The Art of Packing


On our first trip–our honeymoon sixteen years ago–we brought one large wheeled suitcase, a smaller wheeled roll-aboard, a carry-on duffel bag, and two personal bags. That trip was 11 days, all in Great Britain, where, although neither of us had ever been, we could be relatively certain of the conditions and climate. We did not have room for souvenirs.

Last year, we managed 18 days visiting four cities in India and Nepal with two large (but still carry-on size) backpacks. And, we had room to bring back a wok, bedspread, several pashminas, tea, and a few articles of clothing.

So what changed in those intervening years?

We learned the secret of packing light. We learned that we enjoy ourselves far more with less in our bag to worry about.

We’ve written about this before in a general way, but we still often get asked “but how do you do it?”

Well, we basically pack with these basic concepts in mind:

You really don’t need an entirely new outfit for each day. Do you wash your jeans every single time you wear them at home? I don’t. Nobody will notice if you wear a sweater three times. And if they notice, they won’t care. Really.

Most hotels have a laundry service. This might sound decadent, but in certain parts of the world–India, for example, or Central America–having a small load of laundry washed, dried, folded and placed back on your bed for you costs less than a fast food lunch.

Unless you know for a fact the place you’re staying doesn’t provide toiletries, skip the shampoo, conditioner & soap. I bring my own face products because I have very sensitive skin, and I bring body lotion, but all in travel sized portions that pass the TSA 3-1-1 rule. There are also a few travel essentials we bring, but it still all fits within our two carry-ons.

Make sure everything coordinates. The worst thing is opening your suitcase somewhere and realizing you packed a top that doesn’t match anything else you packed. Lay everything out you think you want to bring on your bed before packing it, and really picture wearing it at your destination. Chuck at least two items. Trust me.

I used to be a strict “one pair of comfortable shoes” gal when it came to traveling. And they were the ones I wore to the airport. Of course, that might make sense for a week in London, but not so much when you’re going somewhere you’ll be hiking one day, by the pool another, and plan to have a nice dinner out at some point. So now, I try to see what can work for multiple situations. I might really like to have those pretty sandals for one night, but I could get by with the casual shoes that will work for the majority of the trip. I’ll still need to pack something for the hike, but I won’t also bring separate water shoes for kayaking–flip flops will be fine there.

And if you get where you’re going and really feel you should have packed one more shirt? Buy yourself a souvenir–and perhaps a fun memory of bargaining at a local market–from your vacation.

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