Two weeks, one suitcase? No problem! Mastering the art of how to pack light takes some trial and error, but a few shortcuts can help. A week or two away from home with a single suitcase plus “personal item” is totally doable.
I recently packed for three back-to-back trips simultaneously: an out-of-town meeting for a board on which I serve, a trip-of-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my mother, and a week of warm weather in the Caribbean with my mama and the girls (alas, dear hubby had to work).
And since I only own so many clothes, the only way to pack for all three at once was by packing light. I thought I was on top of this skill already, but these trips were a great reminder of the “pack light basics.”
So the next time you’re getting ready for a trip, whether a personal trip for work or a family vacation, use these tips to help you pare down what you bring. It will make your trip simpler all around, and leave you more room for souvenirs coming home!
How to Pack Light for a Two-Week Trip
1. Make a list and think it through
If you really want to pack light, you need to limit what you bring. So before you start grabbing things, think in terms of categories. Then think about how you can manage with as few items in each category as possible.
For example: On a beach vacation where we’re spending our days by the water, two bathing suits will do: one for morning, and a dry one for the afternoon. Ditto for evening outfits: two dresses or skirts apiece is fine for the girls and me. We wear one dress one night, the other the next, and just swap back and forth. And since the only time we need to dress during the day is for occasional trips into town, one pair of shorts and maybe two clean Ts is plenty.
For a ten-day work trip I take each summer, the same principles apply: Two skirts, three tops, one jacket or sweater – all interchangeable.
2. Think minimal for other categories, too
“OK, but I should still bring clean underwear for every day, right?” Umm, no. This is a waste of space. Invest in some ExOfficio underwear (3 sets is more than enough – more on this below). You will travel comfortably and light.
Two other categories where it’s easy to overpack are shoes and gear. Trip with lots of walking? DON’T bring multiple pairs of walking shoes. Instead, bring a single pair – newly purchased and well broken in, if necessary – for your days of sightseeing. Make your second pair of shoes some comfy sandals or slippers for the evening, to give your feet a rest. A few pairs of compression socks will keep your feet happy during those long days of sightseeing, but take up less space than multiple pairs of shoes.
Likewise, if you can’t live without your hair dryer, check whether your hotel has one. Most do, so no reason to bring your own. The same is true for beach toys, fishing poles, life vests, etc. if you’re staying somewhere where you can borrow or rent them. When traveling with a baby to a city, see whether there are gear rental services that might save you from schlepping along, say, a travel high chair. (Check here for rental options in North America; if you’re traveling outside North America, this site lists rental options worldwide.)
3. Plan to launder
This minimalist packing plan requires a little laundry, but it is soooo worth it. If you will have access to laundry facilities and are traveling as a whole family, doing some laundry during your trip is a lot easier than bringing fourteen days’ worth of separate outfits.
And if you’re going to wash anyway, each person can get away with 3 sets of underpants/bras and 3 pairs of socks per person. (I usually do 3 undies and 2 each bras/sock pairs.) Be sure these items are quick-drying. One reason travelers love Ex Officio underwear is because besides being super-comfy, they dry super-quick. (The diehards will say you really only need 2 pairs of briefs, but I like 3 so that you can take an occasional night off from hand-washing.)
No laundry facilities available? No worries. Just bring a travel clothesline (I like Sea to Summit’s version) and a small bottle of concentrated soap. (My 2-oz bottle of biodegradable Camp Suds will get me through two weeks of sink washes, and is small enough to go in carry-on luggage.) That ten-day trip I take each year in the summer heat and humidity? Every night I wash out that day’s shirt and undies in the sink and hang them to dry. They’re usually dry enough to put away by morning.
4. Choose packable clothes that coordinate
Many companies now have exclusive lines of travel clothing. The clothes in these lines are easy-care fabrics that won’t wrinkle, are hand-washable, and often are made in quick-dry fabrics. Just as important, these lines are designed so that a few key pieces (e.g., skirt, pants, jacket, reversible top) can mix and match into almost infinite combinations, making you look as if you’re wearing a different outfit every day.
Other ways to achieve the same principle: a) think about your accessories (a statement necklace and a scarf can give a top two totally different looks), and b) make sure all your outfit components coordinate with each other. If I’ve selected my two skirts for a trip and I’m trying to narrow down four or five tops to three, I will choose the ones that match each of my bottoms equally well.
This is especially important when packing for kids. “Theming” their clothes makes it much easier to dress them in multiple ways over the course of the trip. (But because kids are more prone to food accidents and diaper blowouts than grownups, I always take my adult minimum and add one – so, three bottoms, four tops, and 2 sets of PJs instead of two bottoms, three tops, and one set of sleepwear.)
5. Condense, contain, and edit
Once you’ve got your wardrobe laid out, double-check to see if there’s anything else you can eliminate. Then it’s time to pack everything into your packing cubes.
Packing cubes seemed like the dumbest idea until I tried them; now I won’t travel without them. Besides keeping your stuff contained and neat, they are a great final incentive to limit what you bring. If you and several family members are sharing a suitcase for a trip, limit each person’s clothes to what will fit into a single packing cube. Won’t fit? Time to take something out.
Traveling alone? A set in assorted sizes will give you separate places for your clothes, toiletries, and electronic chargers/cords.
Once you’ve done a final edit of your clothes, make sure they occupy as little space as possible in your luggage. If you’re packing a pair of shoes, stuff the shoes with extra socks, power adapters, etc. Roll your shirts, pants, etc. to minimize how much space they take up, and find a substitute layer for that bulky sweater – or try a compression packing cube.
Then do a final edit of your toiletries. Swap out full-sized toiletries for travel sizes; DIY using travel-sized containers if needed. If you travel by plane often, get a reusable 3-1-1 bag; this is another “splurge” that I’ve found well worth the investment. And if you’ll be staying in a hotel, skip the toiletries (lotion, shampoo, etc) that will come with your room.
6. Final tips
Finally, make sure you leave room (and weight!) in your bag to bring home souvenirs. My bag for my recent 2-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land was only about half-full when I left home, and 20 lbs shy of the maximum weight. This plenty of room for shopping. If you don’t already have one, grab this handy travel scale by Travelon to help you avoid excess baggage fees and ensure carryon compliance.
There you go! Tried-and-true tips on how to pack light for a long trip. With these tips, you’ll have less luggage to schlep, and less to pack at trip’s end – leaving you more time and energy for enjoying your vacation!
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