Simply Sara Travels Light (and you can too with these 9 steps)

Before I even tasted a single pierogi in Poland, I had accomplished a new personal victory. I had somehow managed to pack in a carry-on for a 16-night trip. If you're not impressed, let me elaborate. Michael and I used a carry-on size suitcase and a backpack to cart our things around. Which meant that all of our clothes and toiletries between us fit into the same small suitcase with the backpack reserved for camera/electronics/miscellaneous souvenirs. Also you should know we flew with EasyJet to Poland, which has a strict policy of one carry-on per passenger - meaning I couldn't get away with hauling an over-sized purse and my carry-on bag.

The proof: The photo I snapped in motion on the way to one of our bus connections. Here is all we packed in:

Added bonus of packing light? Not having to carry your own bags.

Before I get into how I did it, here's a quick reminder of why it might be a good idea to pack light (refer to my traveling mistake #3). Not only is it a hassle to lug around big bags, but space can be an issue (especially in Europe). Small hotel rooms, limited space in trains, buses, cars, and subways, tiny elevators or no elevators at all, plus lots of stairs can make for miserable conditions for hauling half your wardrobe around on a trip. 

Want to know how I pulled it off? Here's my process:

1. Lay everything out on the bed.

As you start to pack, don't place things from the closet straight into the suitcase. Lay everything out, using plenty of space to visualize everything you are considering packing. Clothes, toiletries, electronics, shoes - organize everything in eyesight. And know that a place on the bed does not guarantee a spot in the bag. The bed is the "chopping block" for determining what will actually make the cut. 

2. Choose a color scheme.

As you select clothing, stick to one color scheme. My train of thought usually starts by deciding which pair of shoes I'm going to wear. (Note-as in one single pair. Emphasis added for my dear visitor who narrowed down her luggage to only include 15 pairs of footwear.) Once that is settled, I know if I'm going to pack clothes that go with black or brown/neutrals and I stick to that.

3. Layer, layer, layer!

If it's going to be cooler weather, pack one sweater/cardigan, one scarf, one jacket. This is where that color scheme comes in handy. Pick basic pieces that can be paired with anything!

4. Pack clothing that you love.

If you haven't worn something in the past year, you are not going to wear it on vacation. With limited space, everything must be worn a few times so only pack things that you love. And things you would be happy to feature in your fabulous vacation photos.

5. Think ahead on toiletries.

This is especially critical if you are flying with carry-on and have limited amounts of liquids you can bring, although everyone should practice this. If I'm staying at a hotel, I know that shampoo and body wash are staples with a room so I don't need to pack extra. But conditioner is rare so that needs to be packed. Pack as lightly as possible and in travel-size containers. Also, I never pack my own blow dryer since one has been provided by every hotel and rental apartment I've been in. Sure, the quality may not be great but I can always manage. (Let it be a growing experience on your next travel adventure.)

6. Choose the smallest bag as possible.

Look at everything on the bed. Eliminate a few things. Scrutinize some more. Once you are sure you have the essentials you need, choose the smallest bag as possible to fit everything into.

If it doesn't fit, really consider what you are packing. If it is all necessary, upgrade to a slightly larger bag. What you never, ever should do is select an over-sized suitcase. You will see that there is plenty of extra space and then decide to bring just a few more things because you can...and next thing you know, you are at the weight limit with no room to bring home souvenirs.

7. Consider the suitcase-in-a-suitcase trick.

I did not do this on my trip to Poland, but credit goes out to the smart packing skills of our friends. When E&E took a trip down to Bordeaux with us, they knew that they would be taking back a few liquid souvenirs to the States. They packed in a small carry-on bag and then fit that into a regular sized suitcase (and checked the bag). On the way back, they had plenty of extra room to bring back lots of tasty things from France back home, no problem at all. 

8. Plan on washing clothes.

I never would have gotten through my Poland trip with doing a little laundry. As much as I advocate re-wearing, I have my personal limits. (Which I say a little nervously, hoping that this boundary is not one of those things that's going to change with a few more years of traveling experience!) For me, the solution was arrived at by renting apartments through Airbnb with washing machines. This way I could wash clothes but avoid the hassle and time constraints of finding a laundromat on the road. Though hand-washing those essentials always works too.

9. Leave the books, take a Kindle.

Hear me out. If you're a lover of a real book in your hands, I understand completely. One of the biggest perks of my last apartment in the US was that it was walking distance to the town's public library.

Let me just say that the Kindle has revolutionized travel for me. With a Kindle, Nook, or other similar device, you can have access to travel guides and personal reading material without the physical burden of heavy books.

And just for a chuckle, you may not be following this advice if:

-You have a name for your suitcase, and it's "Big Red."

-Airline personnel lets out a dramatic, "Oh la la," when said suitcase is weighed. And is shocked at the discovery that the "Little Red" carry-on suitcase somehow weighs 40 pounds.

-After being told by your host that rain boots are not necessary, you follow it up with, "But what if they're cute?"

-When traveling with a friend who has the same shoe size as you, there are still 20 pairs of shoes between the two of you.

-At the end of a one week visit to Europe, the clothes you packed, but didn't wear, would not fit in the luggage pictured in this post.

*Names have been withheld to protect the guilty my dear visitors, who I love.


Joking aside, I'm still a work in progress in this area of traveling myself. So I would love to hear your thoughts:

Do you have any packing methods that have helped you travel lighter?