Friday, May 6, 2011

The Essentials of Packing Lightly

Because I'm no stranger to travel at this point, I've done quite a bit of packing, which is precisely why I want to share with you my Essentials of Packing Lightly.

Before I start to go more in depth, I'll tell you now. This list is a list that works best for me. What is best for me, might not be what is best for you. Additionally, if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to do Budapest on a budget with a backpack, then obviously this list isn't for you. However, if you're looking for a list of clothing and items for the hardcore, 25-pounds-or-less, I'm-kind-of-grungy-but-having-an-awesome-time-anyway route, this might help you gather ideas for your own list of what to pack.

The kind of packing lightly that I'm talking about isn't easy. It means sacrificing the luxuries you get to have at home. But at the same time, they're called the essentials for a reason. It means you need them, while the luxuries you can leave at home. Trust me, packing lightly makes everything easier. You wouldn't want to end up like me, facing the wrath of the theives of Costa Rica and Rome, and losing all of your valuables that you really didn't need to bring with you on your trip anyway.

So, without further ado! My Essentials of Packing Lightly.

Tips for Pre-Packing
1.) Pack layers. Especially if you're traveling to several different places with a variety of climates in the same trip, you're going to want to pack layers. That way, when it's cold, you can pile them one and when it's hot, you can strip them off. Easy-peasy lemon pie.
2.) Pack the bare minimum. Maybe this means you'll be wearing the same shirt over and over again throughout your trip, but especially if you're backpacking, you won't want 12 shirts for a 12 day trip. You're going to want 2. Because that pack will be heavy... and on your back... hence it's name: backpack.
3.) You might not need that lip stick or cologne. Decide accordingly. Sorry ladies and gents, but leave the niceties at home for certain trips. Ladies? The lip stick won't matter no matter how many times you reapply throughout the day if you plan on chowing down on a whole fish or sharing some Mate tea. And gents? You certainly won't need that cologne when you're riding a camel, cause you'll stink just the same by the end of the day anyway (have you smelled a camel?!)
4.) Dark colors for the win! That's right. Wear darker colors as much as possible. Unless you're going to be in the middle of the Sahara Desert for you're entire trip (where you will want white and egg shell colored clothing), you're going to want to stick to browns and blacks. They don't show dirt, pit stains, or that green-chili curry you spilled through the hole in your bottom lip last night at dinner.

The Basics (Meaning you're traveling the back-country of the Midwest, the countryside of Eastern Europe, or the cloud/rain forests of Central America, etc etc...)
1.) 1 Pair of Long Underwear: If where you're traveling is going to be cold, pack a pair of long underwear, preferably silk or synthetic ones. Yes, they'll cost you an arm and a leg at an outdoors store, but you won't regret it. They keep you warm and dry, both of which are essential in colder climates. Not to mention, you can wear them as layers or by themselves as PJs.
2.) 1 Heavey-Weight Fleece Jacket: You don't need a name brand like Northface, but having a fleece jacket ensures that you'll stay warm. Even in countries that have warmer climates during the day can drop their temperatures pretty low at night. Stick with a black fleece and you can wear it with pretty much anything without feeling too touristy or American.
3.) 1 pair of Synthetic Quick-dry Shorts: They won't chafe you, and they dry super quick. What more could you ask for? Plus, they come in handy if you want to stand under a waterfall or ride a horse through a creek and be dry within half an hour of doing so.
4.) 2 Synthetic Quick-dry Shirts: Same story as your synthetic-quick dry shorts. And they won't get you as smelly as cotton, because they wick the sweat away from your body and help it evaporate quicker.
5.) 3 Pairs of Long Wool Socks: I prefer the SmartWool variety. I've used them for essentially every trip I've taken both in and out of the U.S. for the past 5 years and I'm not going back. They keep your feet warm, dry, and less-stinky than cotton socks do. Win!
6.) 3 Pairs of Liner Socks: Again, I prefer SmartWool, but any liner socks will do. And trust me, you're going to want liner socks if you plan on doing a lot of walking with a heavy pack. Having liner socks means no blisters (hurrah!) and it also means your feet stay even dryer. Double win!
7.) 1 Pair of Super Sexy Hiker Pants: I have a pair of these from R.E.I. and while they scream "tourist!" to anyone who sees me, they're literally the most incredible pants I own. Do I want shorts? Yes, I do. So I zip off the pant legs. How about pants? Zip the pant legs back on! Capris? Roll up the cuffs and snap 'em up. It's like having any kind of bottoms I can imagine in one pair of pants! Sure, they're ugly (aka, I lied when I said they were super sexy), but they're so handy.
8.) Medium Weight Hiking Boots: I prefer medium weight hiking boots because I rarely do any form of traveling that requires more than that. Light weight boots also tend to be not enough for some of the more serious hikes I've done. However, just like Goldilocks with the Three Bears, mid-weight boots are just right.
9.) 8 Pairs of Cotton Blend Underwear: One for each day of the week, and then some! The reason I like cotton blends is because they're breathable, but they dry quicker than full cotton undies after you wash them.
10.) Heavy-Duty Space Coat: These coats are the kind that make you look like you just landed from mars and you're 100 pounds overweight, but thankfully you only need it if where you're going is really cold.

