Packing Efficiently

suitcases on beach


How To Pack Efficiently For Long Distance Travel

Have you ever spent hours packing for a trip and realize on your way home that you haven’t worn half of the clothes you packed? I hope so, because then I won’t feel bad about having done this time and time again. Finally, after years of packing wrong, I learned how to pack right.

First, you have to know what the weather is like. Hot? Warm? Cold? Cool? Rainy? Sunny? Windy? Different during different times of the year? Pack accordingly, and ONLY for that weather. No matter how badly you want to wear that new spring dress, if you’re going to Florida in the winter, remember it will be too chilly at night. A long fancy New York style peacoat might be warm and look nice, but isn’t appropriate for southern Spain where chilly temperatures are only common one month out of the year.

Here are some tips on how to pack efficiently for a vacation:

1. Wear your bulkiest clothing on the plane. If it’s cold where you’re leaving from, don’t bring a coat on the plane! Just wear more clothes and free up more room in your suitcase. It’s easier to strip clothes off and pack them away than carry a hot coat in a warm climate.

2. Plan out every day and night outfit before you pack. Don’t throw every shirt you like into your suitcase thinking, “maybe I’ll wear this one night” because odds are you won’t. Plan out what you want to wear and where you want to wear it. Is there a special occasion you need to dress up for? Is the destination a casual spot? A party city? A family town? Plan entire outfits down to the shoes.

calendar of outfits

3. Try to avoid unnecessary accessories. They look great on an outfit, but can get cumbersome when traveling. It’s also possible for jewelry to get stolen, so best to leave it at home.

4. Don’t bring too many shoes (guys, I hope you’re listening too!) Bring one pair of neutral sandals (or sneakers) that match every outfit. If possible, wear them on the plane to avoid putting shoes in your suitcase all together. We always think we’ll wear all those shoes in our closet when we’re on vacation, but we never do. Save the weight in your luggage!

5. Outfits can be worn more than once. On warm vacations, you’ll spend most of your time in a bathing suit. The sun is exhausting so IF you go out at night, it probably won’t be for long and your clothes will be good for more than one night. On cold vacations, you’ll spend most of your time in coats and scarves and no one will ever see your clothes (I have a photo album called, “I really do wear different outfits” since in every picture for 8 days straight, I’m in the same coat, hat, and jeans!)

Germany, Iceland, Belgium, Spain - same outfit, different countries
Germany, Iceland, Belgium, Spain – different outfit, same look

6. Warm climates are easier to pack for. Smaller clothes can fit in a backpack for a 5 day trip (I can vouch for this; I went to Florida for 5 days with just a backpack in December, and fit a beach towel). Bathing suits, underwear, t-shirts, and shorts don’t take up much room.

Wear jeans and a sweater on the plane and this is all you need to pack!
Wear jeans and a sweater on the plane and this is all you need to pack!

7. Colder climates require heavier clothing which is hard to fit in a backpack. When leaving a cold temperature to go to a cold temperature (for example, leaving New Jersey in December to go to Iceland), you can wear extra layers to save warmth and space. Girls, a pair of thermal leggings under a pair of jeans will that free up room in your suitcase for more tops and still let you switch out your outfits. Guys, wear 2 t-shirts under a sweater with a pair of jeans and you probably won’t need much more.

When going to a cold destination, layer up on the plane to save space
When going to a cold destination, layer up on the plane to save space

8. Liquids are difficult to bring with you on planes these days. What liquids do you really need? Toothpaste comes in travel size which should last you a full vacation (unless you’re sharing – then tell everyone to get their own). Shampoo and conditioner comes in travel size or you can buy a cheap bottle when you get there. If you’re going to a beach destination, you will want to wash your hair every day and travel size shampoo and conditioner might not be enough. Hotels supply shampoo and conditioner, but if you’re like me and like to rent homes to feel like a local, you’ll need to learn where the nearest grocery store is. Perfumes and colognes have gotten easier since I discovered a little travel-sized refillable spray bottle called Travalo that allows you to take the top off, pump the perfume into it, and reattach the sprayer. It’s less than an ounce, perfect for bringing perfume as a carry on! You can bring water bottles through security if they are empty. Drink that water, keep the bottle, and refill it at a water fountain to bring water on the plane with you! Other liquids you might need, such as contact solution, should be easily transferred to a small 3 oz or less container. It’s a hassle, but it’s worth it to not check your luggage!

Why go to all this trouble of packing light, you ask?

  • With airlines competing for low fares, they are starting to charge exorbitant fees for checked baggage or carry on baggage, while a personal item is still free everywhere. A backpack is the size of a personal item.
  • How much extra time is added to your trip waiting in line at the check-in counter to check a bag (and sometimes fight about the size and weight), then waiting to pick it up after the plane is unloaded? If it gets lost, checking your bag becomes more of a pain than just packing light.
  • On a full flight, you’ll find many times there’s no overhead storage room for carry ons and they will have to check your bag anyway; or you will have to put your carry on far from your seat and wait until everyone exits the plane until you can get your bag and leave too.
  • Carrying luggage through the airport, to your car or a taxi or worse, a bus, and rolling it through a city until you get to your destination is a hassle.
  • Big luggage can peg you for a visitor, which the bad element can spot. If a thief knows your a tourist just visiting, you likely have some things they’d like to steal: a laptop, a tablet, jewelry, maybe a gps, and nice “resort” clothes. It’s happened to me, and it will happen to others. A backpack is less noticeable than a big rolling suitcase, therefore safer from a wandering eye.
  • Stairs are a suitcase’s worst enemy. With a backpack, stairs are no problem; many escalators even won’t allow big pieces of luggage on and you will have to wait for an elevator.
  • If you’re in bad health, lugging a heavy suitcase around can be straining. Most backpacks now are made ergonomically and evenly distribute weight so it feels light.

Some backpacks now even open like suitcases. You can lay them flat on the ground and unzip them all the way to pack them. This makes it much easier when picking clothes out of the backpack too; you won’t make a mess pulling out all of your clothes. However, I still use a typical top-opening backpack and I have traveled Europe perfectly fine with it. I am able to get through airports quickly and efficiently, not take up a lot of space, and board and de-board planes with no problems. Finally, after many years of traveling and packing, I have learned to do it right!

Backpacking to the Mosque/Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain


Remember, traveling isn’t really about fashion. At home, you have an entire wardrobe that you work hard on and have built up over the years, but traveling is about relaxing on a beach or sightseeing new things, and fashion doesn’t play a big part. Travel light and be happier!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *