Pack light: a six-step program

There’s an old adage that when you travel you should pack half as much as you need but take double the money. After traveling around the world twice, I couldn’t agree more with that statement. It’s important to pack light on your trip. Packing light helps you avoid fees on airlines, saves space, makes it easier to get around.

Novice travelers plan for everything. They can’t predict what will happen, so they pack to cover every eventuality; they leave for a two-week holiday with a huge suitcase filled with half their wardrobe. But how much of the stuff in that suitcase actually gets used? Half? Less than half? You’ve seen those people in the airports, weighed down by their belongings — maybe you’ve even been one. If you’ve been in that situation, you’ve probably regretted taking so much with you in the first place. However, the secret to travel is packing light.

When I travel, all my belongings fit into two bags: a tiny daypack and a larger backpack or duffel bag. I have traveled for over a year without ever needing anything more. In fact, I often find I still take too much! When friends come to visit me, I am amazed at how much they packed and they are amazed at how little I packed. They always ask me my secret to packing light.

My secret to packing light

  • First, create of list of everything you think you might need. Write it all down, everything and anything. Clothes, toiletries, electronics, and everything in between. This packing list usually ends up pretty long. But that’s okay, we’ll get it down quickly.
  • Next, look at your list and think about it in relation to your destination. If you are going to the islands, do you really need pants or jeans? If you are going to Paris in the summer, do you really need to pack long-sleeve shirts? You should be able to trim your packing list a bit by eliminating those items that don’t really have anything to do with your destination.
  • Why are you taking so much?

    Now, let’s take a look at your medication list. Why are you taking so much? In this age of worry, people tend to pack every medicine known to man just in case. Let’s be realistic- do you ever use them? Can’t you buy them there? Go minimal. If you do get sick, you can always buy painkillers or diarrhoea medicine there. Take the bare essentials; pack one blister pack of pills rather than the whole box.

  • What about the toiletries you’re taking? Soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, and shaving cream is all you need. If you are staying at a hotel, you don’t even need soap or shampoo since it is provided for you. You’re going on holiday, not to a corporate function so ditch the cosmetics and facial products.
  • Remember, you can buy things at your destination if you need them — so cross things like suntan lotion and bug spray off your list.
  • Now you’re well on the road to packing light; you’ve probably cut out half of the items on your list. The final step is to cut out another half. You are on holiday, relaxing. Stuff doesn’t get as dirty as you think; you can wear the same shorts a few days in a row. Take half as many clothes. Wear some longer, don’t wear any! You never wear everything you take and unless you spill something or sweat through your shirt, you can wear it for more than one day.

That’s it. That is the secret to packing light. Cut, cut, and cut until you get down to the most essential items. If you follow this advice, I guarantee you will pack light on your next trip, and the whole packing process will be much simpler.

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11 Responses to “Pack light: a six-step program”

  1. Stevo January 28, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    Great post. I’m a big believer in packing light. If only I could cross some camera gear of my packing list…

  2. Lifecruiser January 29, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Great advices. I’m trying to do the same. Nowadays except from some trips. I’ve learned the hard way :-)

    One thing I do is to take clothes with me that dry fast, that means that I can wash them up quickly if needed and can skip some other instead.

    In Sweden we have a washing powder (Y3) for wool, that comes in very small, thin portion bags and are especially fast and efficient in rather cool water, which makes it ideal for washing while traveling.

  3. Donna Hull January 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm #

    Great advice. I’m an over-packer who’s trying to mend her ways. I’ve printed your post to use as a guide for my next trip.

  4. Ant January 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    Good basics, but what’s the point in not packing medicines, sun lotion and bug spray if you’re just going to buy it when you get to your destination (unless you’re going to somewhere where it’s cheaper). Out of interest, what does everyone’s luggage weigh? Mine’s about 18kg but that’s probably due to electronics.

  5. Wink Lorch January 29, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Rather ironically wine travelers used to have a weight problem on the route home with hand-luggage because we always pick up bottles on our travels, which we just MUST take home … with the liquid restrictions, that has changed. Now we deal with a) the risk of breakage though there are some quite good protective bags these days or b) the risk of being overweight (one bottle of wine weighs about 1.5kg) so with just three you can be in trouble or c) the risk of huge disappointment of never finding THAT amazing bottle again.

