The Incredible Lightness of Packing
12 Expert Tips for a Carefree, Stress-free Journey
I admit it. I am a reformed over-packer. A maximalist by nature, I was not born with the ascetic gene. For years, my oversized checked bag carried major culprits—too many shoes, too many full-sized toiletries, too many medicines, and the fantasy outfits I envisioned myself wearing. In my 20-odd years as a travel writer, I’ve learned to make lists by the destination and make my pre-travel planning into more of a meditation. I’ve embraced the challenge of bringing less, checking nothing, and trusting that whatever I may need, I’ll find in my port of call. —Martine Bury
Make a list.
There is nothing more essential than visualizing and writing down what you need, crossing out the item when it’s packed, and editing out the extras.
Ask about amenities before you go.
Contact your hotel, resort, or cruise line to find out whether they have shampoo, hair dryers, bath soap, and shaving tools. I’m fairly selective, so I’ll even ask about what toiletry brands they carry. If there’s a spa on-property, I can usually request little luxuries like bath salts or shaving cream. While we’re talking about hotel bath and body products, refrain from hoarding them on a multi-stop, long-haul trip. They can add up to extra pounds in your luggage.
Pack around one color.
Choose a neutral like black, navy, khaki, or charcoal gray and build your travel wardrobe around it. This allows you to layer, mix, and match with abandon. Leave expensive jewelry at home. Instead add accessories like scarves and natural jewelry for pops of color, and assert your personal style. Going mostly monochromatic doesn’t have to be boring.
Follow the rule of three when it comes to shoes.
Bring a maximum of three pairs and wear one pair during travel. This means you can only pack two pairs. Think comfortable shoes that multitask, like leather sandals (great for women and men) for the beach or casual days in warm locales, a dressier pair for evenings, and sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes depending on your destination and activity preferences.
Save room with pieces that multitask.
These days, quick-drying men’s swimwear looks smart enough to sport as shorts during the day. A travel towel, like the Turkish kind, can double as a sarong. As I write this, I am dreaming of the beach. But you get the picture. Today’s technical fabrics make it easy to find clothes that look good and transition well from one scenario to the next. Like a blazer, which can chic up any look, whether you’re a man or a woman.
Transfer self-care essentials into multiple TSA-approved bottles.
Although you can usually find or buy necessities like sunscreen in your destination, you might want to bring your preferred SPF or brand with you. The same goes for face wash, moisturizer, or fragrance. Consider how much you will need to use each day depending on the length of your journey.
Invest in a digital scale.
Weigh before, during, and after your trip. I love to shop on trips. So staying conscious of what and how much I am carrying helps me stick to airline weight restrictions.
Wear heavier items on the plane.
Boots, overcoats, and hats can be peeled off in flight and stowed in the overhead compartment. A cashmere wrap or large scarf doubles as a cozy blanket onboard an airplane, train, or cruise ship.
Bring ziplock bags.
Most travel experts swear by resealable plastic bags, which have uses beyond passing TSA screening of your 3-ounce liquid bottles. While you can buy compression bags like Flight 001’s Spacepak Clothes, ziplock bags work just as well. On the journey, you can separate your dirties from your cleans, and your wet clothing from your dry stuff. Ziplocks also make a great, lo-fi “washing machine” for smaller wares. Add liquid soap, seal, and agitate. Which leads to my next tip.
Hand-wash small wares.
Just because you are traveling for 10 days doesn’t mean you need 10 or more pairs of underwear. Bring half of what you think you need, and wash when needed. If you want to avoid chores under all circumstances, splurge on light laundry service halfway through your trip. I think baby shampoo works well for delicates, like silk tops or slip dresses.
Donate, donate, donate.
Wherever you go in the world, you can do good with your stuff. Ask the hotel staff or ship’s crew if you can leave items in your room for donation at departure. Even gently used luggage can help a family, a foster child, or a woman in need.
Embrace the Internet.
The online realm is a font of packing advice and hacks. YouTube video tutorials featuring savvy travelers and printable packing lists have changed my life as a traveler. I’ve learned to stuff socks into my sneakers to save space, and how to layer to keep clothes wrinkle-free. Avoid wading through countless websites by following packing experts like Doug Dyment “The Go Light Guru” (onebag.com) and Anne McAlpin “The Packing Expert” (packitup.com).
Bonus! Carry-On Options
To travel light, invest in the perfect carry-on. Bring only this, and it’s impossible to over-pack. Click here for three of our favorites.