Setting Yourself Free: How to Pack Light

by Marta Turnbull

Pack light with fewer clothes, shoes and stuff you think you will need, but won’t. Dragging around heavy suitcases is unsafe, unpleasant and totally unnecessary. The idea is to travel quickly and easily. In a dodgy section of town–like at a train or bus station–you may need to sling your pack or small suitcase onto your back and step lively to get to your lodging. Packing light is easy by simplifying your stuff.

The goal? For a 2+ week trip, pack your clothes and gear into one small carry-on suitcase and a small daypack. Pack like a flight attendant. This tip can transform your travel experience. Think of it as setting yourself free. Take a moment to visualize yourself exhausted from jet lag pulling your very heavy, enormous suitcase on cobblestones to your hotel in Europe or on a dirt path in Africa. Then imagine yourself pulling a light, little suitcase or slinging your pack up on your back while striding along to your hotel. Freeing, isn’t it?When traveling, you look forward to seeing new sites, trying new food, experiencing a new culture, and escaping from your daily routine. So consider an entirely new life style while traveling–a different way to dress and style your hair. Make it a total thing. Get the most out of the experience.

How to pack light

1. Clothing – Every piece of clothing you take must have a dual purpose. Your skirt will go with all your tops, as will your slacks. Color coordinate all clothes so they all go with each other and can be mixed and matched. Pack 3 complete outfits that mix and match so you really end up with 9 different outfits. Choose quick-drying, wrinkle-free fabrics. My favorites are wrinkle-free fabrics in beige, red and purple. If your budget can afford it, take clothes that have antimicrobial properties. Toss in a jacket for a layer of warmth, one you can dress up or dress down.

Merino wool tee shirts and sweaters are made to be worn 7 times between washings. (OK so maybe not 7 times, but you can wear them a lot.) Their fabrics, though, can absorb the smell of scented deodorants. So wear unscented deodorant or if your schedule permits, put your deodorant on several minutes before you pull on your tee shirt or sweater. If you take one sleeveless, one short sleeve and one long sleeve shirt along with one sweater, you are set for a nice range of temperatures for 2+ weeks. If your trip is to a cold/hot place, adjust the type of tee shirt sleeve length and sweater weight accordingly. If traveling to the tropics, instead chose light weight fabrics that are loose fitting.

2. Accessories – A couple of inexpensive necklaces and earrings in coordinating colors can provide the style you want to add to your look. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. You will not need them with a few colorful, fun costume accessories. You want to enjoy your travels, not attract thieves.

3.  Hair – A hair dryer and curling iron are too heavy and bulky for packing light and in many of the most exotic places in the world, electricity can be intermittent, at best. This is your opportunity to free yourself by trying a hairdo that does not require much styling. Long straight hair can be braided or pulled into a ponytail or twisted around and clipped up. Short hair can be layered to take care of curly or wavy locks or blunt cut for carefree days of exploring. Kinky hair can be corn rolled, braided or cut to in a variety of cool, sophisticated styles. Talk with your hairstylist about good, easy-to-care-for and attractive hair styles for your type of hair.

4. Underwear – take 2-3 pairs of light, quick drying underpants. Some outdoor shops and travel stores carry underwear that has antimicrobial properties to prevent odors. (They come with and without lace.) A less expensive alternative is to use thin pantie shields (pads) and throw them away after use. Pads are not as environmentally friendly, though, so I prefer the quick drying panties because you can wash them out every night or two; and they are dry by morning.

5. Multiple wearing – How do I travel for two weeks or more with only 3 different outfits? Wear clothes for more than one day and mix the worn items with a different skirt or top.

6. Washing clothes – If you have selected quick-drying clothes, you can hand wash them every few days in the evening and by morning they will be dry. When you are short on time and weather permits, you can put your clothes on damp and let them dry while you head out for your first adventure. Hand washing your clothes is particularly useful if your trip itinerary has you moving from place to place every day or two. If your clothes are not quick drying, find a self-serve laundry or a laundry that is staffed with people who can wash and dry your clothes for you. If I have time and the facilities are available, I like to use a self-serve laundry because it is an opportunity to interact with locals who are doing their laundry. If appropriate, it can be fun to interact with the locals.

Now do it! Open your carry-on suitcase, and select exactly what you will wear and use during your trip. Here is an easy packing list for general travel. and an equipment packing list. If you have additional suggestions for packing light, we want to hear from you!

Bon voyage and safe travels!

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