How to Pack Efficiently

Four Methods:Sample Packing ListsMaking a ListPacking LightPacking Tight

Extra luggage can complicate travel. Perhaps you want to keep your backpack light so that you can carry it around Europe for two weeks; perhaps you need to make sure that your bag is compact so that you can take it on your flight as a carry-on. In order to pack efficiently, you'll need to carefully consider each item that you pack: do you really need it, and if not, can you find it where you're going? Only bring what you absolutely need, consider foregoing some comforts and luxuries, and pack everything into your bag as compactly as possible.

Sample Packing Lists

Packing Checklist for Hiking Trip

Packing Checklist for Beach Trip

One Bag Packing Checklist

Method 1
Making a List

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    Decide what you will realistically need for your trip. Write each item out in a list to help you visualize the contents of your pack. Think about where you're going, how long you'll be gone, and what you need to maintain a comfortable quality of life while you're on your trip. If you're not absolutely sure that you will need something, consider leaving it behind. Unless you're traveling somewhere especially remote, you'll be able to buy most non-essential or emergency items while you're on your trip.
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    Consider the absolute essentials. Identification, medication, money, food. How will you get around, how will you survive, and what will you need in an emergency?
    • Think about what, if any, identification you will need: a passport, a driver's license, a work visa, a backcountry permit, a return ticket? Make sure that all documents are current, and that they aren't going to expire while you're on your trip.[1]
    • Think about any medical or dietary requirements that you can't live without. Do you need contact solution? An inhaler? Dietary supplements? Birth control? If there's anything health-related that you won't be able to easily find on your trip, be sure to bring it.
    • Think about how you'll pay for goods, services, hotels, travel. If you won't have access to a bank, bring plenty of cash. If you're traveling abroad, be sure to change plenty of currency in the airport.
    • Think about what you'll eat, and how you'll eat it. If you're backpacking into the wilderness, you'll need to carry enough food to survive until you return, and you'll need a way to cook or prepare it. If you're traveling in a populated area, you probably won't go hungry--but make sure that you don't have any allergies to common ingredients of the local cuisine.
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    Think about which toiletries you will need. Consider buying travel-sized versions of anything you need; you can find travel toiletries in drugstores and travel-supply stores. Bring dental hygiene goods, as needed: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, retainer. Bring optical necessities: glasses, contact solution, extra contacts, eye drops. Bring deodorant, sunscreen, lotion, chapstick--what ever you will realistically use.
    • Be aware that most airlines follow the 3-1-1 rule. The bottles containing the liquids must be 3.4 oz (100 ml) or less, they must all fit within one, 1 quart transparent plastic bag, and the total volume of liquids contained in the bag must not exceed 1 quart.
    • Keep in mind that if you're traveling to an urban, populated area, you will probably be able to find most toiletries in stores near where you're staying. The most important things to pack are those for which you have a personal prescription: contacts, retainers, medications.
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    Consider what you'll be wearing. How many changes of clothes will you need? What sort of weather conditions will you face? Which activities do you need to prepare for?
    • Consider how long you'll be gone and how many times you'll need to change clothes. Consider whether you'll have the opportunity to wash your clothes; consider whether you're willing to wear any items multiple days in a row.
