May 04, 2014 5 min read
I’ve been a frequent traveler for years now, and thus I’m also a frequent consumer of packing advice.
I’ve noticed that a lot of travel advice tells you to bring more stuff; it’s almost like the writers are competing to not leave anything out.
Since the number one mistake most newbie packers make is bringing too much stuff, overzealous packing lists are not helpful.
If there’s one secret to successful packing it’s this: pack light.
It makes traveling less of a headache and frees you up to enjoy your destination. It means less time fumbling through your suitcase and more time counting zebra stripes on safari or floating in the Dead Sea.
In the name of packing light and having everything you need, here are my top 5 packing tips only expert travelers know:
All you really need are your passport, credit cards, and some emergency cash.
Pack them first so you don’t forget them.
I once arrived at an airport, only to open my wallet and realize my identification wasn’t there. I panicked, realizing they wouldn’t let me on the plane without it. Luckily, I remembered that my ID was in a pocket of a jacket that I had packed coincidentally for the trip. Whew. Now I always check that I have my passport and money before leaving the house.
Of course expert travelers always carry on their luggage. There are very few reasons to ever check bags.
But in addition to traveling with a carry-on sized bag, expert travelers select their bag style carefully. They choose either a well-made backpack, or a high quality rolling suitcase.
Bags that carry on one shoulder are not healthy for the back, and tend to cause strains and injuries related to uneven weight distribution.
When choosing a rolling bag or backpack, consider your travel plans. Rolling bags are more comfortable and fun since you aren’t carrying the weight on your shoulders. They are great for airports, with their smooth floors. They aren’t so great for the long, winding cobblestone street that leads to your hotel in an ancient Italian village.
Also, most thefts I’ve heard about occur when someone rests a second bag on top of the rolling bag. Since the bag is generally behind you and unattached to you, you won’t notice or feel anything when someone cuts the strap on your camera bag or purse and escapes with it.
Use caution with your rolling suitcase when traveling in areas known for these kind of crimes, or just choose a backpack.
It is a little-known fact that you can travel happily without liquids.
Not only do airlines hassle you over liquids, but there always seems to be that one bottle leaks everywhere.
Even if you’ve got your stuff in a zip-locked bag, it’s annoying to have shampoo or lotion all over your toiletries.
You can get solid shampoo, solid conditioner, solid sunscreen, solid moisturizer, and almost anything you can think of that normally comes in liquid form.
Since toiletries often take the longest to pack (think about pouring shampoo from your big bottle into that little travel-size bottle) have a bag of solid toiletries packed and ready to go at any time.
It’s not hard to travel with fewer clothes and stay stylish and clean. It just takes a bit of creativity and a willingness to do some shower washing.
Let’s start with shower washing.
Say you’ll be traveling for a month. Bringing 30 pairs of underwear will take up too much space in your bag. Consider bringing a week’s worth of quick-drying underwear, and just wash them along with yourself in your shower or bath. It’s fine to use bar soap or liquid hand soap for washing delicates. In fact, it’s probably better than using harsh laundry detergents. Most underwear dries overnight.
With your clothes, make sure everything goes with everything else.
Pack separates instead of one-piece items. Most stylish-travel packing advice tells you to bring an LBD. Nope. You need a black skirt and a black top. Put them together and you have an instant LBD look, but also the versatility to mix and match with the other pieces you brought.
I like to pack a few basic black pieces, along with other neutral colors like grey and denim. I love color, but tend to add it in my accessories when I travel; I bring several scarves and bright-colored jewelry pieces.
Finally, always bring a warm, cozy item, like a large, cozy scarf, shawl, or sweater. (Bonus points if it can be worn multiple ways like the Chrysalis Cardi.) No matter how hot the final destination is, you’ll be glad you brought something warm. Sometimes airports and planes can get chilly, and you’d be surprised at how many warm destinations have chilly nights all year round.
It’s a paradox of travel that the longer your travel plans, the less stuff you’ll want to bring.
Because with shorter trips, you can usually predict the weather, local customs, and the activities you’ll be doing.
With longer trips, there’s a lot more uncertainty. It’s better to leave some space in your bag and pick up things you want and need along the way. This will allow you to customize exactly what you carry to the reality of your destination(s).
Even if you’re traveling for 6 months, you still only need one carry-on bag.
It’s hard to believe you can get away with so little if this is your first big trip, but trust me and you’ll be so glad you did. I didn’t listen to this advice when I started out. When I studied abroad for a semester in college, I checked a huge, body-size bag full of what I imagined I’d need: bulky sweaters, formal wear, you name it. I didn’t use most of it. It just wasn’t quite right. Even though I was on a budget, I was still able to buy or borrow what I needed. The things I bought lasted as nice reminders of my trip once I got back home.
Borrowing is a wonderful way to feel more like part of the local culture. Most locals want to help travelers fit in and feel comfortable in their country. If there’s a special event you haven’t brought the right clothes for, it can create special memories to borrow from someone who wants to help you enjoy the local customs.
Those are my top 5 expert traveler packing tips. I hope you found something useful in them.
Genevieve Parker Hill
Frequent traveler Genevieve Parker Hill founded PackingLust.com, a community for writers, artists, travelers, and anyone who wants to live with more creativity and less baggage.
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