Featured Articles, Green Gear, Planning
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How to Pack Light Part II: My 3 Best Packing Tips

how to pack light PartIIImage by Thomas Heylen

Welcome back to the EcoTraveller Guide Series on packing light! Check out the first part of the series on why you should pack light.

If you’re going to pack light, you can’t just use good packing technique (though we’ll cover that in the next post) and roll like a flight attendant. You’ve got to have a strategy.

When you try to bring everything you think you’ll need, you’re guaranteed to end up with heavy bags full of things you don’t end up using.

I travel the world with one tiny, Ryan Air-approved rolling bag and never want for anything because I follow these three strategies when figured out what to pack.

1. Check the Weather Forecast Before you Pack

how to pack light PartIIa
Image by Zach Frailey

Even if I am just going somewhere for a weekend with my car and packing light isn’t really a big deal, I have so programmed myself to pack based on the weather that my brain can’t even begin to make a packing list without checking.

This step is deceptively obvious. But I’m not telling you to check if it might rain so that you can pack an umbrella and a windbreaker.

You need to check the weather – in detail – for every destination you’re visiting so you can mentally adjust your expectations of the trip.

Sometimes you’ve had a warm, sunny island vacation planned for months. It has helped you psychologically endure the brutal winter wherever you live. But as your vacation gets closer and closer, it turns out that your perfect island getaway is probably going to happen in the middle of a tropical storm.

Yes, it’s tragic, and yes, you can hope that things change. But if you don’t pack for reality, your vacation is going to be even worse.

This can happen with hiking or biking trips that will be wetter than you’ve hoped, summer travel that looks to be closer to the 40s C than the 30s or even shoulder season weather than is better than expected.

I check all my destinations and write down the high and lows for each day of the trip. For extra-long trips, I tally how many days and evenings there are in different temperature ranges (crazy hot, short sleeves, light sweater or scarf, sweater and jacket, snowpocalypse) to get a sense of the correct proportions of clothing to pack.

2. Pile First, Pack Later

how to pack light PartIIbImage by Joel Down

Packing in one go or even one day should be avoided whenever possible.

Even if you have diligently made a detailed packing list several days or weeks in advance of actually putting things in your suitcase, you may still have more (or less of some things) than you need. But you won’t know until you actually see the sheer mass of everything you’ve imagined yourself packing.

I typically make a comprehensive packing list (even listing exactly what specific t-shirts or pairs of jeans I’ll pack if things are extra tight) as I look at the weather and think about my trip. Then I pull out all those items together in a pile on my couch or on the floor near my suitcase.

If the pile looks so daunting I can’t imaging having to repack it during my trip, some things have got to go.

But you can’t always get perspective right away and that’s why you need to make you pile and then come back to it later. That new shirt that you were so keen on packing because you can’t wait to wear it might not look so important for your biking trip after some time subconsciously mulling over your “to pack” pile.

I’ve heard some crazy pieces of packing advice that say you should take 15 or 50 or some other truly random number of things out of your pile because you never need everything you think. But honestly, the better you are at packing, the better you pile in the first place.

So just take out what, on a second or even third pass, doesn’t look so important. Over time and practice packing light, you’ll get a better sense of what is necessary and what is just extra weight.

3. Everything Has a Home (or it Doesn’t Belong)

how to pack light PartIIcImage by alamodestuff

Once you have your pile, it’s time to think about how things fit together. Not just how you will pack them, but how you’ll use them.

Even if you don’t seem to have that much “stuff,” when things are packed in your suitcase willy nilly, you waste time looking for things or dumping out your whole bag. And you’ll be stressed every time you think about reassembling your bag for the flight home.

So take your pile and put things together with light things. Shirts or dresses to roll together in one pile, electronics chargers in another, underwear in yet another. (I’ll explain how to pack these items in the next post)

If you have something that doesn’t seem to fit in any of the piles, think about whether you really need it. On a winter trip, I had a puffy vest that I love to wear over sweaters on days that it’s not really cold enough to need a parka. But it’s a hard item to pack. And when I looked at what I already had, I realized that four sweaters was plenty and I didn’t really need a vest as well.

It might be an iPad when you’re already bringing a laptop and a phone. Two blazers when you might only have one occasion to go out. Or a travel hair dryer, even though you’ll be staying in luxury hotels. Or both a make-up bag and a toiletry bag.

Look for anything that doesn’t belong and get rid of it.

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Now that you’ve narrowed things down for what you really need for this trip and what you can realistically fit, it’s time to get down to it.

These steps may seem obvious, but they are a bit like playing the violin. You have tick marks telling you where to put your fingers to play a certain note, but it takes years to play those notes without looking at your fingers or thinking about where to put them.

Next, I’ll share exactly what and how I can pack for three months in different climates, countries, and contexts in one 18-inch hard case carry-on.

Other articles in the How to Pack Lightly series:

1. How to Pack Light Part I: Why Should You Pack Light?
3. How to Pack Light Part III: Modulizing without Modules

Filed under: Featured Articles, Green Gear, Planning

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When she was ten, Gabi Logan was commended by her school as an "environmentalist" after spending recess and lunch picking up trash around her school for a week. Now she's a freelance blogger and travel writer who encourages travelers to use sustainable travel methods and connect to local culture along the way. Her work has also appeared in Transitions Abroad, GoMad Nomad, and publications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You can read more about her at gabilogan.com.

2 Comments

    • Gabi Logan says

      It’s so true about how your bag affects your enjoyment of a trip. I don’t think people who don’t travel often take into account how the stress and time of redoing your bag every time you change hotels can really be a downer on a trip, especially one where you are seeing multiple cities in a short time.

      On a recent trip, even though I had a tiny bag, I had accumulated so many presents and new items that it was such a huge mental drag every time I had to pack that I finally sent a box of things home to go back to having a simple, light bag!

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