    • Make sure to bring appropriate footwear. If you'll be walking a lot, bring sturdy, comfortable shoes or boots. If you're going to be going out in a city, bring lightweight "night out" shoes. If you're going to be somewhere hot, or near the beach, consider wearing sandals. The more functions or situations that any given pair of shoes can meet, the better.
    • If you're going on a business trip, or to a wedding, and you need to look presentable, be sure to bring a mixture of formal and casual clothes. If you're going to a resort by the sea, be sure to bring a swimsuit to take into the water.
    • Consider the weather. Run a web search to find the forecast for where you're going, and exercise your best judgment. If it will be raining, bring rain gear. If it will be cold, bring warm clothes. If it will be warm, bring lightweight, breathable clothing. If the weather conditions will be mixed, bring a mix of clothing so that you're prepared for any situation.
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    Think about the gear that you'll need. If you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors, bring the equipment that you'll need to safely conduct your adventures. If you'll be working remotely, be sure to bring your laptop or tablet, a charger, and any relevant documents. Only bring what you absolutely need: gear can be heavy and space-intensive.
    • Consider whether you can rent gear where you're going. Perhaps you already have your own scuba gear, but it's heavy and unwieldy and you're only going to be scuba diving for one day of a week-long trip. Look for scuba rentals near where you want to dive, and search for tour companies that might be able to provide you scuba gear for the day.
    • Gear can be expensive; shiny gadgets like laptops, tablets, and phones may catch the attention of opportunistic thieves. You don't want to bring your laptop on a trip, only to have it stolen--so carefully consider whether you truly need something before you bring it with you.
    • The danger of thievery is highly dependent upon where and how you will be traveling. If you're going to be staying in five-star hotels and renting a car to get around, you probably don't need to worry much. If you'll be busing your way between grimy hostels, you may want to leave the laptop at home unless it's absolutely necessary.[2]
    • If you're staying in hostels and other shared rooms, consider bringing a combination lock to secure your gear. Most hostels offer closets and lockers in which you can store personal items.
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    Think about what you'll need to entertain yourself. Do you want to read a book in your spare time? Listen to music on your iPod? Play games on your PSP during the plane flight? Be judicious with your entertainment, and bring only what you actually need--unread books are just needless weight.
    • Be honest with yourself. How much are you actually going to read on this trip? How much have you wound up reading on similar trips in the past? You don't want to fill your pack with a stack of books, but only read one of them. Consider bringing a Kindle or Nook, or saving e-books onto another gadget, to bring a lot of reading material without filling up your luggage.
    • As with other gear: be careful when traveling expensive electronics. Laptops, iPods, tablets, and game consoles can be magnets for opportunistic thieves and pickpockets. If you bring anything that you don't want to be stolen, keep it secure and avoid whipping it out in public.
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    Pare down your list. When you've finished your list, consider the contents with a critical eye: which items are really essential for your trip, and which items are you bringing "just in case"? Cross off any non-essential items, and leave them behind.[3]
    • Think about past trips, and what you did and didn't need. Perhaps you brought four pairs of shoes last time, but you only wore one of them. Perhaps you brought two books, but just wound up reading the local newspapers.
    • Keep in mind that you may be able to buy many things at local shops, if you're traveling to a populated area. This applies especially to toiletries and clothes. If you're not absolutely sure that you will use something, consider leaving it behind and planning to buy a local version in the case of an emergency.

