Even experienced travelers can find a helpful tip in this collection of great advice on how to pack light, fast and well for any trip.
“In your travels, you’ll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had.” – Rick Steves
Packing is my least favorite part of any trip. I love planning a vacation, whether it’s for a few weeks or just a few days; I love booking those tickets and looking at the maps, and I love actually being on vacation. But packing – that I do not like. But because I still don’t enjoy it, I’ve become a pretty good and fast packer, so that I don;t have to spend any more time on it than I have to. Even so, I am always curious to pick up some new packing tips. Here’s a collection of great pieces of advice that I found, from both traveling friends and online experts:
What to pack for any trip:
First of all, check the weather and think about what activities you’ll be doing. A beach vacation is going to require a different wardrobe to a touring one, and you’ll need to pack appropriately for the climate too. Once you’re clear on what kind of clothing you’ll need, you can move on to creating your travel capsule wardrobe (a capsule wardrobe is centered around a few classic, versatile pieces that are then varied with accessories).
There’s a wealth of advice online for how to create a travel capsule wardrobe, and even advice on creating a travel capsule wardrobe for over 50s. It all boils down to one golden rule, though: go neutral.
“It’s wonderful to own and wear distinctive clothes. I don’t bring them when I travel which allows me to wear things several times and use my accessories to change-up my look” ~ AWellStyledLife.com
It might seem boring to leave striking pieces at home in favor of more versatile, neutral clothing items, but it’s worth it in exchange for having lighter, smaller luggage. Use a neutral color as a base for all your travel outfits, and supply color through accessories such as jewelry and scarves. Neutral outfits can be dressed up or down depending on your accessories and makeup look, so pack fewer clothes and more jewelry. Younger travel bloggers tend to recommend black a lot, but it can be too harsh as you get older, so feel free to substitute black with grey, navy, or brown (or a lighter neutral such as olive green or khaki).
Make every item you pack earn its place in the suitcase; choose versatile pieces that can be worn with more than one other item of clothing or can do double duty (eg. a tailored shirt that can be worn alone or over a camisole as a jacket). There are some great examples of travel capsule wardrobes at AWellStyledLife.com and LadyLightTravel.
Lots of travel bloggers recommend buying a few items of clothing in travel fabrics, which wash easily, dry quickly, and don’t crease or wrinkle. I’m not a fan of buying new clothes especially for traveling in, but if you are, check out these recommendations for travel clothes for over 50s.
The blogger Une Femme gave the great tip of laying out everything you’ll be taking on the bed or floor before you pack, so that you can check that everything works with everything else and immediately spot if one top stands out as not fitting in with the rest. General advice is to only bring one week’s worth of clothing and wash it, so as to save on space. Two to three bottoms, three to four tops, and two pairs of shoes, along with a warmer sweater or cardigan, some layering camisoles and/or thermal underwear seems to be the universally recommended amount of clothing to bring with on any trip. Then add various accessories.
The single best item of clothing to pack for over 50s is a scarf. Scarves – especially thin silk scarves – are magic. You can add brightly colored scarf to a neutral base outfit to lift it with some color; use it as a pillow or pillow cover if needed; wear it round your shoulders for extra warmth, or over your head for shade and to hide a bad hair day. They’re easy to wash and quick to dry, and take up barely any space in your luggage. Leggings and long underwear are also great items to pack; they will extend the life of the outfits you do bring and make them more versatile.
How to pack light:
Most importantly, when you pack you need to be realistic. You might go out to eat in a five-star restaurant, but that doesn’t mean that you should pack an elegant outfit just for that possibility. It is guaranteed that you will not wear anything you add at the last minute ‘just in case’. Frank Brown, Editor at 1 Bag, 1 World, gave this great piece of advice:
“Go through your packing list or lay out everything you plan to take on your bed or the floor. With every item, ask yourself why you’re taking it. If you start with the words ‘what if,’ or you only plan to use it once during an extended trip, it may not be a necessity. Too many non-necessities and you go from packing light to packing heavy.”
