Light packers: how do you do it?
November 26, 2018 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a week-long trip for Christmas, and I would really like to bring a smaller suitcase, but I always end up wanting to take too much stuff. Previous questions on this seem to be oriented toward people with kids. If you have a system, please share.

I'm female and traveling by myself. This is a trip meeting family in a warm climate, with a possible need for one dressy outfit. I'll have access to a washing machine. I have giant feet, so shoes alone take up a lot of real estate in tiny suitcases. (I normally travel in Birkenstocks, which I use for pretty much everything, but I need one pair of athletic shoes for walking-heavy excursions.) I'm plus size, so my clothes are big.
I see packing cubes recommended a lot here. If you think they help, please explain why. They seem like one additional thing to me.
I can google generic packing light tips, but I find that MeFites are really good at coming up with unique takes, so I'd like to hear what works for you.
posted by FencingGal to Travel & Transportation (49 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I usually carry a decent sized backpack and put bulky shoes in there.
Lately I’ve realized I don’t have to wear different clothes everyday
posted by sandmanwv at 9:10 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

One useful tip is, despite the fact that it may make travel less comfortable and convenient, wear your bulkiest items on the plane (sneakers, sweater, jeans, etc) and pack the smaller things (Birks, t-shirts, skirts, etc).
posted by Rock Steady at 9:19 AM on November 26, 2018 [16 favorites]

Wear your bulky shoes on the plane. Yes, you have to take them off at security, but I think it's a bigger pain to carry a big suitcase. Lay your clothes flat in the suitcase, don't fold. You generally don't need different bottoms (jeans, shorts, etc.) for every day. I usually only take one pair of jeans, and wear my other, then have another pair of pants. Go with one color scheme - everything goes with your jeans, everything goes with your brown skirt, etc. That way you can mix and match, create different outfits from the same clothes. You can bring fewer clothes this way. Don't bring an outfit that only goes with one other thing, unless its your dressy outfit.

Almost forgot, bring a kindle or a tablet, not actual books.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:20 AM on November 26, 2018

I'm an extremely light packer. My secret is bringing clothing components that can be made into a variety of outfits.

That usually means tops that can be either casual (with jeans) or formal (with a skirt). For a weeklong winter trip with access to a washer/dryer, I typically pack 1 pair of pants, 1 skirt, 2 tops, and 2 cardigans/sweaters. You want both sweaters to go with both tops (yielding 4 layered combinations) and for all 4 of those combinations to go with all or most of your bottoms. You can get more mileage out of your clothes by airing them out at night.

IMO packing cubes are a waste of money. Better to cull what you're packing than to try and shrink the space it needs.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:20 AM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Make sure you're using the empty space in your shoes - stuff the shoes with socks and underwear.

I got packing cubes the last time I traveled, and I like them because you can basically cram them full, then zip them up, and they fit nicely in the suitcase. So instead of cramming into my suitcase, I cram stuff into the cubes, which then go in the suitcase.

As for fitting everything in a small suitcase, I'd put your shoes in first, soles down. Fill with socks and underwear. Save the rest of your underwear for "filler". Take you next bulkiest item (jeans?), and fit it in the suitcase somewhere. Next place any items that need to stay folded nicely. Then use other items to fill in around those.

If I (female) were traveling alone for a week, I'd bring: One dress for the night out. Wear a pair of jeans and pack another 2 pairs of jeans or shorts. I'd bring separate tops for each day. Wear a hoodie or coat on the plane. Then your toiletries and a book or two. Personally, I love wearing cotton jersey dresses, and they pack really easily and don't wrinkle. If you're open to that, they can save space.

Or, since you have access to a washing machine, pack enough for 3-4 days, and do laundry. 3-4 days means you need one or two pairs of pants at most.
posted by hydra77 at 9:22 AM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I recently travelled for 5 days with my wanna-be-scout husband - and we managed two carry-ons, even with the extra extension cord and two laptops.

- a clamshell carry-on holds more than you think, but there is also variation in makes (I've seen them from 35-44 litres, with the same external size)
- wear your bulkiest shoes, sweater, coat etc. while travelling; pack the smaller
- roll your clothes - gets them much smaller than folding.
- make a list of what you'll need and count out exactly what you need: eg 6 pairs underwear, 2 pairs trousers, 5 shirts, etc. If you have laundry access, you can take even less.
- I travel with ebooks, a phone and a tablet/small laptop; these go in my messenger bag (small enough to count as a 'personal item' or large purse)
posted by jb at 9:22 AM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, if you travel a lot it might be worthwhile to invest in a pair of shoes that is both (a) comfy enough for walking excursions and (b) cute (or at least not-hideous-enough) to wear elsewhere. That brings you down to a single pair of shoes that you can wear -- no need to pack another pair.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:22 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I travel 3-4 times per year and can't remember the last time I checked a bag.

Google "capsule wardrobe;" that will get you some ideas.

My trick/hack is to pack pieces that go with multiple things. So like for a week-long vacation, I'd probably do 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of khakis, 1 or 2 skirts in a rollable non-wrinkly fabric, and 4 blouses. (If you need a dress rather than a skirt/blouse combo, swap out one of the skirts and blouses.) Solids are better than prints for versatility. I usually go with 1 black/gray, 1 earth tones, 1 jewel tone. Athletic shoes (or whatever your bulkiest shoes are) for the journey, one pair of flats and one pair of heels in the bag. Leave the knee-high boots at home.

