We all know the feeling: you’re in a foreign land surrounded by unimaginable beauty. The sights, the smells, the sounds – they’re all just as you hoped they would be. Yet you’re still uncomfortable.
Because you’re carrying around enough stuff for a small village, and you haven’t touched half of it in the first three weeks of this trip.
Ya, it sucks.
Today, we’re going to address that problem. But contrary to common belief, packing smart isn’t just a matter of putting the right things in the right bag. It’s a mindset. And that’s why we’ve broken the packing process down into 9 distinct steps with a lot of tools and tips to be had in each phase. Ready for a whirlwind of knowledge? Let’s get started.
Step 1: The Five Ground Rules
Rule #1: You travel for growth, not relocation.
How many travelers have you seen trying to live the exact same life they do at home? I’ve seen a lot of them. They want to wear the same clothes they do at home, eat the same food at home, and are really just traveling so they can send a couple of jealousy-inducing Snapchats and bring home a new Facebook profile pic.
You’re not one of those people.
No, you travel because you know it’s the best way to push your boundaries, to explore pieces of the world that you never knew existed, and to uncover parts of yourself that have been lying dormant for years.
So when you’re traveling, remember this: things are going to be different. Accept that, find the beauty in it, and don’t let your current life get in the way of the life you want when you’re traveling.
Rule #2: Only bring what you need.
As you prepare to pack it’s important to distinguish what you want to bring – those things that comfort or entertain – from what you really need to bring. Accept that you won’t be able to live the way you do back home (reread rule #1) with everything at your fingertips. It’s amazing how fast most people adjust within the first week or two of being on the road.
Besides, isn’t a big appeal of travel the ample opportunities to appreciate what you’ve got back home while still realizing how little we truly need to be happy? It definitely is for me.
With this in mind, here’s a great technique for cutting down and taking only what you really need:
Gather everything you think you need and lay it out on the floor so you can easily quantify what you have. Then aim to halve it!
Don’t ask yourself, “Do I want to take this?”, but instead ask “Can I survive (and still enjoy myself) without it?” If you’re asking “What if…” as you pack something, this is usually a sign that you won’t need the item except in exceptional circumstances. You should probably leave it behind.
And this leads very nicely into rule #3.
Rule #3: Pack for the best-case scenario.
A key principle to smart packing is not to pack for every possibility. Instead, adopt an optimistic frame of mind and pack according to how things normally are – you can deal with emergencies or unexpected scenarios if they arise (they probably won’t). As minimal packing expert Rick Steves advises:
“Don’t pack for the worst-case scenario. Pack for the best-case scenario and buy yourself out of any jams.” – Rick Steves
Rule #4: Longer trips don’t warrant more stuff.
The duration of a trip isn’t as important a factor as you’d expect. A 3-week trip requires more or less the same stuff as a 3-month trip, or even a 3-year trip. All the essentials stay the same: the only thing that changes is that you’ll wash your clothes along the way and pick up extra toiletries when you need them. There’s no need for extra gear, or stress, when prepping for a big trip.
Rule #5: The world isn’t as remote as you think it is.
At this point in the process you might be worrying about leaving something important behind. But you can get almost anything you find at home abroad as well. Think about it: how many of the things you wear/use in a day were made in your home country? If you’re like most of our readers in one of Canada, USA, Australia, or the UK, the answer is likely very close to zero. So why would you think that you can’t find those same items, and even better items, abroad?
Yes, this applies to developing countries too. In my personal travel bag, I carry three t-shirts I got in Colombia, a pair of jeans from Hong Kong, a skateboard from Argentina, and a handful of other things I’ve picked up in any number of places. The one country that’s massively underrepresented in my belongings: my homeland, Canada.
A Note on Minimalist Packing
Minimalism has become more or less a fad lately, and that’s no different when it comes to packing for travel. The not-to-subtle mentions of “I only travel with a carry-on” or “I don’t need more than two pairs of underwear” often lead to people going to great lengths just to prove how little they need to get by. Rolf Potts, the acclaimed writer, completed a No Baggage Challenge that saw him travelling around the world with only a handful of items – including all of his spare clothes – in his pockets.