And he’s right.
Reduce the shoe load. Shoes are bulky and heavy, awful for light packers. One comfortable pair for walking in and one slightly dressier pair (sandals if you’ll be somewhere hot) are all you need for most trips.
Replace heavy books and maps with a kindle or an e-reader. or e-reader to replace heavy books with e-books. you can even borrow e-books from your local library.
How to pack a suitcase well:
A well packed suitcase begins with the suitcase. New suitcases are lighter and better designed, so if you haven’t bought a new suitcase for a while, consider investing in one. Make sure you choose one that’s the right size; big enough to hold everything without needing to be squeezed shut, small enough that your belongings fit snugly and won’t shift around while you travel, since that makes wrinkles (and a mess). I like suitcases with a hard shell, to protect my things better (and so that I can sit on it if I’m waiting in line for too long!).
Before you start packing, check over what you have once more. Lay everything out on the bed or the floor so that you can check that you’ve got everything and see what you have. If you’ve made a packing list (and if you haven’t, why not?) then this is the time to check it over. I’ve seen many travel experts recommend that now you should get rid of about a third of the clothing you’ve laid out, since the truth is that you simply aren’t going to wear it. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that, though.
Remember to pack your valuables in your carry-on baggage, along with a change of underwear, enough of any medications that you have to take regularly for 3 days, and glasses and contact lens cases if you wear those.
Roll or fold? This might be the biggest packing debate of all time. I always roll my clothes to pack them (I blame it on my mother!) In my experience, it makes more space in the suitcase and stops clothes from wrinkling. BUT:
- It only works when the clothes will be densely packed. They need to be close to each other to stop the rolls from unrolling, so after you’ve rolled your clothes, pack them tightly in one row or layer.
- It’s not a good idea to roll your good collared shirts, suits, or formal jackets; they will lose their shape and get too wrinkled. It’s better to pack them folded. Lifehacker features a great semi-scientific investigation into whether it’s better to roll, fold or use packing cubes. Want to know the punchline? As with so much in life, it depends. What’s most important to you: space, wrinkle-free, or ease of access?
Use ziploc bags to prevent leaks. You can do away with bulky, awkward-to-pack toiletries bags and just use ziplocs instead. They’re strong, stop your moisturizer from leaking all over your clothes, and let you see exactly what you’ve got without having to open the bag.
The gallon-size ziplocs are also great as replacement packing cubes. Packing cubes are all the rage for clever travelers, since they are lightweight, keep your clothes organized, and help save space in your suitcase by compressing them. Well, you get almost all of those benefits for a fraction of the cost by packing for vacation using ziplocs! Use one ziploc per outfit or per type of clothing (eg underwear, tops, accessories, etc.) Once you’ve packed a ziploc, seal the bag most of the way and then roll it up carefully from the bottom, squeezing out all the air and then sealing it so that you have a vacuumed flat bag. Or you can suck all the air out the bag using your mouth, and then seal it quickly. Not only do you have cheap packing cubes, you can also easily see which clothes are inside, or label the bag with a sharpie marker.
Once you start actually packing your suitcase, if you’ve done all your preparation well so far you’ll find that that’s the easiest part of the whole job:
- Your shoes go on the bottom of the suitcase (inside a plastic bag first so that they don’t dirty your clothes), then fit small, soft clothing around them to make an even layer.
- Pack into every bit of space, including inside your shoes. I always put my (less valuable) jewelry and smaller items inside my shoes when I pack, so that they don’t get lost in the general mass of things.
- Fragile items go in the center of the suitcase, so that they are as well protected as possible from the inevitable bumps and bashes.
- Finally, pack your delicate items and ironed shirts, etc on the very top layer.
This video made by Heathrow Airport in the UK is actually great for guidance on the best way to pack a suitcase. I love the idea of making ‘magic space’.
And voila! You’re packed! Now you just face the challenge of packing it all again when it’s time to come home.