05 October 2009

How to Pack Light

During my recent foray up North my lovely lady friends couldn't believe how light I packed. I brought one reusable shopping bag for three days and two nights. I've been known to back pack around Europe for two weeks with little more than a school backpack. The Mr. and I travelled around China for three weeks in one small backpack. When we moved to China we had two suitcases a piece; and that included a suitcase mostly packed with books. When the three of us travel we share a suitcase; and that includes diapers and toys for LN. So when a friend of mine that's headed to Tokyo next week (I try not to be jealous) asked me for a packing list I jumped to the challenge.

How to do it? Well, I've come to terms with not traveling with my entire wardrobe, learned how to layer and become secure in wearing clothes that most people would consider dirty. I've picked up a few other tricks along the way too. Now this is a good list if you are going somewhere for about a week to two weeks. Longer trips require a different kind of packing...but I'll save that for another post.

  • Three pairs of pants: You'll want two pairs of jeans (or whatever pants you wear on a regular basis) and one pair of 'dress' pants. They don't have to be formal, but they should be something you feel comfortable wearing out to dinner. When we travelled Western China I brought along a pair of Express Men's dress pants. I hiked in them for three days and then went out to dinner. They were dirty, but at least they were comfortable and looked a little nicer than dirty jeans.
  • One skirt: Now this is optional. If you wear skirts on a regular basis and it's the season than I would add it. It's nice to use at the beach, out for dinner or just a walk around the neighborhood. However, if you don't wear skirts, don't let it take up the space.
  • One to Two Cardigans: Depending on the weight of the cardigan you can bring up to two. I prefer to bring two light weight cardigans whenever I travel. One black one and one in a nice bright color. They are easy to layer and can be dressed up or down depending on the bottoms/accessories. I never travel anywhere without them. ANYWHERE.
  • Shirts: I tend to as many shirts as days I'm going to be gone. That seems like a lot, but shirts are small and I tend to layer so I wear them all more than once. I usually mix it up between tanks and Ts since I layer them both and bring the cardigans. But if it's going to be colder bring some light weight long sleeve tops. If I was planning on going to something fancy I might bring throw in one extra 'going out' shirt. Usually a tank to save on space. Just throw on a cardigan and spruce it up with your fancy accessories.
  • Old Underwear: This is a great tip. Bring old underwear that you don't mind throwing away. And then throw it away. Seriously. Underwear doesn't take up much space, but when you're packing light every inch counts. Think how many cute souvenirs you could bring back in that space.
  • Comfy Socks: On the other hand I always bring my most comfortable pairs of socks. Why? Well most of the time when you're traveling you'll be walking and wearing your comfy socks just makes that experience that much more enjoyable.
  • Pajamas: One pair of dark colored yoga pants and either a tank or T. I generally wear whatever bottom layer that I wore during the day and not even bring any extra PJ tops. That way each piece gets worn at least once.
  • Shoes: I'm not a big fan of tennis shoes, but if you are bring them. Wear a cute, but comfortable pair of slip on shoes to the airport. Make sure you can walk in them since you always walk more when traveling. Ideally the non-tennis shoes should match whatever 'dress' outfit you've brought, if necessary.

  • Use the hotel shampoo/conditioner. You can go without your fancy bottle of Aveda for one week. Trust me, you'll welcome the space you save.
  • Bring only as much makeup as you need for one day. Seriously. I tend to bring one eyeliner, one small compact of eye shadow and some mascara. That's it. Nobody's going to care if your look looks the same everyday.
  • Sunscreen. You'll be out and about more on vacation than you would be at home. So take care of your skin and slather on some protection.
  • Hit up the travel aisle at Target. Not a huge break through, but even if they don't have your regular brand of deodorant you'll welcome the space you'll save by buying that travel size tube of other brand rather than your normal sized regular one.
  • A few pairs of earrings and a necklace or two doesn't take up much space, but it helps make those second day outfits look that much better/different.

-Remember that anything that doesn't wrinkle is your friend. I personally like wearing jersey on flights, especially long ones. It's comfortable, doesn't wrinkle but still looks nice.
-Also, bring along a scarf or two. They are light, don't take up much space and can take a shirt you've worn for two days to new places. Plus on the plane it can double as a blanket, shawl, and small pillow. Or put it over your head if you're unfortunate enough to sit next to a talker.
-Try to pack a lot of neutrals and one color or color family. That way it's easy to layer and put together outfits on the fly.
-Finally, fold your clothes on the way to your destination. On the way home roll them, you'll have more room for those extra souvenirs you're going to bring me. :)

Anyone else have any travel tips to share?


  1. Wow - you are officially my travel guru! I am coming back to this when I am packing for our UK trip!! I backup the travel aisle in Target or buying some small reusable bottles and just putting your usual toiletries in them :)

  2. Thanks for writing this Mary - what great tips. I will let you know how I do. I so desperately need to learn to travel light.

  3. Love your tips. I too am a crazy light packer after having my bag lost on a trip to Europe, I only carry on! Makes life a whole lot easier.



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