The fine art of packing light
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.
- Lay out every-thing you think you’ll need to take and consider the pile.
- Put away any item that’s not really necessary.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Also leave space in your pack for accumulating souvenirs.
- 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.
- REI.com - Since 1938, one of the best all-around outdoors, camping, and adventure travel outfitter, with just about everything you need, whether you're a novice or a hard-core enthusiast. Lots of high-tech clothing designed for heavy-duty wear, tear, travel, and sport, plus everything from packs to personal mosquito nets to biodegradable detergent—and of course, all the basic gear for camping, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking. It's actually run as a co-op, so if you become a member ($15 to join for life), you get 8% cash back on your purchases at the store at the end of the year (10% back if you use the no-fee, free credit card they give you, which also generates 1% back on non-REI purchases). They also have a special clearance-sale section.Partner
- Travelsmith.com - One of the best catalogues out there for travelers (not so much outdoorsy stuff), with high-quality clothing and luggage (and some gadgets) carefully selected or adapted to be perfect for traveling—durable, versatile, wrinkle-resistant, lots of hidden pockets, and sometimes even stylish. My wardrobe's full of stuff with their label on it—though in recent years, they seem to have become increasingly concerned with offering more and more fashion clothing than their old focus on true travel gear. Sad. Also, I should note that some women (my mom and my wife, to be precise) report that the women's clothing is a bit more hit-or-miss—usually excellent, but sometime a big let-down in terms of quality or looks.
- eBags.com - The name really says it all, doesn't it? This is the single best online outlet to compare every concievable type of bag, suitcase, pack, purse, backpack, shoulder bag, duffel, and every other conceivable form of carrying-your-stuff travel container out there—along with related accessories. Good prices, too.Partner
- LLBean.com - This Maine camping clothier and catalogue legend was selling flannel shirts long before Seattle produced its first garage band, and decades before J. Crew and Banana Republic co-opted the outdoorsy look and made it Yuppie. Their travel specialty gear is, as with most of their stock, head and shoulders above anyone else for durability, quality, and utility (if not always style). Best of all: "We guarantee all items for the useful life of the product." That statement is what has hooked people on this storied outfitter since it sold its first pair of boots in 1912. (Its original bricks-and-mortar store in Freeport, Maine became such a site of pilgrimage for vacationing fans of its catalog that it single handedly created the town's now world-famous outlet store industry.)
- Magellans.com - Clothing, luggage, and lots of travel gadgets—some exceedingly useful, others merely ridiculous exercises in technology (seriously, who needs a portable oxygen mask, or a silver case that automatically dispenses credit cards?). Their prices could be lower, but they do carry some prime merchandise difficult to find elsewhere and Magellan's really is the place to go when you're seeking some obscure but useful travel gadget (and I don't mean the collapsible Lexan wine glasses).
- Amazon.com - An obvious one, but a good resource to remember. Everybody's favorite one-stop shopping site on the Internet carries just about anything you could think of.Partner