Packing is my love language. Seriously, I love to pack. So much so that even when other people are going on trips, I offer to help them pack, because I have so much secondhand excitement for them. It’s excessive, I know.
I love packing, because it gets me stoked for whatever adventure I’m about to embark on. I love the challenge of fitting a lot of stuff into small spaces. And I LOVE when I use every single thing in my bag while I was on my trip.
In 2010 I went on my first solo trip abroad to Ghana, and I packed an embarrassing amount. I wore less than half of what I brought with me, and ended up buying so much more shit while I was there that I donated clothes to make space in my bag. I was that chick with two giant rolling suitcases, while the travelers around me were all super cool with their big backpacks. After that experience I vowed to never again bring that much stuff with me.
The last decade has really perfected my craft of packing, given I’ve been to nearly every continent and every kind of climate (okay, not Antartica, but one day). For a long time, I ditched the rolling suitcases, and became a barefoot, dirty haired backpacker. But now, in my ripe old age, I’m back to rollers. So, needless to say, no shade if you’re in the same boat.
How To Pack For Your Next International Travel Like a Pro
The reality is that while backpackers and suitcase people often have two very different styles of traveling the world, the same packing tips apply. I don’t care if you’ve only use a sarong as clothing, or if you’re packing the latest Chanel bag on your trip to Paris- these packing tips are for you.
This post will cover why it’s important to minimize your load when you’re packing for your next trip, how to maximize space in your bag, and my top 3 packing materials that have been a game changer for me.
Why You Need To Stop Over-Packing
Like I said in the beginning, packing gets me excited for whatever upcoming international travel I have up ahead. And sometimes that excitement can lead to bringing way too much. Although there’s plenty of reasons that over-packing is burdensome, I narrowed it down to three reasons why you need to avoid over-packing to get you on board for the rest of the post.
First of all, the more you pack, the heavier your bag is. Even if you’re traveling with someone who carries your bags around for you, or lifts them into the overhead bin- trust me when I say that you’ll still deal with the weight of the bag at some point. It literally weighs you down.
Traveling really woke me up to the desire to have less, instead of more. I was living out of my backpack at the time, so anytime I was faced with the choice of buying something- I’d literally think about how heavy it would be to carry around. Was it worth it? Oftentimes, no.
While I don’t live that way anymore, and I’m far from a minimalist now- I still bring this mindset into my travels with both packing AND buying. Plus, I’m the stronger one between my wife and I, so if anyone is going to be lugging the heavy bag- it’s me. That alone is an incentive to lighten up.
Space To Buy
Let’s be real, shopping while we travel is fun, even if you don’t really like shopping much in your day-to-day life. Going to local markets, bargaining; having access to goods, materials, and styles that you wouldn’t have access to at home. What’s not to love?
If you’ve stuffed your bag to the brim, then you either:
- Can’t buy anything.
- Need to buy another bag to bring all the extra stuff home.
While I’ve definitely done number 2 a time or two, I’d still recommend just going to the country with extra space in your bag to start with. Because, guess what- if you have to buy a whole other bag, then you’ll just be weighed down once again.
More Time For Enjoyment
Trust me, I’m all about having *choices* when I’m digging through my bag, and searching for that perfect dinner outfit. But, the thing is: decision fatigue is real, y’all. There’s a reason Steve Jobs wore that black turtleneck.
While I’m not suggesting you pack a suitcase full of black turtlenecks for your next trip- I am saying that the less you have to choose from, the more time you have to actually be on holiday. Which is kind of the whole point of traveling anyways, isn’t it?
How To Maximize Space In Your Bag
Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you quit overpacking, we can get into actually maximizing space inside of your bag. Remember, this works for suitcasers and backpackers, alike. Regardless of your travel style or destination, there’s four key tips to consider to pack like a pro.
Start Packing Early
Start packing early is number one for a reason- because it works! More often than not, people overpack, because they did it last minute, and shoved everything under the sun into their bag. Not only is this heavy, but it’s also pretty likely that you didn’t even bring the things that you actually want or need. Instead, you’re left with a mishmash of options that you don’t feel great about.
