Note: This is a guest post from Natalie Sisson, Suitcase Entrepreneur.
Packing lightly and effectively is a desired art.
Much like travel, the more you do, the better you become at it. Until one day you wake up and feel like a pro as you whip out your perfectly packed, minimalist suitcase, at the ready, with the essentials you need.
My aim is to help you get to that point, one essential item at a time, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling to 70 countries and being a Suitcase Entrepreneur for 6 years full-time—less is more.
If you’ve ever experienced lugging a giant suitcase behind you on a sandy path to your island resort, or have stood in line at airport security watching a customs officer unpack every single item that took you three hours to squeeze into your bag, you’ll appreciate the skill of packing minimally.
There have been more than a few times where I’ve short changed myself on time and had to pack in a rush to get to the airport. What’s helpful is that I don’t have a ton of stuff to pack up when I leave a place. I’ve gotten used to living out of a suitcase and I have smart systems that I follow to make it much easier to organize my life.
Let me share some of those systems with you right now in a helpful guide that anyone can use to pack lighter.
Step 1: Getting Started.
First, consider your destination—will it be summer or winter, humid or wet? This will make a huge difference to what you need to take.
I recommend getting your suitcase out and placing it open on your bed. Open your wardrobe and pull out what you’d like to take with you.
Once you’ve laid out what you want to take, get ruthless and remove any ‘extra’ items you’ve put in that you think you might need. Usually this is the fifth dress, the seventh t-shirt, or the extra pair of shoes or shorts.
If you’re not good at this, bring in some help. Ask your friends, family, your partner, or someone else who will say “no”, even when you put up a fight: “Do you really think I’m going to need or wear this?”
At this stage, keep in mind that you will end up wearing your same favorite outfits over and over again, much like you do in everyday life. This is an important key to packing light.
Repeat this step one or two times always looking for ‘extras’ that have made their way into your piles. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at what you really don’t need to pack.
Step 2: Packing Your Suitcase.
I have loads of tips I’ve learned over the years and I’ve included the best of them in my book, The Suitcase Entrepreneur: Create Freedom In Business and Adventure in Life.
I dive deeper into not only what to pack, but the benefits of minimalism, what happens after you arrive at a destination, and the best ways to acclimate to your new environment.
For now though, let’s concentrate on some simple rules that will make your packing experience that much easier.
- Take one outfit that you can wear in a casual situation, one for business attire (if your trip isn’t purely for pleasure), one that makes you feel pretty, sexy, or handsome, and one that’s comfy for traveling.
- Make sure you can throw all these items together in a washing machine without any drama.
- Choose fabrics that don’t need to be ironed—that you can roll up in your suitcase and will stay relatively crease free.
- Linen and rayon are not your travel friends. Wool (and knit fabrics in general) and synthetics work great.
- Use travel size containers for skincare, creams, and gels. Or buy travel size kits at the airport or pharmacy. This reduces weight and space dramatically.
As you pack your suitcase or bag of choice, ask yourself the following question: Do I have room to buy stuff and fit more things in while traveling or is it crammed to the brim already?
If you have no space and it’s really heavy, take it all out and eliminate more items. You rarely wear everything you take with you and if you do need anything else, you can almost always buy it in the destination you’re going to.
A few exceptions here:
- Quality shoes. Especially if you have a very small or large foot.
- Sunscreen. Oddly this is one item that can be really expensive even in poorer countries, and the types of spectrum and quality are often limited.
- Medical supplies. Bring your medicines with you in case you can’t get a prescription, as well as contact lens solutions and a basic first aid kit never goes amiss.
- Electronic supplies. Cords and cables for your specialist equipment if it can’t be easily replaced.
- A dry bag. Useful for putting in the electronics or other valuables, and doubling as a small day bag on trips when you don’t want your items to get wet.
Step 3: Traveling with a Carry-On Only.
If you’re going away for a short period of time, from a few days to a few weeks, you definitely want to consider a carry-on only.
There is nothing better than arriving at the airport knowing you don’t need to check in your luggage or spend ages waiting for it at the luggage carousel at your destination.
It’s also incredibly freeing to travel light and know you can pick it up and take it with you anywhere, with a baggage weight that’s completely manageable and doesn’t leave you in a sweat if you have to lift it a lot or are in a rush.
For most of my travels I had a check in bag simply because my suitcase was my home, but when I traveled through Asia and South America for 6-8 weeks, I happily used a carry-on bag only.
If this seems unbelievable to you, here are my key tips (a few are gender-specific) to help you learn how to travel in a carry-on bag only:
- Don’t skimp on your choice of luggage. Rimowa and Samsonsite, in my opinion, are the best. Yes, they’re expensive but they also weigh next to nothing, versus cheaper bags that already have added 6kg to your weight before you’ve even put anything in them.
- Choose a soft bag or super flexible materials with wheels. They will be lighter, more flexible, and easier to fit in the overhead locker on the plane, train, or bus.
- Bags with expandable sections are fantastic if you’re traveling light to your destination but planning to come back with some gifts.
- Bags with a separate compartment to stow your electronics for easy access are great at security and saving you time.
- Forget being fashionable and wear your walking, running, or hiking shoes on the plane. They’re not only super comfortable (especially when your feet swell up on long flights), but they’re also the bulkiest and often heaviest items. Take one pair of dressy shoes (yes ONE), one pair of sandals you can dress up or down, and one flip flops/ jandals for the beach and beyond.
- Make lightweight and economical choices. If you’re heading to colder climates, it’s all about layering—lots of light layers to stay warm and dry, without adding bulk weight to your suitcase or bag.
- You never want to run out of clean underwear, so wash them in the shower at night with travel size soap paper (it lathers up but isn’t a liquid) and hang up to dry.
- If your suitcase doesn’t have a compartment for underwear, buy a small mesh bag or use your dry bag to put them. It’s way easier to find them all in one place.
- Roll clothes rather than pack them flat as they take up less space and don’t come out as creased.
- Don’t take physical books with you. Download your favorite ones to a Kindle and read to your heart’s content.
Step 4: Your Essentials Pre-Flight Checklist
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re going to pack, it’s a good idea to get a few things in order and prepare the basics.
The only thing you really need is your passport and wallet and you can go anywhere. But for some people that’s just too little.
Consider the following before you travel:
- What Visa requirements will you need and how far in advance should you apply for one?
- Do you need to get a series of vaccinations before you head into the jungle or off into the outback?
- Is the time of year you’re considering going a monsoon season or will it be sweltering hot in your chosen destination?
- What are the basic costs of living there, and does that fit within your budget?
If you could only take the bare minimum, then these are the essentials you’d want to pack:
- Passport and Visas
- Vaccinations, medications
- Health and/or travel insurance
- Local currency, extra cash, and credit card(s)
- Copies of all important documents (online and paper)
At the end of the day, the whole reason for your travel is the experiences you will have and the memories that will last a lifetime. Packing lighter will make that happen more often.
To find even more tips and ideas about packing lightly and traveling more, check out Natalie Sisson.