Expand your travels—not your suitcase
by Jennifer Mitchell
If you’re planning an extended trip—one that’s longer than a week—deciding what to pack is challenging. Especially if you’re planning to visit multiple destinations with differing climates or if attempting to avoid checked bags. But with a few tough decisions, smart buys and travel-savvy packing techniques, you can pack like a boss and get on to the fun stuff. These general packing tips will help you prioritize what you need to bring and economize the space in your suitcase.
Unpacking the tough decisions
Even if you’re lucky enough to be traveling for a month—or several months—there’s no need to pack more than one week’s worth of clothes. Most hotels and hostels have a laundry service available for a small fee, which is more cost-effective than checking bags on each leg of your trip. Take advantage of this service to save space in your ‘case. Also, you can hand-wash some garments to tide yourself over.
Because you’ll be repeating outfits each week, select tops and bottoms that allow for mixing and matching so you won’t tire of wearing the same outfits. Take your most tried and true items; resist the urge to throw in new or novel pieces that may have undiscovered fit or outfit compatibility issues. You’ll also want to eliminate any items that could wrinkle and don’t smooth out easily, anything with special washing instructions or clothing that shows stains or sweat. Colored and patterned synthetics, thin wool and cotton items are ideal for extended trips. Darker colors, if appropriate for the destination, are preferable for staying clean (or at least maintaining the illusion of cleanliness). For investment travel pieces, we like Ministry of Supply, Kit & Ace and M2057 by Maria Pinto for their stylish designs constructed in packing-friendly, technical fabrics.
Layering is key to being ready for anything; even one flight can have a temperature range that feels like several different climates. Layering several lighter pieces also makes it easier to include items that will dry easily if you hand-wash them. Add in a few accessories to spice up your wardrobe or scarves and jewelry that take your outfits from casual daytime adventures to nights on the town. A knit blazer like the pictured Kinetic Blazer from Ministry of Supply is a great packing-friendly option for men and women.
When it comes to footwear, you’ll need a pair of comfortable, yet stylish-enough shoes like those developed by Naot and Flexx. Take advantage of the stylish sneaker trend to wear the same hip, comfy shoes day and night. Shoes are the biggest offenders of taking up suitcase space, so anything that doubles for comfort and style is a winner. If you love to run when you travel and will realistically run nearly every day, then by all means bring your running shoes; however, if running tends to be an overly optimistic ambition on vacation, leave those space-hoggers at home and bring a more versatile pair. Plan carefully to wear your bulkiest pair of shoes on your flights so you don’t have to take up prime packing real estate. You’ll also want to stuff the insides of spare shoes in your suitcase with smaller items like socks and undergarments to make the best use of your valuable space.
For day trips and excursions, make sure to pack a smaller backpack or bag to hold spare clothes, snacks, sunscreen and bug spray. It’s also wise to have a simple tote that you can pull out of an exterior pocket of your suitcase if needed at the airport. This will come in handy if you start your trip with a carry on but are not able to check it on subsequent flights because international luggage allowances are often more restrictive. Or maybe you’ve picked up some fun souvenirs along the way and need to check your bag when you return; you can bring your tote on board with you for in-flight essentials.
Smart buys for extended travels
Though it’s imperative to pack light and limit the belongings you choose to bring, it’s worth your while to purchase a few items to make your travels—and packing for them—a little easier.
Make sure you have the appropriate power adaptors for each destination you plan to visit or one that contains all major adaptors in one piece like this one from Tumi that works in 150 countries. And if you’re planning to leave your hotel room in the morning and not return until late in the evening, consider bringing multiple chargers and adaptors so your phone, iPad and laptop can all recharge when you do.
A self-filtering water bottle:
Your travels may take you to destinations where the tap water can endanger your well-being. Rather than spending money on multiple bottles of water each day and worrying about the environmental impact, invest in a water-filtration bottle, so you can fill up and hydrate no matter where you are.
Though many hotels and airports claim to have free Wi-Fi, accessing it and getting a fast and reliable connection is not always the reality. If you plan to blog about your travels, use apps to find your way around or simply want to post on social media or keep in touch via email during your trip, a portable hotspot is a wise purchase. Subscriptions tend to be pricey, so consider signing up for SkyRoam, which requires a one-time device purchase of $80. After that, you’ll only pay for the days you use the service.
A money belt?
We know the thought of a fanny pack or money belt probably makes you cringe, but depending on your destination, you may decide it’s worth it to keep your valuables safe. TripSavvy reviewed the best money belts of 2018, including some great nude options that are virtually undetectable under any garments. If you can’t bear the thought of a money belt, just be smart about where you carry your currency and passport, e.g., not in an accessible pocket or area of your backpack or handbag.