Plan your outfits as you are packing. Do laundry on day 4.
posted by basalganglia at 9:23 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I travel pretty light - small carry-on only for trips of ~week - and this is how I pack (I also have big feet and my clothes are large):

I wear: regular clothes and my biggest shoes plus any outerwear.

I pack: an additional pair of pants; two or possibly three additional shirts; socks and underwear, much of which I fit into the remaining pair of shoes. Some kind of shorts/boxers and a tee for sleeping. I make sure literally everything matches everything else. And that's about it. Basically, I pack light by packing very few clothes. My assumption is that in a real emergency, I would buy something simple, but this has not happened so far. Happily, I am able to use a hairdryer on site, so I don't need to bring one.

I do not use packing cubes and don't really think they would help.

I also bring: some books, no more than the TSA-permitted bag of mini shampoos, etc, meds, chargers and phone plus laptop and usually either an extra piece of outerwear or a couple of scarves.

The take-away is: repeat skirts/shorts/pants and wash everything in the middle.

The woman who writes this blog is well-heeled but frugal and takes several long trips to France every year (I know, right?) . She tends to take a carry-on and always posts her wardrobe choices plus a post-mortem about what she actually wore. Now, she's fairly small so her clothes/shoes are smaller, but she also packs more and fancier than a lot of people. I wear men's clothes but her tips are often helpful to me; I think they apply across age and gender - in fact, I think my biggest take-away has been how she often doesn't even wear all of her small selection of clothes. That's given me the confidence that I can pack a lot less than my initial impulses tell me to.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Firstly, the caveat: everyone is different, there are no rules, it's about what works for you. And incidentally if that means taking max luggage, take max luggage - less is not more virtuous or a necessary life goal.

Secondly, people who are good at minimallist packing are 9 times out of 10 people who have deliberately shopped to support their minimalist packing. The perfect capsule wardrobe doesn't come from nowhere, you generally have to put work in to it.

That said.

Start with the shoes, because they are the bulky item. Don't travel in the Birkenstocks, travel in the bulkiest shoes to save space. Your outfits will be dictated by your shoes - there is no point packing anything that does not go with them - the trousers that are a bit too wide to sit neatly over the boots, the skirt that is the wrong length to work with flats? - none of those things should go in the bag.

Bottoms: A good rule of thumb is that you only need two per week, possibly +1 'special' item. So think a pair of trousers, a skirt and the special item is the really fancy dress for the special event, or a pair of sports leggings. Personally, for a warm climate, I would travel in summery trousers, and pack a skirt and a pair of smart-ish walking shorts.

Tops: this is where shopping in advance really comes in, because what you want is an 'everything goes with everything' palette of options. I'm quite small so I'm lucky when it comes to packing that I can pretty easily get 5-7 t-shirts or strappy tops into hand luggage. For a week I'd add two warmer outer layers, one a daytime wrap or cardi of somekind, and perhaps a thin jumper or sweat for evenings. If I needed something smarter/structured, that's what I'd wear on the plane.

Everything else: skimp on pants and socks, you can wash them easily in the sink, if you need to make space. One set of swimwear and/or sports wear is usually enough for a week unless you're going for sporting purposes/there's a serious lounge by the pool and show off vibe. Personally, I find a bra lasts 3-4 days without being sweaty or uncomfortable- but this is very, very much a ymmv area.

finally: packing cubes - don't bother. Packing cubes are super useful if you're going to be mobile or live out of a rucksack as they allow you to order and organise your stuff. If you're going somewhere with a suitcase you're going to unpack then there is no point. Even though they are small they still take up extra space for their own fabric & zips, and if you're going ultra minimal that's space you could have used for another set of underwear.

ps: don't forget to stuff socks and underwear into cavities, inside your shoes, etc.

ETA for inspiration I like to look at The Vivienne Files - it's high end, older woman dressing, but the general principles, the way to make things match and think about making mini capsule wardrobes is something I've found really useful.
posted by AFII at 9:25 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nthing the pack-your-Birks-and-wear-your-walking-shoes advice.

How are you planning to get to the airport? If it's cold where you live, and if someone's dropping you off/you're driving and parking, leave your bulky winter coat in the car so you don't have to haul it along to a much warmer clime. (Do make sure you put your wallet, boarding pass, keys, phone, and passport into a different pocket, if you do this, of course.) Wear a light sweater and maybe a jacket (that you'd perhaps use on a cool night in Mexico), wear a pair of long pants or a skirt (but light ones, that you might wear for a hike or a dressy evening), and use a shawl as a scarf, so you're not cold on the plane. Then you can save the real estate in your bag for socks and shirts and so-on.

If you're taking a cab or public transit, and it's not forecast to be too too cold, you might try getting away with no winter coat. (Personally, I'd rather be a bit chilly while getting to the airport than sweaty and overheating while wearing my coat in the airport.)
posted by halation at 9:26 AM on November 26, 2018

Personally, you need four outfits* and plan on doing laundry once. Plus the dressy outfit. Plus toilettries/any essential,hair tools. What I mean by * is that this would consist of underwear, a top, a pair of shorts**. A light jacket/sweater can be worn several times before needing a wash. Bring one that compliments the outfits*.

Bring one set of everyday jewellery that goes with everything and something for the dressy outfit.

You’ll also need whatever electricals, incl. cables for such items you need to be happy.

** I perspire so don’t care to wear shorts more than once in hot weather, ymmv.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:27 AM on November 26, 2018

You have laundry access. So if you really want to go light, that means you need only two outfits, plus something to sleep in, plus the special outfit for going out. If you're looking at some other, non-clothes item and thinking you might need it, remember that you can probably buy whatever-it-is where you are.

