Packing Lightly, Travel Tips

On the road


8 Secrets to packing lightly, even with kids in tow

A few years ago, my packing skills were put to the test.  My sons, ages 10 and 13, my husband, and I were embarking on a 72-day adventure around the world.  With 26 flights ahead of us, I decided that we wouldn't check a single bag and risk having our luggage lost.  Hence, each of us would have one hiking-style backpack; that’s it.  Since that trip, I’ve only ever packed a backpack or roller board-style, soft-sided suitcase that doesn’t need to be checked, no matter how long my trip is.  The same goes for the rest of my family.  Here are 8 rules that we follow to make packing simple:

1/Be disciplined

If you only bring a roller board bag or hiking backpack, you’re limited to that amount of space.  That’s it.  Don't give yourself or your teenaged fashionista an out.  Look for the most light-weight durable option that you can find.  For our around-the-world trip, I carried an ultralight Osprey Exos 58 which only weighed a little under 3 pounds.

2/Bring a daypack

Invest in a super small daypack.  I use the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack.  Weighing only 2.4 ounces, it rolls up into it’s own storage bag that’s only the size of your fist.  It doesn’t have the most comfortable shoulder straps, but it’s not like my kids are using it to haul their books back and forth to school.  It serves its purpose.


3/Roll your clothing

Rolling your clothing actually does save space.  As an added bonus, your clothes are less likely to get wrinkled.  Admittedly, the rolling technique is a harder sell for my boys.  They’re perfectly content shoving their clothes into a backpack or throwing them unfolded into a suitcase.  But I guarantee that I’ll hear, “I cant find…” at least a dozen times on the trip!

4/Pack cross-purpose clothing

Again, perhaps more difficult for your teenaged daughter to understand, but you don’t need to look like a fashion model while traveling, meaning pack sparingly.  Cross-purpose clothing, like convertible pants that zip off to shorts or closed-toe sandals for hiking and the beach are ideal.

5/Embrace color coordination

You can really cut down on the number of garments that you’ll need by sticking to one color scheme.  In order words, choose clothes in the same color family and then just mix and match.  So don’t pack the skirt that only goes with that one blouse.

6/Bare essentials for toiletries

Only bring those items that you can’t leave without or those brands that may be difficult to find.  For the rest, if you run short, it’s easy enough to pick something up at a local drug store.  The one thing that I always pack:  facial wipes, because I find that some international hotels do not provide washcloths. 

7/Quick-drying towel

If you’re camping, staying at a youth hostel, or staying somewhere else that won’t have a towel, pack a light-weight, quick-drying one.  You also can use the towel for the pool or beach.  You’ll find these kinds of towels where camping goods are sold.  No, they’re not plush, but it’s just for short-term use.

8/Bring detergent

If you’re going for an extended vacation and think that you may need to launder your clothes, bring some detergent packs.  It’s easy enough to do small amounts of laundry in a bathroom sink or tub.  Alternatively, if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll find laundry services readily available either at your hotel or outside your hotel (much cheaper).

Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels with her husband and two sons.  When she travels, she always wears pants with cargo-style pockets.

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