Method 2
Packing Light

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    Only pack as much as you can carry. If you're going to be lugging a backpack around from hostel to hostel for two weeks, you don't want to pack more than you comfortably carry. Weigh the pack before you leave--you can use a luggage scale, or weigh yourself and the bag together. If it's more than 20 or 30 pounds, consider what, if anything, you can leave behind. Walk around with your pack and make sure that it's comfortable.
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    Only bring carry-on luggage. If you can limit yourself to one carry-on bag and eliminate the need to check in any luggage, you will save yourself a world of time and hassle. It may sound daunting - but seasoned travelers swear that one small bag provides easily enough space for the travel essentials, you just need to cut-down on any non-essential items.[4]
    • Limiting yourself to carry-on luggage makes the process of traveling much easier - you will get in and out of the airport a lot faster, and enjoy the convenience of having all of your travel essentials directly on hand throughout your flight. You will also avoid the risk of incurring charges on overweight check-in bags, particularly on smaller local airlines.[5]
    • Packing a single small bag also has its advantages once you reach your destination. You will be a lot more flexible when it comes to moving from place to place, making it easier to take advantage of any opportunities or adventures that come your way. You will also appear as less of an easy target to pick-pockets and con artists.
    • Bear in mind that many airlines impose a weight limit upon carry-on luggage--often to the order of 20-30 pounds. Before you try to fly, visit the website of your airline and find the carry-on limits. If you will be flying with multiple airlines, make sure to check the requirements for all of them.
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    Pack as many outfits as you think you need, then subtract one. It's easy to pack more clothes than you will end up wearing, so pack fewer outfits than you think you'll need. Think about how many days you'll be away, and which activities you plan on doing while you're there. Consider what the weather will be like. If the weather has consistently been at 90 degrees for the last month, odds are you won't need more than one sweater.
    • You'll probably end up wearing some items more than once, so think about clothes that you can mix and match. For example: for every one pair of shorts you bring, pack two or more shirts that will go with them, as you won't need to change your shorts everyday.
    • Pack clothes that can be adapted to suit the situation. Men: try packing versatile pants, along with a light button-down shirt that can be worn out at night as well as on day trips. Women: try packing a simple dress that can be worn casually with flat sandals and a sun hat throughout the day, or dressed up with heels, a belt and some jewelry at night.
    • Find out whether there is a laundromat near your accommodation - if there's one within easy reach, you will be able to wash your clothes, thus increasing the number of times you can wear them!
    • Remember that it's not the end of the world if you end up needing to buy a couple of cheap t-shirts or a rain jacket while you're away - and chances are you won't need to. When travelling light, always pack for the best case scenario, not the worst case.
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    Pack one exciting, versatile accessory. This is a great way to keep your wardrobe fashionable while packing light. Make sure that it will go with as many of your planned outfits as possible and that it serves a definite purpose.
    • A large, decorative scarf can serve as a funky accessory to wear around your neck, can be worn in place of a cardigan if draped around your arms and shoulder, can turn into a make-shift sarong at the beach, can be worn as a head-scarf to protect your head from the sun, or can serve as a belt if worn around your waist!
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    Avoid bringing more than two pairs of shoes. Shoes are the heaviest, bulkiest items that you will need to bring with you while travelling, so try to limit yourself to the absolute minimum. This can be a difficult choice to make for those who love having the perfect shoe for every occasion, but try to think about what's really necessary.
    • If you're going on an action-packed sports holiday, you're hardly going to need a pair of dress shoes. A light-weight pair of flats or sneakers will carry you through any situations (restaurants, bars, museums, etc.) where you need to dress up slightly more formally.
    • If you're going on a business trip, pack appropriate shoes for any meetings you have to take, along with comfier, more casual pair to wear while travelling or during down time.
    • Don't pack your running shoes unless you are absolutely sure that you will be exercising while you're away. If you're going on a relaxing, indulgent holiday to a sunny destination, will you really get up at 7 am every morning for a 5 mile (8.0 km) run? Unless the answer is a resounding "yes", your running shoes are taking up valuable space.
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    Leave whatever you can buy at your destination at home. Did you know that they have supermarkets in Europe? And pharmacies? And fashionable clothes stores? As mentioned earlier, unless you are travelling somewhere extremely remote, it's unlikely that there are many items you won't be able to find wherever you go. So unless you're particularly picky about the type of hair conditioner or shaving gel you need to use, leave these items at home and just pick them up when you get there.
    • Buying as you go may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it will help you to significantly cut down on weight and free up some extra space in your bag. It's all about priorities!
    • Remember that many large brands are universal - you should be able to find Gillette shaving cream, Colgate toothpaste and Pantene conditioner no matter where you are in world--or at least something comparable. You can also see this trip as a chance to try something new.
    • If the worst comes to the worst and you can't find a particular product, ask yourself how the locals manage to live without it. Do they have some kind of alternative? Or is just an unnecessary comfort? Travelling light may require some sacrifices! Consider it an adventure.