Packing cubes are handy for organizing and for containing dirty shoes, but don't help much with space concerns.
posted by praemunire at 9:44 AM on November 26, 2018

Lots of people have covered wardrobe so I will focus on mentality. It is an easy temptation to pack a lot of extra things for a "just in case" situation. With those kinds of things you need to give it some good thought to see if you really do need to pack the item. Alternatives would be shopping for a spare while you are at your destination or learning to temporarily live without.

To pick an example, you probably need to pack a CPAP machine because they are necessary and expensive. On the other hand, packing extra reading material is probably not needed as you can likely easily buy newspapers/magazines/books while in transit.
posted by mmascolino at 9:45 AM on November 26, 2018

Here's another key bit of advice: pack clothes you can re-wear day after day. It's often harder to do this for trips with a variety of activities (where you'll be hiking and going out for cocktails and giving a talk and walking around a city), and it's always harder for women and esp. for heavier women. But! I can rewear merino shirts for two weeks straight if they're knit, less if they're a tighter-woven weave. I have an elegant Athleta dress in some sort of black performance fabric that I can also wear for a week straight, and it dresses up and down with equal ease depending on whether I pair it with tights/leggings and flipflops or jewelry and a scarf. The same goes for a few Uniqlo shirts I might've paid $15ea for a couple years ago. When I was a slender youngster, I'd also wear the same pair of pants two weeks in a row; now that I'm heavier and wear pants with a little bit of stretch, I notice they start to get a bit stinky and worn-looking after 2-3 wearings. Bah.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2018

Wool items apparently can be hand washed, washed less frequently, and air dry quickly.

Consider whether you really need multiple devices, or can you get by with smartphone as mp3 player, ebook reader, video streamer and camera. I traveled with smartphone and headphones.

If it costs $20 or less and takes up a lot of room, and you won't definitely use it daily but is more of a just in case item, then don't take it and plan to get one if you absolutely have to have it.

Cull your beauty items. Castille soap, lotion, bb cream and mascara were all I needed besides toothbrush and a toothpaste that actually doubles as deodorant.

Contact lense cases are amazing for packing just a little bit of lotion, serum, etc.

Do you really need all the jewelry? Do you need to be matchy matchy?

Pack layers and you won't need so many items of clothing.

Camel and tan go with everything.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:47 AM on November 26, 2018

Like you, I was skeptical of the concept of packing cubes, but I’m a convert. Once I started doing a lot of backpacking camping/hiking trips and using stuff sacks, I realized that the advantage wasn’t just the “compress your clothes to a slightly smaller size” aspect, but also the organization and packability - they help you plan better.

Using packing cubes for normal travel also helps me limit what I pack, because instead of having to figure out what pieces have to remove from an overfull suitcase, I can look at one cube and think “that is too many shirts.”

It helps reinforce my goal of packing intentionally, not just “adding more stuff because socks will fit in this crevice.”

YMMV but for me this strategy (using packing cubes to intentionally pack each item) let me pack for four weeks in a roller carryon, including professional clothes, winter stuff, and three pairs of shoes. The last time I had to pack for a trip like that I used one of those giant suitcases!
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 9:51 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't have really very specific advice, but my general philosophy for hiking and backpacking is that aside from a few items that are safety essentials, I can improvise or do without just about anything. Indeed, I manage to forget one or two items on almost every hike I go on, and it's always been fine.

So I just approach packing from the standpoint that I am a competent and resourceful person and that if I find myself lacking something, whether through forgetfulness or just because of life's intrinsic unpredictability, I will find a way to make do. There's not really another option, out on the trail—you either make do or you don't, it's very simple and clarifying.

I know you're a competent and resourceful person as well, and that if pressed you will come up with a solution for any problems caused by a failure to pack the exact right item for a particular circumstance. So if you find yourself thinking, "Do I really need to bring this?" the answer is probably no. You can probably do without, and you'll manage just fine one way or another.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:53 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would also suggest in lieu of packing cubes you can buy dry sacks like these and roll your clothing then slide into these, roll them up and you can pack a ton more into the same space. It's a bit like vacu sealing. Caveat: this is obviously not going to change the weight of your luggage. I traveled this way and was confused for a moment how my bag could be so heavy.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:00 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

To add onto the capsule wardrobe suggestion, select your clothing so everything goes in the same load of wash. You don't want to waste time separating your clothes.
posted by TORunner at 10:00 AM on November 26, 2018

I pack pretty light. My trick is to pack clothes slightly dressier and femme-r than I'd normally wear running errands at home. The dressier clothes are thinner (i.e., office pants instead of jeans), and are more universally-appropriate (i.e., no one will judge if I am wearing a skirt while buying groceries, but people may judge if I am wearing shorts to a wedding.) I tend to go with my most generic lightest-weight business-casual stuff I own, along with a long jersey skirt that can be pajamas or an easy bathing suit coverup. Dark/bright colors to hide stains. I second light cardigan-style layers. I do buy some of my regular clothes with travel in mind. I also make zero effort to have different outfits. If I'm travelling, people will see me twice and never again, who cares if I have the same (already chosen to be forgettable) shirt on twice in a row? If I expect cool weather I bring one sweater.