Rain jacket, synthetic shirt,
hiking pants, mid-weight boots-
check, check, check, and check.

A Little Fashion (Meaning you're traveling more within civilization and urban areas, but still want to pack light...)
1.) 3 Solid Colored T-shirts: They're versatile, they're colorful, and they can go with lots of different things. Depending on the colors, you can dress them up or down, as well. Think darker colors though, because, as I mentioned above, they hide stains and dirt better.
2.) 1 Pair of Comfortable Dark-Wash Jeans: Dress 'em up, dress 'em down, wear 'em with any of your tops. They're versatile just like your solid colored T's and they don't need to be washed that often. So bring a pair and wear 'em often.
3.) 1 Pair of Black Flats: I love having flats because they're comfortable, not as chunky as sneakers, and not as bare-bones as flip-flops/sandals.
4.) 1 Pair of Black Sandals/Flip Flips: For those beach days, hot days, rainy-but-warm days, gross hostel showers, dressier occasions or any other occasion you can think of.
5.) 1 Pair of Sneakers: You can feel free to go with black again, because they're less noticeable than white sneakers, and don't look as dirty after wearing them often.
6.) 1 Long Sleeved Solid Colored Shirt: I usually go with a dark color, but any color will do. Just keep in mind that black is versatile, dark colors hide dirt, and it isn't noticeable if you wear it often as if you're wearing a baby-blue shirt.
7.) 1 Light Weight Zip-Up Hoodie: They're comfortable as all get-out, and they are great for layering, and they give you a hood during impromptu rain showers. Again, I always go for a darker color.
8.) 2 Patterned Wrap-Skirts/Sarongs: They work as skirts, dresses, beach blankets, picnic blankets towels, or any other imaginative thing you can think up. 
9.) 8 Pairs of Cotton Blend Socks: Same with the underwear as above, you have a pair for each day of the week and one extra for good luck. Then they dry fast after you was them.
10.) 2 Solid Color Tank Tops: I don't think I have to say it at this point, but I often opt for black or another dark color.

Other Various Goodies
1.) Toiletry Pack: I'm talking tooth brush, tooth paste, hair brush, q-tips, floss, face wipes, deodorant, contact-solution, extra contacts, and whatever else you see fit that can make its way into a 3 liter zip-lock bag.
2.) All-Purpose Soap: This works wonders for not only washing your hands and face, but for your hair, your clothes, your dishes--basically anything you need washed, an all-purpose soap will wash it.
3.) Sunscreen: I literally don't leave home without it because I was blessed with the skin of the Irish. It's 75+ for me, but feel free to go with a lower SPF.
4.) Chapstick: It's necessary for rain or shine, cold or warmth. I get chapped lips in all types of weather, so I always carry one with me.
5.) Mini First-Aid Kit: Talk about essential. If you want to know why I recommend this, check out my post about what I left in Croatia to find out why a mini first-aid kit comes in handy.
6.) Body Spray: Call me vain, but I like to smell good. Small body-sprays make this possible. Currently I'm using Hawaiian Ginger. 
7.) Travel Pack: This is where I keep all of the little luxuries that I can afford to carry with me. Things like ear plugs, a face-mask, an inflatable neck pillow, aspirin, any other medication you might need, copies of your important documents and itineraries, etc.
8.) Extra Camera Battery/Memory Card: Because chances are, at some point, if you travel a lot, you will lose, break or have one of these stolen.
9.) Earrings: Ok, maybe you won't pack these, but I do--because earrings are my thing, and I love to wear them.
10.) Minimal Make-Up: This includes face-powder, mascara, and eyeliner for me. No, it's not essential, but like the earrings, sometimes I'm a little vain and like a small luxury.

What are some of the things you pack when you go traveling? Do you travel with a backpack or a suit case, usually? Have you ever had to pack light for a long trip?


  1. This is a lot of information! I like to organize my clothing-to-pack beforehand, with photos.

    There's also quite a few posts on Yes and Yes that address this this, but I especially like this short, generalized post:

  2. I love Yes and Yes! She's always such an inspiration for me. I love her writing.

    Thanks for sharing here :-)

  3. Sounds like a pretty good list to me! I took a suitcase to Europe for a 2 week trip and I DEFINITELY overpacked!!!!

  4. Try packing one suitcase for four months! It's tough, but doable. :-) Good luck on your future trips and I hope to see you around the blog!

  5. whoa! what was that? can you check packing peanuts? this is great! quite shocked somehow..


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