How to pack light and smart – lessons learned from a chronic over-packer

As a seasoned road tripper, my packing skills rely on the presence of multiple nooks and car crannies where I can squirrel away all the non-essential, but I don’t want to be without, items like head lamps, biodegradable wipies, spare pairs of gloves, etc. While preparing to embark on my first airborne adventure in over two years, I came upon the startling realization that I am a chronic over-packer.

But I’m always prepared! On climbing trips, I am the go-to gal for all the random camping ware, spare socks, and mismatched supplies that everyone else leaves at home. My purse is always loaded with everything one could possibly need, and my backpack is the heaviest damn thing to tote on hikes – but I’m always prepared.

The thought of cramming everything that I’m going to need for the next four weeks of traveling into one small suitcase and one carry-on backpack is overwhelming. Thus, as I learn from my own attempts at becoming a smarter packer, I’ll share my pre-trip preparations in hopes of providing the packing tips necessary to help some other over-packing schmuck overcome their compulsion to carry everything.

Let’s Begin: Prepare the packings! Do all your laundry, wash your smelly shoes, sort through your camera equipment, and lay everything you think you’re going to take out on a flat surface, like your bed. Hm, all that junk is never going to fit in your modestly-sized luggage, eh? Here comes the tricky part:

Now get rid of HALF of what you planned on packing.

Don’t worry, this sent me into a panic too. You mean I can’t bring four pairs of leggings, three different pairs of boots, my tri-pod, and fourteen pairs of socks? It’s time to prioritize – and remember that washing machines are available at your destination, so you don’t actually need enough clothes to last through the duration of your travels. It’s time to prioritize, and honestly, when it comes to clothes, this is simply going to help you weed through the ruckus to find your favorite wardrobe items – so take solace in knowing that you may have to do a load or two of laundry along your journey, but you’ll look damn good throughout the trip.

I’m encountering the issue of packing for varying climates. I’ll begin my journey in freezing cold Denver, Colorado, then I’ll fly down to sweltering South Florida, and finally, I’ll be heading out on a climbing trip to a chilly southeastern mountain destination. So how do I prioritize and find room for both bikinis and wool socks, plus all my climbing gear? Here’s what my bed looks like with my to-be-packed mess spread out on it:

For jackets and bulky clothes, consider investing in those sweet vacuum-sealed bags that suck all the air out of your fluffy jackets, making them much more manageable. I was lucky enough to inherit a bundle from my doting mother, but budget-minded vagabonds can also use gallon-sized plastic bags. Just fill ’em up, seal the zip most of the way, sit on the back to squish out all the air, zip that sucker up, and voila! I recently read a blog article about a woman who uses plastic bags to create an outfit a day when she packs – but my adventures are too spontaneous for that kind of planning.

Other great tips include:

Roll your shirts/tank tops up as tight as possible.

(My suitcase has two metal bars going through the bottom of it,
so rolled up clothes and tights fit perfectly into the small spaces that would otherwise be wasted.)

Fold wisely – think Tetris.

Save the small stuff for last.

(Small, especially rolled up, items can be crammed into the
various little pockets of space created by your larger items.)

Put liquid items in a plastic bag.

(Seriously, there is nothing worse than an exploded bottle of moisturizer all over
your favorite flannel. Quickly popping your liquids/oils in a little zip-lock bag will contain any mid-flight eruptions).

Pack chronically.

(For instance: I’ll be in Miami before I head to colder climates,so my bulky zip-locked
sweaters are positioned at the bottom of my suitcase, since I won’t be needing them for a few weeks.)

With a little bit of planning, execution, and burly arm strength, any over-packing schmuck can transform into a zipped-up, ready-to-roll travel expert. Honestly, if I can fit all that junk on my bed into two small bags, anyone can. I ended up taking just one big jacket, a lighter jacket, one sweatshirt, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of leggings, two flannels, my thermals, a few tank tops, a pair of shorts (okay, maybe three pairs of shorts – but I’m excited about this warm weather, okay?), one dress, one pair of sandals, one pair of boots, one pair of Toms, and the usual under garments. And I will confess, I had to take four pairs of my favorite wool socks – I’ve become a sock fanatic.

Here’s my end result:

There you have it, advice on packing lightly, or at least light enough to fit it all in a reasonably-sized space – and proof that is can actually be accomplished. The biggest obstacle standing between me and my 6:00 AM flight has been conquered.

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Join me for a month-long trip down to sunny Florida and the southeast – if I can figure out how to pack…

After two cross-country climbing trips, one epic seven-week solo trip, and countless excursions around the country, you’d think I’d be a seasoned expert when it comes to packing my bags and gearing up for traveling – but this upcoming trip has me stumped. I’ve grown so accustomed to road tripping that the idea of fitting everything I need in a small suitcase and backpack is befuddling. Not to mention that this will be the first time I’m traveling via airplane in over two years.

In less than 24 hours, I’ll be boarding at plane at Denver International Airport to head south like a migrating goose escaping the cold. My first stop will be a brief layover in Atlanta, then I’ll hop another flight that will leave me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The plan from there is to scoop drinks on the bay with my dad, then make the short drive home to Miami – to do lots of this:

I’ll be spending the first ten days of my trip in my hometown of Miami, sipping cocktails while tanning by the pool, feasting on real Cuban cuisine, hiking through the Everglades, and catching up on all the sunshine I’ve been missing. After Christmas, Niko will be driving down from Tampa to spend a few nights in Miami before whisking me away to the panhandle. We’ll make a pitstop in Tampa for a night, then it’s off to Tallahassee for two weeks of hanging with hipsters – and copious amounts of time spent at Tally Rock Gym.

Somewhere in all that Floridian exploration, Niko and I hope to find time for a climbing trip somewhere in the southeast. Chattanooga, Alabama, Georgia, who knows.

Follow my travels in real time on Twitter @themorningfresh!
and stay tuned to The Morning Fresh for adventure updates, photos, and more. [Read more…]