Expert Tips for Packing Light

New York Times writer Susan Heller famously said, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

Even when we have great intentions, it’s easy to pack the suitcase to the brim, leaving little or any room for souvenirs or one-of-a-kind special items we buy on vacation. So, we wind up dragging a heavy bag around and potentially pay fees for overweight or additional bags.

What are the packing secrets of seasoned travelers?

REMEMBER the 80/20 Principle.

Twenty percent of what you pack will be eighty percent of what you wear. You pack four pairs of shoes, but you really only wear one pair every day. You pack three sweaters and a shawl that you never use, because you wind up just wearing your favorite light jacket that goes with everything you own.

DON’T PACK for every possible situation. Pack for an average day.

There’s no way you can cover every contingency. Look at the forecast, the average temps and weather for that time of year, and go with that. If there’s a freak week of rain in what’s normally a sunny season, it’s very likely that you will be able to purchase a rain coat or an umbrella where you are. If there’s a cold snap, there’s probably also a store nearby with just the thing you need.


If you’re going to be gone for two to three weeks, pack enough clothes for one. If you’re a hardcore DIYer, almost every resort or town in the world has a laundromat or laundry service. If desire the luxury of having other people pamper you, have your clothes laundered and folded for you. It’s still often cheaper than luggage fees!

FOR WARMTH, go with layers over bulk.

Pick several thin layers with insulating, wicking fabrics — merino wool is a great one — over a big jacket. Heavier items like jackets and sweaters don’t offer the flexibility. They’re just hot, and when the sun comes out, then you have to cart around a huge coat. But a compact zip-up fleece can roll up easily into a bag or backpack in the afternoon and then come back out again for that sunset walk on the beach.

THINK MIX AND MATCH, simplified palette, and multi-function items.

If three tops match three bottoms, you’ve got nine possible outfits.

BULKY AND HEAVY CLOTHING — wear it, don’t pack it.

Hiking boots, down jacket, that awesome cable knit wool cardigan — these might very well have a great place on your trip, but they shouldn’t be in your suitcase. Wear them on the plane. You can easily pack several versatile layers for the space that one sweater would take up.

Helen Jordan is the owner of Jordan Luxury Travel, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a member of Virtuoso. She can be reached at [email protected].