In order to pack early effectively, you need to get a good understanding about the environment. What’s the weather like? Are there any clothing guidelines you need to adhere by? What’s the terrain like for shoes? All of these answers can be found with a few clicks on Google, or Pinterest.
Once you have an idea what you’re packing for, then start pulling some of your favorite options that come to mind. Initially, I like to take more than I actually need, so that I can refine it as I go. So, start with A LOT, before getting clearer about what you actually need and why.
Plan Exact Outfits
The best way to start dwindling down your big pile of choices is to plan exact outfits. Rather than just thinking: I love this shirt, it has to come with! Pair tops with specific bottoms, and shoes with specific outfits.
There have been so many times that I packed a bunch of items that I love, but they just don’t go very well TOGETHER. Anyone else? That’s what I thought.
I want you to get specific when you plan your outfits based on the itinerary or activities you know you have planned for the specific trip you’re going on. This means ditching the “what if” items, and honing in on what you know you actually need based on what’s planned.
Based on where we left things with the last point, I think I know what you’re thinking:
But what if an unexpected nice dinner comes up, and now I don’t have anything to wear, because you made me pack specifics!?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
Packing versatile clothing (and shoes + accessories) is a must if you’re going to learn to pack like a pro. Not only does this help you to save space, weight, and stress- but it also ensures you’re covered for all occasions.
As an example, say you want to have that “what if” nicer outfit handy- observe what you already have laid out to see if there’s anything there that would work both dressed up, and dressed down. Oftentimes, an outfit can look a heck of a lot different with just a few minor changes. Like jewelry! Which is- bonus– small, light, and doesn’t take up a ton of space in the bag.
If you’re a bag lover, carry-on one purse with you, and MAXIMUM pack one more that can be versatile. I’d suggest carrying on the larger bag, and packing the smaller one for space purposes.
Another great example of versatile clothing would be using your bikini top as a sports bra (or vise versa) instead of packing both. Classic T Shirts (I love Mate The Label, use code KAYLAN20 to save 20%), or oversize button-down shirts are both great examples of clothing items that can be dressed up or dressed down, as well.
Now that you’ve honed in on the exact outfits you plan on bringing for your trip, and you have a variety of versatile items- you’re ready to get organized. Remember, you can fit a lot more in a small space if you do it strategically. To my wife’s dismay, this means she can’t just throw everything into her suitcase in a chaotic pile like she’s used to. It means actually folding, organizing, and maximizing every last nook and cranny.
The ultimate organization tip is to buy packing cubes. You can use these for everything from clothes, to shoes, to toiletries. I swear, these are an actual godsend.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you’re filling all of the space, rather than having empty pockets. As an example, when I pack my LED light mask, I always put smaller items underneath it, because it has that big curve that would otherwise just be black space.
I’d highly suggest keeping things together, like toiletries in one cube, tops in another, undies and bras in another, etc. This will help you to find things with ease, and also be easier to check to make sure that you have everything.
Must Have Packing Essentials For Your International Travel
Before we sign off, I have to leave you with a few of my favorite packing essentials that have changed the game for me.
I already mentioned packing cubes in the Organization section, but they’re that life changing they need to be shouted out again. Luckily my mom was way ahead of the curve, so I’ve been using these since literal childhood, because I seriously don’t know how anyone would pack without them. I highly recommend getting a set that has a few different sizes.
Most airlines allow a “personal item” (aka a purse) and a carry-on. Take advantage of that! Bring a larger purse that you know will be the right style for the trip you’re going on. This way, you don’t need to waste room in your suitcase for that larger purse to fit into. And, you know that you’ll be using it on the trip as well as the airport.
I am all about the cross body fanny pack. Not necessarily because of the way it looks, but more because of how freaking convenient it is! I can fit my phone, my passport, my airpod, sunglasses, LMNT and chapstick into my fanny pack no problem. These are all essentials for me that I want in close reach, without needing to dig. Plus, wearing it across the chest keeps valuables close to you, and doesn’t strain the back or neck. I highly recommend Mandrn for the high quality, stylish options that don’t break the bank like designer stuff does.
That’s it, my friends, you’re ready to embark on your next international trip with a lighter bag, better clothing options, and more time to actually enjoy your holiday.
I can’t wait to hear how it goes!