I can never seem to pack light for travelling. Is that even possible?!
Dear Savvy Traveller: In my mind, a happy traveller is one who travels light. BUT. . . no matter how hard I try, I still end up with a huge, heavy bag! Do you have any tips or strategies that would be helpful? — Judy
I agree with you that a happy traveller is one who travels light, and I’d take it a step further and say this traveller is also the one most likely to gain something from the trip. I’m so glad you asked for tips or strategies, recognizing that they’re different, and I have good news for you—I have both! Let’s begin with the strategy of packing light, which is a mental exercise that will reduce the number of tips you’ll need.
We all talk about the baggage people bring to relationships, to work, and to just about every situation. Naturally, that baggage also weasels its way into our over-packing by convincing us we need so much more than we do. That comes from our past experiences, our fears, and our insecurities, and that’s the first set of baggage we need to leave behind when packing for a trip. Physically packing light begins with mentally packing light.
Consider why you’re taking your trip. I’m guessing it isn’t to become an internationally-recognized style icon. Hopefully, you’re hoping to experience a new place, escape from your regular routine, and learn something new about a culture (and about you!).
You don’t need every product, grooming tool, book, and gadget that you use in your daily life. This isn’t going to be daily life. The treasures to be found in both vacation and exploration are new experiences, not continuing your daily routine somewhere else.
Let go of the idea that you need to be prepared for all situations!
You don’t—and you’ll grow in that moment where you find yourself without the item you thought you needed, finding a different way to get along. That’ll be one of the memories you enjoy the most, too.
Let go of the thought that you need to bring something to occupy every moment of your downtime, or your kids’ downtime, if you have them. You shouldn’t. Don’t deprive anyone of the chance to see, hear, or smell something new, even when you’re just in a car or hotel. Look up, look out, and interact with this amazing new place you’re passing through. That’s how it can become part of you.
It’s important to be prepared for travel in some ways (a small supply of general first-aid is what I consider most important), but this is a time that you truly should abandon that “be prepared for anything” notion that plagues our daily lives and overloads our suitcases.
What you really need for travel is only what is necessary to get yourself out the door and into your new environment each day. In most cases, that boils down to a basic outfit. Approach your trip not wanting everything from your home-life to be present—it will only distract and detract from how spectacular and eye-opening your trip could be. Ease your mind, and your bag will become much lighter by default.
OK, Judy, let’s assume you’ve now arrived at this fabulous realization and are ready to pack. This is where I’ll offer you my tips, because it can still be tough to decide which items make the cut, especially if you’re yelling things like “But I’m going away for two weeks, Brandon!” or “I have a wedding to attend!” at the screen.
Relax! These quick and dirty packing tips will make your bag lighter, or at least smaller:
1. Cut back on the shoes, and stuff the ones you’re bringing. Look, I have 50 plus pairs of shoes, too, but they don’t come on my trips. You need something comfy for walking, and possibly something dressier for dinners or an important event, like a wedding. Stuff the ones you’re bringing with socks and underwear. It’ll help protect their shape, and it’s a great space saver.
2. Jewelry is the key to changing up your look and making a splash with less. Bring basic items of clothing that can be mixed-and-matched to create multiple outfits, and change up your look with accessories. They take up very little space but make a huge visual difference. (They should also be rolled up in your socks and stuffed in your shoes, not packed in individual boxes that waste space and do nothing to protect them.)
3. Plan your exact outfits ahead. Don’t bring backup options. They’re a huge waste of space, you’re not going to use them, and they’ll stress you out when you’re trying to decide what to wear each day. And you don’t need 14 outfits for 14 days. If you’re going away even longer, plan to do laundry halfway through. It’s available just about anywhere.
4. Downsize your toiletries and cosmetics. Aside from cutting back on some items entirely, you don’t need the full bottle of hairspray. Get travel bottles for your liquids and creams and fill those for your adventure. They take up much less space and weight, and you’ll be able to take them in a carry-on bag if you’re flying.
5. Rolling only helps with thin fabrics. Hopefully you can travel with thin fabrics anyway, but denim and sweaters don’t roll well—sometimes they take up more space that way, so just fold them. Rolling thinner garments does help, though, so do it, and get creative with how you arrange them in your suitcase. Bend them around corners and fill in gaps with these flexible items.
6. Learn from the past. What did you bring on your last trip that you didn’t end up needing? You don’t need it this time either.
In short, just because you could bring it, doesn’t mean you should bring it. And if you need added motivation to bring less, remember this: you need empty space in your bag if you want to bring home something special from your journey.
The Savvy Traveller with Brandon Schultz is Outpost’s weekly advice column on things travel big and small. Brandon is awaiting your question in the comments section!
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