Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Travel Lightly: How to Pack Less

Travel Lightly: How to Pack LessThis summer, I had a three-week-long trip, with a week in Portland, then heading straight out for two weeks up in the mountains of New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch. You know what I learned? Despite having wicked awesome skills at packing compactly, these skills led me to pack heavily. As in, “sweet Lord, how am I going to lift this *$# heavy bag into the overhead bin?!”

Last year, after a too-long flight delay lugging a too-heavy duffel, I switched to a hard-side 20” spinner bag. This suitcase is super lightweight, rolls easily, and saves me when traveling alone or when I’m flaring from fibromyalgia and am completely over life (happens often after weeks of travel). The hard sides keep me from overpacking, since that thing does not stretch. At all. In addition to the spinner, I usually have a computer backpack or work bag with my laptop and inflight necessities, which fits under the airplane seat and can roll around on top of the spinner, saving my shoulders and keeping me completely carry-on-only with no checked bags.

Sounds good, right? Until you realize I have mad skills when it comes to compressing things into teeny tiny spaces. Which means I can easily pack 10 days worth of clothes, books, and shoes I don’t need, making that light-weight spinner into a rolling pile of bricks.

Here’s the thing: if you can force yourself to pack light, your travels become so much easier. You’re more comfortable, more mobile, and free. You can save money by not checking luggage — which often runs $25-$50 per bag. Some people think this means picking the appropriate sized bags and then stuffing them completely full. I thought that too, until I was dragging those bricks around the airport and cursing the weight whenever I had to lift the bags!

The first step in learning to pack lightly is to choose the bag you’re going to use. Mine is a 20” Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds Spinner. It’s purple, my favorite color, sturdy, and spins/rolls easily. It’s also a finite packing space with no room to expand, so you’ve got to be sure of what you’re packing. This removes the temptation to add more stuff and forces you to prioritize what you really need.

I find it helpful to use a packing list for each trip, and review what I used vs. didn’t use after each trip to refine my list. I ask myself which items went unused on my last trip, and which items could I find a duplicate use for. I also check for items that I can find in smaller or more versatile forms for my next trip. It’s important to embrace simplicity when traveling light, and ask yourself for each item, is it a want or a need?

That being said, I not only pack for necessities, but I do allow myself some comfort items when I travel. I have a chronic illness, so it’s important for me to plan ahead to make sure I have what I’ll need to be comfortable and stay as healthy as possible. That may mean bringing a heating pad, a travel pillow, some essential oils, or a cozy blanket for the trip.

Generic packing lists don't work. Learn to pack lightly to suit your own habits. Click To Tweet

What items do you need to feel like yourself when you travel? What do you need to feel comfortable and ready for adventure? If I’m headed somewhere for business or an author event, I need my curling iron and a great work bag to feel my best. If I’m headed up to the mountains for a Scout retreat, then a couple of hats and a walking stick may be on the list.

For me, traveling means focusing on the experiences rather than consumption and “vacation shopping.” Because of my chronic illness, I select experiences that will be satisfying, but not wear myself out by forcing too much into one trip. Instead of loading up on souvenirs, I spend more time savoring local foods and taking photos on my iPhone.

A few more reasons to pack lighter:

  • Save time and frustration: no more waiting around the luggage carousel praying the airlines haven’t lost your bags.
  • Save money: by not paying baggage fees for checked bags or overweight luggage.
  • Comfort and freedom: save your energy lugging heavy luggage or finding a place to stash said heavy luggage. Carrying a lighter bag saves me back and hip pain, and it keeps me from exhausting myself before I even reach my destination.
  • Less risk: since you have less on you, you can better keep up with your stuff, and you’ll be less likely to have bags stolen.

Here are some more tips for packing less:

  • Stuff expands to fill the bag you have, so choose your bag wisely. If you have smaller luggage, you’re much more likely to pack less.
  • Try packing cubes or compression bags to fit more into a smaller space, but be wary of weight. It’s my fondness for compression bags that leads to my bags being so heavy!
  • Create a capsule wardrobe. Before my Portland trip, I reviewed my closet and put together a simple capsule wardrobe of 8 items that can be more than a dozen outfits with just the colors black, white, and red. This capsule is now my go-to travel wardrobe.
  • Look for products that can do more than one thing. Try out a new shampoo/conditioner combo, or bring along a lip/cheek stain instead of lipstick and blush. A bandana can double as a handkerchief, a scarf, or a headband. Flip flops can be house shoes, beach/pool shoes, and shower shoes. A sarong can be a blanket, a scarf, a swim cover-up, or a top.
  • What can you do without? I have long hair, but I don’t carry a hairbrush when I travel — just a wide-tooth comb. Instead of a fat pack of disposable make-up remover cloths, I carry one Norwex facial cloth that can be reused. Instead of foundation, I use BB cream with sunscreen. What can you cut out or replace?
  • Go digital when you can. Instead of packing a heavy notebook, can you take notes on your iPhone or tablet? Can you take ebooks instead of paper books? Will a small Bluetooth keyboard with your tablet be enough to replace your laptop for a short trip?
  • Think small. Instead of those bulky headphones, can you make do with earbuds? Instead of a big coat, will a couple of thin layering pieces keep you warm? Do you really need full-size products, or can you carry smaller travel sizes? I enjoy collecting sample size cosmetics and toiletries that I save for my travels — they’re compact, and a bit luxurious. For my faves that don’t come in smaller sizes, I decant them into travel bottles.
  • Try KM folding. Have you read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? If you have, then you know all about folding clothes and filing them vertically in a drawer. The same folding method works wonders in a suitcase, not only saving space but keeping your clothes tidy and easy to work with at your destination.
  • Remember that unless you’re headed out into the wilderness to do some backwoods camping, there will be stores at your destination. You can always pick up what you need there, so get rid of those “just in case” items, and pack bravely and lightly!

What are your favorite tips for packing lightly? Are you a packing minimalist, or do you pack everything and the kitchen sink?

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Travel Lightly: How to Pack Less