For the first time last year I managed to pack for a 5-day trip with only a carry-on bag. It was also a trip that required a variety of casual business attire, dress attire and land and water exploration items. Through years of trial and error and lugging around bags with all of the stuff I won’t use anyway, I’ve come up with some ways to take just what I need, yet not feel like I have to sacrifice anything.
How do I do it? It’s all about packing smarter. Here are some of my secrets:
From shoes to clothing to jackets to bags, more and more products are being designed to multi-task. For example, instead of packing several types of jackets (windbreaker, hooded, etc), I have downsized to one multi-purpose, packable jacket that folds into a tiny square. This one item is suitable for shooting chilly morning sunrise photos on the top of a mountain or midday fishing on a boat. I also pack a fold-up lightweight backpack that turns into the size of an envelope that I use for day-trips out on the town or for hiking and boating. I can even slide it into a waterproof bag to clip onto a raft while whitewater rafting. I suggest finding as many multi-use items as possible that also pack into smaller sizes.
Create an inventory
Instead of packing everything in your closet, look at your agenda and make a list of “types” of items you need: dressy, outdoor gear, casual day, casual evening, etc. Once you are organized with the kinds of things you need, you can employ my next bit of advice.
Trust me on this – you do NOT need an entirely separate outfit for every single day. I like to assemble several types of “uniforms.” These are pants and shirts that consist of very basic colors like blue, black, khaki and brown. Depending on the climate of my destination and dress needs for my event, I assemble a few short sleeve, long sleeve and tanks, as well as a pair of jeans, slacks and adventure pants and then I can mix and match to my heart’s content. Since I’m a girl that likes a splash of color, I use lots of scarves to dress up my basics. This system will enable you to save space on your bulkiest items. Budget the number of items to cover you for at least two wears without washing unless you are fishing or rock climbing. You can always do laundry at your destination. I am a HUGE fan of layering items and packing day-to-night options.
A note on shoes: Two pair of shoes is all you need depending on your trip: casual shoes and dressy if it’s a traditional vacation; Tevas OR hiking boots and one casual if it’s an adventure travel trip. You can always add ONE pair of dressy shoes or flip-flops if it is a beach trip. You get the point.
Roll instead of fold
You might be wondering what difference it makes to roll clothes instead of folding them and the answer is: A LOT! Yes, they are still the same size and weight, but rolling your items actually organizes your space better. I like to use packing squares that you can buy from most travel equipment retailers to easily organize my socks, shirts, adventure accessories etc. Then, instead of a pile of clothes, I keep things nicely organized and save the maximum amount of space by rolling.
Utilize hidden space
Use the space in your shoes to stuff your socks or other loose items. Use the un-level indentations at the bottom of most bags to strategically place rectangle packing cubes or other length-wise objects to fill those holes.
Use Ziplock bags for everything!
I have spent years buying cute travel makeup bags and clothing bags and I’ve discovered they only add bulk. With the exception of packing cubes, which I love to keep me organized, I use every size of ziplock bags. Here’s how:
- Gallon size: Use for packing items like sweaters that are bulky. Fold the item into the bag then zip until theres only a tiny air hole left. Squeeze out all of the air so it compresses your sweater, then zip the final part. Your bulky sweater now looks like a pancake. Believe it or not, this system also helps keep items from getting extremely wrinkled.
- Quart: I use quart bags for my liquids for security of course, but they are handy for things like holding my make-up brushes and compressing smaller clothing items like shirts.
- Sandwich: This size bag is a perfect catch-all for items that need their own place like band-aids, loose makeup items and business cards.
- Snack: These tiny bags are wonderful for Q-tips, hair pins & accessories and small loose items.
I also pack extra ziplocks in various sizes in a side zipper. You never know when they will come in handy!
Downsizing makeup & personal products
- Makeup: Stock up on travel-size or trial-size items. Stores like Sephora and Ulta sell travel-size items in many brands. Make use of eyeshadow kits and face-kits that offer everything you need in one compact product versus many loose items. All-purpose makeup items that can cover lips, eyes and cheeks also get my thumbs-up.
- Personal products: Make use of small stackable containers that allow you to transfer smaller amounts of product into one space. I have replaced 8 product containers with one single item by doing this. I also use moisturizing face wipes that replace liquid face wash and eye makeup remover.
Cords and electronics
Keep cords and valuable electronics with you and in your “personal item” for the airlines. This saves space in your main suitcase and it is a safer way to protect these items. Are there cords that can work for several items? Are there cords you do not need? Is this a trip that you can take just your iPad versus lugging along a computer?
Pack an extra bag
What? This article is about packing light and I’m suggesting you pack an extra bag? Yes, I recommend packing a lightweight duffle that you can put at the bottom of your bag so that if you end up stocking up on souvenirs you have it. You can easily use this as a bag for dirty clothes to send back on the airlines and safely transport your goods in your carry-on. This has come in handy for me many times. While you want to pack light, you also do not want to limit the joy of the trip by not being able to return with great memories of it. This gives you a suitable back-up plan.
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