3 Ways to Pack Light on Your Next Trip

I used to be a chronic over packer. Four day trip? I'd bring enough clothing for a week...or two. Even though it was rare that I ever wore all the clothing I brought on a trip and there were even times where I wore less than half of what I packed, I almost always used the biggest bag possible and stuffed it to the brim.

At the same time, any trips I took were filled with activity from the moment it began until the moment it ended. Even if I only had 12 hours in a place, I wanted to see and hear and do as much as possible, which often led to me being exhausted and burnt out after what was often supposed to be a vacation.


Over the last few years as I've shifted to a more simplified way of living, my approach to traveling and packing has changed quite a bit, and I've learned a few things to pack a little lighter to make traveling a wonderful and stress free experience, rather than one filled with exhaustion and burnout.


This may be the most obvious, but one of the easiest ways to relieve a little stress from any traveling experience is to pack your suitcase light.

If it at all possible, fit everything you need in a carry-on suitcase and one personal bag. This eliminates the cost of checking a bag at the airport, the time waiting for it at the baggage claim, and the possibility of lost luggage. And if you're driving instead of flying, it saves space in your car and doesn't weigh it down as much, which increases your miles per gallon.

You might be thinking that putting those kind of physical constraints on the stuff you bring would increase your stress because what if you forget something? Or what if you don't pack enough clothing for X, Y, or Z event?

While you may think packing a smaller amount of clothing and other items gives you limitations when you're traveling, I've found the opposite to be true. Just like in life, where having fewer items in your closet reduces decision fatigue and helps you spend less time worrying about you're going to wear on a day-to-day basis, the same thing happens when you're traveling.

Rather than agonizing over what outfit combination to wear on this day or that day, packing lighter (and having a loose plan for what you'll wear when) decreases the decision fatigue so you spend less time getting dressed each morning and more time enjoying your trip.


Over the last few years, I've become quite the expert in day trips. I've explored Chicago, Charleston, New York City and more in less than 24 hours and other cities in only a couple of days.

Any time you travel to somewhere new — or even somewhere familiar — there can be a temptation to see and hear and do as much as possible. You want to try all the restaurants, see all the sights, explore all of the places to make sure you don't miss a single thing. Because what if you never get to go back to the place again? What will you have missed out on?

This fear of missing out plagues us all in nearly every aspect of our lives and travel is no different. But let me pose the question to you another way — what will you miss out on by filling your schedule to the brim, rushing from one activity or place to the next, and never allowing yourself to slow down and truly savor and appreciate the things you are doing, experiencing, and seeing?

That's not to say that you shouldn't try to see a variety of things, particularly if you only have one day in a particular city or town, but just like it isn't healthy to pack your day-to-day schedule completely full, it's not healthy to pack a travel schedule completely full either.

Particularly if it's a more extended trip, after a few days of GO GO GO, you'll be exhausted and burnt out, which will prevent you from truly appreciating all the new things you're getting to see and experience.

Instead, create a list full of recommendations, and designate a few "must do" things, and leave some margin. Your "must dos" could be anywhere from one or two to half a dozen or more, depending on the length of time you're spending on your trip. Focus your time and attention on those things, truly savoring them and delighting in the experience. 

If you have extra time and energy to see more things, by all means, go ahead and do it! Either way, you'll be able to really enjoy the things you get to do, rather than only having mediocre or even bad memories of moments that were rushed through.


Beyond issues with overpacking my suitcase and my schedule, by far the thing that can ruin a trip the most is overpacking my expectations.

I've traveled a lot in my 28 years of life — four different continents, 13 different countries, and (soon-to-be) 49 different states. If you've traveled even a small amount, you've probably learned it's not uncommon for things to go wrong on a trip — especially if it's international.

This summer I went to Trinidad with a group from my church and while we didn't have any issues during our travel or time there, getting back was another story. A mechanical issue with our plane led to a 35-hour delay leaving the country, followed by a 13-hour layover, and an extra hour waiting for our bags due to weather issues at our destination. When all was said and done, we got home nearly 48 hours after we were originally scheduled to.

I've had trips where we took off when we were scheduled to land, planes arriving in the wee hours of the morning instead of at a time when most people are awake, and flat tires or ridiculous traffic costing us hours on the road. And that doesn't even account for potential problems occurring during the trip itself — that's just the getting to and from!

There tend to be two kinds of travelers and how they react to these kinds of unexpected problems and delays speak to how light or heavy they've packed their expectations. Some get angry and stressed and take it out on everyone around them, even people who had nothing to do with the problem and can't fix it, while others simply go with the flow.

Nothing will make or break a trip more than overpacking your expectations for it. 

Travel, particularly overseas, is inherently unpredictable. After all, there's a reason we call them adventures. Plans change, flights get delayed, and downpours can show up out of nowhere. Expect nothing more of your trip than to have a good time and make some wonderful memories. Those flight delays and out-of-nowhere downpours may not be ideal in the moment, but they can make for some really great stories in the long run.

And isn't that why we travel in the first place? To experience the new and unexpected and fill our lives with a little more adventure?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sarah Anne Hayes