Not my idea of a good time.
Don’t get me wrong, minimalist packing is a good thing, and the wider minimalist traveler community is a great source of inspiration and advice when it comes to packing smart for international travel. (For a primer, check out how digital nomad James Turner lives out of his backpack and how Tim Ferriss travels with just 10 pounds of stuff.)
But here’s the main distinction that the words “minimalist packing” don’t encapsulate at first glance: packing minimally doesn’t mean bringing as few items as possible, but maximizing the value you get out of the items you do bring.
That’s what we’re about at How I Travel, and there’s good reason for it. In all of the travelers we’ve interviewed, everyone from pro Instagramers to startup founders, none of them ever said that a pair of merino wool socks was one of their favourite items. Instead, these expert travelers choose children’s books and Japanese figurines to bring along with them. They know that getting the most out of your travels isn’t about stripping yourself down to nothing, but bringing the items that make you you.
So there they are, the five ground rules. Can you feel your perspective shifting? I hope so. Now let’s get into the specifics.
Step 2: Know your destination
A) Question the fundamentals.
Ask yourself some of the following questions: What will I be doing? Will I be moving around a lot? What season am I visiting? Am I visiting lots of different countries? Do my destinations have different climates or cultures? You need to know the answers to these questions before starting to think about any specific items.
B) Acquaint yourself with where you’re going.
It may seem obvious, but all too many travelers hop on a plane without sufficient knowledge about the place their visiting. Each destination has unique packing needs, so do your research and talk to people who have visited your destination or similar places. The travel subreddit is a great place to start, and offers more candid reviews from younger travelers than other more tightly-controlled forums like TripAdvisor. You can find really specific niches on reddit as well, everything from /r/backpacking to /r/solotravel and a lot more.
C) Get the lowdown from your government.
Most governments publish heaps of information for their citizens traveling abroad, including climate and environmental data, cultural differences, local religion and customs (especially important for women), and health advisories. Here they are for Canada, USA, Australia, and the UK, and even if you’re not from one of those places, you can still use these resources – just be aware that things like visa and vaccination requirements will vary depending on your home country.
D) Get a destination-specific packing list.
We’re going to go deeper into specific items a bit later, but what we won’t do in this post is give you a packing list that varies by destination. Luckily, there are some great resources for exactly that: Her Packing List by Brooke Schoenman is a must for both women and men, and the US Peace Corps lists are an optional add-on, though they only have lists for developing nations where the Peace Corps are volunteering.
Here’s a quick look at the sort of lists you can expect from Her Packing List:
E) Tailor everything to your own circumstances.
Take all these factors into consideration, and then do some more thinking, this time about your own personal preferences and needs. Are you a gadget geek? An avid reader? Particularly fashion conscious? Do you have specific health concerns or issues? It can help to make a list of all the things you use on a day-to-day basis. You won’t be able to take everything you normally use with you, but it’s a good starting point for building a personalized packing list and ensures you won’t miss anything important.
Okay, now you’ve got your hands on a generic packing list for wherever you’re going – but how do you get started if you don’t have anything to put all your items in?
Step 3: Choose your bag
Selecting the right bag, whether a wheeled suitcase, backpack or duffle bag, will depend on the nature of your trip and your own personal preferences. If you’re staying relatively static, visiting only one or two places, a wheeled suitcase may be the way to go. If on the other hand, you’re moving around every few days, having to drag heavy suitcases around will quickly become tiresome. Another drawback of suitcases is their maneuverability. Many travelers who go this route quickly get fed up with negotiating surfaces like wooden slabs, steps, stones, jetties, sand, turf, and so on.
Of course, the main drawback of taking a backpack is that you have to shoulder all the weight yourself. It’s important for you to be able to comfortably carry your luggage around on your back for substantial distances. This is perhaps the number one reason to pick as small a pack as you can, take a little as you can, and to pack lightweight items. Organization and ease of access can also be drawbacks to backpacks for some, although packing cubes or using other containers and bags can greatly help with this.
