14 Aug How to Become a Travel Packing Expert
Best Practices and Tips on How To Pack for a Month Long Trip (or Any Trip)
How and what you pack can make a big difference in any trip.
If you are like me, being an emotional, big-thinking, ready-for-anything planner, you probably over pack.
If you are like Michelle, a logical, level-headed, methodical planner you probably pack just about the right amount of things (or – if anything – under pack).
You would think after these last couple of years, I would have packing skills nailed. I don’t. I’m still learning. But here is what I’ve figure out so far.
Key tips to help you decide what to bring on your next trip (and leave the excess home)
1. START HERE -> What kind of travel are you doing?
Don’t start packing anything yet. Ask yourself the question above. Packing should always start with this question in mind. This will dictate everything in your processing of what to bring.
Some questions to think about:
- What is the climate like where you are going? Are you traveling through multiple climates?
- Are you traveling/moving around a lot from one location to another within a short span or are you hunkering down in one location for a longer duration?
- For international travelers, what is the electrical situation where you are going? Will you need an adapter?
- Can you do laundry?
2. START GATHERING ITEMS
Find a place you can lay out all the items you’ll need for your trip. Here’s a basic checklist of essentials (note the links indicate specific items we own and recommend):
Suitcase or Backpack
Personal carry-on item
3-4 pairs of ExOfficio underwear
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of multifunctional pants/capris (could pass for a dressier situation, walking around town, hiking or biking)
1 pair of shorts (not necessary for colder travel. Even better if these shorts can double for swim shorts)
4-5 pair of tops (again multifunctional is best, high tech fabric)
1 – compressible jacket for warmth and light rain protection
3-4 pair of socks
1-2 pairs of shoes (1 casual/dress shoe, 1 workout/hike/walking)
– Hat, workout clothes, etc..
Toiletries (all packed into it’s own, small bag)
Electronic chargers and cables (all packed into it’s own small sack or container)
– travel pillow
– re-useable shopping bag
This is everything in my backpack during our one-month Europe trip, including the things I eventually determined that I didn’t really need.
3. ADD/SUBTRACT FROM YOUR COLLECTED ITEMS
Use the following tips to decide what you should keep, add, or subtract from your corrected items
What is the item’s function and is it truly necessary?
On this past trip, I brought a camping headlight. It’s small, portable, powerful, and really handy to have when you want to read at night. I haven’t used it once on this trip. We’re not camping so it’s not necessary. Other items I brought that I didn’t need: Large headphones, electric shaver, slippers (flip flops), a lightweight jacket (I never used because I had another jacket).
Plan to wash clothes on your trip
Clothes take up the most space in your luggage. If you want to save space, plan to do laundry as part of your trip. We often stay with friends, or check that our AirBnB rentals have a washer. I was always taught to bring enough clothing to last at least a week, in case you can’t do laundry. This isn’t practical if you are trying to travel light. Plus, if you buy the right clothes, you can do wash by hand (we learned this via our Peace Corps experience).
One thing that definitely helps is owning quick-drying clothing made of high-tech fabrics. They are easy to wash by hand (in a pinch) and once rung out by hand, will dry overnight. Bonus tip: Use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process if needed.
Use packing cubes to control clutter
I thought the idea of sacks and packets were gimmicky at first, but I’m now a believer. I keep all of my tops and bottoms in one container, another for my workout clothes, and small sacks for my socks and underwear. Eagle Creek and REI have a bunch of different options, like these.
The same principle applies to electronics and cables. This way everything is contained. Think of it as mobile drawers.
Don’t pack for every situation
I know this goes against your scout motto to be prepared for everything. However, no matter how good of a planner you are (and we think we are pretty good), something will always come up. You might forget or lose something. An unexpected storm might be heading your way. No problem. You can always purchase something in the place you are visiting in the rare case that you have to.
Additional Bonus Packing Tips
Some of these tips come from our awesome digital nomad friends, Nick and Kit, who’ve challenged and inspired us to get packing just right.
Backpack or Suitcase
In our experience, when we’re moving around a lot – especially in places like Europe where there are lots of cobblestone streets and you don’t often have the option to take an elevator or escalator – it’s easier to carry a backpack than wheel around a suitcase. But when we’re staying in one place for an extended time, or we know we’ll have smooth walkways everywhere, a suitcase is usually more convenient. I use a daypack and larger backpack.
Give yourself a smaller bag to travel with
Have problems like me with overpacking? Start with a smaller bag. See if you can only bring the essentials and fit everything in that bag. Don’t get a larger one because you’ll probably just try to fill it up.
Use electronics that can be charged via USB
Kit and Nick’s brilliant solution to minimize cables, accessories, and adapters: Plug in your computer and charge all your additional accessories through the computer’s USB ports.
Replace Bulk and Fancy with Necessity and Functionality
One of Kit and Nick’s stories that I loved was about switching from their DSLR camera to just using their iPhones. They realized that they weren’t professional photographers and didn’t need a bulky camera for pictures that are usually just being posted to Instagram.
Use Ziplock bags
Great for snacks, little items you need to bundle together, loose change, and protecting liquids from seeping onto the rest of your luggage.
Re-useable shopping bags
Can be compressed when not in use, but extremely useful for when you need an extra bag. Use it as your personal item/carry-on when flying, for grocery shopping around new towns, or temporary holding your dirty laundry.
Overall, the best advice I’ve been given is that learning to pack the right gear and the right amount is a process and you get better and better at it each time you travel. Maybe one day I will become a travel packing expert, but I wasn’t on this trip.
Do you tend to over- or under-pack? What packing tips have you learned from experience?
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