A Few Practical Tips for Packing Lighter

What I’ve learned in my one bag traveling pursuits.

Back in spring of 2016 I started writing about traveling light, and chronicling what I had found and tried as better clothing for traveling. I’ve moved to wearing most of this type of clothing full time now, and write about it often at Everyday Wear with my pal Steve. But there’s more to packing light than just buying the right stuff, there’s three particular tips I’ve learned over the past couple of years of doing this.

Know Your Trip

This sounds really obvious, but in order to pack lighter for your trip you need to stop packing for what ifs, and instead pack for the known things only. That entails knowing: the weather report for the trip, what activities you will be doing, and not forgetting that you want to be comfortable.

Here’s how I personally go about thinking through these:

Weather: getting the weather report for anywhere you are going is very easy, but that’s not the half of it. For instance, Florida in the summer, you know is going to be warm, but you might also like to know that rain storms pass through in the evening and you need to be prepared for that. Going to Seattle in August will likely mean you are surprised by the warmth and lack of rain. So I tend to try and ask ‘locals’ what the weather is like, as well as watch weather in the couple days before the trip so I can see how things are actually playing out. Checking for rain, or other weather which might be something I need to be packed for specifically.

Activities: this is less about needing clothes for working out, and more about packing the right clothes for what you will actually be doing. A day of sight seeing is likely going to require a different set of shoes than what you might pack for a series of business meetings. Which are both different than what you need if you are going somewhere tropical. It’s all rather easy to plan out: I typically just write out what I already know I will be doing, or want to be doing, and pack accordingly. The trap here is not packing for the things which you are worried about happening. If you are going on a business trip and you are worried that maybe you’ll have downtime and so you should bring super casual clothes — don’t. Instead be ok with wearing work clothes when hanging out.

Comfort: one of the biggest mistakes I made in packing lighter was to forget about the time spent in the hotel room. I try to get at least an hour of downtime in my hotel room before bed (harder for me to do on work trips) and I never packed anything to wear during this time. Which meant I often lounged, or slept, in clothing which was far from normal in my normal routine at home, and thus made it a little annoying for me and less relaxing. Since then I’ve tried to pack something (usually just a non-wool t-shirt) to wear for bed and it’s been very helpful for my overall sleep and relaxation.

Pre-Plan Everything

Now that you know your plan for clothing you need to pre-plan the rest of your gear. The best way to do that, is to use only the stuff you would pack for a day or two at home as a test. It’s best to do that with chargers and electronic accessories as well as toiletries. You’ll get a very good sense for what is and is not enough stuff from doing that.

A big takeaway for me was that I was simply not packing enough, or the right, chargers and was having to shuffle devices. It worked, but the added stress for how small an extra charger is was simply not worth it. Likewise, with toiletries, I found I was packing way too much stuff without ever needing it. I’ve ditched a lot of stuff, such as shout wipes, because my clothing is less stain prone. I’ve also figured out how much toothpaste and contact solution I actually need for any given trip. I only discovered that through traveling, but could have saved a ton of time had I tested it at home to see how much solution I use from a travel bottle in a couple of days.

Part of this planning is the knowledge that yes you will have enough stuff. Therefore you don’t need to use it sparingly, or worry about topping off charges. You can go about your trip knowing that you have what you need, and nothing you don’t need. This knowledge, instead of making assumptions, will calm your nerves greatly.

No Stress

Here’s my last tip, and one which seems like a pain, but I’ve found to be crucial in confidently walking out the door without the sensation that you forgot something. Pack modularly, have a place for everything, and repack at least one time before leaving.

Here’s how to break that down:

  • Modules: this isn’t just packing cubes, but to have ways to break out your gear easier. So I have a packing cube for my clothes, a toiletries kit, and an electronics kit. That means when I double check I can just check that each of those modules is in my bag. I don’t need to root around to find that one item that I can’t seem to find but I know where it is.
  • Place for everything: yes, I have modules, but I also don’t keep everything in a module. Things like tissues and AirPods go in pockets, but they go in specific pockets and I make a point to never deviate from those locations. So if I want to check that I have my AirPods, I know the specific spot to check.
  • Repack at least once: here’s the thing, it is a massive pain in the ass to repack your stuff, so most people don’t do it. Repacking is crucial for not only for peace of mind, but also for reducing what you pack. This is easier to do if you follow the system above, I repack each module so I know what is in it, then close it and know that as long as I don’t open them again, I’ve forgotten nothing. Then I repack each pocket. Then put the modules in the bag. All in all, this adds about 5 minutes to my packing time, and significantly reduces travel stress.

If some/all of these seem rather trivial, that’s good. However even at that I find that many people don’t do this — but even for trips I take often, I’ve found taking these steps to be beneficial every time. In the past year the only time I forgot something, was the one time I didn’t do the repacking step. I won’t make that mistake again.

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