We’re going on an international trip, and you can trust this advice on packing, because I am literally typing it up in the back of a Lyft on the way to the airport. I finished using this method under two hours ago and there’s no time to change my mind.
That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Changing your mind? Like, packing in a rational manner based on experience and real world activities is excruciating and unfair? All that really matters on this trip is that I feel that I have at least twelve separate cute outfits to spread around the room?
I don’t get it. To me, underpacking would be a fabulous excuse to go out and shop. Not that I enjoy shopping, but there is that possibility that a foreign store might have some kind of exotic garment I would cherish forever.
If I overpack, there will be no opportunity or space for such a magical item. Aren’t I then missing out more by overstuffing my bag than I would be by leaving things behind?
I did buy something like this once. We were in Akureyri, and there was a super cute vintage boutique, and we went in because I had lost so much weight backpacking around Iceland that I needed a belt. Someone had put up a collection of locally designed t-shirts, and I bought one with a white raven on it. I loved that shirt and wore it probably once a week for two years. Now it’s in my go bag, where I see it now and then when I check inventory.
(The belt got worn until eventually it was recycled).
Backpacking is how I learned how many changes of clothes to bring on a trip. Four days are my limit for a camping expedition, based on how much food I can carry. It turns out that’s the outer limit for a damp microfiber towel as well. Therefore, I know four changes of clothes will fit in my bag and I know to plan a trip to the laundromat by the fourth day.
“But I can still fit more in my bag!” Great, then your bag won’t weigh as much and you have room for souvenirs. Or you can switch to a smaller bag, or share one large bag with your travel buddy, or stop needing a checked bag. Unlike packing piles of extra clothes, going minimalist actually does result in endless options.
Wear one, pack four. Simple. It solves so many problems.
The “wear one” is the travel outfit. I have two reliable travel outfits, depending on the weather. Whichever one I wear, it’s mostly irrelevant to the rest of the trip. I’m wearing it both directions. I know that what I will be wearing has pockets and layers and that it’s stain-resistant.
Most trips are going to be short enough in duration that it doesn’t matter if the individual garments mix and match. I can fit four changes of clothes and at least two pairs of shoes in my carry-on. It can get tight if it’s heavy winter and I need thermal underwear, but it still works.
For advanced travelers, there is this concept of the capsule wardrobe, where almost every garment goes with almost everything else. I decided to extend this idea to my everyday wardrobe, and not worry about having special vacation outfits. This has definitely helped to ramp down my packing anxiety.
“But but but... what if Lawrence of Arabia and Antonio Banderas show up to take me out in their limo and I need a BALL GOWN with a CRINOLINE???”
Well then. I’m sure when that happens there will be a fancy outfit laid out for me when they show me to my changing room. In the meantime, I’m going to assume that this trip isn’t going to be that type of movie. While I do live in a musical, borne out by the fact that our Lyft driver was singing along with “Hey There Delilah” on the way here, so far it hasn’t required much in the way of full costume changes.
I don’t wait for adventure to happen to me. I bring my own.
What about the “pack four” outfits?
It literally doesn’t matter which four outfits I pack. They don’t have to mix or match. Sometimes if they do, it causes confusion, or I stain something and the whole edifice comes crashing down. I just lay them out across the bed, A B C D, making sure each stack has the appropriate socks etc.
The other trick is to make sure everything goes with one or the other of two pairs of shoes. Wear one, pack one. Ideally you will be wearing the bulkier, heavier pair on the plane, unless they are very fancy boots with lots and lots of eyelets to unlace at security.
This trip, just like our last trip, is going to involve a combination of hot weather and cold, rainy weather. This is annoying, but it isn’t changing my formula. I’ve simply packed two hot weather outfits and two sets of cold weather outfits. We have already planned to do laundry at our hotel on two occasions during the trip. Since we’ll be going different places every day, it’s not like anyone will notice or care that we’re repeating the same outfits.
It seems like there might be another advantage. When we go through our photos after the trip, it will look like we’ve been very very busy and that we’ve seen a bunch of tourist attractions on the same day. Wow, you guys really get around!
We’re in the lounge right now, as I finish this up, and I’m proud to say that I can pick up my travel backpack with one hand and hoist it onto my shoulder. We were able to carry all our stuff up flights of stairs and walk quickly. We haven’t had to squabble about luggage and we haven’t had to pay extra. We both agree on the policy of Wear One, Pack Four, and I’m pretty sure it will work for anyone
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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