The fine art of packing light

No one ever says "I wish I'd packed heavier!" (Photo by Unknown)
No one ever says "I wish I'd packed heavier!"

A traveler's guide to learning how to pack light and love it—or, how to fit everything you need for a six month trip into a single, carry-on sized bag

Aside from a gung-ho, healthy attitude, the most important factor that will make or break your trip is your luggage and how you pack it.

Pack for ultimate mobility, versatility, and necessity. When in doubt, leave it at home. 

  1. Lay out every-thing you think you’ll need to take and consider the pile.
  2. Put away any item that’s not really necessary.
  3. Take whatever remains, pack half of it, and leave the other half at home—you won’t need it. Here are some rules:
    • If it doesn’t all fit in one carry-on sized pack and daypack, you've overpacked.
    • If you can't lift it over your head and hold it there for 10 seconds, you've overpacked.
    • If you can't shoulder your load and walk five times around the block without breaking a sweat, you've overpacked (and should probably also hit the gym—Europe is an aerobic workout and you need to be ready).
    • Trust me, you'll be thankful later when you easily shoulder you bag and zip off to your hotel while the guy who sat next to you on the plane gets a hernia just trying to get his luggage out of the airport. 
  4. Remember: Clothes take up the most room in your luggage, so be stingy with what you take. Believe me, it's easier to do a bit of laundry in your room every few nights than lug around a ton of stuff. (A basic bathroom sink laundry kit is included on the packing list.)
  5. Only your immediate traveling companions will know you've been wearing the same outfit for the past three countries. Socks, T-shirts, and underwear—the clothes that ripen quickly—are the easiest items to wash out and dry overnight. In truth, you can wear the same pair of pants for quite a while before they begin walking around on their own in search of the laundromat.
  6. Just bring trial sizes or travel sizes of toiletries—shampoo, toothpaste, tiny bar of soap, etc. You can restock using hotel freebies as you go, and if you run out, European grocery stores and convenience shops carry most major US brands, plus their own local product lines that are just as good if not better. In fact, this will make a pretty nifty and offbeat souvenir.
  7. Also leave space in your pack for accumulating souvenirs.
  8. If you find yourself running out of room, stop at any post office to ship home the personal items you've found you didn't need, or just before flying home, mail your dirty laundry to yourself. This way, you can carry your new purchases instead of entrusting them to foreign postal systems. 

On the next page you'll find the actual packing list I use, containing absolutely everything I bring with me (plus a laptop for work; minus the items for women) on any trip to Europe, whether it be for six days or six months. 

If an item you thought was necessary doesn't appear on that list, ask yourself seriously whether it's truly indispensable.

Most likely, you'll get by fine without it, or you can buy it over there if you find you need it. That's one less item for you to lug around and waste your precious travel time dealing with.

Make travel an exercise in simplifying your life.

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