Here are two exceptionally valuable comparisons of the most popular backpacks for travelers:
“One Bag” Travel Backpack Comparison – An exhaustive, crowdsourced resource comparing every quantifiable metric for over 20 popular backpacks.
Carry-On Backpacks – A similar comparison that focuses on 30+ carry-on backpacks. Navigate to the Backpacks tab at the bottom to see the data.
Another question you’ll be asking yourself is how many pieces should you take? Many travelers tout the benefits of traveling with just carry-on luggage (revisit my mention of minimalist packing in Step 1), which normally amounts to a large backpack with a smaller day bag.
Yet other travelers note the benefits of taking a bigger bag that you check in, since not only does it allow you to take more with you, but it also leaves you more room for souvenirs. Besides, a bigger bag can always be lightened, whereas if you’re taking a small carry-on it will always be filled to the brim and you’ll be limited to that size for your entire trip. Of course, the ultimate decision is up to you, but keep this in mind as you decide:
“Many people regret bringing too much. Few people regret bringing too little.“
Step 4: Clothes
There are two contrasting opinions when it comes to packing clothing:
Opinion 1: Indiana Jones
Have you ever noticed that Indiana Jones a) always wears the same clothes, and b) always has the tool he needs at hand (seriously, who carries a whip?) That’s because he’s part of the first camp of travelers, who advocate investing in a select few high-quality travel items and trimming your wardrobe by carrying fewer, more versatile items.
The advantages of travel-specific clothing include durability and saving on space and weight, and their technical fabric means they are purpose-built to withstand repetitive use and harsh conditions; they’re perfect for those traveling long-term with a minimalist wardrobe. The disadvantages: these items are usually expensive, plus wearing zip-off pants or thermal underwear can look a bit silly at times. Sorry, Indy.
Opinion 2: James Bond
James Bond takes a completely different approach to travel: wear what you feel most comfortable in (even if that’s a perfectly-tailored suit).
While Indy relies on his whip (or in your case, your merino wool socks) to get the job done, 007 uses his surroundings creatively to ensure he always comes out on top (just go back and watch any hand-to-hand combat scene and you’ll see what I mean). So when he’s choosing clothes, 007 brings what he’s most comfortable in (beautiful suits) and figures the rest out later.
In other words, travel with your normal everyday clothes and pick up what you need along the way. Many experienced globetrotters urge travelers to pack clothes they know and love; just because you’re abroad, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to be comfortable sporting things like thermals or specialist travel trousers.
And if you don’t want to take your favorite clothes from home, consider taking or buying cheap clothes that you can donate and replace with new clothes once those get worn out. This works especially well when travelling between places with radically different climates (eg. between the coasts and mountains of South America). An extra bonus: the clothes you buy abroad make great souvenirs.
At the end of the day, there’s no right answer – whether you choose Indy’s style or 007’s style is up to you.
A few general notes on clothing:
- Be choosy about fabrics. Merino wool and microfibers are lightweight, durable and quick-drying, all great for travelling, while cotton is bulky and takes a long time to dry. Wet cotton can also pose a risk in cool climates, as it draws heat out of the body.
- Make use of layers: You can easily add and remove clothes in order to change your outfit or adapt to the weather. Using layers also helps you avoid packing anything too bulky.
- Opt for versatility: Every piece of clothing you take should be wearable with anything else, meaning that three tops and three pants should yield nine different outfits, not just three. Sticking to neutral shades and basic patterns can make this significantly easier. As fashion expert Kelvin Ewald explains on the Yore Oyster blog, just bringing along items like a neutral Oxford shirt and a knit black tie give men a lot of versatility in their wardrobes. For women, a sarong can be used for warmth, to protect your face against dust, at the beach as a cover-up, or as a towel, privacy curtain and blanket.
- Avoid whites. They show dirt too easily.
- Do laundry. Does this one really need an explanation? Make your mother happy and just do it.
- Kill wrinkles. Place a plastic dry cleaner bag between layers of clothing in your bag to minimize wrinkles.
