Smart Packing Tips for Traveling in Style
Packing is not easy. Packing takes time and patience. Packing is psychological. Packing is an emotional response to going away from home. Packing exposes a bit of our identity. Packing decides our comfort zone. Packing shows our measure of handling calculated risk. Packing reveals some of our personality.
Watch my step by step video on how to pack light & not check in luggage here.
Packing is complicated, time-consuming, stressful and cannot easily be accomplished in one sitting.
Yet, whether you are frequently on the road, whether you are an expert flyer always on the go, savvy smart travelers are born from supreme packing, one done with efficiency, skill, and knowledge – and this habit will set you apart from the rest, ease your mind and afford you many better travel adventures. (Hint: this savvy traveler can be YOU!)
If you want in-depth insights on traveling light and confidently, grab a copy of my guide: Travel with Confidence: A Roadmap to Build Your Travel Spirit.
NOTE: This is Part 2 of the Travel like a Pro series focusing on skillful packing skills. Part 1 shared 11 reasons why you should never check in luggage, no matter where and how long your travels may be.
How to Think about Packing
It is first and foremost all about how you think about packing. This took me a very long time to understand. How your mind approaches and analyzes this very personal concept will directly impact what you end up doing, regardless of the best advice in the world.
For me, packing was an emotional process.
It is no secret that I love travel but I equally love my materialistic possessions at home so leaving them behind is a daunting task every time.
In my naive traveler days, I used to be convinced that I would need every imaginable item on a short or long trip and it is only natural for me to pack it and bring it along. Even after I was done packing my suitcase, I would find additional clothes, pens, make-up, accessories, you-name-it, to stuff into my extra pockets in the (unlikely to impossible) situation that I should need it and be unable to proceed during the trip without it.
Guess what? This is not true. Positively false indeed – for the two simple reasons below:
- First: Wherever your destination, except for the super adventurous travelers venturing out to the very rural areas, there is bound to be a pharmacy, a grocery store, a 7-11 of some sort, and places stocked with any of your necessities or fancies in an emergency.
- Second: If you bring something along “just in case” and for the sole purpose of having it for your mind to be at ease – rather than for a practical and logical reason – you will be highly unlikely to use it. Personal experience shouts this one out at me but I am sharing it in a very gentle voice!
21 Smart Packing Tips for Travel Anywhere:
If you can train your mind to approach packing logically and reasonably rather than emotionally, you will be amazed at the gap between the two thought processes.
Recently, I admitted to having packed for 20 days, 3 countries (Canada, Asia), and 2 climates – not to mention a multitude of different activities from yoga, tango, a wedding, film watching, serious walking, hiking, beach – without checking luggage.
In fact, on the shorter flights, I did not even gate-check my luggage.
My bags were small enough to fit into those tiny little propeller planes. The photos and examples here reference this particular trip but have been tried and tested out many times on travels to Europe, Asia, South Pacific, and all over the North America.
Learn how to travel like a professional by reading my top secrets and best resources: Travel with Confidence: A Roadmap to Build Your Travel Spirit.
The tips are in order of sequential logic (do this first, then this next ….) and importance (most important first, second most important next….) – and they prepare you for never checking in your luggage!
1. Invest in One Durable and Smart Luggage:
You must have the right foundation first: the best luggage! We invested in two large Patagonia MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-on) backpacks with shoulder straps years ago and those durable bags have been around the world without any loss in quality and appearance. They are a remarkable model which Patagonia no longer makes, made of ballistic nylon and made to last forever. The bag itself weighs hardly anything and with several compartments, allows organized packing with maximum room. It fits fine in all overhead compartments. Roll-on suitcases are wonderful but usually do not afford you as much room. I would use a roll-on for a week long trip but a nice hard-core backpack for longer than 10 days.
