Packing Light: What we NEED vs. What we WANT

Now that I’ve been in the world travel game for almost a decade, I’ve acquired a few tricks to the trade of how the heck to carry my life around on my back.
I went from being the person who brought two GIANT rolling suitcases to Ghana on my first solo trip out of the country, to someone who now survives for months at a time with only a carry-on backpack.
Extensive travel has helped reveal my relationship to STUFF.
Uncovering things that I need versus the things that I simply want.

To make things a little clearer for you guys, I was known as a “girly girl” throughout childhood and into early adulthood.
I prided myself in my extensive shoe collection, and had the perfect outfit for EVERY occasion.
Hair, makeup, and all things glam filled my soul.
Or, at least I thought they did.
Turns out being a somewhat dirty, barefoot grublet actually feels a helluva lot better.

I’d like to say that my first trip abroad changed everything right away- but that’s not the case.
Even though I would grossly over-pack with a million clothing options that I often didn’t wear, or even gave away- it still took awhile for me to adopt more of a “minimalism” mindset that I practice now.
A big shifting point for me was about 6 years ago when I was living in Kenya.
I booked a trip to Indonesia that was meant to be for one month.
But, due to health reasons- I never returned.
I had a three-bedroom apartment in Kenya full of all my THINGS (furniture, dishes, clothes, etc).
Not to mention, I’d only packed for a month (meaning I just had my backpack).
And guess how long I ended up staying?
For over a year.
Although I’d left behind a whole lot of STUFF, I actually had everything I really needed with me.
And damn, that feeling of running around to more than 20 islands in that year with such a light load was liberating as hell.

Here’s the thing, it’s really easy to get caught up in the whole “less is more” mentality when we’re living or traveling abroad.
Everything is a whirlwind of adventure, bliss, and expansion during these times, right?
Which is why I think it’s actually more important to keep these tools and principles in mind when we’re back to living in our day-to-day life.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself to be more susceptible to consumerism when I’m spending extended periods of time in Western countries.
Meaning, if I pack for a trip with this consumer mindset- then I tend to overload my bag with more meaningless nonsense.

As I prepare to leave for my next adventure, I noticed how much I’ve accumulated in the last few months of living in this tiny home.
I did a major purge of my closet, toiletries, and any other bullshit that I simply didn’t NEED.
Once the clutter had dissipated, I felt a little clearer mentally and a little lighter energetically.
Only then did I start to pack for the next few months.
In doing so, I thought that maybe my methodology might be useful to you.
After leading 12 retreats now with people coming from all over the world- I can’t tell you how many times people have complained about over-packing the hell out of their bags, and even leaving PILES of clothes/shoes/etc behind just to lighten their load.
I get it.
I’ve been there.
Which is why I’m writing this now.
So, here we go.
Below are a few tips on how to pack comfortably, yet efficiently for any trip- big or small.

1. Organize and Compact:
Disclaimer, this is NOT sponsored- these products have just been a game changer for me.
PACKING CUBES! I’ve been using E-Bags for years, and have zero complaints. They’re really durable, solid zippers, and can hold A LOT.
Sure, I’m Type A af (so organization just generally makes me feel better).
But, even if you’re not fussed about all that- just know that using the cubes helps to compress everything into a tighter bundle that won’t fall apart if your bag is being thrown around from plane to plane.
The downside is that they’re not super cheap.
If buying packing cubes aren’t within your budget, then you can even just use reusable (or plastic, if that’s all you have) bags.
Keeping your things folded and contained into smaller bags/cubes will help to maximize the space in your suitcase or backpack.

2. Carry On:
Look, I know I like to be prepared- but this strategy has saved me from quite a few potential disaster situations.
I know most people advise travelers to pack a change of clothes in their carry-on “just in case.”
Well, I actually pack anything that I feel I NEED in my carry-on.
This usually means one full, standard size packing cube with several pairs of bottoms, tops, swim suit (if that makes sense to where I’m going, which it basically always does), and underwear.
This way, if my checked bag gets lost- I can easily and comfortably live off what I have with me.
I also include all of my travel-size toiletries, any herbal supplements that I know I can’t get just anywhere, and electronics.
All in all, I have a large purse and one small backpack.
If you travel with jewelry, I’d always suggest carrying that on, as well.
Although it does feel like quite a bit to haul around with you at the airport- it also kind of shows you how much you really NEED for the trip.
Do you even need to check a bag if you have all that you truly NEED in your carry on?
This is obviously also subjective to the climate of where you’re going.
It’s often easier to pack for the tropics, because it’s all bikinis and light clothing- as opposed to a snow trip that involves thick jackets and extra gear.
The trick here is to simply be intentional with each item you pack.

3. Clothing:
I can’t say this enough: packing items that are comfortable, easy to layer, and that might have the potential to be used in a variety of ways.
What I mean is, rather than packing a ton of sports bras AND bathing suits, do you have some that can double as BOTH?
I know this is a small example that might not be able to apply to everyone, but it still gives you an idea of the concept.
Layers are also necessary for this reason.
Do you need multiple long sleeve shirts AND multiple sweaters?
Or can just one serve as both?
Lastly, be comfortable!
I know it’s easy to get caught up in the insta-perfect idea of travel with bloggers in their PERFECT outfits, and windblown hair.
But, c’mon.
When you’re away from home, you’re already out of your comfort zone- why not at least feel cozy in what you’re wearing, right?
This is another common mistake I’ve heard a lot of people voice, especially in the tropics.
Packing things like jeans and/or super tight clothing when it’s boiling hot, and so humid you’re essentially always damp- is not ideal.
Depending on where you’re headed, usually bathers and some sort of loose cover-up is more than enough for weeks on end.
If you’re going someplace more conservative- you can still pack fully covering, loose, and light weight tops and bottoms (I’ve packed only a carry on for India, and I’ve been more than comfortable with what I have).
Keep in mind that you can get your laundry done (or do it yourself) just about anywhere you go!