I only pack toiletries and medications it would totally suck to need to go out to find. I make sure I am at least one bag under whatever the limit is and pack another light backpack in case there are things I want to bring home with me.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:03 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

For me, I find that toiletries and so on end up taking up as much space as my clothes if I let them. I know the general advice is to just make do with very little on the personal hygiene and cosmetic front while travelling, but frankly, I have sensitive skin and a lot of tactile issues and I like to look my best in photos. When I travel, I bring a million products with me and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

In order to cut down on the sheer volume of products, I have adopted the mentality that 'If I come home with any left over, I brought too much'. I decant EVERYTHING, and bring try to just bring exactly as many sprays/pumps/glops of each individual product as I will need. I bought an absolute ton of those tiny little nalgene 1 oz. and 1/2 oz. bottles (after extensively stress-testing a ton of travel-sized bottle I have found the Nalgene brand travel containers to be the only reliable non-leakers on the market). If I'm going for 7 days, I'll get out a little nalgene tub and count 7 pumps of my foundation into the tub. Another little tube and 14 squirts of my moisturiser. Then 7 blobs of toothpaste. Etc. If I'm VERY concerned that I will be delayed or have to stay an extra day for some reason, I'll bring one extra day's worth of product, no more.

This has really cut down on the sheer amount of non-clothes bulk I have to pack, and makes fitting everything liquid that I need into the little TSA-sized bags easier too.

On the clothing front, I adore The Vivienne Files for capsule travel wardrobe inspiration. The general vibe skews a little older and more modest, which is how I prefer to dress.
posted by DSime at 10:12 AM on November 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

It is an easy temptation to pack a lot of extra things for a "just in case" situation.

This is a really important point. As a former Girl Scout, I used to have a serious case of the "be prepared" mentality when I packed, and I ended up bringing way too much stuff. After a lot of sad years trucking around heavy suitcases, I started to shift my focus from "what MIGHT I need?" to "what will I 100% DEFINITELY use?" and that has made a HUGE difference in how I approach packing.

Rather than bringing an additional dress or something "just in case" I go somewhere nice, I instead make it a point to strategically pack clothing that is versatile enough that I could dress it up or down with a nice scarf and earrings or something. Like others have said, a travel capsule wardrobe is good for this purpose—I like a pair of skinny jeans, leggings, and a handful of shirts and tunics to match, plus some kind of outerwear and a pashmina.

For jewelry, I only pack what I wouldn't be devastated to lose, and usually it's limited to one pair each of stud and dangly earrings and maybe one necklace that matches both and works with my outfit. I pack one pair per day + one spare of both underwear and socks—this is the only area where I think I overpack, but I've never been sad that I did so. I usually only bring one bra in addition to the one I wear to the airport, plus maybe a sports bra or something for sleeping.

I NEVER bring any toiletries or other items that I couldn't get in a hotel room or buy cheaply or easily at a drug store. I might pack some makeup removal wipes and an SPF moisturizer (maybe another face lotion for night time if it's cold out) and my bare-bones daily makeup, and that's about it. Packing as few liquids as possible also means less hassle at the airport!

I personally don't use packing cubes, but that's primarily because my travel backpack has a built-in zippered off compartment and when combined with my toiletry bags and things like that, it usually stays pretty organized without them, and I think keeping your stuff organized even while it's crammed in tight is one of the biggest benefits of packing cubes.
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:20 AM on November 26, 2018

I might be outing myself here, but all the people saying to bring components that you can mix and match--that really works, but for me, it only works if I map it all out on paper first, in several iterations.

First I make a list of everything I want to bring, in categories (shoes, tops, bottoms, accessories).

Then I make a MATRIX. You can do an actual matrix or just list each piece of clothing that was on your original list but the key is to actually write down with pen and paper at least three other things in your list that piece of clothing can be worn with. Navy linen pants can only be worn with the white tunic? Guess you're not bringing the navy linen pants. Black skirt can be worn with white tunic, black tank top, and blue patterned top? Black skirt gets to stay (as long as the tops it goes with pass the test and can, themselves, be worn with three other things). Bring the matrix with you to help you get dressed on your trip!

I pride myself on packing light, and I too have large clothes and large shoes; this is what's worked best for me. Otherwise I end up with things that I don't really have a plan for, and there's nothing that bums me out more than ending a trip and having lugged along five pieces of clothing that I didn't wear.
posted by stellaluna at 10:22 AM on November 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Suitcase: I rarely bring more than one pair of shoes on a trip. If I did, I'd pack the smaller pair and wear the larger pair. For 7 days of travel with access to a washer (dryer?), I'd probably bring 2 pairs of pants (one jeans and one dressy), 3-4 t shirts, 2 sweaters, 2 bras, 5 socks and 5 undies. Now wear one of each on the plane and plan to do at least one load of laundry, as late as possible in the trip so you get to wear everything thing twice, or more for jeans and sweaters. Assume your family will have towels, washcloths, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and soap available for you. Unless you really need a specific type, you can skip those. Bring your own brush/comb, toothbrush, nail clippers and any other toiletries.
Carry on: Reduce any daily meds down to fit into a pill holder or other small container, including vitamins. Keep digital copies of your prescriptions (even just a picture of the bottle or paper). I only bring one physical book and one magazine along. I have an e-reader full of books and an iPad for watching movies. My keys, wallet and passport go in here. I clean out my purse before packing and usually carry a smaller one which goes in the carry on. Add headphones, sunglasses, snacks, lip balm, plus one pair of socks and undies. Laptop comes along on some trip depending on the length and add chargers for everything.

