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Travel Packing Guide | A No-Nonsense Approach on How To Pack

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There are a lot of packing blogs out there with these ‘ultimate packing lists' that include every item you likely OWN, let alone need to pack. It would take the most cavernous of suitcases in order to fit all that junk.
Those lists are lazy. Who says you need to pack all that??

Packing like you are hoarding for the apocalypse and not just going on vacation causes a lot of issues, like over-weight luggage fees and cringing spouses.

I say screw those generic lists!
Here’s some real packing advice that I didn’t just copy off the internet:

Travel Packing Guide: How To Pack More Efficiently

travel packing guide - how to pack like a pro

1. Know What You're Packing For

Packing is easy, but like everything else in life, we insist on making it more complicated than it should be. There are a few easy questions to ask that will bring major clarity to what you NEED to have in your bag:

What is the weather going to be like?

Look at the daily highs and lows, humidity levels, chances of rain/snow, UV levels and other factors that will change what kind of outfits you need.
If the temperature is not dropping below 15°C, the chances of you needing that Canada Goose jacket are non-existent.  

I love using Weather Spark to check everything from cloud cover to humidity. It's not the prettiest site, but it's loaded with the most info.

What am I honestly going to be doing on this trip?

Take a good look at your itinerary and plans, which will give you clues on exactly what you need to pack for your trip.

If you are going to be on excursions and outdoor adventure tours, you’ll need moisture-wicking clothing, sneakers, a hat and other gear. But, if you are spending 95% of your time on the beach, bring extra swimsuits and leave the outdoor exploration gear behind.

Just be honest with yourself about what you are getting up to, so you can pack accordingly. There is no point in dragging all different types of sports clothing with you if your full intention is hitting the spa and the pool 24/7. 

pack by activity - how to travel better

How many casual days and dressy nights worth of clothing do I need?

Think about how many sit-down dinners you will have vs how many sight-seeing tours you’ll be going on.

Write down a list of each day and night on the trip and ‘assign’ an outfit for each one. Remember, there is no shame in re-wearing or repeating outfits, especially if you mix and match with other items.

When you assign certain outfits with each day of your trip, it really helps you to visualize what you need to pack. It also helps you not to overpack by just throwing random items in your bag.
Why bring 20 dresses when you’ll only have the opportunity to wear 5 of them?

2. Determine What To Pack & What To Leave Behind

This is an especially helpful tip for anyone that wants to learn how to pack light and wants to embrace the ease of minimalism for their trip. We live in a world where everything is available at our fingertips, so many of the items you’re tempted to overpack are easily available at your destination.

P.S.- There are even services out there that will send your luggage to your hotel ahead of you, so your trip to the airport is luggage free. You might even be travelling to a place with next-day Amazon delivery, so relax knowing you can simply order something if you desperately needed it.

How to pack more efficiently

Things You Can Leave At Home:

Many Of Your Toiletries

Okay, I’ll admit, I HATE hotel conditioner. Unless I’m staying at a 5-star with L’Occitane amenities, I will always bring my own. But for the rest of day to day items, the hotels free stock is honestly good enough. Soap is soap.
(however, cheapo hotel conditioner actually works GREAT for a shave cream alternative!)

Don’t bother bringing certain toiletries like:

  • Shampoo
  • Body Wash
  • Soap
  • Comb
  • Body Lotion

Most hotels have partnered up with hair and body-care companies to make their amenities more attractive, like Marriott did with Paul Mitchell. And even if it’s a weird generic cheap-o brand, I promise you won’t perish from lack of overpriced creams that you’re used to.  Bonus points if the hotel uses large re-fillable containers and not single use plastic ones.

The Cute (but horrendously uncomfortable) Shoes

You are headed on vacation so leave the torture devices back home. It’s all about getting in some R&R, so why make yourself uncomfortable on purpose? You are most likely going to grab the same pair of flip-flops or comfy shoes to wear 99% of the time anyway.
Even if you are headed to Europe instead of the beach, you'll want shoes you can easily walk 10,000+ steps in each day. 

Half Of Your Makeup

That really cute eye-shadow palette with the purples and pinks that you’ve been waiting to try out….is exactly the type of thing you should NOT bring on your trip. If you haven’t used it at home, you’re not going to use it on the road. Leave behind any speciality makeup, products you don’t use day-to-day and anything you have similar items or ‘doubles’ of.
Also, bring a few brushes, but do you really need all 25 of them on vacation? Likely not Van Gogh.

packing makeup travel
Things To Leave Behind - Quick List

There are many other things you might want to leave behind or pick up at your destination instead. Here are a few questions to ask these items below:
“Do I need to pack this?
Could I do without?
Could I use the one at the hotel?
Is it cheaper/easier just to get it at my destination?”

Things You Should Always Pack:

Eco-Friendly, Plastic Free Toiletries

There are some self-care items you’ll want to bring, especially if they will cut down on plastic waste at your hotel. More companies than ever are making eco-friendly and plastic free travel items.

Pack items like:

Vital Self-Care Items

There are certain self-care items that you shouldn’t have to forgo just in the name of space saving. If it’s an item that is crucial to your personal care routine, and the alternatives will throw you off your game, then pack it!