A lock for your suitcase:
When you’re traveling light, you can’t risk losing anything in your suitcase. How do you keep your checked baggage safe while also allowing TSA personnel and their international equivalents to do their thing? There are TSA-approved locks for U.S. domestic travels, but just know that while traveling internationally, the lock may be forcibly removed for suitcase inspection. It may still be worth having a suitcase lock to use in your hotel room even if you don’t use it on your international flights. Regardless, always take your most valuable items on board with you in your carry on when flying.
Individual packets of laundry detergent:
As we mentioned earlier, weekly laundering is helpful for packing light on longer trips. If you will be doing your own laundry or hand-washing, pack enough individual packets to get you through the trip. You can go basic, natural or higher end like Le Labo Santal 33 from The Laundress if you want an aromatic treat along the way. Alternatively, you can take a bar soap designed for washing clothes.
A compressible jacket or vest:
It’s a no-brainer to bring along a jacket or vest if it scrunches down into a small pouch. You’ll be ready for any cool temperatures that Mother Nature or over-active air conditioning throws your way. We’re huge fans of the Ultra Light Down Compact jackets and vests from Uniqlo that are so thin they can be worn as an outer or inner layer.
A sleep mask and earplugs:
Sleeping in unfamiliar places and different time zones is challenging enough without obtrusive light and noise, so you do not want to be without comfortable versions of these.
Many essentials that would otherwise be in liquid form are available as wipes including sunscreen, bug repellant, hand sanitizer, facial cleanser, nail polish remover, etc. Wipes trump liquids for packing space and flight restrictions (although there is admittedly an environmental impact, so use conservatively). Test a wipe before you pack them, as they tend to dry out over time, and you don’t want to take them along only to find out they’re useless at your destination.
A packable hat:
Protect yourself from sun and bad hair days without taking up significant space by choosing a light hat that easily flattens; bonus points for this one that's reversible and has a UPF 50 sun protection rating. Alternatively, buy an inexpensive hat wherever you go with the expectation that you’ll leave it behind when you hop on your next flight.
Extra Ziploc bags:
They come in handy in so many ways and take up nominal space.
Don’t bother with:
- Hair dryers often don’t place nicely with power adaptors and most places you stay will likely have one (or if not, just throw on that hat).
- Unless you’re staying at an Airbnb, you’ll probably have toiletries at your disposal, so leave those at home unless you are picky and/or have sensitive skin (in which case, take a bar of gentle soap and a Ziploc to port it in, saving your liquids allocation for other items).
- While noise-cancelling headphones are great, they take up a lot of space, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it for your long flights or just stick with the earplugs.
Best packing techniques for the travel-savvy
Now that you have an idea of what to pack, let’s talk about how to pack. There are a number of different theories on the best way to pack the most into your suitcase. Some recommend rolling your clothes to maximize space while minimizing wrinkles. Others prefer the bundle technique, which involves wrapping clothes in a spiral around a central core of undergarments and t-shirts. Items most likely to wrinkle like dresses, blazers and pants should be used to form the outer circle. Simple folding tends to work best for bulkier items on their own, for keeping smaller items organized within cubes or for utilizing a packable hanging shelves organizer.
We are big fans of packing cubes especially the ones from Away that come in beautiful colors with a mesh panel that makes it easy to see what’s where. Packing your clothes into small cubes not only keeps your clothes compact, it keeps them organized, allowing you to limit the packing and unpacking process at each destination. Segment clothes by climate or activity, and only unpack the cube needed for each destination. Once you accumulate dirty clothes, repack the cubes to keep your clean and dirty clothes separate.
When it comes to the rolling vs. folding vs. packing cube debate, we say why choose? All three techniques can work effectively together. You can roll clothing within the cubes, and also roll or fold a few larger items around the outside of the cubes.
As for your carry-on, keep it light. Make sure you have what you need for the plane, train or bus trip, whether that’s a book, laptop or sleeping mask and ear plugs. And it’s never a bad idea to pack a spare outfit, some toiletries and, when appropriate, a bathing suit just in case your luggage gets lost in-transit. If you plan to spend time on your flight figuring out what to do when you arrive, carry on a travel guide, like one of our recommended best books for the first time visitor or savvy traveler. Check out No Small Plan’s collection of customized tote bags, which come printed with a map of your travels on it, for your new carry-on.
While every trip requires different wardrobes and gear, we hope these tips make packing for an extended stay a little easier. Just remember that less is more and only pack what you can’t live without and can’t buy at your destination. Please share your travel tips in the comments below or on social with the hashtag #NoSmallPlan.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.
** Please know that while the products featured are selected based entirely on travel experience and editorial opinion, we do participate in affiliate programs which may result in revenue from products purchased through our links. **