The core of your travel experience is not just about what you see and do, it also involves what you bring along – how you prepare for the journey.
But it’s easy to bring too many things or even bring the wrong things.
How can you make sure you’re packing as effectively as possible?
Reduce Your Load as Much as Possible
Our first order of business comes down to the size of the bag you will carry and the actual volume of your packing list. Try and go with a smaller bag, especially just a carry-on-sized bag – this will encourage you to examine each of your packing list items more carefully and only pack what’s absolutely essential.
A good rule of thumb is to lay out everything you plan to take, then cut it down by half. Why? Most people tend to overestimate just how much they’ll need for a trip, with many of their items going unused.
Better to underpack than to carry excess; if you ever find you’re missing something at your destination, you can almost always buy/rent/borrow things locally.
Usually, the bulk of this packing involves clothing.
There are many articles that condemn the common habit of overpacking clothes and instead present a compelling case for minimizing the quantity and maximizing the functionality of the clothing items you do bring.
We’ll dive into that next:
Optimize Your Wardrobe
There are two main things to consider with clothing you’re interested in packing:
- its functionality/versatility
- its size and weight.
If you’re sticking exclusively to warmer climates, all you really need is a few changes of clothes – a minimum of 3-5 shirts and maybe 2 pairs of shorts.
That may not sound like much, but you’re not packing a year’s worth of clothes, you’re packing ideally no more than a week’s worth and doing laundry (which becomes a necessity if you’re on the road a long time). The more frequently you’re willing to wash your clothing, the less clothing you can get away with.
If you’ll be spending time in colder weather as well, there’s a bit more to consider.
The best packing strategy for cold weather is layering: picking lightweight pieces that insulate well and can be added or removed as the weather dictates.
This means that everything you wear as a layer in the cold can still be worn, individually, in warm weather, when a thick jacket would likely be overkill.
A note on fabrics: traditional materials like cotton and polyester may be fine for everyday life, but issues like odor and lack of moisture wicking after prolonged use can be a deal breaker for travelers.
Many travel experts tout merino wool as the ideal travel clothing material, as it wicks moisture effectively, insulates in the winter and breathes in the summer, packs down compactly, and is essentially inhospitable for bacteria (meaning you can wear it for months on end with no odor).
What about shoes?
3 pairs should be the absolute most, but 1 or 2 pairs is ideal.
These could include flip-flops, walking shoes, or hiking shoes that can also be stylish enough to wear for the occasional special event.
Finally, if you’re bringing two or three pairs, wear the biggest ones on the plane.
Keep Things Efficient and Organized
Another important facet of effective packing is not only what you choose to pack, but also how you pack said items.
What’s the most space-saving way to actually pack your items into your bag?
There are conflicting opinions out there, but many travel experts and veterans recommend rolling your clothes to maximize space and reduce wrinkles.
Some use rubber bands to tie up clothes and reduce space even further, and there are other travelers who fold all their garments into a big pile using the bundle method.
This should go without saying, but arrange your bag’s items by how frequently you use them; keep items you use every day within easy reach and the more special-occasion items towards the bottom.
Finally, packing organizers are a fairly recent development, having only really picked up steam within the past few years, but using them to organize your clothing and other items in your bag can reduce headache and make packing and unpacking so much easier.
Packing cubes often come in small, medium, and large sizes, so you can pack large clothing items like shirts or shorts/pants into a large cube and smaller pieces like socks or underwear in a medium-sized cube, while using smaller cubes to organize things like cables or fashion accessories.
Keep Some Other Minor, but Helpful Packing Tips in Mind
Look for ways to further pack down.
For example, you can reduce the number of toiletries you pack by using versatile multi-use items like Dr. Bronner’s soap, and don’t forget that many accommodations offer complimentary toiletries like body wash or shampoo.
If any of your electronics have the same charging connectors, don’t bring cords for each one; just take maybe 1-2 charging cables and power blocks.
If you’re traveling, especially long-term, look for a decent travel backpack, which is better for traveling and long-term adventures than suitcases or wheeled luggage. They’re easier to haul around and are less likely to make you stand out as a tourist/foreigner.
Use technology to your advantage. Life in the 21st century has given us gear and other electronics that get smaller and lighter each year. Instead of physical books, load a tablet or e-reader with ebooks. If you have a cell phone that takes great-quality pictures, simply use that instead of taking a bulky DSLR.
Lastly, one of the keys to packing efficiently is being able to discern between the most useful must-have items and the nice-to-haves. You want to pack things that will suit you well 95% of the time.
Bringing items that are only good for that remaining 5% aren’t worth the trouble and don’t constitute efficient packing.
Do you know of any other tips or tricks to pack more efficiently?