Packing used to be the bane of my existence. Once a chronic overpacker, I wasted so much time deciding what to take, taking fourteen outfits on a seven-day trip and worrying about overweight luggage fees. Lugging an enormous suitcase around after me was no joke, and I certainly didn’t use or wear everything I brought with me. Nowadays I am a much smarter, more strategic packer. In this post, I’d like to share my all-time best packing tips, so you can learn from my mistakes and poor judgement!
In no particular order…
Pack light. Really, really light – as in 50% of the clothes you think you’ll need. If you’re going to a hot country, you are probably going to spend the majority of your time in shorts and swimwear anyway. Nowadays I try to bring as little as possible with me. It is so much easier, more practical and better for my joints. I also save money by taking my bag on board as hand luggage, rather than checked baggage.
Having a colour scheme can be very useful. I suggest packing neutral colours and versatile items, so you can mix and match easily. Classic black, white, grey and denim is a good base to start with. You can throw together a wider range of outfits using fewer items. You can add splashes of colour with accessories and jewellery.
Consider using a backpack instead of a suitcase. I have this Osprey backpack and it is ideal. Comfortable, practical, surprisingly spacious and full of useful compartments. Another perk – it’s not black like 99% of the backpacks out there, which makes it easy to identify at airports and in luggage storage rooms. It’s amazing how much you can fit in a backpack, they free up your hands (for taking photos, checking directions and making payments) and it means you won’t dislocate your shoulder dragging a suitcase over hills and crooked pavements.
Bring comfortable shoes. Especially if you are visiting a compact, walkable city or one with cobbled stones (i.e., a lot of European cities). Those really aren’t fun to navigate in heels. If you’re going to a beach with rocks and stones, pack some rubber water shoes. They look a bit silly, but they will save you from so many bumps, scrapes and stubbed toes.
Take clothes that are appropriate for the country you’re visiting. Think modest, free-flowing, cotton layers. It’s important to do some research before you travel to understand how traditional/conservative/modest the locals may be when it comes to clothing. A lot of religious and spiritual sites have strict dress codes as well. You don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb or have your outfit be the reason you can’t visit a certain location.
Wear your heaviest and bulkiest clothes on the plane. You may be a bit sweaty on arrival, but it saves a lot of luggage space. You can also use your coat or jacket as a makeshift blanket, or use a scarf to support your lower back during a long flight.
With many international pharmacies and cosmetic stores popping up around the world, you can buy most of your toiletries on arrival. Whatever you bring from home, pack creams, liquids and lotions in plastic ziploc bags. No matter how secure you think the packing is, you don’t want to end up with cosmetic soup all over your belongings!
If you need to take specific medicine, bring it with you as local pharmacies may not have it. Learn from my mistakes and bring suntan lotion / sunscreen from home, as it can be very expensive abroad. It’s also a good idea to bring painkillers, anti-diarrhoea tablets and a simple First Aid kit.
Bring a scarf. They are really useful for covering your head, shoulders and chest if you are visiting a conservative country. Scarves also offer sun protection and keep you warm during breezy nights.
Keep your valuables with you in your hand luggage (never in checked luggage). Your essentials should always be within reach. Also throw a spare top, swimwear and some underwear into your carry-on, in case your checked luggage goes missing (it happened to me once – very annoying!).
Write a detailed packing list, noting exactly what you are taking with you (one of my mum’s favourite tips!). It gives a useful written overview of what you plan to take, so you can see what needs to be added or removed. When you are changing accommodation during the trip, the list will help make sure everything accompanies you to the next place. The list will also help you remember to bring everything home at the end of your trip.
Pack ear plugs and an eye mask, especially if you’re staying in a hostel. Even if you’re a deep sleeper and are staying in a hotel or resort, bring these with you. Who knows what kind of noisy monsters will be in the room next to or above you? I have this eye mask which is very soft, silky and blocks out any rays of light that might try to sneak in.
Bring a reusable water bottle with you to drastically cut down how many plastic bottles you use. If you are visiting a country without drinkable tap water, get a bottle with an in-built purification system. I bought a WaterWellTravel Ultra 2 Stage Filter Water Bottle before my six-month trip to Asia and it definitely came in handy!
Use packing cubes to organise your luggage. I have a mix of small, medium and large cubes, similar to these. They are a practical way to categorise your things and save time rifling through luggage. For example, you could group T-shirts and underwear into one cube, and shorts or skirts into another. The cubes can be compressed, which means you can fit more into your suitcase or backpack. Are you a roller or folder when it comes to packing clothes? I tend to roll thinner items and fold thicker things like jeans. Both techniques work well with packing cubes.
I hope these tips have been useful! If you have any other suggestions, please add them to the comments.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow