Eat a handful of almonds or peanuts every day for a month and you’ll put on a couple of pounds. Toss them in for a year and you’re going to be spilling over the top of your skinny jeans. It’s the same with packing. The smallest items start to add up and before you know it, you’ve got a serious muffin top bulging up and out of your suitcase.
But packing light isn’t just so you can squeeze your suitcase in the airline’s overhead bin — it’s so you don’t have to dig through piles of clothes hunting for your phone charger. If it isn’t jampacked in the first place, everything is easy to find and easy to repack.
Think back to the last trip you took – most people admit they wore the same few items over and over again and left many articles of clothing folded and unworn in the suitcase. The trick is to anticipate — and use self control.
Think Small Portions – Every item needs to go with absolutely every other item in your suitcase. No blouse going rogue, no skirt with an independent streak. All must happily cohabitate. And you don’t need many of them: start with two pairs of pants, four tops, one sweater and go from there depending on your destination. Tropical beach vacation? Add one swimsuit, one pair of shorts, one dress/swimsuit coverup.
Wear This, Not That – Make friends with dark colors. Or think patterns. Or even better, think dark patterns. Of course you’ll want to sponge off the red wine spill or raspberry gelato drip, but you won’t see what you can’t get out if it blends into a busily patterned blouse or dark jacket.
Shoes Are the Chocolate Chip Cookies of the Suitcase –if you don’t resist you’ll pay later. Wear your biggest and heaviest pair of shoes on the plane and pack one other pair. One pair of good looking walking shoes or sandals and one pair of dress shoes that you can easily walk a couple miles in if there’s a subway strike and you can’t find a taxi. OK, one pair of very thin flip flops are ok too, for traipsing to the beach or pool.
Handwringing Works – Test clothing to see how much it wrinkles by twisting it in your closet or crushing it in the store…the sales girls might wince, but don’t buy it if it creases badly.
Think Double Duty – A classic tank top can be dressed up for a dinner out, keep you cool on a kayak excursion or be worn under a shirt for warmth if the weather turns nippy. Hotel shampoo works for handwashing, a straightening iron can smooth out wrinkles in a pinch, and hey, a hair drier can even toast a bagel. But don’t give into your cravings for pants that zip to shorts. That screams badly dressed tourist more than any other clothing item in the universe.
Find Joy in the Junk Drawer – Forget all the tips about tucking small items in your shoes and the corner of your bag. Instead, throw small loose items like chargers, transformers, straightening irons and mini umbrellas in a zippered mesh or plastic bag. It becomes your “junk drawer” so you won’t have to dig around and mess up your suitcase.
Bring Strong Deodorant– I once went on an African safari where one guest had a clean white t-shirt for every day of the trip – that was 14 different white shirts, plus dressy tops for dinner. I packed a total of four all-purpose tops for the entire trip. She might have looked pristine every day in the bush, but she was miserable lugging her enormous bag while I could practically lift mine with my pinky. (Yes I did wash them out).
Pack like a French Woman – and Wear a Scarf – On a recent winter trip to London and Switzerland, I wore the same black sweater for nearly eleven straight days. Different scarves saved my companions from screaming with boredom, and gobs of deodorant and hanging the sweater up to air out overnight kept it fresh.
Slimming the Toiletries Case – This piece of real estate is a huge packing offender and can be dramatically down-sized. Any cosmetics not liquid should be packed in mini ziplock bags, which will just keep getting smaller as you use things up until they disappear. Nalgene makes my favorite mini leakproof bottles, the wider the lid the better.
Packing Light Olympians– Travel writers get downright competitive about packing light and almost always carry on. That way we never have to waste time tracking down luggage when flights change or connections are tight… and we always have what we need. And honestly, we have found that we really don’t need much to blend in, look good, be comfortable, and move around quickly.