Go Lightly: A Packing Manifesto

Updated: Jun 17


Me with my trusty day pack, riding a cable car in Grindelwald, Switzerland, while contemplating my packing regimen. Photo credit: Eric Jensen


By now you’ve heard the familiar Susan Heller quote about packing for a big trip. “Lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” (Heller Anderson, Susan. “Getting the Show on the Road.” The New York Times, March 29, 1987, Section 10, p 9, https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/29/travel/getting-the-show-on-the-road.html)



Most of what I take for a three-week trip to Europe


Packing for a trip abroad is fraught with peril. Take too much and you’ll be schlepping all of that extra weight and bulk around. Take too little and…hmm…what if you take too little? What if you run out of that special shampoo? What if you have too few t-shirts? What if?


In this case, I’m specifically talking about travel to Europe, where anything you might need is readily available in shops. If you’re headed deep into wild territory, other rules apply - there is no Amazon in the Amazon.


Stuff gets in the way of our experiences. The more we take, the more we have to keep track of, and the less we’re able to concentrate on the adventure. What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t take something you end up needing? If you’re headed to Europe, you can always buy something you find you need while you’re there. And I would argue that seeking and finding a needed item in a city abroad can be a rewarding travel experience in itself that gives you added insight into the local culture.


If you’re relatively savvy about what you take and how you pack, you can strike a balance that gives you everything you really need but doesn’t infringe on your ease of movement. That usually means some pretty heavy editing of our travel-abroad packing list for most of us.


Just keeping a list is a great start. Edit that list after every trip to remind you of what worked from the last trip and you’ll avoid making the same mistakes over and over. I keep summer and winter lists for our shoots in Europe and I use them for leisure travel, too. The lists also mean that I can practically pack the night before a three-week trip abroad without worrying that I’ll forget something.


Your list may be different, but my summer list looks something like this:


Clothes

  • Long Pants, 3 pr

  • Long sleeve shirts, 3

  • Short sleeve shirts, 2

  • T-shirts, 5

  • Underwear, 5 pr

  • Socks, 5 pr

  • Swim shorts, 1 pr

  • Low hikers or chukkas

  • Flip-flops

  • Fleece Vest

  • Rain jacket/shell

  • Belt

  • Glasses/Sunglasses

  • Watch

  • Handkerchief

  • 3 oz Laundry Detergent in liquids bag

Mobile Office

  • Small laptop and charge cord

  • Small 2TB hard drive

  • USB microphone

  • 2 lavalier microphones

  • Notebook & pens

  • Mobile phone & charger

  • Selfie stick/tripod

  • Plug adapters, type C (depending on region)

  • Earbuds

  • Thumb drive

  • Power bank

Personal

  • Bath kit, dry

  • Liquid bag (quart zipper bag with 3 oz bottles)

  • Water bottle

  • Eating utensil set

  • Passport (plus paper copy carried separately)

  • Vaccination card (plus photocopy on phone)

  • Wallet (3 credit cards, 2 debit cards)

  • Assortment of resealable plastic bags

  • Ear plugs

  • Book


I pack a carry-on size bag with travel cubes and a day pack but have plenty of extra room for souvenirs on my return. While some of this is specific to me (I take several small microphones and a laptop for work purposes), much translates.


The water bottle, utensil set, and handkerchief allow me to enjoy picnics without wasteful disposables. Laundromats are scarce in Europe, so I carry a small amount of laundry detergent to hand wash some clothes every few days. This strategy allows a six-day supply of clothes (five packed and one I wear) to work for a trip of just about any length. Choose quick-dry clothing for the best results. An assortment of resealable plastic bags (quart, gallon, and 2.5 gallon) allows me to store liquids and dirty laundry or just organize small items.


Admittedly, winter travel requires slightly more clothing, but careful layering and the use of packable down will keep you ready for any weather without overloading your luggage.


And these days, what you pack into your mobile phone can be just as important as what’s in your carry-on. Not only are things like tickets, itineraries, and vaccination cards right at your fingertips, but it saves carrying sheaves of paper around. On my upcoming trip, I’ve got airline and transit apps that hold my tickets and itineraries, hotel and homeshare apps with my lodging reservations, translator apps, and more. With an inexpensive regional data plan, I’ll be able to make payments, navigate, communicate, and post social media updates on the go, and document the trip through photos, video, and audio. Not to mention the hours of entertainment I’ve downloaded to make the long transatlantic flight more bearable.


Packing lightly saves you time, aggravation, and when you have to pay for luggage, money. Keep a travel list and, more importantly, keep it updated, and you’ll be able to concentrate on the travel experience more fully.


What are your best travel packing hacks? Let me know in the comments below.





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