Advice on specific clothing items
- Jackets: Think carefully about whether you really need to take a jacket. You don’t necessarily need to add bulk and weight in order to keep warm. Thin layers made out of the right fabric are very effective at keeping the heat in, such as a base layer from Under Armour for men or ColdPruf for women. If you’re visiting a cold destination, consider taking an ultra-light down jacket like this one from Uniqlo for men and women.
- Raincoats: Often unnecessary. They don’t fulfill a lot of other purposes (such as warmth or style) besides keeping the rain out. Consider purchasing a small travel-sized umbrella or poncho instead.
- Jeans: Should be considered carefully. In hot countries, they’re heavy, bulky and take ages to dry, and if they get wet in a cold climate, you could put yourself at risk of hypothermia. In temperate climates, though, they can be good in terms of comfort, fashion and blending in with locals.
- Dresses: Some say they are impractical, while others sing their praise, arguing there’s no need for girls to compromise on style or femininity if they’d prefer not to. Dresses are lightweight, they take the place of two items of clothing (tops and bottoms), and they’re multi-functional, often serving as casual beach wear and more formal outfits alike.
- Underwear: If you start digging here, you’ll hear a lot about ExOfficio underwear for guys as the #1 pair when it comes to travel. Even guys like Tim Ferriss love ExOfficio, which has given them a lot of credibility. But when you dig even deeper (that’s what we’re here for), you’ll discover that the real winner is not ExOfficio, but Uniqlo Airism. And full-time travelers like Snarky Nomad and Michael Livingston agree – Uniqlo hits the mark on nearly every level. The best part? They’re just $13 per pair, half the price of ExOfficio.
- Shoes: Try to pack just one functional pair, and forget about taking fancier shoes. Add flip flops if you’re going to a warm country. Don’t be tempted to take hiking boots unless you intend on doing some serious hiking; remember that you’re packing for the most likely scenarios, not every scenario. If you find yourself in dire need of a pair of dress shoes thanks to a spontaneous wedding invitation, you’ll find a way to get them. A good pair of barefoot trail running shoes like these Teslas are also a good hybrid option for the more active traveler.
If you’re still on the fence, here’s a general guide for the amount of clothes you should bring if your aim is to pack light. You can also refer to the list Minimalist Packing for Normal People made by Tortuga Backpacks.
- 2-3 pairs of pants/shorts (or skirts/dresses)
- 4-5 tops
- 1 warm sweatshirt
- Jacket (for cooler destinations only)
- Underwear (to last 1 week)
- Hat, bathing suit, sarong
Step 5: Toiletries
Most people bring a lot of toiletries, and they end up both a) taking up a lot of space and weight in your bag, and b) mostly going unused. Here’s a list of the most common items that travelers bring, though we only recommend bringing the first 3-4 items in the left column. Everything else you can pick up easily along the way.
|Toothbrush/toothpaste||Lip balm||Antibacterial cream|
|Deodorant||Basic makeup||Sunburn relief|
|Hair brush/comb||Face wipes||Motion sickness pills|
|Razor||Nail clippers||Anti-diarrhea pills|
|Soap/body wash||Tweezers||Insect repellent|
|Shampoo/conditioner||Pain killers||Anti-malarial tablets|
|Hair bands||Cold medication||Mosquito net|
It’s sensible to downgrade your beauty (and to some extent hygiene) routine when travelling. Think carefully about whether you really need extra products for your hair beyond shampoo and conditioner, or for girls whether you could make do with minimal or zero make-up. Cutting down on toiletries not only saves on space and weight, but also on time and effort, which is better spent exploring the places you’ve come to see. A few ways to do it:
- Transfer liquids from their regular bottles into smaller bottles like the Human Gear GoToob Travel Bottle, or some cheap ones you can find at most dollar stores. If you’re staying at hotels, take their bottle of shampoo with you for the next leg of your trip, and stuff these smaller bottles into one small compression sack or Ziploc bag so they’re all easily accessible from one place. You may even want to opt for a solid shampoo (sold at places like Lush) or a dry shampoo, like the Frederic Fekkai that Carly swears by.
