I spent the last two weeks of August traveling in England and the Netherlands. Having been the victim (and perpetrator) of over packing in the past, I was determined to pack as light as possible for this trip. The challenge was to travel as light as I could while still looking (clean) and fashionable for all those shameless travel photo-ops. I stayed in 6 different places over the course of two weeks, so I choose to bring a small hiking pack and a carry-on tote bag to maximize mobility. Here’s how I went from being the girl who brought a massive suitcase on a one week trip to the one who traveled two weeks in a backpack:
Packing Clothes – Choose Neutral Pieces That Match
The most important aspect of packing light is being strategic about what clothes you bring. When deciding what to pack, lay out the clothes you want to bring to see what works well together. Then choose the pieces that match with the most items. Visualize how many outfits you can make out of the different pieces to ensure you’re packing enough and that you’re making the most out of everything you bring. Make sure the shoes you bring match with everything as well. I ended up packing neutral items that worked well with almost anything.
After you pick out the majority of your wardrobe for the trip, choose a few unique or more colorful pieces to bring. For example, I brought an antique dress (that took up a bit more room, but…) was really fun to wear while on holiday.
Packing Accessories, Toiletries, and Delicates – Hand Wash!
Some people bring a pair of underwear and socks for everyday of the trip. I don’t understand that. Bring what you need and are comfortable with, but consider hand washing your delicates on the road so you don’t need to bring as many in the first place. Body wash, tide-to-go, or a simple bar of soap at the hotel will work great for this.
For accessories, choose a few pieces of non-bulky jewelry that will go with the majority of your outfits. Hesitate to bring items you’d be devastated to lose. A watch can be a great accessory, and is especially useful for keeping the time if your phone doesn't work abroad. I also always love to bring a large scarf that can function as a blanket, towel, pillow, or of course - an accessory. The sandals I chose to bring could be worn dressed up or down, but were also good for shower shoes.
Packing Technology – Skimp Where You Can
Since I have a smartphone I didn't bring my laptop. Bringing a laptop and it’s charger takes up quite a bit of space, so skip on it if you can. Instead of bringing my bulky camera bag for my SLR and its lenses, I brought a small padded case to hold whatever lens I wasn't using.
I brought a compact, travel blow dryer and a straightener which took up a bit of space; however I like to be able to do my hair on the road and since I stayed at a hostel for part of the trip I needed a blowdryer for those days. If you can skip these items, by all means DO.
Remember chargers and adapters if international. Consider buying a converter that can be used for multiple different countries (I didn't have one but wished I had) and a high-voltage converter if you choose to bring a blow dryer, straightener, or curling iron.
Pack For The Hostel - Extras To Bring if You’re Backpacking
There are some extra items I brought since I was staying at a hostel. Since hostels don’t offer toiletries or towels, make sure you bring those. I recommend buying a compact travel towel or bringing a large scarf that can double as a towel when necessary. However some hostels do sell small toiletries or offer towels to rent. Check online to see if yours does.
Most hostels also provide lockers you can use but they don’t always come with padlocks, so I brought one of my own. I also brought sandals that can get wet to be used in the shower. As I mentioned before, I like to have a blowdryer with me when I travel so I brought a compact one.
Pack The Extras
Bring a water bottle so you can stay hydrated without having to always buy water or drinks.
Bring a travel book. Rick Steves is my travel Bible when I’m in Europe. But wherever you go, it’s great to bring a travel book to learn about the culture and history of the location, as well as to get tips on transportation, quirky places to eat, which sites are worth seeing, etc.
Putting It In The Bag - The Moment of Truth
Rolling your clothes will make them more compact and less likely to wrinkle. Leave room to bring back souvenirs and presents. If you find yourself tight on space part way through the trip, buy a big, cheap tote bag, like the reusable ones sold at grocery stores, and use that as a carry on to bring home your goods.
My trip took place during summer, so it was much easier to pack light then it would be during winter. However I hope these tips still help you next time you travel! And remember, the less you have to carry, the happier you will be.
8/24/2015 06:09:37 am
very practical advice!
11/10/2015 11:44:53 pm
I would suggest a pair of really good walking shoes. Make sure the sides are sturdy, your ankles are supported and they are broken in BEFORE leaving on your vacay. You can thank me later.
4/10/2016 11:58:13 pm
It's always fun to see someone else's personal take on packing, a very personal matter. Out of necessity I've had to develop my own minimalist packing style, which differs from the above. For small-town Italy and for Scotland, one could skip the shorts. People would be able to spot the tourist from miles away. I seriously saw shorts only once in Italy, (two pairs of shorts on two German tourists, and in the context, it actually made me gasp). In fifteen cumulative months over seven years; I can't recall seeing many tank tops either (if any) and Europeans that I met wear t-shirts only as exercise wear and change when they leave the gym. Polo shirts for men or scoop-neck tees with fancy edging for ladies work. In addition to the clothing types you took, I also pack nightclothes, a waterproof breathable jacket (goretex from MEC) because rain, and serious hiking boots because pedestrian friendly cities. And I pack two skirts in case I get bored of one, but usually no dress. I pack for a month, using a carry-on sized wheelie bag,and stash my knitting and laptop in a diaper-bag "purse".
10/19/2016 03:00:44 pm
Hi there I am a 61 old woman and my husband and I are going to Italy in January 2017. I really want to pack light as have heard you have to be able to get around with your suitcase and navigate many steep hills and stairs. Any ideas for what to pack to not stand out and stay light and any other ideas would be appreciated!
2/16/2017 01:54:59 pm
Great advice! The visuals definitely help me wrap my mind around everything. Headed to Tanzania and will be packing a suitcase full of things just for the community I'm visiting, so need to maximize my carry-on space!
3/4/2017 06:48:08 am
Thank you for the clear and easy packing guide! :) Low fare airlines demanding extra purchase for checked in luggage, I've always wanted to travel with just a carry on. I'm going to attempt this on my flight to Hawaii with my best friend this summer! :D Thank you!! :D
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