I have two secrets for packing light but the backpack isn’t one of them. Some people may prefer a weekend bag or a small rolling suitcase. I have tried both and only went with a backpack on my last two trips. This is my backpack by Mountain Equipment Coop (It’s the ‘Cascade’.) I like it because it looks sophisticated and actually holds a lot more than it looks like it will hold.
My two secrets: I use packing cubes and a capsule wardrobe.
Use Packing Cubes
I’m not sure who invented packing cubes but I first heard about them a dozen years ago from a fellow traveler. This is what they look like. I bought my first set in a sale bin at Canadian Tire, and later found some more (again in a sale bin) at an airport. They are so useful and not only for packing!
For years I was a two-cube packer which means that I could fit two packed cubes on one side of my suitcase with room on the other side for shoes and accessories. The great thing about the cubes is that they keep your clothing contained in your suitcase and when you get to your destination you can just take the whole cube out and put it in your drawer.
I decided to pare down to a ‘one-cube trip’ partly to see if I could do it and partly because I was getting a ride with someone and was being considerate of the trunk space.
What you Need for a Week Long Trip
Well, I can’t tell you exactly what you need because it depends on where you are going and what you’ll be doing.
A really good general rule is to pack for only half of the number of days of your trip. (If you are an adult, do you really need a clean outfit every day?) Plan to wear each item more than once. For your ‘delicates’ also pack for only half your trip and rinse out your socks and underwear in the bathroom sink. You can take a little vial of liquid laundry detergent, but to be honest I use the free shampoo that is almost always available.
For my trip to Maui in December (a yoga retreat) I took 3 pairs of workout pants, 3 workout tops, 3 casual tops, 1 skirt, 1 pair of shorts (the bottom of my swimsuit), my swimsuit top, a dress (also doubled as a swimsuit cover), 2 scarves big enough to cover a swimsuit, a light-weight cardigan, my Sunveil shirt and hat, a dressier straw hat that folds flat, and my Unshoes (flip flop alternatives). And with this, I still over packed.
I wore my yoga pants only once and the 2 pairs of capri leggings almost every day; I didn’t wear one of the tops or the dress at all – not even as a swimsuit coverup. If you are going to a place you’ve never been before it is hard to know exactly what the circumstances will be.
Most women like to shop when they travel and I am no exception. Last summer at my Restorative Exercise Intensive I had to buy an additional long sleeve top because even though it was August it wasn’t warm and the studio had a garage door that was open most of the time. The year before that (also an RE event) it was hot outside but the studio was over-air conditioned. Now when I travel I always include warmer layers even if it is ‘supposed’ to be warm. I shopped in Maui but not because I needed to: I shopped because it was Maui(!) and even though I almost never succumb to souvenir t-shirts and the like, I bought a souvenir Hawaii t-shirt. At least it is subtle enough to wear again and I wore it at least 3 times while I was there!
I did need some specialized clothes for this trip because it was a winter vacation to a hot spot: I wore my heavier clothes on the plane: jeans, a lightweight long sleeve top, a hooded merino wool jacket and a pair of walking sandals (with socks!) and except for the jacket, I wore everything again. It was still cool in the evenings in Hawaii.
Start with a Capsule Wardrobe
Starting out with a capsule wardrobe really helps with packing. A capsule wardrobe is a minimalist approach to getting dressed – so that basically – figuring out what to wear will be a thing of the past. I recently signed up for this micro-course Capsule Wardrobes which is not what you would think it would be (this course is much deeper than finding the season’s pivotal pieces in the right colours.)
It is more about a minimalist approach to dressing. It is a really good course to take if you are feeling overwhelmed by your wardrobe decisions.
I have always thought packing for a trip is very revealing. The old me, before I started paring down, could pull out my 4 or 5 favourite outfits – the ones I always feel good in and have been time tested – and put them in my suitcase. But you could barely notice that I had taken anything out of my closet. I’ve learned that those outfits are my wardrobe staples and that with those 4-5 top, 4-5 sweaters/jackets, and a few different pants/skirts, I have a couple of weeks worth of combinations.
Note: If you find you are over-packing it may mean you have quite a large capsule wardrobe! I have under 50 items (including shoes and accessories) but I have separate capsule wardrobes for summer and winter – with overlap. Depending on where you live you may also need separate spring and fall wardrobes. (I keep my off-season clothes in my spare packing cubes.)
Now when I pack for a trip, my closet is pretty empty. I don’t take everything I own but I choose things that suit the trip and that will give me the maximum mileage. Usually that will mean solid (black, grey or navy) with one or two splashes of colour.
Here are a few additional tips that makes sorting out travel clothing easier:
- I wear merino wool which doesn’t suffer from being in a suitcase, doesn’t absorb odours and dries quickly. If you sweat a lot this will be an life-saver when you are traveling.
- Most of my solo trips are for yoga or restorative exercise workshops and my workout tops have built in bras. Although they are bulkier than a tank top, I find they don’t take up much extra room and I feel more comfortable throughout the day.
- I limit my colour scheme: Usually that will mean a solid colour (black, grey or navy) with one or two splashes of colour.
- I take things that can be worn more than one way:
- My swimming suit consists of board shorts and a bikini top. I can wear the bottoms as shorts.
- I will always take a top and skirt of the same colour that worn together is dressy enough for dinner but can be worn separately for more casual occasions.
- My scarf will be big enough to keep me warm, give me coverage, protect me from the sun and act as a pillow on the plane.
- Be very minimalist when it comes to your wash/cosmetic bag. I assume that except for my personal things and what I need for the plane, everything will be at my destination and if they aren’t they are just a front-desk or a drug store away. I take moisturizer and a hair product (sample or travel sizes) but no shampoo, soap, etc. I always keep my lip balm (etc.) in my purse anyway, so there is no need to add extra to my wash bag.
If your trip requires special clothes like formal wear, you will probably find you will need to pack differently. I am going on a two week trip in May where I will have to dress for dinner every night. I will use the same rules for my casual trips, but I will need to bring a few more things that are not in my daily wardrobe like dresses, shoes, evening bags and jewellery. Actually I think I could probably pull it off with my ‘one-cube’ trip, but there really isn’t a need. This isn’t about depriving yourself but about making life simpler.