These are usually things like:

  • Special anti-aging face creams
  • Your favorite razor that doesn’t give you major razor burn
  • Deodorant. You know why

A Jacket

Even if you are headed to the hottest desert on earth, bring one jacket. You might need to use it for shade, to block wind, or to warm up on an unseasonably cold night. If I ever travel to the USA in the summer, I bring a thick one…you guys really CRANK the AC!

Silk Scarf or Sarong

You will always find a use for one. You can cover up your bikini when you want to go dining, cover your head at religious attractions, use it as a towel, a sling for an injured arm, shelter from the sun, to save your hairdo from the wind, to wrap up or carry several items, to keep warm, a disguise…. the possibilities are endless.

Extra Undies

Because no-one wants to run out of undies on vacation. They are the smallest and lightest things you likely own, so chuck a few extra pairs in your bag

Iron-Free Clothing

Pack pieces that don’t need special care or ironing in order to wear. I can't even put a value on an item that can be crammed at the bottom of a bag for days and still looks great when I throw it on.

iron free clothing for travel
Things To Always Pack - Quick List

Personal Items:

Anything that is re-usable and responsible is a great thing to pack. Packing things like a tote bag or reusable straw will help cut down on plastic waste. Here is an entire guide for responsible travelers on how to make a sustainable travel kit

Electronics & Safety:


Many packing lists will have check boxes beside items like ‘socks’, ‘pants’ and ‘hat', but that isn’t going to ensure you are actually packing what you need. Instead of me listing off each type of clothing that exists, find out what kind of outfits you’ll want to pack.
Assign an outfit to each day/night of the trip to understand what types of clothing you actually need to bring.

Make a chart that looks something like this:

Vacation Outfit Planner - Packing Checklist

3. Learn How To Pack Light

Once you have figured out everything you need to bring, it’s time to lighten the load. I am sure that even after taking my advice, you still shoved in many items that don’t need to be there. Here are some tips to help you pack even more efficiently and get your baggage weight down.

Remove All Packaging

Take the packaging off everything before you pack it in your luggage. I know this sounds a little anal, but trust me, it all adds up! The packaging around your disposable razors, new mascara wand, and especially things like small electronics, have got to go. You would be surprised that they might be adding 1 or 2 pounds to your total luggage, which could have been used for shoes.

Take Out The “What If's”

I’m sure there is still a “but what if I need this 9th beach cover-up?” sitting in your bag right now. You won’t need it. And even if you DID need it, the world won’t end if you have to make-do with only 8 beach cover-ups. You’ll be fine.

Taking a trip is more about the experiences, and less about the material items you bring with you.

Mix and Match Items

If you pack clothing based on your itinerary and matched an outfit to each day/night, see if you can mix and match more items and remove some of the excess. There might be many tops that can be worn casually during the day and then dressed up with nice slacks and heels for the evening. Pack more of these multi-purpose items and remove some of the ‘one time only’ or specialty outfits.

How to pack better - pack clothing that can be dressed up or down

4. Organize Your Luggage

The organization of your packed luggage is just as important as what you put into it. A messy bag with stuff just thrown into it will stress you out, whether you think it does or not. 

Use Packing Cubes

I LOVE packing cubes! I personally use these packing cubes to keep different kinds of clothing together to make it really easy to find. There are two ways I organize my cubes and I keep switching back and forth between them.

how to use packing cubes

Method #1 - Pack The Cubes By Clothing Type

  • The two biggest cubes I use to flat lay (or 1 fold flat lay) shirts and dresses.
  • My medium sized cubes are used to fold/roll pants and shorts.
  • The smaller cubes I use for undies, bras, bikinis and socks.

I like this method because I can easily put the cubes into their according dresser drawers when un-packing in the hotel.

Method #2 - Pack The Cubes By Dress Code

With this method I pack all my cubes depending on what situation I will be wearing the clothing in.

  • The big cubes are reserved for more formal/fancy wear like dresses, dress shirts, nice skirts, etc.
  • Medium sized cubes are used to pack casual wear for just hanging out or grabbing lunch.
  • The littlest cubes are for underwear and beach wear.

This method is nice to easily know which clothes are designated as ‘dressy’ and which ones are super casual. That way, if I know I need to dress up for dinner, I only need to look in my dressy clothes cube, helping to lessen the overwhelm.

Roll Clothes

If you don’t use packing cubes, I suggest you roll your clothes.

Rolling keeps everything compact and tidy and can make some sense out of an otherwise chaotic bag. Rolling clothes also takes up less room than just folding, allowing you to sneak in some extra items.

Bonus Travel Packing Tips: 

Take a photo of your packed bag.

You should have travel insurance and that insurance should cover any items that might get lost or stolen from you. Take a photo of your bag so you have a record of the clothing, electronics and personal items you packed. This will help prove your case if you need to make an insurance claim and will also help you remember the entire list of items you might be missing.

travel packing tips- take a photo of your packed suitcase

Pack a SMART carry-on bag

I always pack my carry-on under the assumption that my checked bag WILL be delayed 100%. That ensures I always put a next day outfit, medications, contacts, important papers and anything else I will need for at least 24 hours. Also, if I am bringing something that I would literally break down and cry over if it got lost, it also goes in my carry-on.

We've made an entire Carry-On Luggage Guide with the best carry-on bags, size and weight restrictions, and what to pack specifically for the plane ride.

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