I use packing cubes to stay organized, not to compress my clothes. They are lightweight and keep dirty clothes separate. Since they can compress, I think they are more worth it than not. Packing lighter is a process, so over time you should try to notice what things you don't use or only use once. Double duty items like sunscreen that is also a moisturizer or a scarf that can also shield you from the sun are nice to have.
posted by soelo at 10:38 AM on November 26, 2018

The example packing lists from Travel Fashion Girl are excellent for planning your outfits. I use them as the basis for most of my trips and I travel with a 14L backpack and a small pocketbook.

Packing cubes are absolutely useful, because they help you organize and keep everything tidy. I've done "one outfit per cube" for shorter trips, and "one cube per type of clothing" for others. I use the incredibly light ripstop nylon bags from Eagle Creek and they add absolutely no weight while being super helpful.

My other techniques:

Plan out all of your outfits, and bring separates that all go together.
Wear the heaviest shoes/coat/outfit and pack the others.
Bring the baby TSA-approved toiletries and keep them to a minimum - even if you're not flying.
Ebooks or one light paperback only, never a laptop.
Don't bring anything that will be supplied on the other side - never pack a towel.
Remember that they sell clothes and OTC medications everywhere - you don't need to bring things just in case.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:41 AM on November 26, 2018

I swear having an e-reader solved all my packing issues. As a fast reader with attention issues I used to want two books per day of trip.

I always check a bag because I walk with a cane and need my hands free. My carry on has my personal entertainment devices, journal, hairbrush, meds, and one emergency change of shirt and underwear. I can get all that plus my smallest purse into the small crossbody bag I usually use for work, and clip my travel pillow to the strap.

For a week, I go with either one pants and one skirt, or two pants, and then maybe three tops and a scarf that go with all those (this includes what I'll wear on the plane). I bring a second bra so I can alternate days, and then underwear and socks for each day and one sleep shirt. For a fancier outing, I would choose something that's high on fancy but low on bulk, like a top or scarf, and combine it with the same stuff I wear the other days. I'm often heading somewhere much colder than where I live, so I add one sweater to that inventory.

I set aside the least bulky top, and one set of socks and underwear, to put in my carry on. (I've had to wait a day for my checked bag before.) I lay out everything else on my bed next to the suitcase to check the width, and roll the whole stack up as tight as I can because things will be way less wrinkled. I slip the whole roll into a drawstring mesh laundry bag to keep it together, and pack a second such bag in a different color to use for dirty clothes. I don't use commercial packing cubes anymore, because I prefer to roll rather than trying to square everything up.

I lay out necklaces on a scarf, roll it up and then hold it shut with hairbands before stuffing it in a boot. The other boot gets filled with socks. (Because of my mobility issues I wear easy slip-on shoes for the plane and pack my hiking boots.)

I put everything that's meant for the bathroom in a gallon freezer bag, the kind with a zipper slide. It's clear so I can see everything but it takes up no space and I can easily replace it if it gets gooey. I sometimes double bag it to be sure. The extras for my electronics, like the extension cord, mouse, and wall chargers, go in a zippered mesh bag.

The clothes roll, electronics bag, and boots fit in a 20" rolling bag, with room in between for whatever gifts I'm bringing. The lid has a mesh pocket on the inside where I put the bathroom bag and spare laundry bag. Any outerwear that I don't wear on the plane gets crammed into the big flat outer pocket , so I can pull out coat and gloves when I rediscover that Seattle is colder and rainier my desert-acclimated self can handle.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:57 AM on November 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am a big, tall, female minimalist packer (one carry-on bag, 2+ weeks). The real key to being a minimalist packer, as some have said, is your attitude towards your outfits—being willing to be seen in the same thing twice, being savvy about mixing and matching, and not being overly concerned with whether you look "just right." Most people I know who over-pack do so because they are worried that they will not have the perfect outfit for some event, and feel that they would somehow be judged. In some cases I suppose they may be right, but this concern never comes up for me, so I am never tormented by it and encouraged to overpack. If this worry is one of the things that causes you to overpack, I suggest you put more thought into how you can allay that concern and less thought into packing cubes or similar.

Similarly, if you feel the need to bring your home with you and are very anxious without your usual e.g. hair products, you won't be a good minimalist packer—but who cares? There's nothing virtuous about traveling with less. In some ways it's more convenient, but in others it's not. I have short hair and don't care what my hair products are. I can buy things where I'm going, use hotel shampoo, etc. and not feel like I'm off kilter. If you are bringing a lot of personal care items, consider whether you really need them, whether you can buy them when you get there, use something else or—and this is important—if they really do make you feel better and more secure (in which case, by all means, bring them!)

ALL that said, packing cubes are an important part of my packing. The reason they are good is that you can neatly fold your clothing and then cram it into a packing cube and be sure it is as tightly packed as possible—but it will never get crumpled up or smooshed oddly by other things in the suitcase, because it is in a packing cube! Then, when you put the cubes in the suitcase, you can actually see the little spaces around everything that you can fill (or the fact that you've packed everything together so tightly there are no spaces). By comparison, without cubes, I tend to find that my clothing gets crumpled up, put in weird configurations, and generally messed with when I pack.
posted by branca at 11:14 AM on November 26, 2018

I gave up bringing toiletries other than a toothbrush. My skin and hair go all haywire because of the different water, etc. when I travel anyway, so having the "good" stuff isn't going to be a significant improvement for me than the hotel stuff anyway.

