5 Simple Rules of Thumb for Packing Light
By Kristin Wong
Travel is all about taking in new experiences as you explore an unknown destination, whether it’s the streets of New York or the steps of Machu Picchu. But it’s kind of hard to feel unburdened and free when you're bogged down by heavy luggage. If you tend to over-pack when you travel, start with these simple rules for packing light—with the proper planning, we guarantee you can fit everything you need into a single bag.
1. PACK TWO BOTTOMS FOR EVERY FIVE DAYS
Jeans can take up a fair amount of real estate in your carry-on, and chances are, you don’t need a fresh pair for every day of the week. Writer Tarryn Williford suggests over at Apartment Therapy that you pack two bottoms for every five days of your trip. "[This] gives you the flexibility to have a short option and a long option," she writes. "As long as they're versatile—and don't stand out too much—I promise your perfect pair will last the whole trip."
So if you do the math, you only need four bottoms (a mix of jeans, skirts, and shorts, depending on the climate of your destination) for a 10-day trip. You might even reduce that number if you have access to a washing machine.
2. THE 80-20 RULE FOR TRAVELING
The Pareto principle tells us that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. In business, for example, 80 percent of your success comes from 20 percent of your efforts; or 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your clients. The goal of knowing this is to be able to focus on that 20 percent to maximize efficiency.
It might seem silly, but you can translate the Pareto principle to packing, too. The Carry On Guy posits that 20 percent of the stuff you bring can accommodate 80 percent of your needs. Think about it: How often are you going to use that backup battery charger you’re bringing? And do you really need a separate pair of dress shoes for that one nice dinner you have planned?
3. THE 5-4-3-2-1 RULE
If you're finding it impossible to cut down your packing list, start with this easy guideline that's made the rounds online in recent years. According to the 5-4-3-2-1 rule, all you need for any trip is:
- 5 tops
- 4 bottoms
- 3 accessories
- 2 shoes (a practical pair and a nice pair)
- 1 swimsuit
You can be a bit flexible with this rule depending on your destination. If you're going to Ireland in December, for instance, you might want to swap that one swimsuit for a windbreaker. Heading to Aruba? Make one of your accessories your beach cover-up.
4. GO NEUTRAL
Versatility is key when packing light, and if you want to make sure you can mix and match all of your tops, bottoms, and outerwear, you’ll want to pick a neutral color palette.
Travel site Smart Women on the Go recommends choosing medium to dark solid colors (like black and charcoal gray) for your main clothing items because "they coordinate easily and don't scream, 'I'm a tourist!'" But for a warmer climate, you might want to lean more heavily on lighter neutrals like cream or blue (which look great together).
You don’t have to give up color completely, of course. Just add it in with accessories like scarves, jewelry, or hats.
5. NEVER PACK FOR MORE THAN TWO WEEKS
Even if you’re going to be away for a month, as a general rule, you only ever need two week’s worth of stuff. As travel site Fox Nomad explains, you’re not packing for the rest of your life. "What you pack before you leave on a trip isn’t absolute—it’s not like you’ve only got one chance to get it right or face catastrophe," they say.
Unless you're heading to a campsite in the middle of nowhere, you can scout out the nearest drug store to restock your supply of toothpaste, purchase a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones you forgot, or simply wash your clothes so you can rewear them. (And if you're camping, it's likely no one will notice or care if your clothes get a little grimy.)