How To Pack Lightly

Declutter Your Vacation

Woman with her ticket and luggage

How many times have you gone on trip, checking heavy luggage and dragging it awkwardly around, only to get home and realize you didn’t need or wear half of what you packed? Make your vacation more of a stress-free getaway by packing light and leaving the burden of those heavy bags behind.

  1. Make a list of the “must takes”. You don’t want to forget your deodorant or toothbrush, or get to your destination without your camera, so before you start packing, make a quick list of everything you need. Include underwear and socks for each day you’ll be gone, and anything specific you need to take: a swimsuit, church clothes, wedding attire, ski goggles. It’s always good to pack a plastic bag for dirty clothes, but if you forget, your hotel will probably have one hanging in the closet.
  2. Do a layout. After you’ve assembled all the “must takes”, lay out the rest of the clothes you want to pack. Do not take more pants or shirts than the number of days you’ll be gone “just in case” you decide you want to wear another outfit. Take key items that are easy to mix and match like plain shirts and sweaters, khakis, black pants and a pair of jeans. Plan on wearing items multiple times; if worse comes to worse and a giant tornado blows red wine all over your shirt, you can buy a new one or wash it in the sink.
  3. Leave the "I might need" items at home. Whether it’s a shirt, a pair of shoes or a new designer dress – if you’ve never worn it at home, you won’t wear it on vacation. Stick with the tried and true that you are comfortable with. Bring just one pair of shoes per use – one pair of dress, one pair of walking, and one pair of casual.
  4. Separate the carry-on from the check. Ideally you only pack a carry-on, but in this era of restrictions sometimes you have to check a bag. Make sure your carry-on has all your important documents, medicines, your camera, and anything else you can’t live without for more than a day in case your luggage gets lost. Use the bag you plan to take to the beach or day hiking as your carry-on to save extra space.
  5. Wear it­. If it is going to be chilly or raining and you need to bring a jacket or a sweater, wear it, even if you just tie it around your waist. (But don’t forget it on the plane!)
  6. Keep it simple. Keep toiletries to a minimum. You don’t need a different color eye shadow everyday, or cologne to match your tie. Keep small (6oz) bottles of shampoo, conditioner and face wash always ready in a small Ziploc bag so if a trip comes up you can just tuck the bag into your suitcase. A small makeup bag can always be ready with a toothbrush holder, lotion and perfume samples, a few band-aids and q-tips, Neosporin, aspirin, and key makeup items. As for hairdryers etc… most hotels have them, and overseas they won’t work with the outlets, so leave them at home.
  7. Be honest with yourself. Your packing list will be dependant on where you’re traveling, but don’t fool yourself; if you’re going to spend the weekend with your family, playing board games and roughhousing with nephews, do you really need 3 pairs of high heels? Or will you be in the same jeans all weekend, maybe changing into some heels for a dinner out or church? Same goes for any books or paperwork you plan on bringing with you – how much of it will you actually get through? If you have a project for work due, by all means, bring the paperwork. But if you’re just hoping to get through those five novels you’re packing away, choose one and leave the rest.
  8. Recycle. Will you be moving from city to city on an international getaway? Then it’s perfectly appropriate to wear the same outfit multiple times. A black cotton dress can do dinners all over the world, and no one will notice if you wear the same tie in London and Paris. If your accommodations don’t have laundry services, pack a little 4 oz bottle of camping soap like Sierra Dawn. It can be purchased at any hiking/camping store, and it’s gentle, but a few drops will clean clothes, dishes, and even skin and hair (a good thing to have on a trip, just in case). Recycling outfits also takes the stress out of getting dressed; you know the outfit works, so wear it (again).
  9. What weather? Any guidebook will give you an overview of the weather where you are traveling, and websites like have ten day and interstate driving forecasts, but keep in mind how much you’ll actually be outside while on your trip. If it’s supposed to be raining and you’re walking around London, maybe pack a small umbrella, but if you’re on the beach in your swimsuit, no big deal. You can always buy a cheap rain poncho and toss it at the end of your trip.
  10. Buy local. Family vacation at the beach? That’s a lot of towels to pack. Most beaches have little souvenir stands that sell cheap beach towels you can leave behind at the end of your trip. Bug repellant and sun block are messy to pack – better to stop at a grocery store at your destination and pick up these supplies.

In the end, packing light means less hassle for the airline crew, your driver, the hotel staff, and most importantly you, leading to a more relaxing vacation and travel experience. You’ll feel a sense of triumph as you ease through security, toss your bag in the car, and later fling it lightly over your shoulder as you cruise to your hotel room. Who cares that you wore those pants yesterday? You’re on holiday, leaving all your cares, and most of your closet, behind.


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Also, check out my article for packing for a motorcycle trip -- a lot of the same advice applies. Great article.

By Marion Cornett

it really helps to write it out like this.

By James Goetz

Buy local is the best advice as there are many restrictions now on airline luggage.

By Mary Norton

nice advice.

By Ron Khare