On Packing Light: Thursday Travel Tales

One of our favorite travel stories here is about two of the best travelers we know—Lauren’s Aunt S. and Grandma B.B. They were visiting relatives in California, and Aunt S., finally waking up after her third cup of tar thick morning coffee, landed on a brilliant idea.

"Let’s go to Mexico for a few days," she said. (Let’s be clear: they hadn’t booked anything. And "a few days" in Lauren’s family can mean anything from "a few days" to "a few years." We’ll talk about this another time.)

Grandma B.B., always up for a trip, nodded. “Of course,” she said. ”Let me get ready.”

Aunt S. poured herself a fourth cup of coffee and started rifling through a guidebook to decide where in Mexico to go. Before she had finished her coffee, Grandma B.B. was already back downstairs, stuffing underwear and her passport into a ziplock bag, which she put into her (moderately sized) purse.

She sat back down at the table. “I’m ready to go.”

"Where’s your bag?" Aunt S. asked.

Grandma B.B. gestured at the purse on the floor. “There,” she said. “Everything’s there.”

They spent about a week in Mexico on that trip and had a grand time.

Now, we can’t all quite manage packing that light and that quickly all the time, but our top tips to get you out the door in no time (and without a checked bag).

1) Layer and wear your bulkiest clothing on your travel day.

2) Pick a color palette (e.g., brown shoes or black) and build your clothing picks around that. Everything should coordinate. And think strategically about matching — you don’t need more than three pairs of shoes even for a long trip (nice shoes, sneakers, and flip flops or boots).

3) Keep a ziplock filled with critical travel-sized toiletries. Buy these in bulk so you never run out of toothpaste, and buy doubles of anything you use often (e.g., make-up items). Leave your travel versions in your suitcase.

4) Buy only small suitcases, preferably duffel bags—heavy stuff becomes much less critical when you have to lug it around. Once one is full, stop packing. Anything that doesn’t fit isn’t important enough to take along.