Whether you’re packing for a trip to Grandma’s, a trip to Paris, or looking for the best campsite for your camping trip, it can be difficult to separate what you need from what you “might” need (but probably won’t actually use). Especially if you’re flying, each bag or additional pound adds to the cost of the trip – before you even get there!

Luckily, we have tons of tricks to make sure you’ve packed everything you’ll really need on the trip. After all, adding unnecessary weight to your bags is only going to ensure you have a harder time lugging it around. Here is a step-by-step guide to pack efficiently for your next vacation, no matter the scope.

How to Plan to Avoid Over-Packing

There are a few important tips to keep in mind when planning to avoid over-packing. Here are a few things to ask yourself and consider to make sure your suitcase stays a maneagable size.

The Length of the Trip

The most important factor in how you need to pack is how long your trip is. What to bring camping for a weekend has very different needs than a three-week-long backpacking trip across Europe, which might include bulky items like a camping lantern or a camping heater.

While you’ll want fresh underwear and socks for every day of the trip, you don’t need a new pair of shorts or vegan hiking boots each day. If you wear makeup, you don’t need your entire rolling bag and beauty products for a week-long trip – even if you’re glamping. Scaling down is everything when learning how to pack efficiently.

Appropriate Suitcase Size

Have you ever noticed that as you move to bigger homes, you always manage to fill them with more stuff? Suitcases are the same way. If you grab a huge suitcase for a short trip, you’re going to want to fill it up. It’s also more bulky and difficult to handle in and out of your car or in the airport. Make sure that you use an appropriately sized suitcase for your trip.

If you only have a huge suitcase and are doing a short trip (or vice-versa), ask if you can borrow a friend or family member’s bag for the trip. If they don’t have one you can borrow, consider going to a consignment shop to look for a quality, gently used suitcase.

Will You Have Access To Laundry Services?

For longer trips (2+ weeks), consider doing laundry while you’re there. Whether it’s a local laundromat or borrowing a local friend or family member’s washer and dryer, check your options. Three weeks or a month of clothes is bulky and heavy (and might tack on some baggage fees).

Even if doing laundry isn’t on the “Top 10 Things To Do on Vacation” list, you’ll thank yourself for thinking ahead when you’re only carrying a week’s worth (instead of a month’s worth) of clothes.

Have a Day-By-Day Plan (and Checklist)

Make a rough plan for things you will be doing each day of your trip. With this plan, you can make a checklist for each day’s activities instead of wildly guesing things you need.

If it’s below freezing with no hot springs or indoor pools, you don’t need a swimsuit. Going rock climbing? Bring more than blue jeans. International travel? You may not be able to charge your phone without an outlet converter or a camping generator. Pack what you need for the situations you will be in, not situations you might be in.

Think Twice About Everything Put in Your Bag

While you’re packing, don’t throw everything directly into your suitcase. Not only will it be a mess to sort through later, it will be harder to take out what you don’t actually need for your trip.

Have everything you’re bringing laid out so you can see it all at once (and check them off your checklist!) before packing the bag. It’s hard to change your mind about something that’s buried under everything else you’ve packed. Spreading it out makes it easier to visualize what you do and don’t need.

For each item, really question whether or not you need it. If you don’t bring it and should need it, what is the worst that could happen? Especially for luxury items like makeup and multiple evening outfits, focus on the staples rather than everything you like. Weigh the likelihood of needing the item with the space it takes up and the weight it adds.

Check the Weather

If you’re reading this article, you probably have access to the internet, so check the weather forecast before you go. If there’s a 0-5% chance of camping in the rain, you can safely put away the raincoat and umbrella. Heat wave? No need for those bulky coats.

While freak weather changes can happen, you shouldn’t plan your vacation around unlikely occurrences. If worst comes to worst, you can buy an umbrella when you’re there.

The Best Ways to Pack Your Clothes

Clothing can be the bulkiest and most time-consuming part of packing. What should you pack? How much? What about shoes? Do you need to bring an umbrella/coat/jewelry? Should you bring shorts or pants just in case?

Here are some tips to help you pack your vacation clothing efficiently:

Pack Wrinkle-Resistant Fabrics

If at all possible, pack wrinkle-resistant fabrics. If you don’t have access to an ironing board and iron where you’re staying, you won’t want to wear your wrinkly clothes anyways. Besides, who wants to pop out the iron while on vacation?

If you’re not sure if your clothing items are wrinkle-resistant, check the tags to see what fabric it’s made of. Generally, synthetic materials resist wrinkles more than cotton and linen. Even though cotton is generally on the wrinkle list, some woven fabrics that include cotton are still wrinkle-resistant if mixed with wool or synthetic materials. Wrinkle-resistant fabrics to look for include:

  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Wool
  • Polyester
  • Rayon

If you absolutely need to bring wrinkle-prone clothing, the key is to folding it as little as possible to ensure as few creases and wrinkles as possible. If you have a traditional flat-bottom suitcase, line the bottom with your wrinkle-prone clothing so they lay flat during the entire trip. For extra wrinkle resistance, put each item of clothing in its own plastic liner (like a disposable plastic garment bag) to prevent friction and adding more wrinkles.