2. Make an Itemized Packing List:
Organization makes all the difference. If you are not organized, you are bound to forget and later be stressed. I highly recommend making a packing list before you set out to pack. Itemize everything you need to bring. Include all your toiletries, electronics, accessories, shoes, clothes (i.e., black pants, white tops, but then determine which exact one later). Print your list and check off everything as you pack.
3. Research Your Destination for 30 Minutes:
This may not have an obvious part of packing but it is relevant and essential. Research the climate, the culture, the scene, and consider the specific activities, the routes and the type of vacation you will be having. Use that information to decide what to take. If you will be completely carefree and do not know what you will feel like doing, think then of your top desirable ways to spend a perfect day in your destination and try your best to accommodate those types of activities and leisure hours.
4. Select from Your Favorite and Most Comfortable Clothes:
Take what you love, baby! Take what you LOVE to wear and show off! I can wholeheartedly agree with a reader comment: take what you feel lovely in! Choose your most beloved clothes, those you feel most comfortable and confident in and also those which you do not mind wearing again on your trip.
5. Think in Layers and in Classic Solid Colors:
Weather is still unpredictable despite our best efforts and temperatures vary greatly as you go from airport to train stations to metro to the city to the country and wherever else your destination takes you. It’s very important to think and pack in layers. Layers are the secret to being responsive to weather changes. The thinner layers work best and are easiest to carry in your purse or backpack when you take them off. Also the classic solid colors are your blacks and whites. So leave the thick funky sweater and the colorful dress which matches no jacket or overcoat in your closet and go for your most stylish classic layers!
6. Choose Your Most Wrinkle-Free Pieces:
Go for your most wrinkle-free pieces. This will matter to you because you avoid ironing – or burning anything in my case! – and you can fold wrinkle-free clothes much tighter and without worry.
7. Take Clothes That Easily Hand wash:
I assure you that hand washing a few pieces of clothes during a week plus long trip will not take up a lot of your time! Use very gentle Woolite – small packs are sold and can easily fit on your carry-on Ziplock bag. You can also use the hotel’s washing machines (not dry-cleaning service) such as in the vacation resorts. Hawaii hotels always have them and the only cost is your detergent and a few pennies in the machine.
8. Use the Power of Accessories:
Depending on where you live and your personal style, you may not wear hats or scarves at home but they add an exquisite touch to any outfit when on travel. I love wearing them during my travels and consider them essentials to complete my wardrobe.
9. Lay Out Everything You Want to Take:
Before packing anything, give yourself a visual display of everything you will bring. After you decide on all – even if not final – items to bring, lay it all out on a bed or sofa and put them into categories: skirts, pants, shirts, nice dress tops, dresses, accessories.
10. Create Smart and Practical Wardrobes:
Style is important for a savvy traveler. Traveling light does not mean traveling like a slob. Look at all the categories on your bed or sofa (#9), then create smart and practical wardrobes – coordinate colors and styles and textures – shoot for 1-2 wardrobes a day and about 10 a week – most of which can overlap on same items.
This skirt matches 3 shirts, that top matches these 4 bottoms and so on. Spend a few minutes to really think through several wardrobes to match your particular activities and your personal style. This is the elimination and modification process as you make final call on what goes and what stays.
11. Choose Stylish Yet Comfortable Shoes:
After you decide on your wardrobe, it’s time to match the shoes -I have found this works better in this order. I cannot emphasize enough: Do not take shoes with remote possibility to hurt your feet after several hours of wear.
Assume you will walk more than you plan and spend more time in them without rest, and put comfort above all when it comes to shoes. Also try not to take a new pair of shoes on vacation – break them in before taking them on a trip.
12. Store Shoes in Thin Cloth Bags:
For your shoes not to touch your clothes, use light cloth shoe bags. Preferably, use one bag per shoe and distribute the shoes when you pack them. You can also store socks inside shoes if possible.
13. Pack Your Delicates in Pouches or Small Bags:
Small thin cloth bags come in very handy. I recommend always putting all of your under-garments in one, scarves in another and bras in either a compartment in your luggage or another cloth bag. Imagine that you would want no hands to touch them if your luggage is opened and be super organized to boot!
