I used to pack a suitcase for a weekend trip. Two if I was going international. After a particularly harrowing experience involving shipping a box back to the States and lugging around two fully packed suitcases around the airport, I vowed to start packing light. Slowly but surely, I learned what I did and didn’t actually need.
Everyone has different comfort levels, so you definitely don’t have to follow all of these tips. I once had a host who was planning on putting everything he needed in a fanny pack! While I probably won’t go to that extreme any time soon, here are some ways to make sure you don’t go to the other end either.
Get a Backpack
My dad got me this monster for my month in Europe and I haven’t used a suitcase since. There are just so many reasons to use a backpack instead of a luggage bag:
- Forced to pack less. Even completely full, my current backpack fits inside my suitcase. Mine’s pretty big though so I try to fill it halfway.
- Fit it under the seat in front of you. You don’t have to put or get anything in or from the overhead compartment. Once the aisle clears up, just head on out.
- Walk around with both hands free. Drink in one hand, Google Maps in the other.
- Don’t have to drop it off before check-in.
- Don’t have to drag it around the city before check-in.
- Don’t have to worry about damaging wheels while dragging a suitcase over gravel or sidewalks.
- United doesn’t allow carry-ons for Basic Economy fares, and my guess is other airlines will follow suit. Like when we all slowly started having to pay for checked bags.
Travel Size Everything
You know you can get travel size shower shtuff. But there are also travel size hairbrushes, razors, flashlights, Q-tips containers, sunscreen, first-aid kits… you get the idea. And you can find collapsible water bottles online or at Walmart.
To really be able to use all the liquids you bring, make sure you have some silicon travel size containers, like these. They make it easier to squeeze out your shampoo or sunscreen and you won’t have to hit your half-full plastic container to force something to come out.
Some people don’t even bring this stuff; you can probably get shampoo at the hotel and buy everything else at your destination. This is totally an option with many countries and it’s a fun way to shop where the locals go. If you’re really having trouble finding something, you probably don’t actually need it.
If you’re like me, though, you like being worry-free once you land and want to hit the ground running. And you’re cheap. So just do whatever works for you.
Pack Light… Clothes
This isn’t an issue during the summer, but it’s tempting to pack your nice, thick sweaters for a Canadian winter. Instead, go for thin, thermal shirts and a warm coat. This will save SO much space in your bag and leave you more room for souvenirs.
If you do run out of clothes to wear, find a laundromat. Washing them by hand isn’t a big deal either because your thin clothes will dry pretty quickly. I generally pack one shirt and a set of sleep clothes for a weekend trip, not including the clothes I wear on the way. For more than a week, two shirts, a pair of jeans, and two sets of sleep clothes. Just be sure you bring clothes you can mix and match easily. And to bring a garbage bag so your dirty clothes don’t touch your clean ones.
If you need to pack a towel, bring one made of microfiber. Not only are they thin, but they dry quickly and hold more water. Towels can also double as a pillow, in case you need one of those as well.
Max Two Pairs of Shoes
Since they’re not boxy, shoes take up an obnoxious amount of space. Limit yourself to 1-2 pairs of shoes, not including the flip-flips you want to use in your hotel/hostel room. Try to bring shoes that will work in multiple settings, like a pair of boots you can use for both hiking and dining out, or cute sandals that’ll work at the beach and the bar. If you need socks, stuff them in your shoes.
Have an old pair of shoes? Unless you really trust them, don’t bring them! You don’t want to spend precious time plodding around in your broken shoes looking for a store in a foreign country and shopping for something you can buy at home. Depending on your trip and destination, you will be walking for hours on end, so you want a good for walking, sturdy pair that you don’t mind abusing a bit.
Wear Your Chunkiest Items
If you’re flying, you’ll probably want a jacket anyways. In the winter, wear a T-shirt, hoodie, coat, jeans, and boots on your flight. Use the extra space to add a shirt and another pair of shoes! Don’t forget to leave room for souvenirs, though. 😉
Imagine You’re Done
Zip everything up and pretend you’re done. Go on, wear it. How does it feel? Alright? Well, how would it feel after 20 minutes of walking around? Still good?
If your answer is “yes,” then great! Many congratulations. But if not, take something out. Do you really need an umbrella and a raincoat? What’s the point of bringing a laptop and a tablet? Are you bringing four pairs of jeans because you know you’ll wear them, or “just in case”?
Even after telling myself I’d pack less, I still found myself bringing things I ended up not using. Once you’re more conscious of what you’re putting into your backpack, though, you start noticing what you do need and what you actually don’t. I used to bring my hair straightener with me everywhere; now, I just use a hair tie. It takes some trial and error, but it’s kind of fun to see how little you can pack and comfortably get away with. Good luck, and always remember to have fun!