As much fun as being a diva is, it’s way more fun to brag to your friends that you’re a packing genius and have managed to cram a season’s worth of body covering (translation: clothing) into one piece of carry-on luggage. Sure, there are a couple of concessions, local purchases and tearful abandonments – but, on the main, packing light is the way to flock around. Not only does it make airport departures speedier, it also makes staying in hostels, riding trains and not looking like a total tourist much easier too.
I’ll be the first to admit, it took a couple of years for me to warm up to the idea. Back when I was the youthfully angsty age of fifteen, I was convinced that I needed to pack a full checked bag + a backpack + a cavernous purse for a mere one week trek to California where my itinerary consisted of beaches and Disneyland. Nowadays, I would probably pack three outfits for such an expedition, but young and angsty Mary just had to have four outfit options per day. I need to take a page from this woman’s book.
Somehow, though, I made it through to the other end and discovered the true joys of packing ultra light. It all happened upon me when airlines started charging for checked bags. Suddenly, unless I wanted to front that cool $50 charge, I had to clean up my act. If only swimcaps were still a thing, it’d all be a lot simpler.
But alas, we can mourn the absence of modern swimcap fashion at a later date. There are more important things at stake. Such as the fact that the first time I went on a trip with only a carry-on, I was convinced that I would be forced to spend my Hawaiian vacation holed up in my room, unable to find anything suitable to wear from the threadbare and sparse selection that my small, lime green bag could hold. And then I got to Hawaii. And then I discovered that I only needed a swimming suit and a pair of flip flops to step outside of my hotel room. Who knew.
She knew. She knew.
Fast forward to now.
You bet your socks that’s a mid-sized backpack with outerwear wrapped around it meant for a two week excursion to Spain. This small backpack that I won at a high school event has been my go-to for trips two weeks and under ever since. For longer trips (or ones requiring fancier clothing), I’ll opt for my equally-as-pink rolling carry-on bag.
It’s so pink, it pretty much screams: “HAI I’M A TOURIST, PLZ ROB ME.” But it was also on hand right before my trip, it’s the largest carry-on size allowed and now I’m attached. So I’ll take my chances. Which brings me to rule number one:
1. Get more bang for your buck and find the largest carry-on size allowed.
That puppy is so maxed out, the security people always skeptically eye it as I wheel it in. I just put it up on the conveyor belt with a look like, “I dare you,” which has worked so far, because I’ve never been questioned. One thing to consider: if you are traveling to Europe and plan to use Ryanair or Wizz Air, make sure to bring a small weekend backpack, as the carry-on limits are quite smaller than most other airlines.
2. Roll your underwear (and everything else)
Rolling, rolling, rolling. It makes such a difference! When I roll, I’m pretty sure I can fit more than two times in my backpack than when I just fold. So do it. And don’t ask questions. Also, find nifty ways to utilise all of the space in your bags – I like to stuff mugs or other trinkets with socks or underwear. This makes sure there are no bubbles of wasted space!
3. DIY Laundry
Why waste space with a plethora of underwear, socks and basics when you can do a little scrub-a-dub-dub every couple of days and come out with freshly washed and dried laundry? All you need is some soap from the hostel bathroom, a sink and a place to hang it and you’re in business! I’ve also found that wearing my wet clothes dries them out in about thirty minutes – it’s not as bad as it sounds, I swear.
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
And by that, I mean get creative and don’t be afraid to wear the same outfit a couple of days in a row! I’ll often change the look of a dress or shirt by wearing it backwards, pairing it with unexpected partners or simply wearing it twice in a row because who really cares? If you’re staying in hostels and like making friends, try exchanging clothes with people – either temporarily or make a permanent trade – to make your suitcase’s fillings last longer.
I wore this outfit at least four times in the span of a week. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Here’s a vague list, if you’re into the sort of thing, of how I usually approach packing if the trip is longer than a week:
- Two pairs of skinny jeans (black and blue)
- One pair of pants (patterned)
- Two skirts (black and patterned)
- Three dresses (party, daytime, fancy – preferably interchangeable)
- Five shirts (neutrals with flair)
- One sweater or jacket
- One raincoat or heavier jacket
- Two pairs of shoes (fancier flats and sandals/boots*)
- Workout gear (top, bottoms, shoes)
- Five pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, two bras, one chunky scarf
For a smart mix-and-matcher, this list can go a long way (and might even be too much)! I also usually know that I’ll dish out for a cheap pair of flats here and a crucial layering sweater there – and I pack everything with the knowledge that I may have to leave some of the stuff behind in hostels if the bag just isn’t zipping. Over the course of my travels, I’ve left or traded great books, beloved coats, intended souvenirs and ruined shoes. Letting things go is a big part of travel – stuff happens and it’s better to go with the flow rather than stress about those amazingly cute jelly Oxfords you had to leave behind in London (so I’m still learning, ok?). Trust me, there are more important things to focus your energy on.
All in all, traveling is about the experience: the personal connections, the lessons learned, the awe-filled moments. While I strongly believe that what you wear broadcasts who you are and how you’re feeling, a dirty shirt, a mismatched outfit or a wine-stained pant will not make or break your trip. So pack with care and creativity but remember – things can go wrong, things will go wrong, things are more important than a cute outfit.
Now get out there and explore!