14. Use a Rolling Technique to Fold Clothes:
Folding correctly is extremely vital to successful packing. For clothes which do not wrinkle, you can simply roll them tightly, then stack side by side starting at bottom of the suitcase, then adding next layer on top. If you cannot roll your clothes, such as a jacket, look up best folding techniques.
15. Use all Your Luggage Space Wisely:
This does not mean over-stuffing your luggage; it means not leaving any empty space behind! Placement as well as folding are key here. First I completely empty out the luggage from previous trip. Then I distribute my shoes in shoe bags at the far edges of my bag. They also create an outer cushion for the clothes in the center. I take out the “air” in clothes and fold very carefully (#14) and fill each nook and cranny for most fitting piece. It is an art really!
16. Pack A Small Purse in Your Carry-On:
I have done this several times. The purse I would use on vacation is usually smaller than a full carry-on and to maximize the use of allowable space on the plane, I pack my purse (in a cloth bag) inside my carry-on.
17. Aim to Use mostly Solid Make-up:
Airport security restriction on liquids had me going wild with frustration for a while; then I adapted and accepted the new rules. I highly recommend using power-based make-up; I use mineral makeup so no liquids from my make up need to be in the Ziploc bag.
18. Use Small Liquid Containers with a Label:
Buy small and thin but tight plastic containers and a label maker. Measure out your shampoo, conditioner, one single hair product, moisturizer, suntan lotion, toner, eye cream, lip gloss, etc and carefully pack them in your Ziploc bag. Use solids for what you can; I love my liquid deodorant but use a solid one for traveling.
19. Leave Your Laptop Behind (if possible):
Lately, I have been inspired to take “digital breaks” during the weekends. I try to take mine on short get-aways. Leave your laptop behind if possible. In love that I am with my Mac, it only makes it to half the vacations. Your Smart phone should keep you in touch and extra memory cards can keep the camera memory in check for countless photos.
20.Trust the Kindle or iPad for All Your Reading:
Yes I still love books – real books with real pages – but the Kindle is revolutionary for a long road trip and ideally, you can read my Travel with Confidence book on your Kindle! You can even enjoy reading books using the free Kindle app on your iPad. Imagine carrying hundreds of books on the palm of your hand. I highly recommend giving eReaders a chance, if for nothing else, for the space you shall be saving!
21. Wear Your Heaviest Clothes En Route:
Wearing your heaviest shoes and clothes on the trip is another great tip. I even suggest you wear or take your jacket with you even if leaving a warmer climate so as not to put it in your luggage.
What did I take on the 20-day 3-country Trip:
I will wrap up with exactly what clothes and shoes I brought on this wonderful trip:
- 4 longsleeve shirts – 1 white, 2 with patterns, 1 black
- 1 thin and long pashmina / cardi-wrap – grey
- 3 scarves
- 6 pairs of pants – 1 pink khaki, 1 grey cropped khaki, 1 yoga stretch, 1 white yoga/walking, 1 cropped black and 1 long casual black
- 1 black skirt
- 1 PJ bottom and 3 PJ tops – short sleeve and long sleeve
- 5 tops – 1 white T-shirt, 1 semi-sweater purplish pattern, 1 v-shaped brown, 1 light green, 1 grey, 1 tan T-shirt
- 8 pairs of underwear
- 4 bras – 3 tan, 1 black
- 1 fancy long flowery skirt
- 1 fancy thin wrinkle-free dress
- 1 sarong
- 1 bikini
- 1 white wrap
- 1 cream thin cardigan
- 4 pairs of shoes – 1 black sneakers, 1 comfy high-heel black sandal, 1 tango, 1 walking open-toed
Time for Reader and other Travel-lover Thoughts
There, you have it! I have given away my secrets in painstaking details and sincerely hope that they come in handy and of use during your next travels. I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach packing, how you pack, what you pack and why you pack it!