4. Toiletries and Supplements:
Do you have certain products that you know you won’t be able to find where you’re traveling?
If you have a short trip (one month or less), I’d suggest getting 100 ML dispensers (you can get these at any drugstore/pharmacy), and pouring the contents from your larger containers into the small ones, instead.
If that doesn’t work, then perhaps you can just buy the travel-size option of your product (but that will likely be more expensive than just buying empty containers).
This way, you can carry them on (and maybe even carry on everything on), rather than checking a bag.
In this time, be really clear about what you NEED.
Do you plan on putting on a full face of make up every day before you go to the beach?
Probably not.
Will you realistically blow dry and/or straighten your hair?
Do you need a giant bottle of shampoo?
Or do you need to even wash your hair every day?
Again, probably not.
If you’re not as picky about your products- then know that you can probably buy any toiletry needs wherever you’re going.
Keep in mind, depending on where your trip is, it might be difficult to get natural or organic goods.
But if you’re not bothered about that, then I’d say don’t pack ANY toiletries- and just buy them once you’re there.
Supplements are the same.
If you have certain brands that you know you can’t get just anywhere, then bring those with you.
However, if it’s something more general, you can probably buy it wherever you’re going.
A quick Google search should be able to answer any questions you have about herbs and medications in the country you’re visiting.
5. Feminine Care:
Most people aren’t aware how difficult it can be to actually find tampons in certain countries.
Luckily, my mom is a seasoned traveler- so she warned me about it before I left for Ghana all those years ago.
I was  going to be there for 3 months, so I had to pack a SHIT LOAD of tampons.
No, they’re not that heavy- but they take up quite a bit of space.
Fast-forward to today, and all I have to do is pack my Lunette Cup (in my carry on)!
I love this because not only does it save waste, but it also saves a ton of space in my bag!
Plus, no more worrying about hunting for tampons if or when I run out.

6. Electronics:
This can clearly vary depending on your line of work, and/or if you’re traveling for work.
As someone who works online, and relies on technology to pay the bills- I get it.
One of the best things I did was switch my laptop to the lightest option (this is pricey, but worth it for me), and get an external hard drive.
I also switched to a mirrorless camera (also expensive).
Both of which have significantly dropped the weight of my purse (where I carry my electronics).
But, here’s the thing- if you’re strictly going on holiday with the intention to get away from work- then why pack them at all?
I think the important thing here is to just get clear about how you’ll use these devices, or if you’ll use them at all.
Keep in mind all of the chords, adapters, and batteries that we usually also need to pack in order to just USE them.
It adds up.
It’s also important to note that our phones, iPads, and laptops all have more or less the same functions.
So, decide if you truly NEED all of them.
Do you NEED a camera and a phone with a solid lens?
Do you need a Kindle and an iPad?
Do you need an iPad and a laptop?
Figure out what you’re using each device for in order to know if they’re necessary.

7. Sarongs:
You might think it’s funny for one whole section to be dedicated to sarongs , but it’s only because they can be used for so many things!
If you don’t have a sarong already, I’d suggest getting one before you head off.
They’re great as blanket on the plane, or balled up as a pillow.
They can also serve as a scarf, a wrap around the shoulders, a hair scarf in conservative areas, beach blankets, or towels.
I tie one around my yoga mat so that I can sling it over my shoulder (like a bag strap), and then use it as a sweat towel, strap, or eye cover in my practice.
Similar to what I spoke to earlier with packing clothing that have multiple uses- this is why sarongs are so valuable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spread them on an airport floor to sleep, or wrapped up in one on a long motorbike drive to not get burned.
They’re lightweight, but also can provide warmth and protection.
Little side note here- it’s very possible where you’re going will sell sarongs for a fraction of the price you can get them at home.
In that case, maybe just buy one prior to take off- and then stock up once you arrive to your destination.
8. Shopping:
Let’s be real, you’ll probably do a bit of shopping when you’re traveling.
This is important to note for two reasons:

  1. Leave a little room in your bag open.

  2. If you know you’re going to shop, DON’T PACK AS MUCH!

If there are certain items of clothing that you know you need for the climate where you’re going that you don’t have, then just pack as little as possible and do your shopping once you’re there!
Not only will this likely be cheaper than getting it at home, but it’s also more likely that they have the perfect attire for the area based on weather and culture.  

I hope this helps when you’re prepping for your next trip.
I’ll be honest, I’m checking a bag for this trip mostly because I have SO MANY damn supplements at the moment due to ongoing health issues- that there’s just not enough space in my carry on.
But, I’m okay with that, because those are things I actually need right now.
Remember that your needs will be different to mine, and vise versa.
The most important thing to keep in mind is just mindfulness when packing, rather than chucking everything in possible.
You got this.

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