How to Pack

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Photographs by tala Parker

Packing for a trip can be stressful, but if you take the time to do it properly it doesn't have to be.  

Earlier this summer I traveled in Europe for six weeks visiting family and friends. I brought a small carry-on suitcase for several different countries and climates. About three weeks into my trip I met up with my dad in Milan, Italy. I was horrified when I saw the state of his suitcase. Clothes were thrown in haphazardly without being folded in the slightest and seemed to explode from the bag when he unzipped it, even though he hadn't brought very much. In fact, he had even forgotten his shorts and sandals which were oh-so-important when traveling in 34°C (93°F) weather. I realized then that many people view packing to be a daunting, stressful task, but it really doesn't have to be. As a seasoned traveler, I've learned many tips and tricks to make packing a breeze. 

#1: Make a Packing List

A good packing list can take all of ten minutes to jot down. First, consider the weather where you are going. Then, consider the activities you will be doing. Hiking in warm weather? Don't bring a fancy wool dress. Also, remember that it's often easy to do laundry abroad (don't feel like you need to bring a new shirt for everyday your gone!). I have a basic packing list saved that I adjust for every trip I go on. I'll link it here, but you'll have to adjust it to fit your lifestyle. 

#2: Lay it Out

Laying out your items helps to make sure everything on the packing list actually makes it into the bag. 

#3: Bring Versatile Items

It's important to ensure that the clothes you bring all go together and can be worn in multiple ways to create unique outfits. This is especially important when you're traveling for a long period of time and don't want to feel limited by your clothing options. 

#4: Bring Items You Regularly Wear 

In the past, I've brought items that I don't use at home in the hopes that I will like wearing them abroad. Every time, I never wear them. This tip is especially important when you are only bringing a carry-on because you don't have any room to waste on things you won't use. Similarly, don't bring items you have recently purchased and have never worn, for you may discover that they are the wrong size or have some other flaw. If you do purchase clothing in anticipation for a trip, try wearing it around the house for a day. 

#5: Limit the Shoes

Shoes are the bulkiest, heaviest, and often largest things we bring traveling. Carefully consider what shoes you need to bring. If you're traveling to one location (such as a hotel) and staying there for the entire trip, consider wearing your largest shoes on the plane. 

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#6: Actually Fold/Roll Your Clothes

This may seem obvious, but if my dad taught me anything it's that there are people in the world who don't believe in folding. Trust me! Folding not only helps keeps your clothes wrinkle free and smelling fresh, but it also saves so much space! I like to use the konmari folding method, which is basically to fold your clothes as many times as possible. This works especially well for shirts. Update: while the konmari method works great for clothes in drawers because they stand up and are very visible, rolling clothes is actually much more space saving!!!

#7: Packing Cubes are Your Best Friend 

Packing cubes make packing so very easy. They keep your clothing separated into neat categories which is great for when you don't have the chance to unpack your bag while traveling. I've been absolutely loving my new eagle creek compression set. The small size is perfect for underwear and the large is great for shirts. If you don't want to buy new cubes, linen/cotton drawstring bags that often come with shoe purchases (like from Tom's or Nisolo) or from Aesop will do the trick. Lay your folded clothes in the cubes vertically so you can see all of your options as soon as you unzip the bag. Update: if you’re really tight on space (like while moving houses, etc.) packing cubes might just get in the way. If you have a ton of clothes to pack, try packing them directly into the suitcase, especially if the case comes with a mesh zipper divider between halves. That being said, having cubes for organization is definitely a must for travel.

#8: Lay Pants Flat

When you're ready to begin assembling your suitcase, the first thing you should do is to lay your pants flat on the bottom of the case. Then put your packing cubes on top and finish by wrapping the legs of the pants over the cubes. This helps keep the pants wrinkle-free and prevents your other clothes from moving around.

Side note- I've heard other bloggers recommend to throw some dryer sheets into your bag to keep everything smelling nice. While it's a good idea, dryer sheets contain lots of toxic chemicals which are not only bad for your health but also your clothes. 

#9: Bring an Extra Bag

It's super helpful to have an extra tote bag in your suitcase. They're small and don't take up much room and can be used as a dirty laundry bag or an extra bag if you buy too many souvenirs abroad and don't have space in your bag. Which leads to my next tip... 

#10: Don't Overstuff Your Suitcase

When packing, I am often tempted to stuff as many items into the suitcase as possible. However, this is a terrible idea. At home, we are able to take our time packing and can leave things behind that don't fit. Abroad, repacking always seems to be more difficult. Often, we have more items than we started out with because of our new souvenirs. Save yourself from feeling stressed in the future and leave some wiggle room. 

Now you're ready to go!