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Travel Tips

10 Pro Tips for Packing Lighter Every Time

You've probably been there: flustered at the airport luggage drop as you're hit with an overweight bag fee; sore after lugging around a too-heavy duffel all day; or frustrated with yourself for wheeling around a big suitcase when you know you could've gotten by with a weekender. Overpackers, we feel your pain, and we're here to help. Below, we rounded up the ten best tips for how to bring less and pack lighter every time.

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1. Start with an appropriately-sized bag

It’s like that mouse and cookie classic: if you give an overpacker a giant suitcase, she’s bound to fill it to the brim…and then feel the need to bring some more. No one likes seeing their luggage half-empty—it just feels like a waste of space and a missed opportunity to tote along another fab outfit. So start small. If you’ll be gone less than a week, try for a duffel bag; under two weeks, stick with a carry-on suitcase. Limited space means you’ll have to be strict when following the rest of the tips below, but remember: a smaller, lighter bag means easier navigation and more focus on what you’re doing and seeing, not what you’re wearing.

RELATED: The Carry-On Luggage You Need Now

2. Lay out all the outfits you’d ideally bring, then cut half

We know it sounds harsh, but if you want a lighter bag, you’re going to have to do away with some clothes. Think: do you really need a mid-day outfit change? Can you add some accessories to turn a look from day to night, without packing a separate evening ensemble? Would it hurt to repeat an outfit or two? Go through your planned itinerary and plan outfits accordingly—no waiting to see how you feel about a look when you get there.

RELATED: How to Pack the Perfect Suitcase in 6 Easy Steps

3. Or, try the Pinterest-popular 5-4-3-2-1 packing guide

An alternative to the cutting-half method: the 5-4-3-2-1 guide for your carry-on. This popular packing template instructs you to bring five tops, four bottoms, three dresses and pairs of shoes, two bags, and one hat, watch, and pair of sunglasses. Of course, there are tons of variations out there (swimsuits added for beach vacays, outerwear for colder climates, tweaks for men’s clothes, etc.), so find one that suits you, or customize your own.

4. Wear neutral colors and mix-and-match items

As much as we love color, on trips it’s usually best to stick to a neutral palette. That doesn’t mean you have to only wear black and white; dark blues, greens, and tans are also super versatile, as is denim. The goal is to be able to mix and match your separates, jackets, and shoes; this will help you pack fewer items when you’re following the above steps.

5. Only pack clothes and shoes you frequently wear

One last note on clothes to pack: think of the items you love and wear most in your day-to-day life. Those are the types of clothes you should bring on vacation, too. If you still haven’t found the perfect time to wear your cool animal print blouse when you’ve had every opportunity to at home, you probably won’t get much (if any) wear out of it on your trip.

RELATED: 22 Essentials to Add to Your Spring Wardrobe

6. Don’t forget on-the-go laundry solutions

If you’re thinking, “Two weeks in a carry-on bag?!” you’re probably forgetting the light packer’s key to success: laundry. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to seek out a laundromat in a foreign city. Simply pack travel sink packets or a wash bar to get clothes squeaky clean from the comfort of your hotel room. If your items don’t need a full wash but you still want to feel fresher, bring along a fabric travel spray. We love the plant-based option below.

7. Pull out your thickest layers for the plane

To keep the bulkiest items (jackets, sweaters, chunky shoes) out of your bag, tap them for your plane outfit. If you’re going to a cold destination, this might look like your winter coat, wool sweater, and snow boots; for a warm getaway, layers could include the lightweight cardigan and denim jacket you might wear on cooler nights, plus your sneakers rather than your sandals.

RELATED: JS Editors’ Favorite Comfy Outfits for Spring Travel

8. Choose multi-use toiletries

To avoid a stuffed-shut dopp kit, choose beauty, skincare, and toiletry products that work double duty. For instance, the Tarte BB cream is made to take the place of your facial SPF, makeup primer, and foundation—that’s three products in one. Christophe Robin’s Hydrating Shampoo Bar works to cleanse hair and body, so you can skip bringing separate shampoos and body washes (bonus: it’s a bar, so you don’t need to fit it into your quart-sized liquids bag).

RELATED: 13 Sheet Masks to Take on *All* of Your Flights

9. Use compression packing cubes

When all of your clothing, shoes, toiletries, and other essentials are laid out and ready to go, pack them into your bag in the most efficient manner possible. This means shoes on the bottom, clothing rolled and placed inside compression packing cubes (unlike regular cubes that simply separate, these have double zipper mechanisms to squish out extra air), and other objects set on top or snuggled inside gaps and cracks.

10. Adopt a minimalist mindset

When all is said and done (meaning you’ve read through our tips and marked them all complete), the last thing to remember is your mindset. There’s no magic miracle hack for packing everything you want lightly, so it’s up to you to realize that travel is about experiences, not material things. When you’re looking back on the time you road-tripped across the West Coast or island-hopped around Greece, you won’t remember that you didn’t have the perfect shoes for your outfit or all the makeup you usually wear. Bring the essentials, and get ready for the memories—packing lightly is one of the best ways to ensure an amazing trip.

What to Pack on Your Next Trip

When packing for a trip, don’t leave your sense of style hanging in the closet. Shop some of our favorite travel clothes from Everlane, Madewell, and Nordstrom.

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