Pack less for your next trip: the why and how of it all!

Do you regularly begin packing for a trip by saying “this time I’m going to pack lighter!”, only to leave home with another full suitcase? Do you return with an overfilled bag, only to unpack a bunch of stuff you never used? I think most of us can relate.

It’s understandable – nobody wants to have to either replace or go without a missing item when you’re supposed to be having fun! But except for a few absolute must-haves such as travel documents, medication and such, how big of an issue is it if you should forget a pair of flip flops, or pack one too few t-shirts? Could it possibly be less awkward than hauling around a bunch of stuff you don’t need? I think so and have been working over the years to pack less. I don’t always succeed (okay, okay: at times I’ve failed miserably) but I’ve gotten much better at trying! A for effort, right? Hmm…

Featured image by Marissa Grootes at

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Of course, seeing the value in doing something challenging is half the battle, so here’s a few reasons why less is more when it comes to packing.

  • It makes getting around much easier. Unless you enjoy hauling heavy bags and risking a backache, this one’s sort of a no-brainer. Even if you have help, it’s still just easier to have less stuff to move, isn’t it?
  • Figuring out what to wear is simplified. This point will perhaps resonate with some readers more than others, but the less you have in your bag, the less likely the dreaded ‘outfit paralysis’ is to occur! And who needs that when you’ve got a mojito waiting?
  • It’s more environmentally friendly. Regardless of how you get to your destination, the less weight you have along the less your trip emits. Doubly important if you’re flying.
  • You can forget worrying about any weight or volume limits. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Step 1: leave this behind! Image by Callum Hill at
Okay, so now that we maybe see some benefits to lighter luggage, how do we get away from our old heavy bag habits? Here’s a few tips I’ve accumulated over the years, some from implementing ideas I’ve read, others from my own experience.
  • Know what’s appropriate to pack for your destination and plans. This sounds simple but it’s actually one of the easiest mistakes to make, because there can be a lot to think about. What sort of weather should you anticipate? What kinds of activities could you end up doing? Are there any cultural norms concerning dress to consider? It all comes down to doing just a little homework about your destination before you pack, so you bring the things you’ll need, not the ones you won’t.
  • Pack clothing with complementing color palettes and a neutral base. This makes it so much easier to mix and match, creating multiple very different-looking outfits from just a few pieces of clothing. Lightweight scarves and jewelry with more color or a bolder pattern provide interest, and a jacket should be able to fit in with everything so you only need to bring one. I’m no fashionista (if you knew me, you’d laugh at the very notion!) so I’ll leave it at that, but if you’re looking for more tips in this direction, maybe start here.
Image by Joshua Woroniecki at
  • Plan to do laundry (or have it done). If you’re traveling for more than a week it just doesn’t make sense to bring along clothing for each and every day, and unless you’re climbing Mt. Everest I’m hard-pressed to think of a place where it’s truly difficult to wash a few clothes. Even if it’s just handwashing a t-shirt in the sink and hanging it to dry, it makes sense.


  • Pack clothing made from fabrics which resist odors. This is something I wish I’d learned long ago. Fabrics like merino wool and silk have this almost magical ability to avoid holding on to odors, meaning they can be worn multiple times without turning you into a smelly tourist (eeeuw!). They aren’t cheap, but if you invest in just a few shirts and take good care of them (follow the washing instructions to the letter!) you won’t regret it. Icebreaker is one of my favorites, good selection and great quality!
  • Think about what you packed but didn’t use on recent trips. This can help you recall past mistakes so you can learn from them. Example: on my recent trip to Cambodia, I packed a colorful scarf as an accent piece. Good idea according to tip #2, right? Well yeah, except I forgot that early in the trip I’d be visiting an island known for producing beautiful silk scarves. I bought one as a souvenir, and because it was much lighter and better suited to the climate than the one I’d packed, I ended up wearing that the whole time while the heavier one languished in my bag. Lesson learned!

I hope these tips prove helpful – if you have any packing strategies, tips or hacks that have worked for you, feel free to comment and share!

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