May 1, 2015

How I Travel: What To Pack?

As much as I love planning trips, packing is what makes me the most happy. I think it's the satisfaction I get from organizing and minimizing. Whatever the reason, this is my favorite part of the process. It confirms that the plan is set and the trip is actually happening!

This post is not a checklist of what to pack! I believe packing well is like a good habit, and a good habit stems from the proper understanding of why you should do something a certain way.

There are tons of strategies out there for packing light, but it all really comes down to one key factor: self-control.

However, since most of us can't just naturally control our urges to take our entire lives with us on a trip, here are the four ways I've been able to create healthy packing habits in my journeys.

1) The Bag

It all starts with the bag. And it needs to start with a small one! You can always cave in the end and drag out the giant roller bag, but if you start with the giant, you'll never be able to slim down to the backpack. The size of the bag affects our "need for stuff" more than any of us can imagine.

I've never heard someone say, "I wish I would have packed more!"

Unless you have a personal porter (is that even the right job title?) who lugs around your great-great-grandmother's trunk filled with your ballgowns and sailing attire, most of us are stuck carrying our own bags. Rolling suitcases revolutionized the weight we could each carry, but even those bags can get clunky and difficult to maneuver in hurried situations.

SwagVil packing at its finest in Catalina.
A rolling backpack or large purse are usually my go-to bags. I keep the bag size down by wearing my bulky clothes while traveling. I regularly go somewhere for 3 days with just a purse. I also regularly get asked, "Where's the rest of your stuff?" That, my friends, is the ultimate compliment.

2) Outfit Cohesion

I start with the weather. If it's cold, I pick 1 coat. If it's hot, I pick 1 pair of bottoms (jeans, shorts, capris, skirt, whatever you wear most). Then I proceed to build around this color palette with a few more staples: 1 long sleeve top for layering, 1 pair of walking/travel shoes, 1 pair of matching leggings, and 1 set/pair of every weather-related item (gloves, beanie, scarf versus bathing suit, sundress, sunglasses). I never travel without my flip-flops (around-the-room shoes, beach shoes, shower shoes) and "pajamas" that can double as workout clothes.

It was sunny enough in
Córdoba to go without the coat!
Every piece of clothing should match each other in some way. The best thing is to pick a neutral (black, gray, brown, navy, khaki) plus one or two complimentary colors.

My week in Italy with sister-in-law-Alex and the two weeks I spent on trains throughout SW Germany, I packed only black and pink pieces. For our 2 weeks in Spain, the palette was black and blue with a dash of pink. In Morocco, I only wore sports t-shirts with black jeans or sweats.

Color coordinating creates multiple outfits from not very many clothes, and also gives you space to maybe add a new piece or two from your destination.

Voilà! All of a sudden, I'm writing a fashion blog.

Where do we normally go wrong?

a. More than 3 pairs of shoes.
You need shoes to walk or travel in and flip-flops. That's only 2 pairs. The 3rd pair is reserved for what the focus of your trip is: business, night on the town, hiking, shopping, etc. The only time I packed 4 pairs of shoes was to Germany last year, and it was only because I threw away 2 pairs of them as I went along.

Sports trips mean packing a little bit extra to have
the right gear, especially in the Dominican Republic!
b. More than 1 pair of jeans. 
Seriously, THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. Unless you fall in mud regularly or like to sit in dirt, jeans are virtually indestructible, don't show wear or tear, and, if you really think people are looking at your photos to see what jeans you are wearing, then that's another issue entirely. Save some space and weight and make your travel wardrobe more diverse with a different kind of pant (leggings, shorts, capris), dress, or skirt.

c. More than 1 coat/jacket. 
Multiple coats are heavy. It's one thing if you're layering them to keep warm, but it's another if you've packed a black pea coat, a red pea coat, and a snow jacket. You only need one of these! To create more looks, you can add a matching cardigan or hoodie, but stay away from those extra coats! Just make sure that you really love the one coat you choose because if it's cold outside, ALL of your photos will be of you in this coat. But again; if you're only packing to impress your family and friends with your fashion travel photography, then you should probably have a personal porter anyway.

3) Toss-Out or Buy-There Items

These are probably my favorite items to pack and not to pack. Examples of toss-outs: snacks, ready-to-retire socks/underwear, old t-shirt for sleeping, worn out sneakers, almost-finished toiletries, and so on. Basically anything that's close to expiration in your life can come on your trip and find its final destination.

I've thrown away: towels, shoes, socks, underwear, spandex, purses, and obviously whatever food I've brought with me. I've also given away several items of clothing to new friends I've met (when you tell someone, "I'm throwing it away if you don't take it," they tend to snatch it up quickly).

I gave away A LOT of my stuff to my new Canadian friends in Hawaii!
And I fit my entire 10 day trip into that floral bag you see here.
Taking items to throw away means you will have extra space in your bag for whatever you may have picked up throughout your journey. In the market for a new pair of sandals? Bring your old-falling-apart ones to toss, and find a new pair that will also be a token of a fun memory.

As far as things you can buy: most of us travel to places that have grocery stores, shopping malls with clothes, and souvenir clothing for miles. If you actually do "under pack" your bag, you can usually find what you're missing nearby. In addition, if you end up buying too many new things that they don't fit into your original bag, you can always buy: another bag!

4) Rough Drafting

Even if you don't think you "have any time" to pack until 1 hour before you need to leave - guess what, you do!  

People who don't have time to pack are in the middle of actual crises: house fire, earthquake, hurricane evacuations, death of a loved one, war, or the apocalypse. 

You're going on a vacation. You have at least 10 minutes available two or three times before you leave to think about your trip.

Think about the time you can find: while folding your laundry, set aside the clothing you plan to take; while unloading your groceries, toss the granola bars into your bag; while cleaning your bathroom, gather a few travel toiletries into a ziploc bag.

(If you never wash your clothes, shop for food, or clean your home, then never mind, you're done for. And instead of taking a vacation, you should probably be learning how to manage your regular life a little bit better.)

The best way I have found to rough draft is to keep my bag in a prominent location that I pass everyday. Not only does it remind me to pack something soon, but it also keeps me from making a crazy mess and throwing bits and pieces of my trip all over the house. The bag in the living room serves as the representation that my adventure is soon, and that the less I take with me, the more fun I will have.

I usually rough draft at least three times. The first round is the initial stuff to pack. Second round is adding a few things I forgot and taking out some things I realized weren't necessary. The final round is any last minute additions, and hopefully a few good subtractions.

Walked around Amsterdam with 3 days worth!
Tanya gets it.
"The pleasure of travel increases in direct proportion to the decrease of baggage." (Richard Halliburton, Royal Road to Romance)

Once we learn to tell ourselves, "No," packing gets so much easier. "No, I don't need a totally different outfit everyday," and "No, I don't need more than one coat for the week." When in doubt, don't pack the "extra!"

Packing light is a learned habit. Every habit takes time, trial and error, and a commitment to change. I grew up learning how to pack light; I won't ever go back because I don't want to carry that much!

I challenge you to try it at least once. I believe that you'll find the lightness of your load liberating. Doesn't that sound amazing?! Anyone can do this; just search a few travel blogs to see how little people take with them these days! Be brave and try something different for your next trip. Your freedom awaits!

Next up - How I Travel: Who To Take?