New York Times writer Susan Heller famously said, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
Even when we have great intentions, it’s easy to overload our suitcases. We wind up dragging a lot of stuff around. There’s more to keep track of; it winds up being a lot of physical and mental clutter. And, of course, we wind up paying a ton of extra fees for the additional weight and luggage.
So, rather than viewing efficient packing as a practice in minimalism, I like to think of it as a challenge that helps you make the most of every vacation: you have what you need, you’re freed up to not have to lug around a bunch of extra weight, and you can put that saved money towards a special souvenir, a nice dinner out, or another cool experience.
So what are the secrets that seasoned travelers use to guarantee expert packing? Here are the top 6:
- Remember the 80/20 Principle — that is, 20% of what you pack will be 80% of what you actually wear. If you’re like most people, you’ve already noticed this. You pack four pairs of shoes, but you really only wear one pair every day. You pack three sweaters and a shawl that you never use, because you wind up just wearing your favorite light jacket that goes with everything you own.
- Don’t pack for every possible situation. Pack for an average day. There’s no way you can cover every contingency. Look at the forecast, the average temps and weather for that time of year, and go with that. If there’s a freak week of rain in what’s normally a sunny season — unless you’re headed to an extremely remote area that sees few travelers, it’s very unlikely that you won’t be able to purchase a rain coat or an umbrella where you are. If there’s a cold snap, there’s probably also a store nearby with just the thing you need.
- It’s okay to wash. If you’re going to be gone for three weeks, pack enough clothes for one. If you’re a hardcore DIYer, almost every resort or town in the world has a Laundromat or laundry service. If you’re feeling like you want break from daily tasks and routines and you’re really looking forward to the luxury of having other people pamper you, have your clothes laundered and folded for you. It’s still often cheaper than luggage fees!
- For warmth, go with layers over bulk. Pick several thin layers with insulating, wicking fabrics — merino wool is a great one — over a big jacket. Heavier items like jackets and sweaters don’t offer the flexibility. They’re just hot, and when the sun comes out, then you have to cart around a huge coat. But a compact zip-up fleece can roll up easily into a bag or backpack in the afternoon and then come back out again for that sunset walk on the beach.
- Think: mix and match, simplified palette, and multi-function items. If three tops match three bottoms, you’ve got nine possible outfits. Add in a Swiss-Army-Knife travel item like the popular Chrysalis Cardi, and you’ve got one item that converts into eight different things. As travel blogger Fred Perotta says: bring pieces, not outfits.
- If you’ve got to have something bulky and heavy -- wear it, don’t pack it. Hiking boots, down jacket, that awesome cable knit wool cardigan — these might very well have a great place on your trip, but they shouldn’t be in your suitcase. Wear them on the plane. You can easily pack several versatile layers for the space that one sweater would take up.