With her global bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, author Marie Kondo inspired millions to learn the joy of letting go of household clutter. I feel the same freedom and elation as Kondo's readers when I pack lightly for a holiday. Think about it: isn't your suitcase really just like your home, only in miniature? Losing the excess baggage will, quite literally, transform how you experience travel, in a similarly life-changing way.
Learning to be a light packer boils down to two things: mindset and mathematics.
Merriam-Webster defines mindset as "a mental inclination, tendency, or habit; a mental attitude; and/or a fixed state of mind." Your packing mindset results from your knowledge, beliefs, thoughts and opinions about travel, and your role in it.
Simply put, over-packers harbor the wrong mindset. Instead of thinking, "I am sojourning" and then packing only what they'll need, over-packers go into packing survival mode. Plagued by a mix of fear, hope, indecision and "what ifs," they pack everything they think they may possibly need instead. It's a huge mistake.
I'm not suggesting you not be prepared. Batten down the hatches for truly important things like prescription medication, copies of important documents, money and comfortable shoes. Aside from those, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything you can't go without for a couple of days or weeks. Travel is temporary, not forever. And as far as I know, there hasn't been a clothing emergency since Marie Antoinette.
And should you find yourself in want or need of something you left back at home, you can almost always buy or borrow it wherever you may be.
My first day in Beijing one of my flip-flops broke, leaving me walking with only one shoe on. I'd arrived just two hours earlier from NYC, taxied to the hotel, checked in, threw my bags on the bed and then hit the streets with no idea where anything was. And it was pouring rain, and I speak no Chinese.
But within minutes, I was able to stop a stranger and communicate my needs. She kindly walked me to the nearest shoe store, and I was back exploring Beijing with shoes on both feet in under an hour along with a cool experience and funny memory to boot. Did the shop sell Slim Metallic Grey/Silver Havaianas in size 7? No they did not. They sold very, very ugly shoes that I did not like one bit. But I was one flip-flop down, so I chose the least awful of their worst shoes, considered myself lucky and then browsed for better shoes as I was sightseeing and shopping later in the week.
When my sole pair of flip-flops broke in the Philippines it was pretty much the same story. Except that time I also had to convince the only store in town that sold shoes to re-open its doors; they were closed due to a town-wide power outage. Since the shop was pitch black, the staff wouldn't allow me in, and I had to buy the first pair they picked out for me. Surprisingly, the shoes were not at all bad-looking (I kept wearing them for several years after), and I ended up dining with the also not at all bad-looking stranger who'd helped me find the store.
And yet, unless I'm specifically going on a flip-flop vacation and want more than one color, I still pack only one pair. Why? Because I have a light packer's mindset. I know the probability is nil that I'll need a second pair of flip-flops even though I've already had TWO experiences that prove otherwise. But my point is I didn't need backup flip-flops either time.
To be a light packer, you first have to decide you want to be one, and then change your mindset. Examine your current beliefs: What compels you to over-pack? Figure out your "what if" triggers, then work on turning them around.
A simple equation can help you become a light packer. Learn it then apply it to every item you are considering packing, every time you pack.
Item Value > Space Required + Additional Weight
Will the value of an item - how much you'll use it - exceed the space it will take in your luggage and the weight it will add to your load? Only when both conditions are met should you pack something.
Start with these basics and you'll soon be on your way to a new, light packing, mindset:
You simply will not end up wearing all the clothes you pack nor will you change outfits as often as you think. You will wear things you like more than once. You don't need to double prepare for the worst, which is unlikely to happen anyway. I'm guessing you've returned home more than once with a suitcase full of "what if" outfits and shoes you didn't wear along with items you didn't need.
Next time, instead of indiscriminately packing clothes directly into your suitcase, lay out a first pass on your bed. If something goes with only one other thing, give it the boot. If a piece of clothing can't withstand multiple wears, put it back in the closet. If you can't coordinate and/or layer something with at least one-third of what you're bringing, or you can only wear it once, it's a waste of space and should stay home.
Make several more passes at what you've packed before zipping your bag closed - and then open your bag and take more out. Did you need that item last time? Are both pieces really necessary or will one do? If you're including something because you're asking "what if," unpack it and put it away.
I wore the same sweater in Tunisia every day for a week. Who cares? I don't dry-clean my sweaters after each wear anyway, and I can pretty much guarantee no one in Tunisia noticed or cared. On a childhood trip to France, the airline lost my luggage - marking the last time I willingly checked a bag. I had fun buying a few items in a cheap department store that I was able to mix and match for the rest of my trip. Did I look as fashionably Parisian as I had hoped? I did not. But no one mocked me (that I was aware of) and I had a fun trip. And here I am 30 years later doing just fine.
And by the way, if a "what if" keeps happening, you should consider whether you're packing correctly to begin with. If you are ALWAYS cold on holiday, you don't need to bring two lightweight jackets, no matter how much you love them or how cute they are. You should bring one light jacket and one warm jacket. Or don't bring a light jacket at all - instead bring a warm jacket, and a pashmina and stylish sweater that can also be combined with other pieces.
When I was 15, I brought a suitcase - albeit a small one - of just shoes with me on vacation. I went to Club Med on the island of Guadeloupe with my family, and we never once wore shoes. Ironically, my suitcase of shoes was somehow lost on the way from the airport to the resort, so I ended up with only one pair of shoes anyway. It was an expensive but valuable lesson.
Bring two pairs. Three MAX. And be practical. Chances are you will walk a lot.
I'm all for fashion before comfort when I'm at home in New York City and roughing it means walking an extra block to catch a taxi. But dragging around Venice in wedges (even I make mistakes) is amateur hour. If your chosen shoes aren't comfortable enough to throw on day after day, and night after night, they're a no-go. If they don't look good with the clothes you're bringing, either bring different shoes, or don't worry about it. You are on vacation. I've said it before and I will say it here again, unless the point of your trip requires shoes to be perfectly coordinated with outfits, regardless of comfort or practicality, who cares?
And, you do not need running shoes to exercise and separate sneakers to sightsee in, especially if you're sightseeing all day. Chances are you'll be too tired to exercise every day anyway.
Have you ever run out of shampoo on vacation? Did your hair live to tell the tale? Even the fussiest groomer can endure a two-week break from their routine and scale back. Want to know how I travel for three weeks with one quart-sized plastic bag of toiletries? I don't bring many.
I've taught myself it's okay to forgo beloved products and regimes kept religiously at home. I only make room for items I cannot fathom doing without, and know with absolute certainty I won't find if I run out. Doing so was inconceivably hard for me at first, but the payoff is huge. Less to carry, yes, and a great break from the same grind.
Whether you're on safari in Africa for the first time or returning to your favorite beach destination for the 10th time, you are going on holiday. You won't need everything you need (or think you need) at home.
Wear less jewelry. Carry the same bag all week. Nothing beats books to read while you're traveling except an e-reader that replaces the weight and space of 1000 bulky hardcover or paperback books. Let your hair dry naturally or settle for the hair dryer the hotel provides. Bring a travel-sized umbrella or buy one there if it rains.
If you've never had the need for something before - unless it is a specialized item made for either where you're going or what you're doing (e.g. skis to go skiing), you do not need it. Put it down and congratulate yourself for being a light packer.
Being a light packer is not easy, nor is it for everyone. But the first trip you take with just one personal item and one small, light carry-on bag will leave you free in mind, body and spirit. Packing light can be truly transcendent and become a mindset worth calculating.