Should You Pack It

I’m heading out on a little mini-trip in about 36 hours so it’s time for everyone’s favorite game show… Should You Pack It?! starring me and my little 20 liter backpack. To help, I’ve created this nifty little decision tree.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t always a light packer. I remember the feelings of despair I felt when my parents told me I couldn’t bring an entire laundry basket full of stuffed animals on a 10-hour road trip and that I would have to choose only my few FAVORITE friends to bring. Oh, the drama.

It didn’t take too many times of hauling a cumbersome, heavy suitcase before I took a good hard look at what I really NEEDED to be packing. Here are the three main questions I ask myself when my packrat tendencies start to take over…

1. Do I NEED it for my health, happiness, and well-being? Obviously I need some practical items: Clothes, shoes, a toothbrush, prescription medications, and so on. And there are things I may not physically need but that contribute to my happiness like reading materials, music, and frizz-taming hair cream. Sometimes this question works better flipped around as “Can I survive without it?” When in doubt, I move on to…
2. Can I easily and affordably obtain it where I’m going? Most of us are travelling to places where there are other humans, right? And I’ll go further to say that most of us are travelling to places where there are stores that sell basic toiletries. I think it’s safe to assume that I’ll be able to find some sunblock for sale in Miami so there’s no need to schlep it all the way from Minnesota. Of course I could just as easily bring things with that meet the test of…
3. Is it small & light? Sure, I could buy shampoo in Miami but I’ll only need a little bit so it’s easy to just pop a small container of it into my bag. There are also some things that I really don’t need but that I like to have with me, like a journal or sketchpad, a little make-up, and some fun jewelry. When I have the room and it’s something small and light, I go for it.
Some other things that have helped me are…
  • Embracing the natural look. My hair is an entity onto itself but I’ve learned what will tame the frizz and various styles (braids, headbands, bobby pins) that don’t require much gear. I’ve also lightened up on my make-up, sticking with mostly just mascara and lip balm most of the time, and being strategic with extras such as a lip stick that doubles as blush, or eye shadow compacts with only my very favorite shades.
  • Saying no to one-trick ponies. When I pack minimally everything needs to be multi-functional. I tend to go with cardigans instead of hoodies since they can be dressed up or down, sandals with dresses instead of heels, an e-reader that can also go online, etc.
  • Practicing the buddy system. If I’m travelling with a friend there’s no reason both of us need to pack toothpaste.
  • The “digital age.” I used to have a really hard time choosing just one book or magazine to bring on a trip. (It’s the stuffed animals all over again.) For this, I LOVE my Kindle Fire and Audible audiobooks on my phone. I can have dozens of books for just a few ounces of weight. What a time to be alive.

It’s also really helpful to read about other people’s experiences. If Clara Bensen (No Baggage) can bring only ONE dress for weeks of travel, I’ll probably be just fine with 3. If Brooke (Ultralight Packing List) can travel for 3 weeks in cooler temperatures with only 12 liters of luggage space, my 20 liters should be a piece of cake. Lately, I’m really loving Her Packing List for travel and packing tips.

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