Pack like a pro: the essential packing tips
With traveling comes packing. Deciding what you want to bring is one thing and it’s probably also the only fun part. The worst part is that all the things you’ve decided to bring actually need to fit into your backpack or suitcase too! Of course our first advice would be: just bring less. You often need much less than you think! But a bit of clever packing doesn’t hurt either. We give you our best packing tips:
Packing tips for seasoned travelers
From city trips to road trips and from trips around the world to camping: we travel a lot! This means we need to pack our bags on an almost daily basis. I myself travel around 9 to 10 months per year, as does guest blogger Janneke. Mirjam goes on a short or long trip at least once a month. Guest blogger Marc is a true outdoor guru who regularly heads off into the mountains. So we travel intensively. We compiled the tips below based on our own travel experience and intensive use of materials (and extensive testing of different options). Whether you’re going on a weekend trip or a trip around the world, we hope these packing tips will make your life as a traveler just that little bit more comfortable!
1. Travel light
It’s stating the obvious, but we can’t say it enough: travel light! Think about what you really need. You can always wear layers and do laundry in between. Easier said than done. Because how does one actually travel light?
- Lay out everything you think you’ll need and then remove 1/3 of it! This isn’t easy for most (female) travelers, but keep in mind that you’ll end up having to carry everything you take yourself. Even though a single t-shirt doesn’t seem that heavy, if you add up all those ‘not that heavy’ items they can easily add a few extra kilos.
- So put all those items you’re not sure about in a heap and weigh them up together. You’ll be shocked by the weight. This will help you to decide to leave those items you’re not sure about at home after all. One consolation; if you end up having packed too little, it gives you a good reason to go shopping at your destination!
- Just leave everything for the ‘yes, but what if’- situation at home. And if that situation does actually end up occurring? You’ll find some kind of solution on the spot. At the 7-Eleven for instance ;).
2. Take the climate into account and wear layers
Packing for a warm destination
If you’re going to a warm country you can bring one set of warmer clothes to wear on the plane and air-conditioned buses. You really don’t need any more! In the case of a truly tropical destination you can leave your jeans at home, for example, to save on space and weight. Bring a pair of thin long pants instead, or in the case of women, a legging to wear under a skirt. Use sports pants as shorts. They’re light, they hardly take up any space and they’re comfortable to wear during outdoor and/or watersport activities. And there are so many cute sports shorts available! It’s even easier for men; they can just use a pair of nice swimming trunks as shorts.
Packing for a changing climate or cold destination
If you’re going to a cold destination or one with a changing climate, pack layers. A good outdoor jacket, such as the one at the bottom left with a soft shell and fleece sweater in one, is a great solution, because you can wear both separately too. Especially when worn in combination with a thin, long-sleeved shirt under it, you’ll never have to go cold. A windbreaker (preferably also water repellent) is also perfect for climbing things like a volcano, because it’s often cold at the top due to strong winds. Down jackets that can be folded down small offer a great solution for really cold destinations. They’re light and compact, keep you really warm and can be worn under your windbreaker if necessary.
3. Save space with packing cubes
Packing cubes are the perfect space savers. Roll up your clothes when flat and stack them into the packing cube one in front of the other to make optimal use of the space-saving qualities. You can, of course, also use plastic bags or Ziplocs if you’re on a tight budget. But bear in mind that these often break during travel and are a lot less practical than packing cubes. The clothes won’t stay in one place as they would in the cubes that can be completely unzipped. There are big differences in packing cubes too. If you pack them really tight, the zippers will be under a lot of strain. This is why cheap packing cubes don’t always survive the trip and end up being more expensive in the end. They’re usually also a little heavier. This is why we’re huge fans of these Eagle Creek packing cubes. Not only are they very strong (with a lifetime warranty), they’re also extremely lightweight and hardly take up any space. We never travel without them anymore! To make optimal use of packing cubes, we’ve shown how we pack them in the video below.
If you’re bringing a warm jacket and/or sweater to combat a cold or changing climate, then these Eagle Creek compression cubes are the perfect solution and make a great addition to your basic packing cube equipment. They’re also perfect for winter sports.
In addition to the packing cubes, we put our shoes in a shoe storage bag and use an ecube for our electronics. This allows us to stack the contents of our bag as efficiently as possible and means we hardly have to pack and unpack our backpack, because we can reach things easily.
4. Leave the bulky universal plug adapter at home
Many travelers tend to travel with huge universal plug adapters so they’re prepared for any type of power outlet they might come across. In my experience, these universal plug adapters are awkward and more importantly, heavy. And they’re definitely not necessary. I prefer buying a USB-charger or adapter on the spot. You’ll find the same type of plug in most countries in Asia and South-America, for instance, so once you’re there, you only need to buy a charger that fits once. You can buy these chargers for only a few euros (as opposed to a universal plug adapter that will cost you 30 euros) and they’re usually really compact too. They often come with multiple USB-ports too. My MacBook charger does need a converter. I bought one of these locally too, for a whopping 50 cents. I’ve been using it for years now and it’s a lot more compact than a bulky universal plug adapter. And I bought three really convenient plastic cards in Malaysia that you can insert into a plug socket so it fits regular European plugs.
5. Put your shampoo and shower gel in silicone bottles
It’s unnecessary to bring large bottles of shampoo or shower gel on trips of less than 4 weeks. Of course you can buy minis at the drugstore for a short trip (definitely do this!), but they won’t last you more than 1 or 2 weeks. We always fill a set of silicone travel bottles with shampoo, conditioner and shower gel and sometimes even one with sunscreen or day cream. You can bring a large bottle with you on longer trips, but as soon as it’s only half full, we pour the remainder into a silicone bottle, so we can throw the monster in the trash.
