Packing Light

Tips for Minimal Packing on Longer Trips

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For most of my life, I have been the queen of overpacking. When I was younger I used to pack a large bag for a sleepover and my packing for camping literally comprised my entire closet. Every time I went somewhere I wanted to have every possible thing with me “just-in-case”.

Now I am not saying I am anywhere near perfect when it comes to packing, but over the years I have been able to refine what I pack for vacation. This has been in part due to the fact that I am too cheap to pay for checked baggage (I also can not be bothered to wait for it at the carousel) and also because I end up lugging all these items that, for the most part, remain unused on vacation (I thank my backpacking trip through Germany for this).

Here are some of my tips for minimal vacation packing, yes even for those multi-week trips.

  • Get Yourself A Functional Carry-On. This one may be the most crucial because trying to fit all of your stuff into a bag that is either ill-designed or that you will literally have to carry through the entire airport will just become a hindrance. It took me some time to find one that worked for me (and about an hour staring at different types of luggage), but I am glad I did. I normally look for one with:
    • 2-3 open compartments, with at least 1 being very large
    • Wheels and a functional pull-handle (what do you call these?)
    • Handle or handles in-case you have to carry it
    • Soft-shell (lighter and easier to fit in the overhead bin)
    • Expander compartment (that add’s a few inches is helpful)
  • Make A Plan. Figure out in advance what you will need. List out how many days you are gone and then figure out the logistics of what you will need. Even better, if you know what you are doing each day then you can plan the types of things you will need as well. I normally start my lists a week in advance and then add to it the more I think of things.
  • Know The Rules. When bringing a carry-on, you can not bring the same things that you can bring on packed luggage. It seems like a no-brainer, but we all know the people at the airports who are shocked to find out the Costco size shampoo is not allowed through security. Government websites very clearly list what can and cannot be brought on a plane, this is especially crucial with all liquids (which yes need to be in a clear 1L bag). If you aren’t positive you can always call!
  • Start A Few Days Early. On the trips that I pack last-minute, I always overpack, without fail. Now to keep to a minimum, I start compiling everything I am packing a few days before the trip, this gives me time to reassess every item I am bringing to make sure I want or need it. It is amazing what a few nights of sleep and thinking on items will do for the amount that you bring.
  • Put It All To The Side. I do not put what I am packing physically into my bag until the night before I leave. Often as I am filling my bag, things will again hit the chopping block and not come with me. This final pack will allow me to see the items I am bringing again and one last time decide if I actually want to bring them.
  • Plan Every Single Outfit. And make them functional and multi-use. I used to pack items that I knew I was only going to wear once and in-fact every single day was a new outfit with new items, trust me this type of packing is unnecessary.
    • Set out outfits for yourself while packing (and choose them specifically for activities)
    • Make sure that the items are versatile and interchangeable with outfits. This is key, having items that work well together and can create more than one item will help you save space
    • Try on each outfit to make sure you actually LOVE it (no bringing mediocre outfits! They probably won’t be worn)
    • Limit yourself to a particular number of tops, shorts, pants etc.. Trust me you do not need a different shirt for each outfit, nor do you need a different pair of bottoms.
    • If you are going out one or two nights, have items that can play as both day and night
    • Limit the number of dresses/jumpsuits you bring (This one is still hard for me, but if you are wanting versatility, chances are they will not do that for you)
  • Shoes, You Don’t Need 10 Pairs. I know, shocking! But shoes are heavy, bulky and realistically you do not need a different pair for every day. I normally go by the formula:
    • One everyday shoe. If it is a tropical/warm vacation then it is a nice sandal otherwise it is a versatile flat, or a nice boot in the winter
    • One Walking or Activity Shoe. Depending on the vacation style this is either sneakers (think Keds style) or runners/gym shoes (for higher activity vacations)
    • One Formal Shoe. A nice heel (or flat) that is in a neutral colour (nude or black) and will go with all “fancy” wear
  • If You Can Get It There, Don’t Pack It. 9 times out of 10 the place you are traveling to will have a store that you can purchase items at, or better yet the hotel you are staying at will have specific daily item needs. For this, I mean shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotions etc.. I rarely pack these items and for other large used liquid items like sunscreen, hair stuff etc. I usually will buy it when I arrive.
  • Your 10 Step Skin-Care Is Not Needed. Okay, I am still bad at the toiletry side because I always want my skin (especially on vacation) to look good. I still have to remind myself to go minimal when packing this stuff.
    • A good tried and true cleanser, toner, moisturizer and facial sunscreen in travel size
    • Travel face mask or sheet mask if this is in your daily routine.
    • Bring only your best/ favorite makeup and if possible in travel format.
    • Find an eye palette that has everything and can go day to night. (I bring Naked Basics and a Milani one)
    • Travel size brush sets can be great, otherwise only pack the essentials
    • Get your nails done or bring travel nail polish for touchups and a good top coat (Seich Vete is my favorite).
    • If you can’t sacrifice everything, make sure it is at least in travel size
  • Roll Your Items. An essential space saver for me has been rolling my clothes. This allows me to fit the items into every little crevice of the suitcase (around the wheels, etc). Rolling the items also helps to compress and give more space in your bag for other items.
  • Ask Yourself If You Are Really Going To Use It. And then on your final pack, ask yourself again. I have been known to take tons of books and then only read one or two of them. I’ve brought activity books and 20+ pens. It is so easy to get into the “what-if” state, but trust me so many of these want items are not needed so double check with yourself before you pack them and try to only bring the stuff you know you will use.
  • Only Take The Essentials. For this, I am talking about what is in your wallet/everyday bag. I can guarantee that your club membership shopping cards are not going to be any use to you in another country. Nor are your hundred lipglosses and the receipt collection at the bottom of your bag. Clear out your wallet and bags and only bring what you will really need and use.

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These are just a few of the things I do when packing for a vacation where I am bringing a carry-on. I find that over the years I get better and better at minimizing what I take. At the end of each trip, I also try to make a mental note of what I did not use so next time I do not bring un-needed items.

What are some of your tips for minimal packing?

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8 thoughts on “Packing Light

  1. This post was really helpful! I’m going away to Paris soon and one day I’m going to disney land. (so I need room for things I buy) and this has really helped me to work out how to make the most of the room my suitcase has.
    Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

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