It has been really hard for me to learn to travel light, mostly because I have a vivid imagination.
Wherever I’m traveling, I’m really taking two trips: the actual trip and the imaginary one. For instance, my real trip to Paris, on my honeymoon, was mostly spent sweating and dripping falafel juice on myself. The imaginary trip was one in which my husband begins to talk like Cary Grant, reveals that his name is actually Peter Joshua and I have to run from Walter Matthau in my clickety-clack heels and without wrinkling my Givenchy. (Charade? Anybody? You can actually stay in Peter Joshua’s hotel in Paris, but that’s a story for another time.)
You see, overpacking is the result of actually believing that anything is possible on your vacation. It’s possible that you will end up being invited onto a Kennedy’s private yacht, so you had better pack the giant hat and Jackie-O sunglasses. It’s possible that you will find that you have spontaneously learned to ski, like in the matrix, so you’d better pack your snow gear. It’s possible that you will find yourself at the opening of La Boheme at the Met, so you had better pack that burgundy velvet dress Cher wore in Moonstruck.
But it’s probable that if you pack your fantasy Hepburn shift dress, that you will cover it irrevocably in falafel juice.
You can get advice on packing light for a business trip from flight attendant Heather Poole here. She packs way more for a ten day trip than I do, but maybe she’s meeting up with Ewan in L.A.
As usual, Rick Steves has some great tips on packing light on his website. He even enlists a female coworker to come up with a women’s packing list.
My tips for packing light:
- Carry-on. Just commit to packing everything in a carry-on. It seems impossible at first, but if you lug too much stuff through, say, the hilltowns of Tuscany in 100 degree heat, it starts to become much more possible. I suggest getting a carry-on bag that expands. That way, you can travel light but still pick up some treats on your trip and then check your bag on the way home.
- Roll. Like Heather Poole above, I am a big fan of rolling clothes, rather than folding them. It saves space and reduces wrinkles. It also helps you see hidden spaces in your luggage. Suddenly you see that you can fit a t-shirt into the space between two shoes.
- Cube. I also really like to use packing cubes. I put all of my shirts in one cube, all of my pants/shorts/skirts in another, all my unmentionables in another. I don’t know if it saves space but it keeps me honest. If I can’t fit another shirt in that cube, it stays home. Also, it keeps some semblance of order inside your luggage which is especially helpful on a trip where you are moving around a lot.
- Ladies, pack one dress, made of jersey. It never wrinkles and takes up no space. Jersey can dress down or way up, making it versatile enough to do double duty. It also breathes in the heat. You might be able to get away with jersey if you suddenly find your having an audience with the queen.
- Try to pack for the actual trip. Like I said above, try to keep your travel dreams grounded enough so that you don’t end up carrying chaps or tap shoes through Andalucia. Another dangerous part of the fantasy trip is imagining that you will become someone else on vacation. If you can’t get through wearing heels on your commute, what makes you think that you will be able to wear them on the Campo de’ Fiori? Travel can change us, give us new habits, teach us lessons about ourselves – but rarely when our toes are bleeding.
It’s been hard to learn to pack light – to learn to pack for the trip I am actually going on, rather than the trip I might have. But honestly, if I do end up running into Ewan MacGregor and he invites me to hop on the back of his motor bike for a round the world trip I can always purchase a leather jacket and a rucksack. Or I can remember that I am happily married – and that that is the trip I’m on.