Five Tips for Packing Like a Pro

Packing can be one of the most important things you do in preparation for a trip. The struggle between having everything you need and not taking everything you own is REAL! In this post, I'll give you the tools to pack like a pro.

#1. Start Small 

Almost entirely regardless of where I'm going and for how long, I keep my pack-list down to what I can fit in a carry-on suitcase and a small bag or backpack. Limiting space available forces some deep thought about what's important and what's just going to get lugged around and remain unused. I recommend picking out the smallest bag/backpack/suitcase you think you can manage (or smaller) and working within the confines of that space.

Worst case, you can always buy an extra item or two on the road. Meanwhile, the time and energy you save by going smaller means you get to do and see more without being limited by what you've taken along for the ride. How are you going to catch the $2 colectivo bus into town while waiting for your checked bags to arrive (or running down the street holding one of them in each of your three hands!?). Mobility is hugely important to budget and adventure-oriented travel, so parse your belongings down to only the items you'll really need.

So how do I get down to a 20x12.6x8.5 inch roller bag and a superlight daypack for trips of up to three weeks?

#2 Take the Right Items 

Limiting yourself to a certain amount of space for packing is only as good as your understanding of what you will need on your trip. Think about things like: Do I need my high-end camera and, if so, what about my extra lenses? Are there any activity-specific items I will need and would it be expensive/inappropriate to rent or buy them at my destination? What's the weather going to be like? How long in-between opportunities to do laundry?

When it comes to packing efficiently, clothes tend to take the lions-share of space. For this reason, it's critical that you pick items that are easily mixed and matched; go for neutral earth tones (my favorite travel colors are gray, olive, brown, blue, black, and white). Synthetic materials are lightweight, quick-drying, and less likely to wrinkle than cotton, so they should be part of your plan. Also, don't forget the wonders of merino wool (here's my favorite do-everything merino shirt), which is very comfortable and can be worn several times without picking up the stench of the trail/tour bus!

The other item that tends to hog space is shoes. The best way to combat shoe-hoggery is to limit yourself to two or three pairs and always wear the bulkiest one while traveling from destination to destination.

Tip: TheClymb and Backcountry are two excellent sources of premium travel items at a discount! My link to TheClymb will give you $10 off (and me!) and I'll be happy to send you $10 off Backcountry if you contact me at (no bonus for me, just some good karma!).

#3. Have a System

If you want to maximize bag space without it becoming a headache, you'll need to make sure you have a system for where things go. For example, I like to have any dressier items or things that wrinkle at the top of my bag where they're less likely to get crushed and more likely to end up on a hanger when I get to my accommodations.

Using travel organizer bags like these to keep order on the road is also a good option. Not sure which shirt you're planning to wear? Grab your organizer with all the shirts in it and you'll be able to weigh your options without your other clothes getting mixed up and unfolded.

#4. Use Space Efficiently

Speaking of unfolded, you might not want to fold the majority of your clothes at all. Oftentimes, you can fit more clothes in the same space and still avoid wrinkling by rolling them. Some great candidates for rolling would be jeans, shorts, and t-shirts. Rolling allows you to fit items into smaller spaces, filling those spots at the edges of your bag that sometimes go unused just because nothing seems to fit there.

Another classic way to use space efficiently is to put socks and other small items inside your packed shoes. Not only will this save space and keep small items from roaming your bag freely, but it will also help preserve the shape of your shoes.

#5. Remember to Pack These Key Items

Over the course of your trip, things are bound to become less organized than when you started. To save the day, you should always bring a few extra trash bags, Ziploc bags, and hair ties. Why these items? They take up very little space and are like the Swiss-Army Knife of the travel-packing world. With these three items you can solve many problems that come up during travel.

For example, that extra trash bag can be your laundry bag, a rain-cover, or some extra protection for that fragile souvenir. Did your shoes get dirty during your trip? Wrap them in the trash bag before putting them back in your suitcase. Zip-top bags can serve as a water-resistant cover for your expensive electronics and an organizer for smaller items or even clothing. Hair ties are great for keeping the hair out of your eyes, but they're also good for keeping those clothing items tightly rolled or souvenir bags closed.

Have you used any of these tips in the past? What works for you?