There are two kinds of travelers in the world: over-packers, those who try to stuff their entire closet into the overhead compartment on the plane, and under-packers, those who head directly to the store once they get to their destination because they don't have what they need. Not only am I a former over-packer, but I was a random over-packer, so I had a suitcase full of nonsense. Nothing ever went together so I was constantly asking myself, "Why did I pack that?"
I'm proud to say I've come a long way in the packing department. But it's an acquired skill and one worth spending some time on as summer approaches.
Here, 10 questions to ask yourself when you're trying to decide what to put in your suitcase.
1. What activities do you KNOW you're going to do?
The reason I was an over-packer was because I allowed my mind to go crazy with 'maybes.' Maybe I'll want to do this activity, maybe I'll want to do that activity, and pretty soon I was taking my whole closet because I wasn't focusing on what I was really going to do. So first and foremost: what activities do you KNOW you're going to do? Start there, and then you can tweak at the end as space allows.
2. Can you avoid taking something that has to hang in a garment bag?
If you have to take a garment bag, you're automatically committing to two pieces of luggage and you've 'upped the ante' considerably in the logistics department. If you can find things that fold in a suitcase, (or my favorite, the rolling duffel, which is what I used in India), you'll have a much more streamlined baggage experience. A small, structured, foldable garment bag that you can put a few items in and still fit into your suitcase is a good compromise. Sometimes you can find luggage with the bags included. Otherwise, just buy a bag separately.
3. What do you love to wear when you're at home?
When you're trying to pack smaller, you're going to need to re-wear things, so pick what you love to wear. Which T-shirt do you find excuses to wear and always go back to? Which jeans are your favorite? Re-wearing items you love will make it fun; re-wearing items you don't will make you wish you had packed more.
4. Should I pack that strappy dress?
How many times do you pack something thinking that you'll probably want to wear it on vacation, but you've never wanted to wear it when you're home? Our taste and comfort zones don't usually change with location. (That usually takes something with salt on the rim or a little umbrella in it!) So if you're not comfortable wearing it at home, you probably won't be comfortable wearing it when you're away.
5. How many pairs of shoes should you pack?
Shoes take up more room than anything else in your suitcase, so even though it's difficult, try to limit how many you take. I try to take one comfortable pair for sightseeing all day, one pair of heels, and a pair of sneakers if I feel I'm going to be working out. If I take a pair of boots, I wear them when I'm traveling, so I don't have to pack them in my luggage. P.S., the same goes for handbags. My rule is one to carry and one that packs flat in the luggage, no more.
6. Is everything machine washable?
Depending on where you're going, dry cleaning can be an issue, either time-wise or money-wise, so anything that's machine washable is a safer bet. Anything you can wash out by hand and hang up overnight is ideal. Then your clothes are at your beck and call, and you're not waiting on the hotel's service.
7. How many basics can multitask with different accessories?
What simple top can you wear with jeans for a casual look, but can be dressed up with heels and nice jewelry for a dinner out? What dress is good for sightseeing, but with different shoes and jewelry, can take you to a dressier occasion? The more your clothes multitask, the fewer you have to take.
8. Do I have to sit on it (to get it closed)?
A packed suitcase is like a map: once you unfold it, it never really goes back the same way. If you leave the house with a suitcase that you can barely close, you'll return home with an additional bag. So, either plan for that, or leave a little room.
9. Am I a "Girl Scout" (i.e., always prepared)?
Especially if you're traveling internationally, make sure you do a little research on any special requirements for your destination. Is the electricity the same? Do you need a converter or adaptor? Do you need to dress a certain way? Do you have your passport, visa, hand sanitizer, ear plugs, extra batteries, and memory cards? Some things you can pick up at your destination. Others you've just got to remember to bring.
10. What would Lisa do? (One of the few times I have an example worth following.) :)
A couple things I learned from traveling is that I'm not happy if I'm hungry. So I always carry some snacks with me that I can carry in my purse. (I like Ostrim sticks, protein bars, or almonds.) I pack extra in my luggage and replenish my purse each day, so I'm never stranded without food. Then I have a little extra room in my suitcase on the way back after I've eaten them. This also means you don't have to choose between something you want to see, and dying of starvation.
I'm also not happy if I'm cold, so I always carry a wrap or two. A wrap can be your blanket on the plane, a scarf if it's not too cold, or a good bit of warmth if it is. They also take much less room than a jacket, are much easier to carry, and are much more versatile fashion wise (they can be dressy or casual).
Photo courtesy of Lisa Robertson/QVC