You've made a list of exactly what you need to take on your vacation, but once you get to packing, it goes right out the window. We get it. We blame the what-ifs. What if the weather turns colder? What if you decide on a spur-of-the-moment dinner at a fancy restaurant? What if you stain your jeans or get blisters from those shoes that aren't quite broken in? Maybe taking the bigger suitcase isn't such a bad idea ... hey, more room for souvenirs!
But planning for every possibility means you'll end up with an overstuffed bag full of wrinkled clothes or extra checked baggage -- which can be pricey if you're traveling by plane. Plus, you'll be dragging all that gear around once you get to your destination. But we've got your back. Here are five tips for putting the brakes on overpacking, and, if you just can't leave that extra sweater behind, some ideas for fitting more stuff into a smaller space.
Compress and Compact
Most of the time, you can make more room in your bag without leaving anything behind: Just squeeze. Pick up a few compression sacks. They're usually worth the price, since they make it easy to pack clothes, especially underwear and socks, into a much smaller space. Nobody cares if your dirty laundry gets wrinkled, so a compression sack is the perfect place to stow it later in your trip.
A compressible option for your nicer pants, skirts and shirts is the packing folder. It saves space with the added bonus of cutting down on wrinkles.
Once everything's in a compact package, don't forget to use your suitcase's built-in pockets, straps and other compartments to organize your stuff and to take advantage of unused space.
Whenever you can, leave beauty products and toiletries at home. If there are lotions and potions you just can't live without, stick with the travel-sized containers: They save space, and you can reuse or recycle the packaging when you're done. If you're a fan of planning ahead, call your hotel to find out which toiletries will be stocked in your room when you get there. Make sure to distinguish between what's provided gratis and what you'll be charged for on your bill -- you don't want a case of sticker shock over a couple of miniature soaps.
You can find travel-sized shampoos and other products at your local drugstore, but we like to window shop online at sites like as 3floz.com. You can find high-end products in cheap, pint-sized containers, which will help you save space -- and get your carry-on through airport security.
Pack Flexible Clothing
It's clichéd but true: When in doubt, dress in layers. Plan a few key outfits, and then add or take away, depending on the weather and the event. You don't need a different outfit for every stop on your itinerary ... just bring clothes that can do double-duty for both nice and informal occasions. Keep in mind, though, that many religious sites expect modest dress, so set the bar there if that's a part of your travel plans.
The same rules hold true for shoes, too. Shoes are a serious space-killer, so unless you have a good reason to bring more, stick to one or two pairs, and make sure you'll be comfortable walking in them all day.
Focus On Essentials
To get used to traveling lightly, travel expert Rick Steves suggests a sort of dress rehearsal -- pack up what you plan to take on vacation, and haul it around for an hour. If the very idea exhausts you, you probably have too much in your bag.
You can get a lot of mileage out of this exercise: It can show you how too much luggage will weigh you down, keeping you from window shopping or walking from a train station to your hotel. On the other hand, if you've truly packed light, you may realize how little you really need to carry with you on vacation.
So how do you cut down your packing list? First, think about every item you intend to pack: Will you use it enough to make it worth hauling around? Is there a smaller, travel-sized version available, or can you just buy it when you get there? Find out if you'll have access to laundry, and if you do, think about leaving behind some T-shirts and underwear. Remember that you're traveling, not socializing with friends, so you can wear the same pair of pants more than once without breaking any social taboos. Stick to slacks or khakis if you're traveling in the summer -- if it's hot, you'll melt in jeans.
Take One Bag
You can gain a lot of ground with one hard-and-fast rule: Take one carry-on or checked bag only, plus a day bag or laptop bag if you need it. It may sound strict, but carrying less stuff is a huge plus just about everywhere you go. At the airport, you won't have to pay for extra checked baggage, and you'll breeze through security much faster than people who are lugging multiple bags. Once you arrive, you might be able to get by without a taxi, and you can enjoy a leisurely stroll from the airport or train station to your hotel. You won't need to pay a bellhop to get your bags up to your room, and you'll have less to worry about in terms of theft for your whole stay.
Want more on packing light? Take a look at the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks Now looks at some of the strangest theme cruises sailing.
More Great Links
- "Packing Clothes." One Bag. (6/2/2010) http://www.onebag.com/pack.html
- "Compression Sacs." Eagle Creek. (6/2/2010) http://www.eaglecreek.com/packing_solutions/compression_bags/
- "Packing Folders." Eagle Creek. (6/2/2010) http://www.eaglecreek.com/packing_solutions/packing_folders/
- "Packing Tips." TSA. (6/2/2010) http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/customer/claims/pack.shtm
- Steves, Rick. "Rick's Packing List." 2010. (6/2/2010) http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/packlist.htm
- Steves, Rick. "Packing Light and Right." 2010. (6/2/2010) http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/packlight.htm
- 3 Fluid Oz. (6/2/2010) http://www.3floz.com/