I also pack socks and underwear that are worn enough that I'm ready to get rid of them, and just throw them out after wearing. It only makes a tiny difference on the return trip but sometimes, every little bit helps.
posted by metasarah at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I confess I only got organized about packing when I had kids. But my favorite packing tool is a vast, huge spreadsheet with a tab for every single solitary overnight trip I've taken since my oldest was born. This means I can refine my packing list every time I travel, look back at what kinds of things I brought for the same holiday trip last year or when my oldest was the same age my second kid is now, etc.

I LOVE packing cubes, but not to pack light. They make the task of packing easier because they make it so simple to break it down into subtasks (instead of "I pack this enormous suitcase with everything I need" it becomes "now I'll pack the kids' clothes cubes, and the toiletries") and make it really easy to live out of a bag (no more digging through your entire suitcase to find that last clean pair of underwear - you know what cube it's in) or move things into drawers. You might find that they help you think about your packing more intentionally, though. It's less easy to fall into the mindset of "OHH but OK I'll just throw in these two extra shirts and these two extra pants WHAT IF I NEED THEM" when you have already packed that cube and you'd have to dig it out and see if there's space. It's somehow easier to say to yourself, "No, I got it right the first time, I'll be fine without those pants."
posted by potrzebie at 11:21 AM on November 26, 2018

I'll be honest with you. For a single week in a warm climate with laundry access, I really can't see a way you'd need more than one bag. Are you Marie Antoinette? I'm not a light packer at all (I generally bring a separate outfit for each day, extra shoes, full toiletries, and my full-size pillow), but I can go for five days with no laundry quite easily with just a carryon. With laundry, I've gone nine days with a carryon, and I could have gone longer.

For your trip, you probably ought to be able to fit what you need in a large purse. I don't see any reason you'd need more than a pair of jeans, a pair of yoga pants, four of five t-shirts, a light cardigan, and the formal outfit. I don't see what the Birkenstocks add, for example. Not dressy enough for formal; not comfy enough for walking. Just bring the sneakers and wear those as your everyday shoes.

Unless you're very specific about your toiletries, you can buy travel sized shampoo and lotion and stuff at your destination. No reason to waste space in your bag, especially since, with things like toothpaste, you'll probably use them up on your trip anyway.

One thing that most people don't think about in terms of packing light is the personal item you're allowed in addition to your carryon. Most women interpret that as a purse. Ok, but you could instead bring a backpack or tote bag and increase your luggage space accordingly. Use your suitcase for clothing and put your computer, book, toiletries, and maybe even the Birkenstocks in a backpack.

I don't see any benefit to packing cubes, and in fact, I think they might hinder what you're trying to do. Packing cubes are best for trips where you're in a different place each day and you need to pull out a day's outfit without digging through all your stuff. (Or, like me, if you have OCD and you don't want your clean clothes touching your dirty clothes.) If you do decide to go that route, save yourself the money and just but a box of two-gallon Ziploc bags. They serve the same purpose.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm shameless about asking for free samples of serums and moisturisers at the high-end beauty counters. I've amassed a collection of sachets of lovely products that slide right into a tiny plastic bag.

Also, Bobbi Brown will give you a free sample of foundation matched to your skin, which I've found is enough to last for 7-10 days, in a tiny pot.
posted by essexjan at 11:32 AM on November 26, 2018

Oh, and just like with anything else, nobody gets it exactly right the first time. After you've taken your trip, look back and ask whether you used everything you brought, and if you missed anything. You can refine your packing list after each trip.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:34 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Regarding Birkenstocks, they are comfy enough for almost all walking for me, except on very rough terrain (which will be a small part of the trip). Unless there's snow on the ground, I wear them for pretty much everything. They also mean I won't need more than two pairs of socks - or maybe just one. I feel like I have some sort of foot claustrophobia, where I really, really hate the feeling of shoes and socks. And a whole day in athletic shoes on a plane would be torture for me. I realize that suggestion will work for most people though.

I am not super strong anyway plus I'm undergoing cancer treatment, so I always check a bag, even if it's technically a carry-on, so I won't have to lug a bag around the airport. Then I bring a backpack on the plane with a Kindle, all prescriptions, and an extra outfit in case the checked bag goes missing.

Thanks for the many, many great ideas, and please keep them coming!
posted by FencingGal at 11:51 AM on November 26, 2018

I pack like this for a week under conditions you're describing (i.e. laundry access):

1 pair of jeans/all-purpose pants
1 dressy loose top worn over 1 tank top or t-shirt
1 all-purpose weather jacket based on destination weather
1 scarf
1 sports bra
1 pair underwear
1 pair socks
Athletic shoes - I read your update, in that case reverse the pack.

PACK - clothes
Black dress - for dressy occasions and as my "emergency" outfit. I have a very lightweight "performance fabric" one (read: polyester) that doesn't wrinkle, but any very plain black dress will do.
1 pair lightweight pants in black or grey (winter: slacks; summer: capris)
1 skort, as this goes for hot weather shorts or cooler weather it's a skirt, lay off black or grey. Either pick shorts or a skirt if you don't have or hate the concept of a skort. I own 2 from athletic gear companies.
1 pair running shorts since I run, any colour; also backup pj bottoms
1 black or grey cardigan, weight based on destination weather
Lightest weight pj pants; I wear a t-shirt as a top, see below
2 more t-shirts in various colours that are solids (makes 3 total with the one under the top above)
1 workout/pj t-shirt that gets rinsed out where required, like after a workout or in the morning; I sometimes also throw on yesterday's t-shirt if it's not smelly or gross. I shower in the morning.
1 more dressier top depending on itinerary, 3/4 or full sleeve
underwear - I pack 5 even with laundry
1 more bra that works with all tops
1 pair of black socks, 1 pair athletic socks, or 2 pr black if I wore the athletic socks which I rinse out or wash as required - my feet are not stinky though so you might want one more
1 pr tights if I am worried about weather/cold nights
1 pr sandals/dressy shoes

If staying with family or in hotels that provide soap, shampoo, I use those and don't bring my own. I do pack my own conditioner in a small travel size, with enough to use to shave my legs (it works!)
Sample size lotion, razor
Full-sized antiperspirant because I hate the travel-sized ones; ymmv
Minimal makeup: Foundation, 1 3-colour shadow, 1 eyeliner, mascara
2 necklaces
Feminine hygiene products, because I like my own and trust nowhere.

