Aged 19 I was given this advice:
‘When you’ve worked out what you intend to take put it in a pile.
Make another pile of the money you intend to spend.
Halve the stuff and double the money. Then you're ready to go.'
Admittedly, I got that advice in the days when people travelled with cash or travellers' cheques 🙈 and whilst I'm a long way from being able to double my travel money, over the years I have definitely halved the stuff I pack.
I once took nearly 30kgs on a 2 week trip to San Francisco. What was I thinking!? Now if I push over 10kgs for pretty much any type, I know I'm packing too much.
Here are some of the lessons I've learned about packing over 3 decades of travel on land and sea in over 70 countries.
1. Travel affects the waistband
Gents, pack a belt. Ladies, bring clothes with room to expand and definitely don't bring anything that's already a little snug.
I’m sorry to say, it seems women put on weight (or is it just me?) when they travel and men often lose it.
I know, it’s unfair. Very unfair. These days I'm a little more prepared for it and try and skip a meal or be more conscious about my choices but truthfully, food is a huge draw for me and trying new cuisines is a key reason I love travelling.
2. Keep some space for souvenirs but choose wisely
Oh, hi there 30kg African mask.
I learned the hard way that (for me, at least) items that look fabulous in beautiful havelis in India or the narrow streets of a souk did not translate well to my life back home.
So I stopped buying larger items and instead shifted my focus to smaller, often day-to-day items from my travels. I found them easier to carry and though small they could trigger the greatest memories.
It might be the carefully peeled label from your Kilimanjaro beer, the coaster from the beach bar with the gorgeous sunset or the flight stub from your cheeky upgrade. These small reminders of big moments can mean more.
I use these Destination Travel Wallets and get one for each journey I take and because they come with a keepsake stash tin you're less likely to lose or damage your small mementoes.
This is my India Travel Wallet and wanderlust stash in its own stash tin.
When you need a quick reminder of your trip you can just rifle through and be transported back to that time again.
3. You probably won't use it
If you’re dithering about bringing an item with you, leave it behind. Without exception, every one of the items I brought with me on my travels that were in the ‘dither pile’ was not used.
Yes, I’m looking at you just-slightly-uncomfortable-tight-strappy-summer-dress See also above. If it's already tight when you leave home, trust me, it's not going to fit after 3 weeks of stuffing your face with SE Asian cooking.
4. The hype around packing cubes is valid
Packing cubes are your friends. If you're travelling with a carry-on sized suitcase the thin set of three by Eagle Creek are great and fit perfectly in a case - like a jigsaw. Game. Changer.
5. The great Roll vs Fold debate
I'm Team Roll. I'm not sure this debate will ever end but for me at least it has. I'm a roller, not a folder.
6. Keep one top 'fresh'
If it's possible to, have one T-shirt/top/shirt aside as your ‘going out’ top. It can feel good to wear something you haven’t worn for 3, 4 or 5 days solid, even if it’s not *actually* clean.
7. Only you know if you should pack jeans
Some days you just want to wear your fave jeans. And just like rolling vs folding the 'should you travel with jeans' debate simmers on.
It’s ok to bring jeans travelling just be sure you bring the right weight of fabric for the climate you're in and be sure you can get them washed and fully dried. No one wants to carry around damp, dank-smelling jeans.
8. Good sleep is about the eyes and ears
I find earplugs are an essential item to have stashed with me. I’ve tried loads and my all-time favourites are Howard Laser: Laser Lite. Perfection. Bring a bunch of them. You’ll thank me. No, really, you will.
Ditto an eye mask. I find moulded ones more comfortable and my eyes don’t get so puffy if I use this style.
9. Remember the folks back home
Carry a few photos, letters (remember those, kids?) or other small items that mean something to you. I don’t just mean electronically either.
When travelling long term I always carry a couple of photos of my family often as much for me as they are for showing locals I come across on my travels.
I also take a leaving card my best friend wrote to me just before I left that somehow manages to make me weep and laugh at the same time when I read it.
These small items are lightweight and a strong tether back to the people who love and miss you.
What are your packing tips? I'd love to know.
Before you go you may find these posts of interest too:
- How to entertain yourself on a long flight
- Easy ways to keep travel moments alive for longer
- Ideas for European destinations by train