9 Steps to 5 Days with 1 Backpack: How to Stay Sane, Pack Light, and Fly With Ease
Tomorrow my husband and I are headed to Santa Fe to spend 5 glorious days with his parents. On the docket are: daily hikes, art gallery visits, lunch at outdoor cafes, museum tours, and 4 star French dining. I know, we are so lucky to have such a rad family!
But how on earth do I pack for 88 degree days, 55 degree nights and all levels of (in)formality?
I used to be an over-packer of the highest degree. But after returning home from a vacation a few years back with over 75% of my clothing unworn, exhausted from the race for overhead bin space, I decided it was time for a change.
Since 2009, I’ve been practicing the art of living lightly. Always creating a more simplified wardrobe, schedule, and eating habits. Somehow, packing lightly has been the hardest step of all.
Perhaps its because packing brings out all of my “But what if I need this sometime?” anxieties. I fear being rained on in all cotton, having unseasonably warm or cold weather, having unexpected fancy dinner or scuba diving outings planned. In packing my whole closet I imagine that I am completely in control and prepared for anything.
But the truth is we are never completely in control, least of all when we are going to a new place.
That is why today I am going to show you exactly how to pack to ensure a lighter bag and a happier self!
Step-by-Step (oooh baby)
I know some of you are thinking, “Cool. Great idea in theory. But a backpack for a weekend is never gonna happen for me.”
I’m not asking you to go from checking 2 suitcases down to a pint-sized purse tomorrow. All I ask is that you keep an open mind about the process. Find steps that you’re intrigued by and try them out. Who knows, it might be fun!
Step 1: Choose Your Suitcase
My motto = the smaller the better. Whatever size receptacle I choose, I tend to find enough items to fill it. My general rules of thumb are:
Overnight = Purse
2-3 Nights = backpack (30L)
4-6 = small duffel
7+ = roll aboard
Given that we will have free access to a washer and dryer, I decided to try out a backpack for the 5 day journey.
Step 2: Layout All Clothing You Want to Bring
This step is the most crucial to packing lightly. The benefit of laying every sock or tank you plan on packing is twofold:
1) You’ll clearly see areas where you have a surplus of clothing, and
2) It will prevent you from mindlessly throwing in an extra sweater or bra “just in case” as you’ll know exactly what you have.
Layout like items together: shirts with shirts, athletic tops with work-out bottoms, dresses with dresses, undergarments and socks, etc.
Step 3: Edit Edit Edit
This is where the art of simple packing truly comes into effect. Take your time on this step, keeping in mind all of the trips you’ve taken in the past only to come home with a suitcase full of clean clothes!
First, look at each pile individually. Do you have 5 workout shirts for a 3 day trip? Or a pair of nice pants for a weekend of camping?
Then look at items in terms of their ability to go together or be multi-functional. Items that can multi-task in terms of formality and layering are your big winners here. Losers include: pants that can only be worn 1 particular shirt, heeled shoes that require an entire set of longer inseam pants, a hat that you only wear with a certain sundress. These work perfectly in a large closet but are our light-packing enemies.
In this step I removed: 2 tanks (1 undershirt, 1 fancy), pj pants (we light a fire in our bedroom at night), jeans (wouldn’t go with any shoes I chose to bring), a sweater (already packed pashmina will be perfect), and an extra sports bra (I can easily launder the other).
Step 4: Bulk-Up for Your Flight
Choose your travel day outfit based on the bulk of your items. This means usually wearing leather boots during the winter and athletic shoes during the summer, in addition to wearing whatever outer layer I’m bringing.
Note: choose your outfit from the items you’ve already selected for your trip.
Step 5: Roll, Baby Roll!
This is a tip a learned from my momma, but it’s also commonly used by flight attendants, pilots, and other frequent flyers: roll your clothing. It’s amazing how much space you can save just through this one step. On top of that, rolled clothing causes far fewer creases and wrinkles than folding.
To roll bottoms, simply fold in half and then begin rolling from the waist down. For tops, place sleeves cross body then fold in half and roll.
This is one step that anyone can do!
Step 6: Always pack shoes first
Extra shoes are some of the bulkiest and least necessary items that we bring on trips. I always try to bring 3 or fewer pairs including: 1 athletic (I love to run, especially in new places), 1 nice (leather sandals in the summer, boots in the winter), 1 for the occasion (heels for weddings, Toms for urban exploration, rainboots for Seattle).
I also always place shoes on the bottom of the bag as they can be bulky or oddly shaped. Shoes at the bottom of the bag allow me to pack other items around them and save even more space.
Step 7: Pack In Horizontal Layers
The next items to go in your bag should be bulky clothing items –think: sweaters, thick pants, and anything wool or down. These rolled articles should be placed in horizontal layers, all facing the same direction. Keep socks and undergarments nearby to fill in gaps on the sides.
After your big items are in place, begin filling in layers of smaller rolled items finishing with remaining undergarments on the sides and on top.
Step 8: Personal Items & Electronics
Above are all of the smaller items that would fit into a classic purse or carry-on. I pack these as close to the end as I can since they are items I often reach for during the flight.
I always bring a book, my journal and a pen, and my sunglasses. For this trip, I’m additionally bringing my computer as I’ll be in Santa Fe during a part of the work week and extra jewelry which adds a lot to outfits but takes up tiny amounts of space.
Step 9: Toiletries, Make-up and Final Day-Of Items
Steps 1-8 can be done as far in advance as feels good to you. I like to give myself 30 minutes to pack 1-2 days before my trip. This means that I’ll know if anything still needs to be washed and can locate missing items I want to bring.
The morning of your trip, the only thing you should have to do is Step 9: pack toiletries, make-up, and other personal items. For me, I try to get this done first thing in the morning, no matter when my flight is. As soon as I’ve gone through my morning ablutions, I immediately put my make-up (Bare Escentuals powder, and blush, mascara, eyeliner, and spot stick) and toiletries (face wash, sunscreen, lotion, razor, deodorant) in small reusable bags and place them in my suitcase.
My Final Packing List
- 3 pairs of shoes: trail runner, sandals, toms
- 2 shorts: jean, athletic
- 2 pants: black skinny trouser, bootcut yoga
- 2 dresses: formal maxi and casual sundress
- 5 tanks: 2 work out, 2 formal, 1 pj
- 4 shirts: boat neck 3/4, thick long sleeve, button down denim, athletic for layering
- 1 vest
- bras, underwear, socks
- 2 scarves: pashmina for cold nights, colorful for fun
- 2 hats: hiking and sun
For me, the beauty of packing lightly is relinquishing control. It’s about being resourceful and up for anything and sometimes even getting a little funky.
If it unexpectedly drops 20 degrees, what better opportunity to snuggle up to someone, borrow an over-packing friend’s spare coat, or purchase a jacket in the local style?
Plus, packing lightly gives us the physical freedom to be adventurous and ballsy. With only a 10 pound backpack on your back you can do anything. Change direction last minute, walk up the steep hill, down the cobble stone street, stop in at the delicious smelling cafe.
That’s why I travel to begin with: to be free, adventurous, and expanded.
What are your favorite packing tips and tricks? Please share below!
Do you have any badass photos of your greatest packing feats? Please post them on Facebook or send them to Cary@loveyourlife.us.