Hope For The Hopeless Packer: Travel Packing Hacks & Tips

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money,” wrote New York Times reporter Susan Heller in a 1987 article about the packing habits of the rich and famous.

She was right then and still is.  Over-packing is for travel amateurs, and even they inevitably live to regret it.

I’m not entirely callous to their proclivities though – I understand well the temptations of the overpacker…because I used to be one.

Without failure, every time I took a trip I ended up bringing far more than I needed and feeling embarrassed and regretful about it.  Showing up for a long weekend with a full-sized suitcase garners dirty looks from fellow travelers and eye rolls from significant others.

Plus, there always comes a moment when those around you are easily tossing their duffel bag over their shoulder as you lug your gargantuan suitcase over curbs and across wet lawns, swearing you’ll do better next time.

Packing Hacks and Tips

Now, in the days of paying dearly for checked and overweight baggage, it’s more important than ever to learn to pack well.  Even if you think you’re a hopeless case, you can reform.  Here’s how…


  1. Lists Are Your Friend

One of the biggest causes of over-packing is lack of planning.  When you start throwing stuff in a suitcase at midnight the night before you leave, it’s bound to get out of hand. Instead, make detailed lists, so that you know exactly what you need.

It might sound crazy, but it’s actually a good idea to plan every single outfit you’ll wear. This way you won’t haphazardly choose clothing items that may not ever get worn.  And give yourself time – start packing a couple days in advance and you’ll be much more likely to make smart decisions.

  1. Weather Check

The importance of checking the weather can’t be overstated. Instead of packing for anything ranging from a snowstorm to a heat wave, take a look at weather predictions and pack for those conditions only. Worst case scenario? You have to buy a sweater or an umbrella when you’re there.

  1. Double Duty

Everything that goes in that suitcase should be able to play double duty.  When choosing a pair of jeans, choose the ones that can work during a daytime tour or be dressed up for a dinner out.  Opt for items that can easily be worn more than once and in various settings.

  1. Stay Neutral

For the fashion-savvy, this might be a tough pill to swallow, but you should only bring clothes in solid neutrals.  You’ll be able to easily mix and match as you recycle each piece.  If you want to add some color, do so in the form of small accessories.

  1. Play Favorites

This is one of the best tips I’ve learned:  Only bring things that you know you absolutely love wearing.  What goes with you on vacation should be only the crème de la crème of your wardrobe.  This way you won’t mind so much when you have to wear it multiple times.

  1. Roll with It

If you’re a seasoned traveler, you probably know by now that rolling clothes is the way to go, not folding. It takes up less room and leaves you with fewer wrinkles.  Just in case, though, bring a travel-sized bottle of wrinkle-release spray.

  1. 2 Shoe Maximum

Shoe hounds, I’m talking to you. You should wear a pair and bring a pair, no more.  One pair that’s good for casual settings and one that’s a little dressier.  They’re too big and bulky for anything more.

  1. Don’t Waste Space

Use every inch of that suitcase. Put small items in the compartments or pockets of the bag and even put items inside shoes. And it’s a good idea to save your socks and underwear until last – stuff those in any empty nooks and crannies at the very end.

  1. Ditch It If You Doubt It

If even one time, you think, “Do I need this?” you don’t!  Do you really need to bring that cocktail dress just in case?  No!  Stop packing as if you’re entering a strange alternate reality where you may be invited to a black tie gala, a pool party or a nature hike, despite the fact that none of those activities are on your agenda.

  1. The Skivvy Strategy

Brought to you by the US Marine Corps is the Skivvy roll, a unique way of bundling up the items that make up an outfit. Start by laying out a shirt, then place a pair of underwear in the center, fold the sleeves into the center, then lay your separated socks across the top.

Roll down, and then pull the top of the socks around the roll for a neat little bundle that’s ready to go.  Here’s step-by-step directions in pictures and video.

  1. Wear the Bulk

Figure out which items are the bulkiest and wear those during travel.  If you simply must bring along your knee-high boots and chunky cardigan sweater, then you simply must travel in those items to save room in your bag.

  1. Toiletry Minimalist

Never, I repeat never, bring any full-sized toiletries with you on a trip.  Invest in a set of travel-sized plastic bottles, label them in permanent marker and fill them up before you go.

For products you may only need a smidge of, use contact lens cases.  And even if your personal hygiene regimen is complex at home, go minimalist when you travel – one hair product, one small bottle of perfume/cologne, one type of moisturizer, etc.

  1. Prepare to Wash

Bring along a couple packets of liquid hand-washing detergent so that you can give clothes a quick wash in the hotel sink if they get stinky or stained.  Lay them to dry flat on the suitcase rack and they’ll be ready to re-wear the next day.

It may feel scary the first time that you actually pack appropriately.  You’ll probably worry about not having everything with you that you want or need, but rest assured that you’ll survive.  And once you see how good it feels to travel lightly, you’ll never go back to your over-packing ways again.

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