Secrets to Packing Light

It has taken me years of traveling and more than a dozen trips through airport security to master this skill, but it is has become an indispensable addition to my traveling knowledge: the ability to pack light.

For the past several trips, I have managed to pack everything I need into a small carry-on, and I can’t tell you how liberating it is to rid yourself of checked luggage and bulky suitcases. No waiting around in baggage claim, no chance of the airline losing your luggage, the ability to pick up and go at a moment’s notice. The benefits here are endless.

I’ve found that no matter how long I plan on being gone—3 days, a week, a month—I always pack the same amount of stuff. That’s because you really only need your essentials. Through much trial and error, I have narrowed down my tried and true traveling essentials, and found ways to make them stretch, no matter the length of the trip.

As I am currently putting the final touches on my packing list for my grand adventure through Great Britain, I thought I would share some of my most-coveted travel tips—and revelations—for packing light.

1. You don’t need options.
I love clothes just as much as the next person, but unless you’re planning on attending a black-tie event in the course of your travels, you really, really, don’t need that pair of heels, OR that week’s worth of sundresses, OR the 4 sweaters and 11 cardigans of different texture and weight you have set aside because ‘you just never know.’ Fact is, if you’re even marginally good at planning, you DO know. Chances are you have a general idea of where you’re going and what you’re doing each day. The key here is not to plan an outfit for each day, but rather an outfit for each scenario. For example, my trips usually consist of 3 total scenarios: hiking, sight-seeing/city walking, and sleeping. If I plan on going to a nice dinner one night out, maybe 4. Maybe.

For some, it’s best to lay out all of the things you want to take, and then narrow it down from there. For me personally, I like to pick out my staples—favorite pair of jeans, favorite t-shirt, a comfy-casual dress, a medium-weight cardigan, etc.—and then see how many outfit combinations I can get out of those, maybe adding an extra t-shirt or two. Pro-tip: Focusing on neutrals like black, white, grey and beige when picking out your staples gives you more versatility when putting together outfits. It’s also best to choose pieces that don’t wrinkle easily.

Skip the gobs of accessories and instead opt for one or two simple pieces. If I take jewelry at all, it’s usually one dainty silver or brass charm necklace. No, you don’t need that statement necklace. I promise.

You should only ever need one each of your staple items. If you choose wisely, you can get a good number of ensembles out of only 5 or 6 pieces of clothing. I especially love dresses for traveling, because it’s a self-contained outfit; and even if the weather is too chilly for bare legs, leggings and tights take up minimal space in your bag.

A few things that should always be included in your staples, no matter where or what time of year you’re traveling: a raincoat, a lightweight outer layer (like a flannel or fleece), a watch (preferably one you don’t mind losing), comfortable walking shoes and a good pair of jeans.

What’s that? How are you going to survive a month-long trip with only 8-10 outfits? One word: Laundry. Which leads me to tip #2.

2. You don’t need a washer and dryer to wash and dry your clothes. 

This one is simple. All you need is a sink and these 3 things.

1. Sink stopper
2. Travel size detergents
3. Travel clothes line

And even #3 is optional. Discovering that doing laundry is not contingent upon having ‘laundry facilities’ was one of my greatest bits of travel enlightenment.

3. Wear your heavier/bulkier items onto the plane.

No matter what time of year it is, you will find me in the boarding line wearing boots and my rain jacket. Sweaters and heavy coats take up precious limited bag space. If you want to take these items, wear them onto the plane. You can always take them off once you’ve boarded and settled in. Plus, you never know when the cabin might get a little chilly, and you’ll have an extra layer on hand.

4. Dual use products are your friend. 

Shampoo/conditioner, make-up remover/facial cleanser, face/body lotion… these kinds of items are gold. One of my recent discoveries and new favorites is Simple Cleansing Micellar Water. This stuff can be used to both remove make-up and cleanse and tone your face. It leaves your skin clean and fresh, without any sticky or oily residue. As someone who has always had oilier skin, this stuff is the bee’s knees. Bioderma is also good cleansing water, though it is difficult to find in US stores.

If you’re planning on taking make-up, opt for all-inclusive palettes—like this one from Urban Decay—rather than single eyeshadows, blushers, bronzers, etc. If you can’t get your hands on a full-face palette, blusher/bronzer duos and eyeshadow quads are also good, readily available options.

Another tip for frequent travelers is to hoard travel- and sample-size toiletries and cosmetics. I have a box in one of my dresser drawers where I keep hotel soaps and hair products, as well as sample cosmetics from online orders and Ulta hauls. These little guys come in super handy when you’re flying, especially because you can throw them away once they’re empty, freeing up space in your cosmetic bag. Speaking of cosmetic bags…

5. Packing organizers really are all they’re cracked up to be. 

If you want to maximize your bag space, as well as keep your stuff neat and organized while traveling, packing cubes really are the way to go. eBags and Eagle Creek both make quality packing cubes and other travel accessories that may or may not change your life if you’re a chronic over-packer. This guy is hands-down one of my best travel purchases to date.

Well, that’s all I have for you guys. I hope this has been helpful and informative in at least some way. Keep adventuring and happy trails!

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