How to Pack Light

Airlines aren’t doing much for the experience of travel these days with added fees for extra—or any—bags these days doesn’t help. It’s a good excuse to pack light to avoid extra headaches.

Back in January I went to Rome to catch up with an old friend passing through. It was a quick trip: 3 days, 2 nights. Because I was buying my ticket fairly last minute I didn’t want to pay any additional fees. I decided it’d be a good trip to not travel with my computer for once, and use it as a challenge to pack as light as ever.

There is always a bit of shock and awe around packing light—and was a new record for me—so I thought I’d share my approach.

Start with the right bag (a light bag)
I started with my small Bensimon backpack. It’s the bag I use for “work” whenever I’m going to a client or co-working space. I joke that it’s my “turtle pack” because it’s always on my back. It’s also saved my back by balancing weight as I like to walk whenever I can. In any case, I’m used to carrying it, so it was my challenge to myself. I use a carryon Lipault suitcase for long haul flights, but for Rome I wanted to stay extra light so I didn’t have to worry about storing my bag.

Wear the bulkiest outfit on the plane.
In my case, black jeans, a brown shirt, and a black sweater. If anything, planes are always cool, so I always appreciate that layer. Inside the bag were two more tops, underwear, my pyjamas (I brought black yoga pants for the bottom, should I get desperate I could wear them in public), and toiletries (which take the most space). One pair of pants got me through three days. You can wear something more than once when you travel. Seriously. (And if it’s a long trip, do laundry.)

Pack a color scheme.
My friend Margaret taught me years ago to pack with a color scheme–it’s so true and helps ensure everything goes together. It’s also a way to give your trip a signature style. Winter is not the easiest to pack for, so I stuck to black, brown, and my mustard yellow accents of my purse. If I was headed to a tropical destination I would have picked a brighter palette. Because I was packing so light, I thought it’d be fun to travel with a hat.

Limit your shoes.
No matter how long my trip is I try to limit myself to two pairs of shoes. I only buy shoes that are comfortable and can walk a ton in so that helps (I’m partial to Clark’s). So I brought those boots (one pair for the trip). This winter I became recently addicted to my Muji “room shoes” which are the most comfortable slippers every to put on after a day of exploring. There was room in my bag so I brought those too, which brought me a lot of joy.

Toiletries to a minimum.
Carry on of course limits how much liquid you can bring through, so that constraint already forces you to be a bit creative. Consider where you’re staying and if you can share. And if you really need everything for just a few days. Between my makeup bag (I don’t even wear that much) and shower stuff, don’t wait until the last second because this ended up taking up half my bag! I always save miniature toiletries to use for these super light weight trips.

Feed your brain.
Sure we can stare at smartphones for hours but I love having my book and a notebook when I travel. I try to bring a lightweight one, both in physical weight, and one that I’ll enjoy and won’t take too much brain power. I also packed a spare tote bag which I could use to walk around during the day or if I needed to distribute the weight.

My biggest achievement was traveling without my computer, which should happen more.  I let the New Year and short nature of the trip and fact I wanted to spend time with my friend (or my book) guide that decision. Et voila! That’s what’s in the bag. It seems simple, but I’ll admit, packing light often can take more effort than just throwing everything you may need into a big bag. I like to think of it as traveling intentionally.

Ok, I want to know, what are your secrets of travel and packing?

P.S. Anyone else think I’m pulling off the Carmen Sandiego look in this photo?