Roll and Fold Items

Not sure how to get all of that clothing into your suitcase? Roll and fold! There are countless methods to folding clothing down as tightly as possible, but rolling can be a quicker and easier option.

Bulky items like coats don’t fold easily and take up more space, so I simply lay them on top of all my rolled clothing and other packed belongings and tuck the corners in. Zip up the suitcase, and voilà! Your coat is hugging the rest of your belongings.

Arrange Clothing Strategically

Now that you know what and how to pack, it’s time to actually put things in your suitcase. You want to make sure that your more delicate belongings don’t get squished and that you have access to the things you need when you need them.

Most of the rolled and folded clothing can sit at the bottom. It’s soft, durable, and will provide a protective layer for the more fragile items on top while traveling. Airport workers aren’t always the most delicate with your suitcases, so keep that in mind with packing. Try to put clothes you won’t need until later in the trip at the bottom, so you can have easier access to the clothes you need first.

If you know there’s certain items you’ll need first, put them in last. Things like toiletries or a change of underwear and socks after a long flight demand easy access.

If your suitcase has outer pockets or a mesh pouch on the inside, take advantage of it. Small items like headphones or a hiking compass, or entertainment like books and handheld devices, are more delicate, and you may want them more frequently. Just keep in mind that putting valuables in easily accessible outer pockets may make them a target for thieves.

Pack a Sandal, a Sneaker, and an Evening Shoe

Standard efficient packing advice says to bring one pair of sandals, one pair of sneakers, and a nice pair of shoes for if you want to go out. Like everything, you may need to just as necessary.

A lake trip may require tennis shoes, flip flops, and water shoes instead. And that’s okay. But try to limit yourself to three pairs of shoes – think leisure, walking, and going out. Shoes take up a lot of space, and you probably don’t need to bring as many as you think you do.

Use Neutral Shoes Multifunctionally

With only three shoes, how will you coordinate outfits? Never fear! Pack your most universal neutral shoes that can be worn with every (or almost every) outfit that you bring. You can actually coordinate your clothes to your shoes while you’re packing instead of picking a pair of shoes for each outfit.

How to Pack Shoes

Now that you have your few pairs of shoes, you have to somehow manage to fit them in your bulging suitcase. Unlike clothes, you definitely can’t just roll them up and squish them down to fit as tightly as possibe without risking damage to your shoes. This may not be the time to break out your neon yellow platforms. (Unless those are your usual dress shoes, of course.)

Here is how to safely pack your shoes for your trip:

  • Stuff socks in them to save space and ensure they keep their shape
  • Wear your bulkiest shoes (like boots or tennis shoes) while traveling
  • Wrap your shoes in an old shirt or put them in a plastic bag so they don’t get the rest of your shoes dirty
  • If you have a rolling bag, put them near the top vertical so they don’t get squished

How to Pack Toiletries, Medicines, and Beauty Products

If you’re flying, all individual toiletries must be 3.4 ounces or less and all fit into a one-quart clear plastic sealable bag. If you’re doing a longer trip, it may make more sense to buy bigger items like shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer after you get to your destination so you’ll have enough for your trip.

If you’re not flying, and depending on how many toiletries you have, consider investing in a hanging toiletry pouch. This way, you can have all of your toiletries and makeup in one place and conveniently hang it up to use what you need like a medicine cabinet. This can be especially useful if you decide to go camping in your car.

Don’t bring jewelry unless absolutely necessary. Even things you wear constantly may be lost or stolen, which would be devastating. For wedding rings, consider silicon bands for the trip and cheaper earrings or spacers instead of diamond studs.

Use Travel-Sized Multitask Items

During travel, multitasking is the key. With modern technology, multi-use items are more numerous than ever. A tablet alone is a home theater, a supercomputer, an e-reader, and a game console all in one. Multitools are a fantastic thing to keep on you – knife, nail trimmer, scissors, bottle opener, wrench, whatever you need.

When packing toiletries, for example, you likely don’t need more than cleanser and moisturizer (and sunscreen!) for a short trip. More involved skincare and makeup routines will involve more products and require additional packing, so prepare a simplified regimen to keep the number of bottles down.

Don’t Fill Travel Bottles to the Top

If you’re bringing travel bottles with you (besides the one you have for the trip itself), avoid over-filling them if taking an airplane. Because of the air pressure changes that happen in an airplane and in the air, this can cause them to spill or burst, or cause the contents to explode everywhere when opened at high altitudes.

And Don’t Forget to Actually Enjoy Your Vacation

Let’s face it – you can’t prepare for every possible situation on your trip. With this guide, you can plan to the best of your ability without over-packing, but plans do on occasion go awry. Don’t stress. The whole point of vacation is to relax and enjoy yourself, so don’t be afriad to roll with the punches if something doesn’t go to plan.

Have fun on your travels!

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