Packing for a trip doesn't have to be a puzzle. A packing expert shows us three tips on how to travel light.
We're entering one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. Fun! But also potentially stressful — there's so much to do before we can pack up, take off, relax and reconnect.
That's where these seven travel planning tips come in. Good preparation gives you peace of mind, and packing hacks will help you figure out what you really need.
1. Pare down before you go.
You never need as much stuff as you think, so try to eliminate one-third of what you think you need before you go.
"You can live with less and less stuff," says Jada Yuan, who was the New York Times' first-ever 52 Places traveler. Yuan went to and wrote about 52 places around the world in one year. Her method is to pack up — "And then you take half, a third of it away because just schlepping things around is a great way to kill your buzz on a vacation."
2. Reduce the weight of your luggage.
Swap out heavier versions of things for lighter ones, says Doug Dyment, packing expert and founder of OneBag.com. And load your bag up with MVPs — items that can be used for multiple purposes. A scarf, for example, can be many things: a napkin, towel, sun protection, handkerchief, dust mask, shawl and cover-up.
And don't even get Dyment started on the many uses for dental floss — he might never stop. (A few highlights include a fire starter, a cake slicer and a tool to suture a wound.)
3. Use packing cubes.
Packing cubes are lightweight, expandable, inexpensive zip-up pouches in rectangular shapes. They allow you to stuff a bunch of clothing inside to save space. They make organizational sense: "I like having a lot of bags inside my bags," Yuan says.
But they also solve luggage weight distribution problems. "A lot of times you're going on budget airlines with both checked luggage and your carry-on bag and you have to even out that ratio," Yuan says. "If you take a packing cube out of the carry-on and just stick it in your checked bag then you sort of even out the weight."
4. Lose the liquid toiletries.
"Water is just about the worst thing to be carrying. It's heavy. It's bulky. The security people don't like it. It can leak," says Dyment. He says there are solid versions of almost everything you'd put in a toiletry bag that don't weigh as much (like dry shampoo instead of liquid, or powders instead of pastes).
Or you could forgo packing them at all, and just pick up what you need along the way.
There are a few exceptions you should always bring with you. "Among the things that are hard to find, always: sunscreen, bug spray, some kind of bug bite relief, the tampons you like and then hair conditioner," Yuan says. Everything else you can usually find at your destination.
That's what you need to know about packing. Now for travel planning.
5. Scope out your destination using reliable sources.
Just because an Instagram tag or an Instagram ad makes a place look pretty, doesn't mean you can skip your homework. Location research is important.
When you get ready to look into a place, make sure to avoid sponsored content. The Internet is full of "paid for by" advertorials from conventions and visitors bureaus for various destinations, says Johanna Maska, former director of press advance for President Barack Obama. Eschew sponsored content in favor of news stories where reporters went to a place to report on it or are based in the place you want to go.
And don't forget the most grassroots way to do travel research: Ask friends you trust. "That's the beauty in social media," says Maska.
6. Match your activity plans to the forecast.
"I map out where I'm going to be on which day, and then 10 days in advance ... figure out what I'm going to do on those days based on the weather forecast," says Maska. "The weather forecast is the No. 1 thing that I'm looking at and then figuring out what I'm going to do on those days."
Be prepared for rain. Don't learn the hard way, like Yuan did. "I was on a walking tour in La Paz, Bolivia and getting dumped on, and I didn't have any of my rain gear. And there were several people on that tour who were all, they seem to be much more seasoned travelers than I was. And they just all immediately whipped out their rain jackets and I was like, Oh. Ohhhhh," she recalls.
7. Plan for only one main activity a day.
Don't over-engineer your days. Stick to the "One Main Thing" rule: When traveling for leisure, keep your plans to one major activity per day, then build complementary activities around it — or just leave room for discovery.
Stumbling upon the unexpected is part of the beauty of exploration. "The last thing I want is for me not to be able to relax in a situation that's just so much fun because you're sitting in traffic, stressed out," Maska says.
Sylvie Douglas produced the audio portion of this story, which was originally published on July 19, 2019.
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