Take This, Not That: Packing Efficiently

Packing efficiently can be hard... but it doesn't have to be! 

Preparing for a trip can be super exciting and really overwhelming. The question of “Do I need this?” is surely to come up multiple times before, during, and after the packing process. There are a few pain-free steps you can follow to ensure you’re adequately prepared without the hassle of too many extras.

Why should we trust your advice??

Glad you asked! Here are some of the trips I’ve packed for: (1) I moved across the globe to a place with 4 distinct seasons, and managed to put my life into 2 large suitcases. (2) An 8-day winter trip to Japan…. in a school bag. (3) Three-week trip in Asia/SE Asia in a 35L bag. (4) Several carry-on only trips to Thailand. (5) A 10-day trip to 4 U.S. cities with 3 different climates in my (current) 42L bag. I’ve tried and failed and over-packed enough times that I can comfortably say I’m basically a self-taught packing expert.

First, do your research on where you’re heading. Make sure you have a general understanding of the climate, terrain, and any cultural information; as it may affect they type of clothing or footwear you’ll need. For the sake of this tutorial, I’m going to assume you’re heading somewhere warm.

Next, consider the activities you’ll be taking part in. Will you be doing a jungle trek or wandering around a city? Laying out on the beach or hiking to ancient temples? Even if you’re doing all of the above, there are great multitasking products that can help you keep your packing list short!

Then, consider the length of your trip and what size bag is appropriate. My bag of choice is a 42L, which is perfect for just about any trip. If you’re travelling for a long time and in different climates, a slightly bigger bag may be a better choice for you. However, never feel like you need a huge bag. The bigger the bag, them more temptation to pack more, and the heavier the load you have to lug around!

Now that we’ve reflected on the trip, time to pack! In order to avoid the last minute frenzy, start the process 1-3 days beforehand. Line up piles of clothes you want to take: tops, bottoms, outerwear, underwear, shoes, etc. This way, you’ll be able to see what’s going into the bag before you start shoving stuff in.

More reading:  To Myanmar, With Love

Clothing: Tops, Bottoms, & Outerwear

For a 10-day trip, I recommend no more than 5 tops, 2 shorts, 1 long legwear item (pants or leggings), and 1 jacket or sweater.

Keep all your clothes casual and weather-appropriate! You will always be able to wash and recycle the items you bring. Keeping a couple tanks/sleeveless and t-shirts, and maybe 1 on-the-nicer-side type shirt just in case.  Make smart choices with your shorts! Opt for multi-functional pieces: khaki shorts that can be worn out to dinner, but are ok to be worn to the beach, or athletic shorts that are super lightweight and great for hiking or water activities. I usually throw 1 casual dress in the mix, too.  Light jacket or sweater. Even warm climates get cool at night and sometimes the rooms can be chilly with the AC.

Avoid pieces that get dirty easily or that show sweat. While you can wash your clothes in hotels and hostels, you won’t be happy if you have to deal with laundering a delicate item. Excess denim (and long pants in general) = bad idea. Wear the long pants you want to bring so you don’t need to worry about it taking up space in your bag. One pair is perfect for a cool night and won’t take up too much room in your bag if you need to pack them.

Underwear (&& the like)

For every 10 days, you should pack no more than 6 days worth… but you could get away with 4.

Yes, I’m serious. Undies are super easy to wash (hello, shower!), dry fast, and you don’t need to pack a clean pair for every day of your trip. Similar theory applies to bathing suits. I usually pack 2: wear one while the other is drying. (Girls: A good sports bra should always be in the mix.)

Avoid letting the inner “mom voice” take over. You don’t need a clean pair every day. Well, yes you do… but you don’t need to pack 14 pairs for a 2 week trip. Shampoo makes a great substitute laundry detergent!

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Shoes

Keep it to 3 pairs: sandals, sneakers, and 1 more shoe-of-choice.

Shoes can be the most difficult to pack. It’s very important to recall your planned activities when packing shoes. A pair of sandals, a pair of waterproof shoes, and sneakers should really be all you need. Unless you’re anticipating going somewhere really fancy, you will have no need for nice shoes.

Avoid shoe-panic. I sometimes get ahead of myself and think “what if these flip flops break?” or “what if I want to go for a run.” Don’t get ahead of yourself; you can definitely buy flip flops anywhere in the world and you realistically probably won’t want to go for a run.

Toiletries

All items should be 3fl oz or less– and think hard about what you really need.

Keep it minimal and do a little research as to what amenities your hotel or hostel offer. Many have shampoo and soap; both of which are items that can be very effective multitaskers: face wash, body wash, and laundry soap. Deodorant, conditioner, moisturizer, contact lens solution, and medicines are good to bring.

Avoid large containers, beauty products, and anything electrical. Unless you’re going for a wedding, job interview, or a destination date (and I suspect none of those are the reasons behind your trip), you have no need for primping products!

Valuables

Bring nothing. Buy a $5 watch and only bring jewelry you don’t care about.

Toting your smartphone and camera is about where you should draw the line. I bring my Nexus7 tablet because it has loads of games and books. Costume jewelry only!

Avoid anything you paid a lot of money for. You may think you should bring your computer to “get some work done” but you won’t. Trust me. There is also no need for your expensive earrings, or gold chain, or designer watch. Leave them safely at home!

Randoms

This is my favorite category. Part of the reason you’ll want to keep your packing as minimal and concise as possible is that I’m sure you’ll be tempted to buy things along the way. Saving some room for trinkets will keep you from stressing when it comes time to re-pack to head home. You should definitely bring your chargers and converters. I always pack a sarong, hat, bandanna, and a daypack bag. If you’re going to be on a food budget, bring a small stock of protein/nutrition bars. If there is going to be rain, pack an umbrella… but don’t just throw it in your bag because you think you might need it. I usually have a small towel (like a hand towel). Make informed decisions, people!

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Avoid the last minute “oh, I need that!” The easiest way to do that is list out the 5 or 6 items you can’t live without. Once those items are packed, everything else is negotiable. As long as you have your essentials, you won’t regret leaving thing at home in the name of keeping a lighter bag and having space for souvenirs. Unless you’re positive the hotel/hostel isn’t going to have a towel, don’t bring one. If you insist on bringing one, make sure it’s really small.

MY POWER ITEM: sarong!

This should be a must-have for every man, woman, and child. It is the ultimate multitasker! I’ve used mine in so many ways:

  • to cover my legs in a temple
  • cold neck
  • bonfire blanket wrap
  • laid on it at the beach
  • bath towel
  • extra warmth layer in an intense AC room
  • head protection from the sun and rain
  • for privacy when I wanted to sleep on a bus

Now that you’ve got your stuff lined up and ready to go, it’s time to pack! Have at it and happy packing!


  • What is your bag/luggage of choice?
  • How many days in advance do you start thinking about packing?
  • What is your #1 must-have travel item?
  • What is the biggest cause of stress when getting for a trip?
Posted in How To, Trip Planning, Uncategorized and tagged , .

2 Comments

  1. Great tips! I’m not a noob, but I really struggle with packing. I always take way too much! I’ll have to keep this handy.

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