After going through many plastic travel sized minis and a lot of shampoo leaking into my toiletry bag, I switched to silicone bottles and they’ve been traveling with me for over a year already! The great thing about these bottles is that you can be sure they won’t open while you travel and won’t leak. It’s easy to control dosage with these bottles, which means you can last 3 weeks with the contents of a 3 OZ silicone bottle and 2 weeks with a 2 OZ bottle. The soft material enables you to effortlessly squeeze out every last drop and you can clean it easily afterwards. You’ll be able to, quite literally, enjoy them for years!
6. Take products out of the packaging and put them into Ziplocs
Bringing games? Take them out of the box and put them in 1 Ziploc bag (perhaps along with the set of rules). If you’re bringing several games, you can take one set of dice to use with all the games. You don’t need to keep medication in its box either and can put it into a Ziploc bag along with the leaflet. If, like me, you’re traveling for a really long time, Ziplocs won’t survive in the end. I carry an extra set of Ziplocs for this reason, because they’re just always useful to have. Another, similar type of solution is the transparent bag for carrying liquids on planes. It’s not just perfect for bringing along liquids in your hand luggage, but also great for holding individual items like medication on long trips. Of course you could always add them to a first aid kit too.
7. Do laundry in between
Always pack for a maximum of 2 weeks and have your clothes washed in between. This way, you won’t have to lug around enough clothes for more than two weeks and having them washed is often not that expensive at all. If you stay in an Airbnb from time to time, you’ll often even have access to your own washing machine. Many cities also have launderettes. Swimming gear and underwear can easily be washed by hand. For this reason, we always fill a silicone bottle with a liquid detergent specifically meant for hand washing. As mentioned, these bottles won’t leak and you can control dosage really well with them, which is great for hand washing. If you’re traveling for a long time, you can get small refill bags of liquid detergent from a 7-Eleven, for example. A 3 OZ silicone bottle holds exactly 2 bags. A great discovery after one of those bags broke inside my toiletry bag once!
8. Bring a few books
Ehm… yes, you read that correctly; pack a few books. If you force yourself to bring a few books, you’re making sure you leave enough space for things like souvenirs. Leave the books you’ve finished reading behind in hostels for other guests to read. This way your bag will become lighter and lighter and you’ll be left with extra space! If you prefer to travel without carrying a stack of books, then flipback books are a good solution, or you can of course just bring an e-reader.
9. Buy a smaller backpack
If you want to travel light, buy a backpack that’s not too large. The bigger the backpack or suitcase, the more things you will automatically tend to take with you. And the heavier your luggage will be! With things you probably don’t need at all. Many travelers choose to bring a backpack or suitcase that fits the cabin baggage space exactly. You won’t just travel a lot lighter; you’ll also save loads of time at the airport as well as money on extra checked baggage However, this isn’t always realistic on a long trip and it can be nice to have some extra space, but don’t allow yourself to completely stuff your backpack or suitcase at the start, because you want everything to fit in easily when packing in a hurry too.
10. Use hamam towels
Hamam towels and travel towels are compact and quick drying. This way, you always have a towel with you without it taking up too much space! Use a large hamam towel at the beach, but also as a blanket, curtain (in a dorm) or roll it up like a pillow, for example. The hamam towels XS are great for showering. When rolled up, they don’t take up any more space than a pair of socks!
11. Use convenient, collapsible travel gadgets
Of course, we’re not the only ones getting smarter about packing. All the outdoor brands are also coming up with clever solutions. Loads of them, because by now there are countless convenient, collapsible travel gadgets on the market. You name it, there’s a gadget for it. Not all of them are practical, but this kitchen multi-tool is very strong and has to be our favorite, even though it’s not lightweight. The collapsible camping gear by Sea to Summit is a great invention too. From the collapsible mugs for a backpacking trip to the complete camping set and even a collapsible pan for camping trips.
12. Pack a foldable backpack or cotton bag
Are you like Mirjam, who doesn’t want to walk from A to B with a carry-on backpack on her belly? Or are you tired of packing and unpacking your carry-on bag every time you need it for a daytrip? Then pack a small foldable backpack or cotton bag. You can easily grab it when you need it and pack it away small after use.
13. Organize your backpack or suitcase conveniently
Yes, that’s a given, but how? The general advice you get is to pack large, heavy items at the bottom and light ones at the top, but unless you’re going on a real trek with a backpack, you don’t need to follow that rule all that strictly. In any case, we do things differently! How you organize things depends on your backpack or suitcase, but try to at least make sure that items you don’t need often are placed in difficult to reach areas (this is often the middle section!) This automatically means that items you need to access regularly should be placed in areas you can easily reach. Small travel gadgets can be put in a small bag or packing cube placed in a side pocket or a front and/or top compartment.
This is how we do it
We travel with the Thule backpack, which can be unzipped from top to bottom. I keep my warm clothing for cold regions in a compression cube, all the way at the bottom. On top of that, I place 3-4 half packing cubes side by side. I can reach these easily, because this part of the backpack is easy to unzip. I have a cube for shorts, one for shirts, one for bikinis, bras and underwear. I can easily pull them out by the handle and put them back right after use. This means I never have to unpack my backpack during short stays. I place one full cube on top of the half cubes for my jeans, sweater, hamam towel and other warm clothes. I can reach this easily too. I keep my socks in a quarter cube next to it. My walking shoes are kept in a storage bag on top of the full cube and Mirjam also adds a pair of sandals. I don’t need the shoes very often so I keep them in the middle, because the middle section is generally the area that’s most difficult to reach. I keep my toiletry bag, travel sheet and a few other loose items on top of the shoes. This is so I can reach them easily from the top. I keep my flip-flops in the front compartment. During travel, I usually wear my sneakers. Finally there are usually a few odds and ends that I keep in the top compartment of my backpack.
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