Smart phone, headphones, charger
Small thin notebook + pen

I have a travel/sports towel that I bring if I'm in doubt about towels.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:57 AM on November 26, 2018

My packing list for Morocco for a week in January is as follows. I took this exact trip with these exact items last year so I know it is sufficient.

* Travel in one pair of jeans, compression socks, runners, sweatshirt dress, one underwire bra, one pair knickers, one scarf to double as a head covering.
* Pack ballet flats, one pair of leggings to wear with dress, two tops to wear with jeans, two bras, five pairs of knickers, one cotton kaftan to lounge/sleep in and I think I wore it as a dress once on the same trip last year?
* Two strappy vests for added modesty under thin t-shirts and kaftan because Morocco.
* One clear travel bag with tiny shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, spray deodorant, two tubes of cream, eye liner, one tube lipstick, Stilla concealer, mascara.
* Sunglasses, one outlet converter, a fully charged kindle, and one small battery pack for my phone.

Were I in a bathing suit climate, the kaftan would triple as a beach cover up. This year I may travel in a sweater coat as well to have something heavier for evenings but maybe not.

I roll all of these items individually into a tiny carry-on backpack that meets draconian budget airline allowances for free cabin bags: 40cm x 20cm x 25cm which is basically a child's backpack and pay no bag check fees.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:58 AM on November 26, 2018

A mental trick: For each thing you're considering bringing, picture in a bit of detail what you would do if you forgot it. For most of them, you'd be fine... you'd buy one where you are going, or you'd make do without. (This step is easy for me, since I'm constantly forgetting things and know how well I make do!)

Obviously you don't want to buy -everything- at your destination, but if you have a bunch of things that individually might come in handy, you might be better off leaving them all home and buying just the one or two that you do end up needing. (I'm thinking things like a disposable poncho if it's not supposed to rain but it might, or bandaids, or a sewing kit.)
posted by wyzewoman at 12:01 PM on November 26, 2018

Other people have covered what to bring; I want to second the suggestion upthread to roll your clothes instead of folding them. I’ve never used packing cubes. Don’t need them. Take about 4-5 shirts, lay them out flat in a stack, being careful to not have big wrinkles in them. Starting from the bottom, roll them all up into a log shape. Repeat as needed. They take up WAY less space this way. Jeans and heavy sweaters don’t really roll as well because the fabric thickness seems to negate the space saving magic, so if I need those, I wear them. But you’re going somewhere warm, so that shouldn’t be a deal. (I’ve managed to pack my tennis shoes using this method; I totally get the desire to travel in Birks.)
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:17 PM on November 26, 2018

People have said it, but what KIND of clothing you pack is as much, if not more, important than how many items of clothing you pack. For each piece of clothing you want to pack, ask yourself if there's a thinner, more compactable version you can bring instead. Often, as tchemgrrl mentioned, this is a fancier version. Merino or cashmere sweater instead of bulky sweatshirt, linen pants instead of jeans, thin socks instead of bulky athletic socks. If you don't already have them, you can pick up all of this kind of stuff for relatively cheap at Uniqlo, the sale rack at the Gap, or even H&M.
posted by EmilyFlew at 12:28 PM on November 26, 2018

If you want a formula and step-by-step instructions where you build a packing list based on your own clothings, try Anushka Ree's Three Step formula.

For me:

An e-reader massively cuts down on the books I would otherwise haul.

Try to cut down on shoes - what I take depends on the trip (work/pleasure, city/beach), but three is the absolute max (so the Birks, the athletics and if you absolutely have to for the dressy thing, take soft, pretty flats that don't take up much room).

I use jewellery and scarves to dress up outfits e.g. for the dressy outfit, I would probably try and take one of my jersey dresses that can look fancy but that I could wear aside from that event. Think about your own wardrobe for your preferred equivalent, but see, for example, LivvyLand wearing a jersey dress with sneakers, but could be dressed up.

For toiletries, I have a travel set with mini versions and I have some GoToob containers I use for shampoo etc (I'm pretty sure I have the 2.5oz ones and find that is more than enough for a week).
posted by AnnaRat at 12:48 PM on November 26, 2018

I just went to a family wedding. I planned the outfit for every event, and added casual clothes accordingly. I had a list, and packed exactly those items. I tend to wear the same compatible colors, so I can combine outfits pretty easily. I use ziplock bags, or clear plastic (the bags pillow cases or sheets come in are good) for socks/ tights, bras/ panties, scarves, jewelry, misc. Zippered mesh bags for toiletries & makeup. I wear what's comfortable for travel, because flying has become nightmarish enough. And I carry toothbrush, washcloth, meds, and spare undies in my purse because airlines lose stuff, even on gate check.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on November 26, 2018

Yeah, I am not sold on the gospel of packing cubes. There are some things they are good for like organization - I can put my clothes in one and my daughter's in another, or put all of our pajamas in one so I can pull that one out when we get where we're going. But I'm not convinced they actually make it easier to pack light.

