Packing is my least favourite part of traveling. Trying to decide exactly how many times I’ll be in a fancy situation and whether or not I’ll wear my yellow sundress enough times to make it worth carrying is just, well, boring. Unfortunately, it is completely necessary (unless, of course, you are wealthy enough to just purchase everything as you go, but for most that’s not a valid option).
I tend to leave packing until the very last minute (think 2 AM the night before I leave) because it’s just such a yawn-fest. I’m often left sitting in front of my bag — no matter if it’s at home getting ready to take off, or in a hostel getting ready to move on – after everyone else has gone to sleep, rearranging my pants and shoes and everything else to make it all fit. It’s tedious, but someone’s gotta do it. And you can bet your friends won’t do it for you.
After having backpacked around Europe for more than four months (among other, shorter trips), I’d like to think I’ve managed to get the packing process down pat. Therefore, why not pass on a few of the things I’ve learned? Most of this will pertain to those traveling for long periods of time and moving around a lot; the bare minimum with just a few luxuries is key for this kind of traveling. But most any trip can benefit from these packing tips.
First of all, you really don’t need nearly as many toiletries as you think you do. In fact, it’s a better idea to go with the regular sizes instead of travel sizes if you will be gone for long enough — it’s far more economical. Dry shampoo and disposable face cloths always come in handy. A few makeup essentials — whatever you wear most often plus maybe an extra eyeshadow or two for nights out — will be more than enough. And, of course, you’ll probably want the normal things like toothbrush and toothpaste, face wash, moisturizer, deodorant, maybe a small travel perfume, makeup remover – you know, whatever you use every day.
Now on to clothes: The place where you probably overpack the most often. Jeans take up a lot of room, but if you’re like me, you’ll need at least one pair, maybe two. If you think it’s worth the extra weight and space, just be sure to roll ‘em up tightly. Which reminds me: Roll up all of your clothes, because they pack much tighter this way. But, be sure to keep a few smaller items like a couple tank tops or t-shirts in the cracks and around the edges to maximize the space you do have.
Be sure to actually pay attention to what you’re putting in your bag. If you’re not going to wear it often enough, it’s a waste of space. Don’t forget that the opportunity to do laundry is available almost anywhere in the world, so you really don’t need thirty-one pairs of underwear. But the opportunity to iron your clothing probably won’t be as common. Not to mention, it will all be stuffed back into a suitcase or backpack. So don’t bring anything that wrinkles easily, or that you don’t mind wearing wrinkly.
Shoes are especially hard to leave behind. You may want three pairs of high heels and all you sandals, but that’s just possible. High heels are especially inconvenient. If you’re going to be traveling for a long time and need to carry everything on your back, stick to flats – they squish down and weigh less. But you only need one, maybe two, pairs. Otherwise, you’ll need a pair of good walking shoes and a pair of flip flops for the shower and the beach. That’s it.
Finally, there are a few other things that may come in handy, especially when you’re away for a long time. A pillowcase is great for those not-so-clean-looking hostel pillows, and if you need to, you can easily stuff a sweater into it for a long, cold train ride. A small amount of duct tape and a short length of thin rope can be used to fix almost anything from a backpack to a pair of shoes. As well, a small amount of laundry detergent and a stopper for the bathroom sink is handy when you’re wearing your last pair of socks with no Laundromat nearby.