Once upon a time (six years ago) I embarked upon a six week hiking and camping road trip. Since I was going solo — and since I had never done such a thing before — I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what equipment I needed and where to get it. Before long, I had my shiny new equipment in piles in my bedroom. The tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, backpack, lanterns, first aid kits, clothing, shoes, reading material, non-perishable food…the pile grew and grew and grew. Once I saw it all together, I realized there was another problem: how the heck was I going to pack it?
Even seasoned travelers (like Go Girls!) struggle with the great puzzle of what to take and how to fit it into the allotted space. Should you pack that skirt, or will this dress be more appropriate? Will you have time to use the gym at the hotel? Maybe you’re going to feel like wearing these pants with those shoes, but if you have to walk far, you’d rather take this pair with those pants, even though you don’t like them as much. You’ll surely have time to work on the airplane, right? And you should probably throw in a few extra everything just in case.
“Just in case” are swear-words to efficient packers. Why? Because when you use “just in case” as your decision-maker, you’ll end up packing three times as much as you need, which means you’re carrying way more than you’ll use, which is completely unpleasant and disorganized (and now, with all the fees for checked baggage, expensive).
Packing effectively and efficiently is about following three simple principles. Pack versatile, choose sizeable, and embrace disposable.
- Pack versatile: This can be tough for those who have an affinity for clothes, shoes, bags, and/or accessories, but it is the most important principle to follow if you want to reduce what you carry. Look for clothing in particular that has multiple uses. Those adorable but uncomfortable Louboutins that go perfectly with that one sundress but nothing else? Leave them at home. When I went on my road trip, I had a shoe issue. I like shoes a lot. I knew that, without making some hard choices, I would try to bring more than a dozen pairs for those 6 weeks. In the end, I made myself pick three and only three. They were: hiking boots (it was a hiking trip, after all); Tevas (it was also summer/early fall, and there was likely to be some water-involved activities); and one pair of nice but comfy, pretty but not fancy, brown heeled strappy sandals with a platform sole. You know what? I got by just fine.
- Choose sizeable: Okay, I fully admit that I chose the term “sizeable” because it fit the rhythm and sound of “versatile” and “disposable.” What it means is that you should do what you can to pack versions of things that are meant to be packed…in other words, travel-sized is your friend. Travel-sized toothbrush, toiletries, iron/steamer (if you must), games, make-up, and so on. Companies know we are a generation of movers, and they love to provide mini or collapsible versions of their products. Swiping the hotel toiletries (or just using them, see 3 below) is another way to get small versions of products. Also, let’s not forget sample sizes…I feel like practically every other day someone is standing around the train station near my office handing out samples of all kinds of things. Small is good when it comes to packing.
- Embrace disposable: This is neither an economically or environmentally friendly principle, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. I don’t mean that everything you pack should be disposable. What I do mean is that you can seriously decrease the amount you have to pack — in either direction — and save yourself trouble at airport security, if you just don’t pack your mundane toiletries. Going to the beach for two weeks? Leave the shampoo and toothpaste (and q-tips and cleanser and sunscreen and so on) at home and swing by a Target or other local market once you arrive. Pick up what you need only, then leave it behind when you return. Going to visit your sister? Leave it all behind and use her stuff, or buy what you need and donate it to her when you return home. To make this a little more environmentally friendly, consider purchasing some travel-sized storage bottles and filling them with your shampoo and other needs. Before you fly home, empty out the bottles. No packaging to go to the landfill, but less weight in your bag on the return trip.
Mastering these principles takes planning. You have to analyze your upcoming trip: where will you be going? How long will you be gone? What is the weather forecast? What activities are you sure you’ll be doing? What kinds of places will you visit? Is there any dress code to consider? Are there stores there where you can buy your toiletries? Taking the time to figure this out ahead of time will mean you’ll pack more efficiently, use what you bring, and miss nothing.
Besides, you’re on vacation. Do you really want to carry around a box of bricks?