The obvious way to pack light is to pack less stuff. Things to consider/think about:
- Items that can multitask. Can your yoga pants be worn during the day and as pajama pants? Do you have a pair of black pants that you can wear as dressy pants but also in a more casual setting like jeans?
- A color scheme. If you only bring black pants/leggings/skirts, you can wear colorful shirts.
- Items you can wear repeatedly without issue - jeans, sweatshirts, etc.
- Small accessories that can change your outfit without taking up much space. It's a lot easier to fit a black dress, a fun scarf and a big necklace in a suitcase compared to two black dresses (and you can wear the scarf on the plane or put it in your carryon).
- Whether there's stuff you don't need to pack based on your destination (parent's house?), like shampoo or toothpaste.

To actually fit everything in your suitcase, it's helpful to get all of the stuff together that you're planning to pack and organize them biggest to smallest. Biggest things need to go in first and you can squish the smaller things in between the bigger things. Definitely stuff socks and/or underwear in your shoes. I roll clothes in general but not religiously (rolling a hooded sweatshirt, for example, may not save you much space).

Things I do pack: a Tide pen (it's small and then when I get salad dressing on my pants the first day I'm wearing them, it's not a big deal) and a packable tote or duffle bag (it's Christmas? You might be coming back with more things than you left with).

That said, I'd try to pack small but you don't actually get a prize (that I know of) for not packing a lot of things. You're visiting family? They want to see you and are less concerned about whether you wore those jeans twice in a row. And unless your family is on the moon, you can run to a grocery store or Target if you forget something you absolutely need.

Have a great trip!
posted by kat518 at 1:48 PM on November 26, 2018

Really great answers everyone. Thanks so much.

I think my biggest problems are probably not planning specific outfits and too many just in case items. But this was all useful. You guys are awesome.
posted by FencingGal at 5:13 PM on November 26, 2018

My aesthetic could best be described as "that black t-shirt is cleaner than the one you wore yesterday" so this is a perspective that may be of some value to you but may not.

For me, it would depend mainly on how long I'll be gone for and if it's a family get-together - it almost always is.

I travel with electronics, so laptop, iPad, external battery, hundreds of chargers and cables and etc. always go into the large backpack that I use for my under-the-seat-in-front-of-you stuff. My quart bag of toilet articles goes in there too, as do my meds and anything else that I would need if they lost my luggage.

Then I have one hard-sided rolly suitcase that fits in the overhead bins. If it's a casual trip I might bring a pair of jeans besides the ones I'm wearing. I generally have (days-of-vacation + 1) underwear, socks, and t-shirts. If there will be laundry available I may decrease that a little. If needed I'll bring an extra pair of shoes and/or flip-flops if relevant.

If it's something like a wedding or a funeral I'll bring a non-wrinkling dress that I can stuff into the suitcase, some appropriate shoes and maybe some jewelry if it's a super-fancy occasion.

I also need stretchy pants and a t-shirt and my slippers to wear around the house.

I try to leave a little free space because I may buy something while on my trip.

I definitely fall into the "just in case" trap and will come home with clothes I didn't need or wear.
posted by bendy at 12:44 AM on November 27, 2018

Seconding the Vivienne Files, specifically the packing page. I never checked luggage before I had kids, but with 3 of them, I had to get even more strategic with my packing, and I used the sample wardrobes there as a blueprint.

As for cubes... I never used them before kids, but I really like them because it keeps things organized (each kid gets one cube, each adult gets 2). But the biggest thing for me is that if TSA decides to inspect our bags, they don’t rummage around as much. These things may not apply to you.
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:26 AM on November 27, 2018

You might be interested in this blogger's packing light series which not only describes the packing, but shows pictures of the outfits.
posted by nuclear_soup at 10:32 AM on November 27, 2018

Dresses. Seriously. If they are your thing, dresses tend to be thinner, lighter, and less bulky packed than a pair of pants and a shirt.
posted by jillithd at 1:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, nthing "plan out outfits". Before I pack for a trip, I actually pull out clothes I'm considering packing and lay them out in my bed, and then combine them into as many outfit combinations as I can, keeping count of how many I've come up with. Usually that gives me more than I need for my trip. So then I take away a couple items and still see how many outfits I can make. If I still have more than I need I take away more pieces, and keep that up until I've hit "enough outfits for the days in my trip plus maybe one or two extra". Seeing things laid out helps cement them in my head when I'm on my trip and staring into my suitcase.

Actually, that's a good tangential point - I "unpack" into wherever I am a little, so I have full access to everything I've brought. It helps me find the outfits I've planned a little better seeing them hung up.

I also use layering a lot ("so this striped top can go under a vest with jeans on one day, and then under a chambray shirt with khakis on another day") and accessorize a lot; I have a lot of scarves, and changing the scarf you wear with an outfit makes it a new outfit.

Also - whatever your bulkiest shoes are, wear them and pack the others.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:27 AM on November 28, 2018

Oh - having a color plan in mind before you plan helps too. Like, "okay, I'm gonna take a lot of blues and whites for this trip" or "lots of red and black for this trip". It helps you make your initial picks out of your closet, and if everything you ultimately do pack goes with everything else you don't need as many individual clothing items to make up different outfits. It's like the grownup version of Garanimals.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:31 AM on November 28, 2018

« Older Specific Casa Particular con Familia in Havana...   |   How big could a kangaroo get before it became... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments