, tip and hack works for everyone, but these are some of the ones that work for this writer.
#1 – Ziploc Bags
There is simply no getting around the reality that Ziploc baggies – in all shapes and sizes – are the most useful thing to have in the packing arsenal – and not just the “TSA Approved” size. Due to being water-proof – and smellproof, mostly – I’ve used them to hold toiletries, soiled underwear (regular clothes can just go back in the suitcase or backpack unless there is mud involved), a travel clothesline, feminine hygiene products, cold meds, Neti-Pot solution packets, hair toys, jewelry and a whole lot more. Aside from being waterproof to keep what’s INSIDE dry, there is also the advantage of keeping what is inside the bag from spilling all over the inside of a checked suitcase. (One trip I took, a shampoo bottle opened in a checked suitcase. Thank Heaven it was in a Ziploc.)
#2 – Give-A-Way Make-up Bags
Anyone who has a thing for department store and shopping mall make-up probably has a collection of free, cheapish make-up bags that are given away with the sample gifts. When packing for a trip, these can be invaluable. I use one for make-up actually, and another for all the cords I need to lug: cell phone, camera, and e-reader since none of them are the same. The make-up bags stack neatly in a carry-on, and zip up to keep the coiled cords from mating.
#3 – Travel, Trial and Sample Sizes
When packing light, these are essential. This does not mean that one has to go online or to the local chain pharmacy and load up on actual travel sizes, or get the little empty bottles to fill at home. For a longer trip, like a three to five week tour, a full tube of toothpaste and a full deodorant would be something for which to make space. This tip is more along the lines of having a shoebox or drawer at home where all the samples one gets in SWAG bags, the mail, make-up give-a-ways, and more are stashed to be used on a trip. All of us get a little of everything as the year drones on – toothpaste, sunscreen, lotion, clothes soap, hand sanitizer, make-up and a lot more. Don’t use it right away, but save it for a trip at a later date. Also, if a trip is coming up, consider not finishing that tube of toothpaste, bar of soap, etc., and take it instead of a new travel size.
When it comes to shampoo and conditioner, if salon products are preferred, ask your hair dresser for sample packets. One of those is usually good for 2-3 hair washings, and the packaging is easily disposed of while on the road.
#4 – Choose Clothes That Can Be Worn With Everything Else In The Suitcase
Yes, it is absolutely boring, and not at all modern, but as light packing is the goal, as few clothes as possible in the bag is part of the deal. That means clothing that has multiple purposes, and/or matches other items. For example, one pair of black leggings, and one black skirt or one pair of khaki pants or capris will go with any number of tops. Jersey material dresses, and travel material dresses are also viable options, especially if they can double as pajamas. Shoes and handbags should fall into the same category: neutral, and as few as possible. (The obvious exception to this is evening wear. In that case, when packing light, remember that less is more. Simple little black dress, one pair of party shoes, a small evening purse, and just a little bling. Crenoline and taffeta does not pack light.)
#5 – Layers Are Your Friend
For summer travel, unless one is headed to the Rockies, San Francisco or on an Alaskan cruise, extra layers are probably not needed, but in the shoulder seasons, it’s always good to have a few items that can be layered with anything. Fleece is always nice, and using a vest and a jacket, one can achieve the warmth an anorack or light parka can provide thus eliminating the need for extra outerwear. One of these pieces being waterproof is always a plus, though. Being female, when headed to northern climes, I also carry an easily folded cape that drapes nicely over any outfit.
#6 – Use Your Day Pack Backpack As Your “Personal Item” On A Flight
This will not work for everyone, especially ladies who carry large purses, but on most flights since everyone is allowed ONE personal item and ONE carry-on, put the items that don’t fit in the actual carry-on – including small purses – in a backpack rather than packing the backpack in a checked bag. There are a number of advantages to this. One is that there is no risk of having those items lost in the great game of luggage roulette, and another is simply being able to slip the backpack on before making way down the aisle of the plane. On my last trip, I was able to utilize this and not have to check a bag for a week-long visit with family.
This writer has done this – day backpack as personal item – for decades, and now uses one of two packs depending on whether or not she is carrying her computer.
#7 – Invest In An E-Reader Or Small Tablet
Let’s face it, we all get bored on long flights, train trips, in the car, on a tour bus, etc. Members of this writer’s family used to carry actual libraries, packs of cards, and a lot more (including battery operated video games) on long trips to stay entertained. There is no need for this any longer with the option of electronics. However, in packing light, a full-sized iPad can be cumbersome (and heavy). Smaller items are much easier to deal with and are easier to conceal in places known for tourists to be relieved of their belongings. (Paris Metro, San Francisco Mission District, New York)
There are some other things to keep in mind when packing light, especially for cruises, tours, and longer trips:
- Budget time and money to use laundry facilities, even on a cruise, thus allowing “play clothes” to be worn more often (one cruise line actually offers a bag a couple days into the trip and will wash as many clothes as you can stuff in the bag for a smallish fee),
- Know that an iron is usually available everywhere in the United States other than campgrounds (no need to pack one unless headed to Europe, but that’s for another post),
- Hair spray can be found on the other end since it is not allowed on airplanes,
- Fancy toilet kits are not really necessary unless one is going camping or on tour overseas where the shower facilities are sparse and/or several rooms to one bathing chamber (then be sure the thing has a hook so it can be hung from the curtain rod. Like this),
- Just about everything you might need will be available at your destination (including cruise ships), although it might be more expensive, so that is an option rather than packing it.
Of course, these are not all of the tips and tricks. Keeping in mind that this writer likes to read, shop and travel as her three main entertainments in life, there are some other aspects of everyday living that are done strictly with the idea of travel and packing light in mind:
- Simple hairstyle that doesn’t require a lot of work, heating tools, or product,
- Shopping for travel friendly clothing (much of my regular wardrobe is actually travel material),
- Wearing mineral make-up which is much lighter than liquid (and won’t set off the security people if one is carrying a large quantity),
- Looking for shoes that are suitable for lots of walking.
This sort of living is not for everyone, but along with having an e-reader, and a notebook computer, it does make packing for trips VERY easy.
So, there we have it. Packing light is not as hard as people think it is. It just takes some adjustments and getting used to doing without what really isn’t needed on a trip.