When I was younger my father often liked to tell me “pack what you would be comfortable carrying on foot for a few miles.” As we traveled I was always frustrated that I was only allowed the space of one carry-on bag and what went in it were only the essentials. Nowadays I am thankful my father taught me the basics of efficient packing; I secretly smile when people ask “you’re only bringing one bag?” Packing light while still managing to bring all the right things along is often easier said than done, but with a little common sense and a willingness to downsize, you too could be traveling lighter and more efficiently.
1. Pick the right bag. First off, think about where you are going. If you are going to be trekking the Australian outback, you probably don’t want a suitcase on wheels and if you are going on a classy fashion trip to Singapore, you may not want a grimy, overused backpack. That being said, choose a suitcase, bag or backpack that you are comfortable transporting. For the truly packing conscious traveler, pick one that fits carry-on standards, that way you are limited in your packing space but you can be assured that your bag will be with you upon arrival. For one traveler’s pick as the ultimate carry on, check here.
2. Utilize stuff-sacks. There is no bigger hassle than having to pull every single item that you have meticulously packed in order to get to that one pair of pants that you put at the bottom of your backpack. How to stay away from this problem? Invest in (or sew) some stuff sacks, found at any outdoor or sporting goods store. They are a great way to organize your clothes (t-shirts in one, pants in the second, socks and underwear in the third) and when you do need to do a full unload of your pack or suitcase, you won’t have to do any unnecessary folding to get everything back in. For a more inexpensive version, try Ziploc bags, which thanks to their see-thru quality also allow you to see exactly what is packed in each bag.
3. Mix and match. Without sounding like a J. Peterman catalog, one of the best pieces of advice for packing is to pick several items that all work together. Two pairs of pants, three shirts, a belt and a scarf can go a long way. Remember to not pack specific outfits, but focus on simple, easy-to-wear pieces that you can mix and match. If you do get bored with your clothing options during your travels, remember that you can always buy a local item in whatever country you find yourself in to spice up your limited wardrobe.
4. Choose quick dry items. At some point in your travels you may be caught needing to do some much needed laundry in your hotel bathroom sink. When this arrives you will happy that you spent your pre-travel bucks on micro-fiber underwear and nylon pants. These types of clothes are easy to wash and dry much faster than your average cotton versions.
5. Bring one nice outfit. Even when you are taking off on a dirty backpacking adventure, you never know what can happen. Packing an item of clothing that can be worn in a nicer situation is always worth your while. Think of your traveling clothes as combination pieces; putting two clean, semi-nice pieces together can in fact make a good looking outfit worthy of a fancy dinner out on the town.
6. Low maintenance clothing. Unless you are jetting off on a 3 day business trip and need to be clad in the finest of the fine, leave starchy shirts and blouses at home. Any item that normally needs to be ironed should be crossed off your packing list immediately. Go for items that you can pull directly out of your suitcase and throw on without a second thought.
7. The right primary footwear. I cringe at writing this because I know it is a boring piece of packing advice, but traveling entails walking, and your voyage will be much more enjoyable if you are comfortable on your feet. Fortunately you don’t always have to sacrifice style for comfort. There is an array of functional yet stylish options that won’t leave your dogs screaming after a day on the pavement or trail. Remember to pack shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet and, above all, are durable.
8. Flip flops. Even when going to cold weather destinations, a pair of flip flops can be indispensable, especially if you are planning on spending time in hostels. Throwing on a pair before venturing into the shower in a shared bathroom will protect your feet from a variety of microbes that cover the floor. On warmer trips, flip flops are a much appreciated break for your feet at the end of a walking-intense afternoon.
9. The necessary extra: a first aid kit. Accidents do happen. You want to be prepared. You don’t need to pack a heavy duty save-your-life-in-the-outback kind of kit (unless you are spending several days in mountainous backcountry) but you want something to take care of smaller problems: blisters, cuts, headaches, etc. Along with your regular stash of toiletries, add a good antibiotic cream, like Neosporin, which can go a long way. Various sized band-aids, athletic tape and a good dose of ibuprofen can also come in handy, as well as benadryl for mild allergic reactions. For feisty blisters caused by hours of aimless wandering, consider carrying 2nd Skin, which can be applied to a busted blister and taped over with athletic tape, and make your feet feel good as new.
10. For the trip home. These are only the beginnings packing efficiently, but it should put you in the right direction. As a final note, don’t be surprised when at the end of your travels you have just a little bit extra than when you started. Buy (or bring) an inexpensive duffel bag, check it, and hope it meets you at your home airport.
Anna Brones is a freelance writer with a love for travel. She has a BA in International Relations and French Studies and has lived in Sweden, France, Guadeloupe and the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been featured in Transitions Abroad, Pology, Green Mama, Matador Travel, and Traveler’s Tales A Woman’s World Again.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Top offers from our partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
100,000 bonus points
The Platinum Card®
100,000 bonus points
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 bonus points