How to Pack Lightly for a Long Trip

Monday, March 30, 2020

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It’s the eternal struggle for travelers: how to pack lightly for a long trip.

While packing lightly may be easy if you’re headed to a tropical island for a week (swimsuit and shorts and cotton dresses don’t exactly take up a lot of room!), packing gets a whole lot more difficult for people who are moving around or traveling across different climates.

How are you meant to fit in clothes for the snow and the tropics? Cold, winter nights and hot, summer days? Sunbaking at the beach and hiking in the rain?

Depending on where you’re traveling to, there won’t always be convenient, short-term luggage store-and-go services like Bounce to drop your bags at, so it’s important to be smart and intentional with the items you take.

Here are some strategies to prioritize your belongings and keep your bags light, but still be prepared for anything.

Start With a Small, Light Bag

The bag you choose to take can have a huge impact on the amount of luggage you pack. We always end up packing more if we choose a big bag, so avoid this problem by selecting a small bag from the very beginning. This way, you won’t be tempted to fill it just because there’s extra space.

The other thing you need to consider is the weight of the actual bag. Try to opt for something light. This will reduce your overall weight and allow you to take heavier items.

Use a Packing List

If you’re committed to packing lightly, you need to be ruthless. Make a packing list and stick to it. Avoid simply opening your closet and pulling out things at random.

I try to pre-plan and type up a list in my phone prior to packing. I think about my trip. What activities will I be doing? What climates will I be in? Where will I be spending most of my time? I create a list based on the answers to these questions, then review it again and see what I can come up with. When I’ve finalized my list, I pack only these items and no more.

Remove all ‘Just-In-Case’ Items

For some reason, many people faced with a vacation tend to have this sudden urge to prepare for each and every situation possible. Most of these situations aren’t even likely to occur.

Going to a beach destination? Best I pack that fifth swimsuit that I haven’t worn in 8 years. What if I spill something on myself and need to get changed? Better throw in 50 pairs of underwear despite only owning 10. What if my car breaks down and I get stranded? Oh, I’ll just throw in some tools and a complete tire repair kit.

It’s time to stop this mentality. Now.

Think about the clothes and other items you use at home. If you don’t use it in your everyday life, chances are you won’t use it on vacation. After all, your favorite pair of jeans will still be your favorite pair of jeans in a new place. Let’s not over complicate this.

Take Clothes That Can Be Used for More Than One Outfit

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When selecting your clothing, try to choose pieces that can be adapted to create new outfits. If you have a top that can only be worn with one skirt or a colorful pair of shorts that doesn’t match your general wardrobe, it’s best to leave these items behind.

Think monochromatic colors. Grays, blacks, whites, tans, and blues all tend to go with one another. Choose adaptable pieces that can be worn in a number of ways. That way, you’ll be able to create a range of different outfits from a limited number of items.

Pack Layers, Not Heavy Clothing Items

If you’re headed someplace chilly, it can be tempting to pack heavy winter clothes. Unfortunately, this does not help with light packing. Instead, opt for layers that can be combined together to create a cold-weather outfit.

For instance, T-shirts and light long sleeve tops can be worn by themselves in warmer weather, or layered upon each other when it gets colder. It’s best to pack a light, waterproof jacket that doesn’t take up much space as this can be added over your layers when it is wet. You’ve essentially got yourself a waterproof jacket without the bulkiness!

Limit Yourself to 3 Pairs of Shoes

This is important, but very hard for me, personally. Shoes are heavy and bulky, taking up a lot of space in your bag. Limit yourself to three pairs of shoes — a pair of sneakers/trainers/walking shoes, flip flops or sandals, and boots if you are going to be spending a lot of time in the cold. If you can stick to two pairs, even better.

Make Sure Your Toiletries are In Solid Form

Toiletries take up a lot of space and all of that liquid can be really heavy. For this reason, many long term travelers choose to take solid toiletries. Instead of your luxurious body wash, take a bar of soap. There are even shampoo bars so you won’t have to lug around your big bottles.

However, travel bottles work just fine. Make sure you tape them shut though so there are no pressure accidents. EEK!

Be Selective With Your Electronics

Electronics are an essential packing item that will inevitably add weight, but, that doesn’t mean you can’t be selective in your choices.

Unless you’re a serious photographer, choose to take a smaller camera, or opt for your phone. Look for a lighter laptop to take or forgo one completely if you don’t actually need it. And always take a Kindle or other e-reader instead of taking hard copy books.

Packing lightly for a long trip is definitely possible, but it does require some discipline. It’s also important because you never know when you’ll need to squish into a Tuk-Tuk or store your luggage with a convenient, short-term luggage store-and-go service. I was in Paris, and the hotel I stayed at did not hold not to bags, so just be aware of what you need to do! 

Take these tips and avoid overpacking. If you’re finding it difficult to minimize your packing, just think about dragging a massive case down a cobblestone street and then up a flight of stairs — believe me, I’ve been there. It’s not a fun time. Opt for the lighter option.

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