Here’s the Key to Making Packing Less Stressful
As someone who enjoys options and fears decisions, packing can be the worst part of travel. It’s stressful, requires a lot of planning, and the existential crisis that comes with condensing your life’s necessities into a 20-inch box is the polar opposite of what I want to deal with pre-vacation. So, of course, I do the smart (read: completely wrong) thing and save it for the morning of my trip.
In pursuit of a future wherein I leave home without that definitely-forgot-something-important feeling, I sought out someone who genuinely enjoys the packing process (they exist!) for help. Meet Hitha Palepu, an entrepreneur, writer, and all-around packing expert. She’s traveled more than half a million miles around the world for work and play. And using tips from her blog, Hitha on the Go, and her new illustrated book, “How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip” fitting a week’s wardrobe and all of the trimmings into a carry-on seems very doable and even, dare I say, easy.
When Palepu launched her blog in 2009, she was working for a small pharmaceutical company and traveling almost every week for very different trips, from investor meetings to manufacturing facility visits. So much of her life was spent packing, unpacking, and continually dreading it that she challenged herself to find ways to make the process more fun, to “turn a headache into a pleasure.” As she began figuring things out — what are the best things to pack, how to pack clothes without wrinkling — she started sharing them with her readers. Fast forward a few years, and travel tips are what she's known for, with the book being a natural next step.
While “How to Pack” does include brilliant packing tips from the big (how clothes earn a spot in your suitcase) to the small (that a wine cork makes the perfect emergency earring back), it’s more than a how-to manual. Palepu explores why we pack the way we do and introduces helpful concepts for dealing with your personal packing pain points. So instead of a definitive list of “pack this, not that,” she provides a framework that adapts to anyone's personality, mindset, and personal style.
A personal favorite of mine is Palepu's packing timeline, which puts into perspective how much easier on the brain it is to work in advance. At first, it may seem like a lot to start packing seven days before a trip, but when you think about how much time you spend planning a trip — choosing a destination, setting an itinerary, gathering recommendations, etc. — it makes sense that packing should take longer than the frantic, morning-of hour I usually leave for it.
All of the principles Palepu covers culminate with a set of clean, straightforward packing lists (there’s also a downloadable PDF available on her site) with trip-specific samples of how she would fill them out for business, beachgoing, and beyond. On each, the items all make sense, create cohesive outfits, and feel like enough. And the margins are noticeably bare.
We caught up with Palepu to discuss the book, her best tips, and where she and her impeccable packing skills are heading to next.
Let’s start simple: what’s your packing philosophy?
Break it down into individual tasks. Do a little bit every day. Pack what you love, and what you already own. And less is more.
And how does perfect packing translate to a better trip?
It’s about approaching packing as a pleasure and not as a pain to free up the mental energy you’ll need address the parts of the travel process you can’t control. There are going to be delays. You could potentially miss a flight. But if you know you packed your suitcase perfectly, you’re able to relax on that front, because packing is something you do have control over.
Do you think there’s a specific key to packing well?
I think it’s writing a packing list. When you do it, you’re really being mindful about what it is you already own, what is it you love, and what outfits make you feel good when you’re home. The way we formatted the packing list helps people stick to their power pieces and the accessory math rule. It’s applicable to everybody.
What’s the biggest mistake people make, and how should they fix it?
Do not wait until the day of a trip to pack. I know the packing timeline can seem like a pain at first — who wants to plan a week in advance for packing for a trip? But by being mindful and writing your list out that early, you can make sure everything you want to wear is clean and in good condition. That way, the night before the trip, you’re not stressed and you won’t go into your trip with a rushed mindset.
So, packing really starts a week in advance, every time?
Yes, it is something I still do even now that I could easily pack the night before. For this past weekend’s trip, I took the whole week to pack and I’m glad I did because I realized the dress I wanted to pack had a little rip in the seam and I had plenty of time to get it fixed. It seems like overkill, but it makes the process so much better.
Is there one thing you pack for every trip?
A travel steamer, always. I use it not just to de-wrinkle my clothes, but I also add a drop or two of essential oil and re-steam items I’ve already worn to replenish them. And I also use it to give myself a little post-flight facial. The steamer I have sits flat on the ground, doesn’t take up too much room, and comes with an international converter kit.
Any other favorite tips from the book?
You really don’t need more than three pairs of shoes. I would also say to pick your shoes first before you pick your outfits if you tend to stress about shoes. Whether you’re packing a statement shoe that’s going to jazz up any neutral outfit or a simple pair that goes with everything, shoes are a great way to filter everything else to know you’re only packing things that go together.
Where are you excited to travel to next, and what are you planning to bring?
I’m going to Greece for two weeks this summer and I am thrilled about it. I’ll be taking a pair of Allbirds sneakers because we’re going to be doing a lot of trekking and exploring the ruins and I love how breathable they are as well as stylish. I’ll also be taking a lot of linen.
What places are on your bucket list?
Antarctica. Norway. Myanmar. And New Zealand, with a “Lord of the Rings”–inspired itinerary.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.