Method 3
Packing Tight

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    Arrange the contents of your bag to fit tightly and compactly. If space is more of a concern than weight, you will need to compress each travel item into its most compact form. Roll or bundle clothes; put smaller objects inside of larger objects; fit things together so that minimal space is left in between. Many airlines and buses limit the size of carry-on bags, so you may need to pack tight to make sure that your carry-on fits the requirements.
    • Avoid folding and stacking clothes. Folded clothes take up a lot of space and are more prone to becoming wrinkled during transit. Try to roll, bundle, or compress your clothes into their most compact form so they take up less room.
    • Put large, heavy and solid items--books, laptops, shoes, blow-driers--at the bottom of your bag. Heavy things are more secure at the bottom, and thus less likely to move around during travel. Clothes may get wrinkled when they're trapped beneath heavy objects. As a matter of convenience, you may find it easier to find small objects if they aren't trapped beneath large objects.[6]
    • Place fragile or easily-wrinkled items on top. Item like suits, pressed shirts, or easily-creased dresses should be laid out flat at the top of your suitcase, in a protective garment bag, if possible. Remove them from the bag and hang them up as soon as you reach your destination.
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    If you're bringing a heavy jacket, consider wearing it while you're in transit. You can put books, devices, food, and other small items into the pockets to free further space within your luggage. If it's hot, don't worry--you can always take your jacket off once you've gotten situated into a seat. If you're especially pressed for space, consider wearing several layers of clothing to free up room in your bag.
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    Roll your clothes. If you roll your clothes tightly, they can take up less space than folded clothes, although perhaps more space than bundled clothing. You will need to exercise your own judgment regarding the most efficient way to roll each item. Bear in mind that rolling clothes—especially if you fold them first—may leave them wrinkled when you unpack. Do not try to roll suits, pressed shirts, and easy-to-wrinkle items.
    • Put socks inside matching socks, and consider putting socks inside shoes. Roll the socks into a ball, or leave them flat inside one another. You can stuff rolled socks in between other items to fill space.
    • Roll shirts as tight as possible. Fold the sleeves of shirts in toward the center, then roll from the bottom of the shirt up toward the neck. This applies to short-sleeve shirts, long-sleeve shirts, and jackets. Use your best judgment.
    • Fold pants in half so that one leg sits flat atop the other, then roll from the bottom of the pants up to the waist. These will be the bulkiest items no matter how you roll them, so plan space accordingly.
    • Fold underwear, then roll it as tightly as it will go. Stuff it in between other rolled items, wherever it will fit.
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    Pack layers rather than bulky single items. If you are at all unsure about the weather conditions at your destination, consider packing layers rather than bulky "just-in-case" items like rain jackets or jeans. That way, you can layer up or down depending on whether it's hot or cold.
    • For example, you can pack a combination of long-sleeved and and short-sleeved t-shirts which you can wear individually or layer up if it's cold. Consider packing long-sleeved button-down shirts, and rolling the sleeves up or down as needed.
    • Instead of bringing bulky jeans, try packing some light-weight but cozy leggings which you can wear underneath dresses and skirts.
    • If you're going somewhere warm, tropical, and beachy, consider wearing your swimsuit as underwear, or wearing your swim trunks as shorts. You'll "wash" them when you go in the water, and you'll always be prepared for a dip!
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    Learn to bundle. Bundling is known as an efficient packing method that makes excellent use of space and prevents clothes from becoming seriously wrinkled. You will need to wrap several items of clothing tightly around a central object such as an organizer pouch (filled with more items - of course) to form a cylindrical shaped bundle. You can pack several of these bundles into a relatively small space, making for economical packing.
    • When using the bundling method, place the most wrinkle-resistant items like jeans and jackets on the inside of the bundle, and more delicate, wrinkle-prone items like linen trousers and fine knits on the outside.[7]
    • Wrap each item individually, rather than all at once, making sure the fabric is pulled taut enough that it doesn't wrinkle, but not so tight that it stretches the material.
    • Once you have reached the bottom of your pile of clothing, place the bundle into your bag or suitcase and pack tightly or secure tightly with the bags tie-down straps. If the bundle is not secured properly before travelling, it may unravel, causing your clothes to crease.
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    Use compression bags. Compression bags are a great way to fit bulkier items, like ski gear or heavy winter coats, into a limited space. Compression packing bags work by removing all of the air from the bag, pushing the items within into their most compact form. Many brands offer their own version of the compression packing bag, including Spacepak bags from Flight 001 and Space bags from Ziploc.
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    Use the space inside shoes for extra storage. Don't forget about all the empty space inside your shoes that you can use for storing smaller items like socks, underwear, jewelry or anything else you can think of. When packing efficiently it is important that you use up any and all available space.
    • Once the shoes have been packed, place them at the bottom of your bag or along the edges of your suitcase.
    • If your shoes are a dirty and you don't want them touching your clothes, wrap each shoe tightly in a plastic bag before you place it into your bag. Consider wearing your dirtiest shoes--say, your hiking boots--when you're in transit so you don't need to store them amid your other things.

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