    What problems, we have!

  6. Rick@NatureEscapes January 29, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    Good advice. Travellers always bring too many clothes to the tropics. Asia has all the essentials and cheap clothes to buy along the way. Just bring good shoes and a good attitude. Now for where to go check out
    Nature Escapes.

  7. Craig January 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    My luggage checks in at around 14kg now…I struggle to get it under 12, it often creeps up closer to 18. Linda’s was around 16kg last check-in.

    We add hand luggage on to that: some books and laptops for the flight.

  8. Lifecruiser January 31, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    Another wellknown trick is to mostly bring old worned and torned clothes with you, which you throw away when they get dirty. I love that.

    @Rick@NatureEscapes, I agree with you on that, but for me, as a tall Swede, it might be troublesome to find some clothes that will fit me in Asia?

  9. mikem May 25, 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    We walked in England for ~6 weeks in Sep with daypacks only. My dear SO packed about twice as much as she needed initially and ending up mailing 1/2 of it back home about 5 days in 😉 What did we take? Its a few years ago now, but this is my recollection (probably pretty accurate – when you don’t have much you remember it!):

    * 2 changes of quick dry clothes. We wore one set during the day, showered at night and washed that set and changed into the clean set for dinner and then wore them the next day. A ‘set’ was everything: underwear, socks, pants, shirt. IIRC, we did have 2 shorts and 1 long pants for cold days / evenings. If it didn’t dry overnight, we’d hang it off our packs the next day. The long parts were the classic ‘travel pants’ – light synthetic material. Windproof, fast drying. Khaki/brown color that almost but not quite fits with every occaision. Not too dorky looking, though I don’t think we’ve worn them since 😉
    * fleece jacket. Bulky but compressible and quite light for the warmth. Handy at night and first thing in the morning.
    * waterproof jacket. Essential in England! Worth spending the extra $$s for a good one. The most expensive item in our packs by far.
    * tiny shampoo bottle (we shared it and refilled as opportunity presented itself), toothbrush each, travel brush (light plastic foldup), sunscreen, aspirin/equivalent for headaches & minor aches
    * sunglasses
    * sun hat?? (not sure…)
    * wool beanie (hat)
    * ‘walking shoes’ – I think we may have had thongs/flip flops for a while but discarded them
    * 1 small 35mm camera (modern electronic cameras are much smaller/better!)
    * misc odds and ends (e.g. bandanna for me, girl stuff for SO)
    * guide book / maps
    * reading book

    We were ruthless about not picking up extra stuff along the way – leaving maps & books at B&Bs for the next person, or 1/2 tube of toothpaste, or 1/2 box of bandaids.

    We’d both traveled light before, 1 large-ish backpack each in the 12kg range, but this was a whole new level for us — and by and large we loved it! We met new people every day — so they didn’t know we’d worn the same clothes for days already. We did swap out some clothes along the way (e.g. buy a t-shirt, discard one we were sick of!). Having less stuff meant less time packing and unpacking and searching and managing stuff.

    We still take carry-on only, even with a 9yo kid along now, for whatever trip we do (often 2-4 weeks at a time). For those, I generally use what I call the ‘rule of 5′. I pack enough clothes for 5 days without laundry. E.g. 5 undies, 5 socks, 3 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, 1 pair shorts, 1 pair jeans/long pants – and I wear one of those 5. And then warm gear depending on the climate. And now I usually have a laptop along which is heavy :-(.

    Less is more!

  10. Doug Seattle May 31, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    I have devolved or evolved to using just one soap for everything. Clothes and me and my hair. I use the liquid environmentally friendly citrus dishsoap. It comes in big bottles. It lives in my kitchen at home and is decanted into one small bottle for travel. Only need about a teaspoon per task. It cuts through anything and does not have phosphates or dye and is antibacterial. I have used it for over a year and even works in saltwater at the beach 8)
    Your mileage may vary but I like it.
    Doug

  11. Tony September 14, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    I have settle now in one place for over 12 months. I dread the thought of moving already. One tip I could provided for both men and women who are travelling, is to wear long shorts and buy heaps of tights for when you are in cooler areas. These are great and take up little room. You can also look very cool with different colors. Fashion tip wear matching colored t-shirts and or long sleeved tops.

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