Attention chronic overpackers: These tips will help you pack lighter and smarter.

By Madeline Diamond
Updated March 02, 2020
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If you identify as a chronic overpacker, you're not alone. Traveling is often stressful enough, so the tendency to throw extra clothing, beauty products, and tech items in your suitcase is natural. However, if you want to lighten your suitcase for an upcoming trip, there are some simple steps you can take to stay organized and avoid having to lug around an unreasonably heavy bag (or getting an extra baggage fee).

Travel + Leisure spoke with packing expert Anne McAlpin, author of Pack It Up: The Essential Guide to Smart Travel, on how to pack smarter and lighter.

Related: More packing tips

Courtesy of Getty Images

Keep reading for our top tips for packing lighter.

1. Pack for a week (or less) and plan to do laundry.

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McAlpin suggests packing a week's worth of clothes, even if your trip is longer, and washing necessary items along the way. Whether you send out laundry or hand wash clothing in your hotel room sink, thinking smaller is less overwhelming.

2. Pack around one basic color.

Whether it’s black, navy, or olive green, McAlpin recommends choosing one basic color to pack around. "It's an old rule of thumb, but it really works," she said. But even if you're simplifying your clothing choices to save space, you don't have to completely sacrifice style. McAlpin suggests taking the opportunity to use accessories to mix up your outfits. 

3. Don't pack any more than three pairs of shoes.

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According to McAlpin, people often overpack shoes, but setting a maximum of three pairs will help you pare down your wardrobe and avoid overpacking. There are plenty of ways to pack your shoes in order to save space, including stuffing smaller pairs inside larger ones or using packing cubes to keep shoes separate from the rest of your belongings. One key takeaway from our conversation with McAlpin: Always pack shoes at the bottom of your suitcase near the wheels in order to distribute weight evenly and reduce strain on your back and shoulders.

4. Use a wardrobe planner.

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Planning your travel wardrobe by outfit is another great way to avoid overpacking. McAlpin suggests making a physical list of every outfit you're packing for day, night, and events/activities. "It sounds so simple, but I’ve been doing it for 30 years," she said. "It starts to put things in order." 

In addition to helping you realize what items you can rewear during your trip, planning your outfits ahead will also ensure that you don't forget necessary items for certain activities, such as workout gear or hiking boots. When you return from your trip, McAlpin also recommends making a list of what you didn't wear, so you know what not to pack again.

5. Pack visually.

McAlpin is known for her 3:1 packing ratio, which means she packs three tops for every one pair of pants or other bottoms. While packing, she suggests keeping clothing items on hangers with the ratio in mind. The visual element will help you pare things down and plan outfits more easily.

"When I pile everything up on my bed, it’s hard to see what goes with what," she said. Instead, either lay items out or keep them on hangers in order to see your outfits before packing them. That way, you can stick to your wardrobe planner and make sure you're bringing only what you need. 

6. Know what to roll and what to fold.

Rolling your clothing can sometimes save space in your suitcase, but it's important to think about fabrics when you're deciding how to fold your clothing. "I don’t roll anything that would wrinkle,” McAlpin said. She suggests keeping cotton shirts and similar fabrics flat, while synthetic materials can easily be rolled up without wrinkling. 

7. Use compression cubes and bags.

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Packing cubes are a popular travel accessory, although cubes that involve compression technology will not only keep you organized, but they'll also help you save space in your luggage. Similarly, compression plastic bags that remove excess air are perfect for storing puffer jackets or other bulky gear. McAlpin also recommends using one compression bag for laundry at the end of your trip in order to keep dirty and clean clothes separate and to lock in odors.

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