How to Pack Like A Seasoned Traveler
I hear a certain phrase quite a lot: “How do you fit everything into that tiny bag?” This past August, I went to Europe for two weeks in a small carry-on bag. I went to Germany for 5 days with just a backpack. It has become such an identifier that I feel like I’m letting myself down when I pack slightly more than I need to. In fact, I think I love the challenge of packing light so much that these ideas have trickled down into my lifestyle as well.
A little backstory: I haven’t always been a notorious light packer. I can trace my baggage habits back to when I studied abroad in the UK for the first time. I started packing for that trip a month in advance because I was so excited. Side note: This is actually the hidden first tip which is start early. Packing in a rush often means throwing things into a suitcase without much thought which leaves things cluttered and overcrowded. Starting early also gives you time to read airline baggage regulations which are very important. Anyways, I read so many different travel blogs and study abroad columns and kept hearing the same thing repeated over and over again: pack light. If you think you won’t absolutely need it, don’t pack it.
Figure out your essentials
So how do you determine what is essential and what isn’t? Firstly, figure out what items of clothing you wear on a day to day basis. Do you have a favorite pair of jeans? Yeah, you’re probably going to want those. What is essential will vary for everyone, so don’t feel ashamed if what you decide to bring is different than what I do. Here’s a quick breakdown of wardrobe items that I wear again and again.
White and grey v-neck T-shirts
Blue and black jeans
A solid cardigan
Black ankle boots or flats (for summer)
Here are some pictures that represent the kind of classic wardrobe look I'm often after.
Streamline your wardrobe
Another key tip, in packing and in life, is to streamline your wardrobe. By this, I mean only pack (and furthermore, buy) basic items of clothing that are going to go with almost anything. They aren’t really exciting, but you can’t go wrong with a good pair of jeans, some neutral colored shirts, and a great pair of black boots. Additionally, choose a color palette. You don’t want to be mixing your browns, blacks, and navies so choose one category and make all your clothes match with it. When in doubt, buy in a neutral (black, white, grey, tan) color. Personally, all my clothes fit into a black color palette so I rarely ever buy things that are brown or navy.
Condense your beauty routine
This one might be hard and airline restrictions on liquids can make it even harder. Try toning down your beauty routine for maximum efficiency. Find a few products that you know you will want and leave all the extras at home. Here’s what I usually bring: small neutral eye shadow palette, mascara, concealer, nude lipstick, facial cleansing bar, day moisturizer, prescription night moisturizer, small roller perfume. That’s it. It’s also usually what I wear on a day to day basis anyways. Pro tip: buy your beauty cleansers and soaps in bar form. This way, you won’t have to worry about fitting them in your liquids bag. And don’t forget your basics: toothpaste, deodorant, contact solution (if you need it).
Roll and stuff
From my experience, the best way to maximize space is to roll all your clothes. After you’ve rolled, then you can tetris them in so that you fit as much in as possible. Also, instead of stuffing your intimates (socks and underwear) into the zipper pouch, stuff them into your shoes instead. Shoes take up a lot of space and you’ll waste less of it if you can put other stuff inside. An even better tip is to only bring one pair of shoes for your trip and wear them there!
Airplane specific packing
I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. First and foremost, have your liquids bag at an easy access point. You won’t want to dig through your whole carry-on while you’re going through the security line.
Also, remember that you can wear things on the plane. I usually will wear a jacket or coat on the plane regardless of the weather. Those things take up so much space in a carry on and you can just stuff the coat beneath your seat or sit on it once you board.
Don’t bring big headphones. They’re awkward to carry and pack. Instead, opt for some smaller noise-cancelling ones. Okay, the list could go on forever so I’ll stop here.
Remember: you can always buy something if you need it
One common mistake of packing is the “but what if I need it” way of thinking. Realistically, you aren’t going to die if you can’t spray your hair for a week or have to pop down to a drugstore for some toothpaste. If it’s any solace, when I flew to England this last time around, they forcibly made me check my carry-on bag and subsequently lost it. This meant I arrived in England with the clothes on my body and the contents of my small purse. No need to fret though, James and I popped into a cheap retailer and I got a plain t-shirt, a pack of cheap underwear, and a nice enough dress I could wear to the musical that night. I got my suitcase back three days later and everything was fine. Sure, having to buy extra things is inconvenient, but it isn’t the end of the world.
I’m sure I can write endless articles about traveling and packing, but those will be kept for another day. In the meantime, because I’m moving permanently to England next year, I’m looking to get rid of some of my old clothes, books, and other objects that I won’t be transporting with me. If you’re interested, you can find some of my clothing on the websites Poshmark and Vinted. Additionally, anything that isn’t sold will be donated or given away. If you have any ideas for great, local charities that may be interested, please let me know.