- Use toiletries for multiple uses whenever possible. Some sunscreens can act as a moisturizer, and body washes can double as shaving creams and shampoos. The ultimate multi-use product is aloe vera gel, which can be used as a moisturizer, shaving gel, after shave, make-up primer, acne or small wound treatment, hair gel, and face mask.
Other items you might want to consider taking include:
- A lightweight microfiber travel towel: Super absorbent and fast to dry. We like this one from Raqpak.
- A hang-up toiletry bag: Handy to have when in the shower. We like this one from by GearNomad.
- Travel wipes: Great for freshening up on a long journey, wiping hands clean, for using between showers, and taking off make-up and sunscreen. Garnier face wipes don’t spill and are TSA-friendly.
Step 6: Technology
I’m not going to belabor all the reasons why you should leave things like physical guidebooks, flashlights, maps, alarm clocks, iPods, and more at home (if you even own any of those) – you already know how heavy, bulky, and unnecessary those things are thanks to your smartphone.
Instead, everything you want to know about leveraging tech to make your trip a success is contained within another of our guides:
We filtered through hundreds of apps, sites, and tools to find the 9 that you’re going to absolutely love for your next trip. They’ll make your trip easier to plan, more enjoyable while you’re on the road, and will save you a lot of money, so they’re definitely worth checking out.
Here are the 9 that we selected, in case you’re too lazy to click:
Planning Your Trip
- Cereal Magazine City Guides: A bi-annual travel + style magazine with city guides written specifically for the educated, modern young traveler. Cereal recommends just 10 places to visit in each city, ranging from bookstores to boutique hotels, and each guide is beautifully photographed, too.
- Yore Oyster: A personalized flight hacking service that saves travelers up to 50% on the cost of their international flights when compared to Kayak or Skyscanner. They’re flying travelers to Europe and Asia for $75 each.
- Pocket: The offline reader for all sorts of web content. Use their Chrome extension to save content from all your favourite sources — Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and anywhere else — to all of your devices for you to read offline at any time.
Preparing to Leave
- Airbnb: Put your apartment to work for you while you’re gone by becoming an Airbnb host. Hosting is actually extremely easy, especially when you use Airbnb’s free professional photography service to make your place an instant winner.
- TaskRabbit: Imagine TaskRabbit as a magical place where you can get someone to do just about anything — for a price, of course. Now that you’re renting your apartment on Airbnb, use TaskRabbit to handle all of the hands-on pieces of your rental: the key exchange, cleaning between guests, re-stocking essentials, and anything else you need.
- MakeSpace: MakeSpace allows you to put all of your valuables — clothes, electronics, under-your-mattress wads of cash — into storage just by packing them into a couple of bins (sent to you for free) and having a delivery guy pick them up (also free).
While You’re Gone
- Instabridge: The world’s largest wifi-sharing app. Locals and travelers alike add the login credentials for wifi networks, both open and password-protected networks, for others to use freely, which means you can connect to millions — yes, millions! — of open and protected networks all around the world.
- Hotel Tonight: Hotel Tonight fills would-be-empty hotel rooms at make-travelers-happy prices (think 20–50% discounts). You can only book a room up to 7 days in advance, which keeps your plans spontaneous and helps you capitalize on deep discounts when hotels are looking to fill their last few rooms.
- Settle Up: Settle Up is a super-simple bill-splitting app that allows you to manage and share expenses amongst friends with ease. The app tells you who should pay for the next meal, the total your group has spent, and who owes who how much in what currency at any given time.
One note, though: since your phone is now your tool for doing just about everything, you may want to invest in a portable battery pack to ensure you’re never left without a charge. Sean, Rachel, and Pete all love their own battery packs for different reasons, but a good starting point is this one from RAVPower.
Step 7: Miscellaneous Items
Here’s a list of items that many travelers overlook when packing, but which can come in very handy. You don’t need to take everything on this list, but do consider whether each one could potentially make your trip run smoother.
- Earplugs. Alternatively, if you’re a light sleeper, consider downloading a free white noise app on your phone to drown out any background noise (here’s one for iPhone and Android).
- Sleep mask. No, these aren’t only for the octogenarians out there. A lot of people who try a sleep mask now use them every night, regardless of where they’re sleeping. If you don’t want to buy one, grab it aboard your next overnight flight.
- Copies of important documents (passport, visas, IDs, reservations). It’s a smart idea to store digital copies on your phone, both in a downloaded version on the phone’s memory and on an app like Dropbox/Gmail so even if you lose your phone, you still have access to them.
- Padlock for your luggage. Not essential, but may be a good idea in some countries.
- Portable clothes line. Useful for drying your clothes in places without a machine.
- Athletic tape– Strong enough for any fixes or repairs you may require, yet soft enough to use on potential injuries.
- Notebook and pen. Even if you’re not planning on keeping a journal, these can be great for playing games, noting down useful information and keeping a record of contact details.
- Sarong. These have so many purposes (revisit SECTION 4 on clothes).
- Reusable water bottle. Much better than constantly buying and disposing of plastic bottles. Sean loves his so much he only drank water for 21 days straight (no food!).
- Waterproof backpack liner. If there’s a chance you’ll encounter substantial rain, a waterproof backpack liner or internal waterproof bag will keep your gear dry.
- Silk sleeping bag liner. These are compact and light, and come in very handy if you’re staying in a lot of hostels or budget hotels, especially in poorer countries. They help keep you warm as well as protect you from questionable bedding.
- Headphones. Decent ones may be hard to find in some places. We like Yurbuds because they never fall out, or if you want a deeper sound, go for these over-ears from LSTN.
Step 8: What to leave behind
The items listed below should be among the first things to go if you’re aiming to pack light or trying to reduce the size of your luggage. Many of these things can also be liabilities on the road so it’s best to play safe and leave them at home.
- Jewelry and valuables: Wearing jewelry or flashy clothes, and walking around with expensive-looking gadgets or accessories will make you more of a target. Walking around sporting flashy goods also hurts your chances of negotiating prices in places like street markets and hotels. Daniel Bilsborough, founder of DJB World Photography School, actually brings a “non-camera camera bag” with him wherever he goes to keep his expensive camera gear hidden, both as a sign of respect and to avoid the attention of thieves.
- Travel gadgets: Compasses, LED torches, Swiss Army knives, mirrors, and a lot of other traditional travel gadgets just aren’t necessary anymore thanks to smartphones. Unless you’re going on a serious expedition, leave them behind.
- Electrical items: Electricals such as a hair dryer (most hotels have them), hair straighteners or curling tongs (really not necessary!), electric toothbrushes, book lights, portable DVD players, coffee makers and so on, should all be left behind. One possible exception to this rule may be the AeroPress coffee maker, which Johnny brings with him everywhere, but it’s only for diehard coffee fans on very specific types of trips – and it doesn’t even use electricity!
- Specialist equipment: Items such as snorkeling gear, ski clothing, binoculars for wildlife watching and even hiking gear are probably not worth taking, unless they’re going to be the focus of your trip. Rent the gear instead, or try borrowing it from locals and fellow travelers.
Step 9: How to Pack
So, you’ve decided what you’re taking and you’ve got everything assembled ready to go. Now you just need to fit everything into your one or two bags. Easy right?
But before we get into the actual methods for packing your gear for maximum space and efficiency, it’s important to prepare yourself mentally.
Write a checklist so that you don’t forget anything important, and cross things off as you put them in the bag. You might also want to create a smaller, separate list itemizing the things to pack in your day bag in the few hours before you leave. This ensures you won’t leave behind those small everyday items that you use frequently and that are so easy to forget (I have a love/hate relationship with my toothbrush thanks to this). Oh, and despite the fact that we all do it, don’t leave packing until the last minute! There’s no better way to stress yourself out than rushing to the airport because you spent the morning watching Netflix when you should’ve been packing.
Having said this, don’t sweat the packing process too much! If you forget something, you’ll be able to find it at your destination.
Clothes form the bulk of most traveler’s luggage. There are three main ways to pack them: folding, rolling and bundling.
Method A: The Fold
This is the traditional way of packing clothing. Although it means items take up more space, some people prefer to fold as it can be better in terms of organization and general tidiness. To avoid wrinkles, fold along the crease lines.
