The Overpacker’s Guide to Smart Packing

This is a guest blog post by Hydaway ambassador Zelphia Peterson. Follow her on Instagram @z_claire29.

Raise your hand if you’re guilty of overpacking when you go on a trip. I know I am not the only one.  I may only be leaving the house for three days, and still have an armful of things with me: overnight clothes, pillow, blanket, 4 pairs of shoes (just in case), a bag of snacks, a bathroom bag and makeup bag, and an odd assortment of things. I’m certain I won’t be able to live without for a weekend. It’s messy, it’s inefficient, and it’s highly impractical.

Now maybe you’re one of the blessed few who were born to survive on a sweatshirt and toothbrush alone. If you are, you have my eternal respect. However, this is a skill that I’ve had to learn through years of trial and error and following the example of skilled lightweight packers around me. Thankfully in this digital age resources are everywhere like this blog for some great introductory tips on traveling light. Unfortunately, I tend to grow frustrated with online resources because they always seem far too specific, far too general, or at worst, completely not relevant to the trip I’m planning. Most of them also don’t take into account things that I’m concerned about, such as traveling sustainably or leaving plenty of room in the bag for gifts to bring home.

Packing list

As such, I wanted to take a moment for all the fellow over-packers and over-planners of this community and share the tips and adaptable packing list that I’ve created. This is a template for all my short-range trips (usually 2 weeks or less). You can read my tips, then download my packing list at the end of this post if you find it helpful. This list has taken me camping, exploring Atlanta for a work conference, to Iceland for a week, and through a two-week tour of Europe.  I hope this is helpful to you too – travel well!

1) Maximize the space you have

carry on luggage

Most airlines allow you to travel with one carry-on and one personal item. Strategically choose the size of both of these items. Personally, I use a mini suitcase-style roller bag with a multipurpose backpack. As long as the backpack isn’t clearly a backcountry hiking pack, I have never seen a size restriction on the personal bag enforced. For women, this makes a backpack much more practical than a purse, because you get approximately 3 times the space. If I’m going somewhere where a bit more class is appreciated (like Europe or a work conference), I’ll pack a small purse that folds flat into the bottom of my backpack to be used later.

2) Choose your plane outfit strategically

clothes to pack

Remember, when you travel, you’re not just taking your bags, you’re also taking what you’re wearing. This means that I choose what I wear on the plane based on the climate at my destination. For example, when we flew to Mexico in December, I wore comfortable capri leggings, a pair of neutral tennis shoes, a long knit tank top, and a light cardigan. When I flew to Iceland in April, I wore jeans, hiking boots, a warm sweater, and threw my jacket over my shoulder. Each of these outfits was wearable in the end destination and saved me room in my limited luggage space by being transported on my body instead of in the bag. Wear as many layers as you can – it will give you the greatest flexibility in being comfortable and save the most amount of room.

3) Check the weather!

cold weather

I can’t believe how many people never think of this. For example, when we went to Iceland for a week, the average temperature was between 30-40 degrees. This meant that for 80% of our activities, I would need warm clothing and would be wearing a jacket. So instead of packing 6 or 7 sweaters, I packed 3 and just rotated them. After all, no one saw them under my jacket! For my month in Italy, the temperature was projected to vary between 45 and 75 degrees. I packed mostly nicer short sleeve shirts and cardigans/blazers with black jeans. This not only kept me at a comfortable temperature but also looked more put together than if I had worn basic long sleeve shirts and blue jeans.

4) Be choosy about your shoes


This trick has been my number 1 space saver through the years. I am a shoe girl, no lie. I have a different shoe for literally everything, and delight in having the right shoe for the occasion. However, shoes are bulky and take up a lot of space. This isn’t a huge deal if you’re going somewhere warm – you can pack a few flat sandals and flip-flops right on top of each other and wear sneakers on the plane. However, in colder climates, it can get tricky. I usually try to wear my largest shoe on the plane so I never have to pack them. In fact, for the Iceland trip, I only brought my hiking boots for the whole week. For the two weeks in Europe, I would wear my ankle boots for travelling, and packed 2 pairs of flats for running around on day trips. One other thing – I NEVER pack high heels.

In Europe, they’re impractical. On vacation, they’re unnecessary. And on work conferences, a black ankle boot or a nice pair of flats is usually still appropriate and professional. Heels take up too much room and are simply not compatible with serious traveling! (This is completely my own opinion.)

5) Rewear, reuse, repack

rewear clothes

This trick is crucial, especially for short trips that start pushing for 2 weeks or more. Here’s the thing – if you wear a shirt 2 or three times on the same trip, it’s likely no one will notice unless you spill ice cream down the front of you. Keep your clothes fresh in between washing by bringing some wrinkle release.  If that’s the case, and you absolutely need a clean shirt, find a local laundry service. It’s usually less than $10 and you can wash 3-6 crucial items of clothing. Otherwise, re-wear that favorite shirt proudly.

Reuse things like shopping bags to wrap dirty shoes, separate anything that may get wet or particularly dirty, or provide an extra layer of protection for a fragile trinket. Pack a reusable water bottle (like a Hydaway!) to limit the amount of trash you pack around and maximize space. And lastly, repack often! As you wear things, buy things, and move around, don’t be afraid to shift things around in your bag.

The bottom line? Think about where you’re going, when you’re going, and why you’re going there. Don’t be afraid to give yourself options, but also remember you’ll likely need far less than you want to pack. Have a plan and don’t forget to have fun!

So now that you have all these great tips, what should you do with them? Get packing for your next trip! Click here or on the image below to download my go-to packing list and you’ll forever be prepared for wherever your next adventure takes you.*

packing list


This packing list was designed by a female, and the suggested content reflects this. This list was also designed with general sightseeing tourism and light activities in mind. If you plan on hiking through the jungle or going river rafting, this may not be the packing guide for you.

This list is also designed to be flexible and encourage substitutions. For example, you probably won’t need a warm jacket in Mexico but you might want to bring your favorite beach towel. You might need actual long sleeves and sweaters instead of blazers in Iceland. Substitute accordingly!

This list reflects my personal travel style and needs. I tend to like being put together (makeup, hair, coordinated outfit), flexible (layers), and bare-bones when it comes to things from home (pillows). I am also fortunate enough not to have any physical or medical restrictions, like prescriptions, an insulin pump, or a mobility aid.



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