Many moons ago, when I was still in University, I found myself struggling with a very heavy and stuffed gym bag along with an almost equally heavy and stuffed backpack to a 5-day retreat. While I was pretty low maintenance then (even more than I am now), I was also a worrier who had to be prepared for everything.
I was assigned to be roommates with an amazingly laid-back girl who managed to pack everything she needed for the 3 day retreat, into one tote bag. Yes, she showered and changed into fresh clothes everyday. No, it wasn’t an oversized tote bag with oversized pockets. And no, to my knowledge she is not a sorcerer equipped with black magic. Looking at her bag and then at mine, I promised myself that I will one day be the master of the art of packing light.
While I think I still have a long way to go, (I would like to think that) I have made significant strides. I’ve taken every little trip, from long weekends out of town to longer multi-week jaunts, challenging myself to keep paring down what I pack.
A Packing Milestone
When I first wrote about my struggles with overpacking a year ago, I was headed to a short notice opportunity to travel to Vancouver. I made it my mission to pack as lightly as possible and managed to fit 6 days worth of clothes, essentials and gear into a carry-on luggage and my camera bag, with lots of room to spare. Given that I am ever so slightly more high maintenance now, with a slightly evolved skincare and hygiene routine, it was a relative success.
My carry on luggage and camera bag from 2014
2015 Packing Update
Tav and I have stepped up our packing game. Late 2014, we visited my home country, the Philippines and are proud to report that we were able to fit both of our clothes, toiletries, camera gear, etcetera into one checked luggage and a carry on backpack. Now for those of you who have read or watched a lot of minimalist packing guides, I know this doesn’t sound all that impressive. However, for Tav, who is a notorious overpacker to feel remotely comfortable in bringing only half a luggage full of stuff, it was a giant leap.
Today, packing for a typical 7 day trip involves just one backpack and a smaller camera bag. This is granted that I am going for pleasure and do not need any special gear or bulky outerwear.
What Worked for Me
- I was very critical about what I brought with me. Below is a version of the set of questions I ask myself before putting anything into my bag.
- Do I really need this?
- Given my itinerary (if I have one) or the weather, will I actually have time to use this? Is it practical or sensible?
- Ok so it might be nice to have [insert gadget or clothing item here] but will I be using it enough to justify bringing it with me?
- What will happen if I don’t bring it? Can I do without?
- Do I really need to bring multiple emergency clothes? Or does it make more sense to just buy a cheap (souvenir) shirt in case of an emergency? The latter will give me an excuse to shop. Winner!
- Will anyone judge me if I wear the same bottoms more than once? If yes, do I care?
- WIll I be staying in the same place long enough to be able to wash some of my clothes? If yes,
- Getting organized is key. Keeping my itinerary (activities, location, etc.) and the weather in mind, I would list of everything I’ll need. Then, I’ll try to pack as far enough in advance as I reasonably can. I find that packing ahead of time helps me be more reasonable; it also gives me some time to rethink, switch around and pare down to the necessary items.
Below is a blank travel checklist that you may print out to help your packing stay organized. While I’d like to use less paper and use digital for lists and notes more often, I find that paper still works better for me. Note: Whenever I am flying, I like having a copy of the list with me on (on my carry on) and inside my checked luggage.
Click the image to download the PDF version.
Honestly, the points above are nothing extraordinary. If you look online, you’ll find bigger lists of helpful packing tips. These two points though are what has worked for me through the years, and hopefully you’ll find some value in it too.