Packing Light for Chronic Overpackers

I was that girl. You’ve all seen her. She’s the one with multiple bags stuffed to the max pleading with the check-in workers to make an exception for her. She’s the one scrambling at the last minute to cram nonsensical items into various suitcases, or throwing away tchotchkes in the line in order to meet the weight requirements. She’s the one wincing as she lifts her carry-on into the overhead bin due to the excessive weight. And she’s the one bumping into you with the dangling neck pillow, blanket and bulging backpack as she makes her way through the airplane aisles.

I was her.

But I’m not anymore.

After a few years of trial and error, I’ve fine-tuned the elusive skill of packing light, and treading the golden line of bringing exactly what I need…no more, no less. I never thought that day would come, but it finally did. I’ve become a lot choosier with what I decide to carry along with me because I remind myself that if it comes with me, it has to come back.

The bane of my existence were these phrases:

“But what if…”

“I may end up needing this”

“But I must have these shoes to match with this outfit”

Etcetera.

But what I’ve learned throughout my travels is that NO ONE CARES. So what, you’ve worn the same jeans 4 days in a row, or the same top 3 times in one week? You’re traveling, so you’re not expected to wear something completely different every single day. Shoes are the worst offender because they take up an absurd amount of space. We’ll talk more about that later, though.

In fact, in just a span of 9 months, my packing skills have gone from 0 to 60. In the beginning of my time here in Argentina, I took a 5-day trip to Mendoza, carting along a carry-on bag, a rather large backpack and a bag of snacks. Mind you, each of these looked like you and I after Thanksgiving dinner. And they were no fun to carry, either. Just a few months later, I went on a 10-day trip to Patagonia with a small backpack and a half-full reusable bag for snacks, resembling someone on Atkins. A much prettier picture, and a lot lighter.

So now I’m going to walk you through the thought processes, questions and tips that helped me become a light packer.

  1. First of all, as I said earlier, if it goes with you, it’s (probably) coming back.
  2. Second, you probably could live without (such and such item) for X amount of days. I believe in you. For example, I love For my first few trips, I would bring my bolsa matera with me everywhere, which ends up taking up more space than I liked. In the end, I realized that anywhere I travel in Argentina anyway, the hostel is going to have mate. So there was no need to bring it!
  3. Leave ample space for souvenirs. These are only some of the treasures I carried back with me from Argentina.
  4. Strategically plan your outfits. I stick with lightweight fabrics for tops, one or two cardigans, neutral colors for easy matching, two bottoms (leggings and jeans), two pairs of shoes max, and one dress. I recently bought a chambray button up, which I’m totally in love with because it matches ERRYTHANG and instantly pulls together the entire outfit.
  5. Speaking of shoes… I limit myself to two pairs for trips lasting from 1-3 weeks. Less than a week? Suck it up and just bring one pair. Here’s the key to choosing your shoes. Comfort is TOP PRIORITY, since you will be walking A LOT. Research the climate, the season, and the activities you’ll be doing. Obviously, hiking boots for more rugged excursions, a comfy pair of Keds, Toms or flats for European city sightseeing, or some knee-high boots for fall and winter seasons. I love espadrilles for more laid back days and for lounging around the hotel because they are comfortable and very compact. For colors, I like neutral shades: brown, black, blue and grey. But if you have a sassy pair of red flats that will pop with each outfit, by all means, go for it! Just stick to that pair though. By the way, leave the heels at home. These become your life.
  6. Another little secret I’m willing to share is that those travel storage cubes are a lifesaver. Avoid an explosive, jumbled mess of fabrics and stuff it all into one condensed mesh cube for easy, seamless packing.
  7. Think small. Light headphones, a netbook over a full-size laptop, only the necessary make-up and jewelry items, small bottles, compact chargers, a palm-sized notebook, etc. It all adds up to more space in your bag and less weight on your shoulders (literally!).
  8. Ask yourself these questions, and answer honestly!
    1. Am I really going to use this?
    2. How many times would I need this?
    3. Will this be able to make a variety of outfits? (for clothes)
    4. Am I going to want to carry this with me everywhere?
    5. Could I survive without this for X amount of days?
    6. Could I cheaply buy this there and discard it when I’m done?
  9. Practice makes perfect. I can tell you over and over that you’re not going to actually need certain items and you’ll keep bringing them along, until one day you realize that it’s no longer worth it and that I was right; you really didn’t ever use it. Told ya so. Packing light is an art, and like any artist, it takes a few crappy drafts to make the masterpiece.

Once you perfect this skill, you’ll feel like a brand new traveler; you’ll feel free, liberated, unburdened and untethered. You’re now free to ROAM!

As I like to say, “You can always tell how long someone has traveled by how much they have with them”.

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