Method B: The Roll
Advocates of packing light stress the importance of rolling clothes as a means of saving space and preventing creases. This method works well for smaller items such as t-shirts, short, underwear, pajamas, sweats and bathing suits, with the exception to the rolling rule being sweaters and other bulky items, which may actually take less space if you fold them and lay them flat on top of or just below rolled clothes. Check out the video below to see how to roll your clothes tightly to save maximum space.
Method C: The Bundle
Bundling means packing all of your clothes into one solid bundle. Onebag.com and others are advocates of this approach, and they claim it produces the fewest wrinkles of any method. In short, you lay all of your clothes flat in a pile with trouser legs and shirt sleeves sticking out, and then fold them on top of each other, tucking in all the loose ends as you go, keeping the smallest items near the center of the bundle and bulkier items towards the outside.
As you can see, it’s a bit confusing to explain, so I’ll leave it to the video below to do it for you (or this one if you don’t like the one below).
Of course, don’t think you have to do all your packing using one method. Most people find that a hybrid method works best, folding some items while rolling others and bundling anything bulky. You can experiment with different techniques to see what works best for which items.
And don’t forget the caveat to extremely good packing: the smaller you can make your items, the more you’re going to fit in your bag! This may sound great now, but when you spend three hours rolling clothes and then can’t even lift your bag off the ground, you won’t be quite so happy. Go for the happy medium balancing the size of your items with their weight.
Packing cubes are great for keeping your gear organized and avoiding one giant jumbled mess in your bag. Experienced travelers use separate cubes for clean clothes, dirty clothes, electronics, and toiletries.
If you’re even more serious about saving space, consider compression bags, which seal your items together and squeeze out all the air. Even simple Ziploc bags can keep your gear organized and protected while avoiding unnecessary air space. As I said above in Step 4, placing a plastic dry cleaner bag between layers of clothing in your bag is also a great way to minimize wrinkles.
How to arrange items within your bag
Here are some tips to help smooth your packing process. This is mainly applicable to backpacks, which are generally harder to pack well than suitcases.
- Pack the heaviest things in the middle and as close to the back as possible.
- Put fragile items just above the heaviest objects in the middle of the pack.
- Cram underwear, socks and other small items into shoes, hollow objects and other nooks and crannies.
- Utilize pockets. Stuff every pocket possible in your suitcase or backpack with toiletries, underwear, socks, swimsuits and rolled up belts.
- Pack those things you’ll need for your first night – pyjamas, toiletries, a warm piece of clothing, and so on – near the top of your bag for easy access.
You just leveled up your packing game in a serious way.
Before I let you go, I want to revisit our ground rules way back from Section 1, the fundamentals of successful packing. Here they are:
- Travel is about trying new things, not reliving your old life in a new place.
- Bring only what you need – you’ll be surprised at how few items that actually is.
- Pack for the best-case scenario. You can buy yourself out of emergencies later.
- Longer trips don’t warrant more stuff. They just warrant more laundry.
- The world isn’t as remote as you think it is, so give other places a chance to surprise you.
Hopefully you agree with at least a few of them by now.
If you want to learn about what the world’s most interesting travelers are bringing with them, that’s what How I Travel is all about. We’re a growing collection of meaningful conversations with wildly insightful travelers that have been to every corner of the earth, and we ask each and every one of them this question:
“What would you never leave home without?”
They come up with some pretty eccentric stuff, everything from a pair of fake green Converse to flea market jackets to perhaps the world’s most valuable book. These people have it figured out, and they really see no limits when it comes to packing, or to travel.
If you learned something from this post, share it with your friends on Facebook so they can become pro packers too, and then go on over to How I Travel to see some of our featured travelers there. I think you’re going to like what you find!
Also, since so many of you have been asking us for them, here's our full list of country-specific posts outlining how to ship anything from Amazon to any country in the world. Our 2-step method makes it as simple as humanly possible, and takes about 3 minutes total: Austria, Bahrain, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Kuwait, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
While you're at it, international travelers should read our N26 review for the best way to get free ATM withdrawals the best rates on currency conversion - anywhere in the world.