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My Travel Troubles: Packing Tips that Work

Last night I arrived in Denver, Colorado for a two-week project. I’m an ecologist, and I work for an environmental restoration contractor. My company works all over the western US, so I travel a lot for work.

Upon arrival, I checked into my room at the La Quinta Inn & Suites and, as is my habit, began to unpack my bags. As I unloaded my belongings, I was thinking about the work ahead and not really paying attention to what I was doing —clearly also the state I packed in. As I attempted to stuff my suddenly-expanded belongings into the two drawers allotted me in my shared double queen, I was struck by a sudden epiphany: I have a packing problem.

This is not an easy thing for me to admit. As I said, I travel a lot for work. On top of that, travel is one of my greatest pleasures. I’ve lived out of backpacks and suitcases for months at a time. There were years when I was on the road so much that I could fit all of my belongings into the back of my Mazda pickup. It’s not unreasonable to assume that I am a total badass at packing. I should know exactly what I need when I’m on the road by now— right? Or perhaps more importantly, I should know exactly what I DON’T need.

But, alas, I have a packing problem.

Case in point: a list of the items I brought on this trip. Yes, I was so appalled last night when I realized how much crap I’d brought along for my two-week stint (five times what my roommate brought, FYI) that I took a quick inventory.

packing tips

The following list includes only my clothing:

  • 14 tank tops
  • 7 t-shirts
  • 11 long-sleeved shirts
  • 10 pairs of pants/shorts
  • 3 sweaters/jackets
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 5 bras
  • 9 pair of underwear
  • 5 pair of footwear
  • 1 dress

Remember how I said I would be here for 2 weeks? Fourteen days—and this is only the clothing!

This list doesn’t include work gear, computer, files, laundry soap, snacks, lunch cooler, reading material etc. It is…there is no better way to say it…a shit ton of shit. Do you want to know what’s worse? They have a washer and dryer here!

Oh, and stores. It is Denver after all.

There really is no excuse beyond laziness, and gluttony, I suppose: I like to have everything I want with me. Sometimes, when I’m going on a trip where I know I will have limited space, or need to remain easily mobile, I’ll try to be more strategic in my packing. I make lists ahead of time. I really try to think about what I can live with, instead of all the things I thought might be nice. But, if you compared me to a truly frugal packer, it would still look like I packed the kitchen sink. Perhaps I just opted for the smaller model.

The reality is that making lists and planning ahead are not my strengths. I know this. It is one of those things we know about ourselves that we hope no one else notices (but everyone does). I like to go with the flow; to be ready for anything. I like to be prepared for unexpected opportunities. It often means having a lot of crap with me at any given time, and I’ve usually felt like it worked for me, more or less. But, after observing myself (as if from a distance) surreptitiously tucking my “spare clothing” (things I couldn’t cram into my hotel room drawers) back into my duffel bag and stuffing it shame-facedly behind my bed, I feel I may need to address this packing problem.

So, in the tradition of many a recovery program, I am taking the first step: admission. I have a problem.

Travel Packing Tips (That Just Might Work)

Now, for the second step: brainstorming.

Some packing tips I’ve garnered from a quick bit of research:

  1. Pack in advance: Great advice…but really? I’m not sure it’s in my nature. Tip noted.
  2. Keep it dense: One of the most common tips was folding and then rolling clothes up to make more room. I’m not sure this packing helps me keep it light so much as it helps me make room for more stuff!
  3. Think neutral: Packing neutral colors means mixing and matching clothes is easier, resulting in more outfit options with fewer clothing items. This makes sense.
  4. Fewer shoes: This is a tough one. Shoes take up a lot of room in a bag. According to the experts, you should bring no more than three pairs.
  5. Plan ahead: Ok, I’m likely never going to pack ahead of time, but I can plan ahead. Picking out your outfits in advance may help limit the amount of clothes you stuff in your bag!

Do you have travel tricks you use to help you pack light? Share your trip-packing tips in the comments below.

—Lisa Riley

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