Going Somewhere? How To Pack Lightly But Still Have Everything You Need

updated May 3, 2019
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Even with your best efforts, sometimes avoiding overpacking is a hard thing to do. There are all these scenarios that start springing up in your head, and you begin to consider all the options that might be: Maybe you’ll get invited to a fancy dinner and need that beaded evening bag or you could stumble upon a rooftop pool you’ll need your swimsuit and oversize hat for. You just never know! But if you find that time and time again you don’t use half of the outfits stashed away into your carry-on, then it might be time to change your ways. If you’d love to pack less but have no idea how to pair down your options, let this be your guide to getting started. I know it will be hard not to pack that lace dress for your camping trip, but we’ll get you there—pinky promise.

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The suitcase matters

If you’re a chronic overpacker, the problem might lie with your suitcase. If you have a huge one, you might be tempted to keep packing until it’s full. Downgrade to a carry-on and you’ll have less room, meaning you’ll have to be more selective with what you throw in there.

Take out everything you’d love to pack

Indulge yourself a little with this step and take out everything you’d like to take with you if you had limitless room in your pack. Lay it all out on your bed, and then consider what will actually work and what won’t. Try to cut out at least half of your picks with a few pointed questions: Which fabrics will work best with the place you’re going? What’s going to easily wrinkle in your suitcase? What might not be so comfy to move around in? Which pieces won’t be easy to mix and match? Start cutting!

Think of what you wear throughout the week

Are you a person who likes to change outfits a few times a day (like if you’re going out at night)? Or do you tend to stay put in what you’re wearing, or wear the same things over and over? Consider that answer when packing—just because you’re going to a new country or city doesn’t mean you’re going to completely change your dressing habits.

Try to pack mostly tops

If you’re the type of person who likes to have a lot of variety because you like to swap outfits regularly, then focus mostly on packing tops. You can throw in a couple of base skirts or pants, but then can create totally new looks by swapping out tops in that outfit equation. You’ll have a ton of options, but will cut back on bulk that would have come with the same amount of dresses or jumpsuits.

Accessories make the outfit

Necklaces and scarves can totally change the look of an outfit and take up very little space in your bag. Pack statement-making accessories to wear with a few basic tops and you’ve multiplied your looks without multiplying the need for space in your luggage.

Get ruthless with what you’re comfortable in

I’ve noticed that one of my own biggest mistakes when overpacking is that I tend to pack things I like when I try them on for 10 seconds in front of a mirror, but then feel uncomfortable in them when I’m walking around in it for a full afternoon. So put your outfit choices through an obstacle course. Sit down in those pants and crouch in those shorts; bend over in that top and see if you’re comfortable with the neckline; double check if that belt is too tight or if that skirt is too loose. Sit, crouch, bend, squat, and see if you feel 100 percent comfortable in your choices.

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Don’t pack “maybe” items

Are you unsure if you need that fancy dress? Are you not too fussed about that particular skirt but threw it in “just in case?” Are you considering a second pair of jeans in case the first pair stretch out? Do yourself a favor and ditch the fringe options—you might feel secure packing them in, but more times than not we ignore them because they weren’t our first choices to begin with.

Try not to overdo it with shoes

Shoes add a lot of weight to a suitcase, so try to only pack two or three pairs. Are you unsure if you should pack booties or calf-height boots? Walking shoes or sneakers? Ballet flats or sandals? Only pack outfits that work well with one of them, so that way you won’t be tempted to grab both.

Remember: You can always buy stuff there

Are you going away for a month or more, and are scared you’ll grow bored of your clothes or might forget to pack something essential? Avoid giving yourself permission to overpack “just in case” and instead remind yourself that you can always buy clothes while there if necessary (but I’ll bet that you likely won’t need to).