How to Pack Sensibly

Pack light. This is not news. When I see another woman thumping an overstuffed suitcase or unable to lift her own luggage into the overhead compartment, I want to scream, “You will survive with fewer shoes!” Similarly, to the soulless drones who mindlessly wield those black suitcases with wheels like horse trailers behind them and take up the entire overhead compartment with two bags, I want to shout, “Get a backpack! Or a weekend duffel bag!”

Besides being annoying, overpacking limits your options and mobility. And if you pack smart, you won’t bring extra items that you don’t wind up using anyway.

This is what I packed for a 9 day trip to California, in warm weather, on a business trip with a few extra days for fun. I probably would eliminate even more if I weren’t renting a car. This is everything except the camera I used to take the photo, including what I will wear to the airport tomorrow:

Items for a Business Trip

Items for a Business Trip

2 sweaters
2 jeans
dress pants
business suit
2 button down shirts
gray l/s
polo shirt
s/s shirt
s/s sweater
tech stuff: laptop, cell phone, camera, navigation system (yes, I know I could have these last three items in one if I had a smarter phone) and chargers
pen and pencil
business cards and work materials
bathing suit
swim cap
toiletries and medicine (including sewing kit and neti pot)
water bottle
messenger bag

A few tips I’ve learned:

  • Make a list and refer to it before you pack. This helps me to remember items I might otherwise forget, to add and modify items that I wished I had brought the last time, and to pack very quickly. Review any items suggested by your host.
  • Put cords or chargers and toiletries in one gallon zip lock bags. It keeps everything organized and accessible. I have never found a toiletry bag that I liked; these bags are cheap, and can take abuse and spills. (I learned this one from a co-worker.)
  • Travel exposes you to lots of germs (in airplanes, at convention centers) and no one wants to get sick. I started traveling with a neti pot so I could flush out my sinuses and now I get far fewer bugs on the road. And– perhaps a sign of getting older– I also bring items that will help if I start to feel sick.
  • Make yourself a sewing kit. Fewer hotels have them these days, and it’s great to have if you lose a button or have a wardrobe malfunction. I like lots of safety pins so I can pin my shirts.
  • Duct tape is magic. Wind it a few times around a water bottle or sunscreen so you have some just in case. This is an old camping trick, and was indispensable to me once when my hiking boots disintegrated in the Amazon.
  • Bring a water bottle and a tote bag. You’ve already increased your carbon footprint by flying, there is no sense in buying water bottles and accumulating plastic bags.
  • Keep reading materials and take notes on your laptop. If you’re traveling for work, you will acquire enough papers along the way if you need to take notes on the move.
  • You will want options, especially if your trip is a mix of work and fun situations, but relax. You don’t need to have every single option you would have at home. And if you need an extra layer or forget something, you can generally buy it.
Packed Bags

Packed Bags

Ready to go!


10 thoughts on “How to Pack Sensibly

  1. i have no idea how all of those items fit in your one backpack and i call magic on that one. but i love the water bottle and tote bag idea!

  2. So helpful! I am a dancer, and I love to take classes when I travel. I always bring: a pair of ballet slippers, a black leotard (doubles as a spare bathing suit, underclothes for a dress, or a top) and a pair of capri length tights. The shoes take little room, you can cram them in along the edges, and the other things can be useful even if you don’t find an awesome drop-in class. The tights in particular have come in handy as impromptu extra layers when the plane gets cold!

  3. I especially like the duct tape trick!

    Keep in mind, though, when you see other people struggling with their bags, that they may have more important things than shoes in there. People may need to bring things with them for work or school beyond a laptop, or maybe they’re moving to or from another country.

    For my school, we need to have all of our class notes and homework journals with us when we go for faculty training, usually located in Australia. We are pushing to be able to have our notes in digital form, but for now, it means one suitcase just for that stuff.

    Unfortunately, the airlines have proven themselves too incompetent to trust with checked bags of anything you can’t afford to lose. So be patient with your fellow fliers – you don’t know their situation.

    Totally enjoying your blog!

    • Thanks, but I think you miss the point (and the humor!). Packing light is an ethos. It’s about less reliance on material objects and consumerism and being more in the moment and valuing simplicity. I know a few people who moved to other countries and others who do round the world trips with less than I had in this illustrative example. I crammed in another six or seven pounds of papers that I needed (this being a work trip), and I’ve still had a few people make comments about, “That’s all you have?”
      Not being able to digitize your notebooks sounds out of touch. One solution is to scan and reduce them on a copier. You can cut your load by about one quarter or half, depending on how small you go. And you protect yourself in case something is damaged or lost.

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