I’ll be honest – I was probably the worst packer of all time. Even when I was younger, I always seemed to pack a month’s worth of clothes for a weekend trip. It’s not even like I’m much of a shopper or really into fashion. I just genuinely couldn’t imagine wanting to don a certain piece of apparel and realizing I hadn’t brought it with me. When I first left home for Costa Rica in 2011, I packed to the brim two very large pieces of luggage for five weeks. My next big trip was two months in Europe, for which I packed another two large pieces of luggage and an 82-liter backpack filled with unnecessary amounts of heels and wedges. Even my most recent adventure to Australia for a year warranted, in my opinion, the same amount of luggage, even though I knew how much I didn’t need all of those clothes I hadn’t worn in months.
This time, I was leaving for Thailand for another year abroad. I was determined to pack one decent sized bag to check in, and one small backpack to carry on. Much to my surprise, I managed to do it. So how can such a seriously offending over packer change her ways in what seems to be just a short year? Maybe it’s just from sheer exhaustion of lugging around five overweight bags for the last few years of travel, or maybe I’ve finally learned to let go of material possessions… But no matter the catalyst, I’m here to help you learn how to pack like a boss too.
Whether it’s a summer in Europe, a year teaching English in Asia, an adventure through South America, or a good old fashioned American Road Trip, you can pack efficiently without sacrificing a dozen of your favourite items or having to lug a 30 pound backpack on your back all trip long.
1.) Write A List Of The Top 8 Categories of Clothes You’ll Need
This can be anywhere from Shirts to Shorts to Shoes to Pajamas to Coats. Decide where you will be traveling to, what time of year it will be, what the weather is typically like, what activities you will most likely be engaging in, what the appropriate dress is in the area/culture. These are all important factors to take into serious consideration when choosing your top types of clothes you’ll need. Prioritize what you’ll need to wear and choose the top 8 types of clothes from that list. From there, choose 5 articles of clothing from each category. Then choose 3. It seems like a grueling and painful process, but you really won’t need much more than that. And depending on how light the clothes are, you may be able to bring more. It’s always better to start out with a smaller amount then work your way up if you have room.
2.) Take everything out of boxes
And I mean everything. You probably bought some over the counter meds, new items/gadgets to bring with you, packs of razors, etc. Take everything out of the boxes and into a plastic baggy. These boxes take up so much more room than you can ever imagine. Once you get rid of the boxes, you can condense the plastic bag like a vacuum seal and find gaps in your luggage to squeeze them in. This takes up far less space then leaving everything in its original boxes. I even go as far to take out prescriptions out of the bags and label everything!
3.) Don’t throw your bras, underwear, and socks in one big pile.
This may come as an obvious tip to some of you, but I was a serious offender of this habit up until I packed for my latest trip home to the USA from Australia. My boyfriend, shamefully, had to teach me that there was more efficient ways to use that space than by cramming all of bras into the big mesh opening at the top. First off, you don’t need every bra you own. One of each type should suffice. Secondly, pack up your bras so they stack up on top of each other like stacking cups (no pun intended.) Then find an opening in between clothes and try to fit them into the smallest place possible. Also, your sports bras, underwear and socks should all be placed in different plastic bags for two reasons: 1.) This makes finding each item must easier while traveling; and 2.) It acts like a vacuum sealed bag, keeping usually sprawled out items packed tight and organised.
4.) It’s not about what you pack, it’s how you pack.
I once packed a suitcase for 10 days uring an Irish winter. You can bet that each and every piece of clothing I brought were large and in charge, very bulky to say the least. It’s all about how you pack, and surprisingly, you can pack the same amount of clothes in a smaller space if you do it right. Rolling your soft clothes up in a tight cylinder. This usually reduces the amount of space immensely.
5.) Pack versatile items.
This may go without saying, but if you only bring items that can be used in a variety of different situations, you’ll be making better use of the space you have. For example, instead of bringing four different pairs of shoes, bring a neutral pair of sandals and a pair of slip ons that can be worn with anything. This way you always have a pair of shoes to wear without having to bring a pair for “every occasion.” Same goes with clothes.
6.) Wear your bulkiest items on your flight.
Whether you’re going to a tropical island or Antartica, wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane over. This will save you the most room in your bag. I always wear my sneakers and my big Columbia jacket to use as a pillow. These items certainly are the bulkiest and I utilise myself as the carrier instead of my suitcase! May not be the stylish of outfits to wear when jetsetting, but I sure do like knowing I’m not wasting space.
7.) Use clips or twisties to organise your chargers.
There’s nothing worse than just throwing your phone charger, computer charger, camera charger, iPad charger, etc. all in one place. Not only is it disorganised, but it also takes up so much space. Wrap each one up as tight as you can and use a clip or twistie to keep them in place. This way you can find remaining gaps in your luggage and place them there.
8.) You can always buy when you get there.
I always find myself imagining different scenarios in which I can justify bringing that one special item that probably would have no use in reality. This is when you tell yourself that you can always buy xyz item if you really need it. I’ve traveled to 4 continents now and over 32 countries and I’ve never found myself without an item I really wanted or needed. One example comes in mind perfectly. When I was in Venice, about to board a 12 day cruise through the Mediterranean, I realised I would need a pair of heels for the formal nights. I had already sent back home all of my heels and wedges home after two months in Europe. I began to curse myself for sending half my luggage home, when I realised I was in Italy with an H&M on every corner. I quickly bought a cheap pair of heels, and all was well in the world. Moral of the story is – Don’t always pack what you “want”, just pack what you need.
Well, there you have it! My top tips to traveling light and packing smart. I’ve been right there with ya, lugging around a 30 kilo bag onto a train in Austria, barely making it off the platform with two nice locals pushing me onboard… Okay, maybe you haven’t been there, but I hope I can help you to pack smarter so you don’t have to be that girl. But in all honestly, one bag is always better than two. If I could travel with no bags I would! I’d love to hear some of your top tips for packing smarter – what do you think??