The Art Of Underpacking & Why You Shouldn’t Buy “Travel Gear”

200424617-001Forget everything you’ve ever heard about “Travel Gear” and what to pack.

There are all kinds of articles online proclaiming that you need to stock up on sweat-resistant tank-tops, khaki coloured cargo shorts and shock-absorbing running shoes for your next trip.

I’m here to tell you that it’s all a load of crap. Although it’s true that travel gear can certainly come in handy when it comes to buying the right backpack, packing cubes and quick-drying towels. But when it comes to clothes, “travel gear” is completely unnecessary.

There are a number of different ways people pack, and all sorts of different things you need to bring depending on where you’re going. But over the years I’ve developed a system for sorting through all the mess and bringing only the things I’m guaranteed to use, thus reducing the likelihood of overpacking.

Over two years ago I met a woman in Berlin who was staying in the same hostel dorm room as me. We got to talking one day and she told me a story of how she had been travelling for over a year with nothing more than a backpack. I remember her telling me that before she left for her trip she had all of her favourite clothes packed away – all of which she wore on a regular basis. Then the night before she was supposed to catch her flight, she read some articles online about how you shouldn’t bring your favourite clothes with you – how you should pack light with basic clothes you don’t really care about, in case you lose them or damage them or they get stolen. At the 11th hour, she repacked her whole bag according to these new guidelines. Eighteen months later, she said it was the biggest travel mistake she made. She was left feeling grungy and unkempt in her unfashionable, boring clothes. She didn’t feel good about herself when she was wearing clothes she wouldn’t ever normally wear.

I made the same mistake when I left to backpack around Europe, too. Despite the fact that I hate running shoes, and think the only time it’s acceptable to wear them is when you’re actually exercising, I decided to buy a pair for my Eurotrip because it was what everyone said I should wear in order to be comfortable walking around for days at a time. However, the first day into my trip I immediately knew I had made a mistake. I felt like a slob wandering around London and Paris in a pair of bulky running shoes. They looked awkward and unfashionable sticking out the bottom of my leggings and skinny jeans. Frankly, I was embarrassed. I didn’t feel good about myself because I hated the way I looked. Not only that, but they were heavy and took up a lot of space in my backpack when I opted to wear my flip-flops instead. I ended up ditching my runners two weeks into my trip and buying a pair of much less bulky and much more stylish Keds, which were still comfortable to walk in and basically served the same purpose as my runners had.

Only you know what you like to wear and are comfortable in, so follow your own head and pack what you actually enjoy wearing.

Lacking style (wearing yoga pants and running shoes) in one of the biggest style capitals of the world, London.

Lacking style (wearing yoga pants and running shoes) in one of the biggest style capitals of the world, London.

Whenever I go away, I enjoy buying clothes for myself. Clothes are like my souvenirs from where I’ve been. Some people like to buy postcards or key rings, I like to buy accessories. Over half my wardrobe is from countries abroad. This is why when I pack, I always try to keep my clothes to the basics, because I know I’m inevitably going to purchase a new dress or a pair of shorts or a bracelet. I just like travelling this way. I’m happy to have clothes from all over the world. Every piece has a story and a memory attached to it. It’s a daily reminder for me of my travels. That’s why, if anything, I try to under-pack my clothes when I go away.

In order to do this, I like to follow these basic rules for packing…

1) Only bring items you use/wear on a regular basis. If you think you might need it, don’t bother bringing it. Chances are you won’t end up using it. Case in point? A few months ago when I was packing to come here to Melbourne, I decided to bring four pairs of shorts. Why? Because I knew it was going to be summer while I was here and I would probably be wearing shorts/summer dresses all the time. Except that last summer in Canada, I basically wore the same two pairs of jean shorts ALL summer. So why did I think I would need four pairs of shorts for three months here? I’m currently two months into my trip and I’ve only worn ONE of the four pairs I brought. Same story goes for jeans. And for a few skirts. Not only that, but true to form, I’ve bought some new skirts, shorts and dresses since I’ve been here, and now I’m in a situation where I might not be able to fit everything in my bags when I go home. Overpacking can be costly, so use caution and only bring what you know you’ll need.

2) Don’t bring really unique pieces that don’t match with any of your other clothes. You need to be able to mix and match everything you bring. Make sure every item of clothing you pack can be worn with almost everything else in your bag – this includes shoes, purses and accessories as well ladies! It’s great that you love that pair of orange patterned shorts, but if they only match with one shirt you’re bringing, chances are you’re not going to get much wear out of it. The point here is to maximize the amount of wear you can get out of everything in your bag. The more outfits you can create, the less often you’re going to be wearing the same things over and over again.

3) Bring lots of basic clothes – especially tops. A friend of mine went on a trip overseas and brought lots of t-shirts with slogans on them. He thought they looked fine – until he got home and went through his pictures. It looked like he was wearing the same four shirts in every single picture. That funny slogan on his top got pretty old after the 400th photo it appeared in. Make sure to bring lots of plain, solid coloured tops and pants. It’s less obvious in photos that you’re only travelling with a minimal amount of clothing when it’s just a plain black shirt and jeans you’re wearing. That’s not to say that you can’t wear bright, bold clothes with designs and patterns on them, you just have to make sure they’re not going to seem obnoxious after a while.

4) All those little things add up. You might not think it matters to throw in one more bathing suit or socks or another shirt, but all those “extra” items will add weight and bulk to your bag. Laundry is your friend here, my loves. You can usually find individual travel packets of laundry detergent in most drug stores like Walmart and Target. When I was in Europe I did laundry once every 2-3 weeks depending on how much washing I had to do and when I could find a decent machine (I used an old machine once in a hostel in Spain and ended up with orange rust marks on some of my white clothes). Even if you can’t find a machine, a bar of soap and a sink will work fine for smaller articles like underwear and socks. Trust me on this one, you’re never going to run out of clothes to wear, so don’t bother packing extras. Like I said, all those little items add up.

Obviously if you’re going away on a short trip and are allowed to bring a large suitcase, worrying about overpacking isn’t really an issue because you’re going to have a lot of room in your bag to bring whatever you please. The issue of overpacking really comes into play here when you’re going on a longer trip and you need to bring lots of things, but you have very little space and a limited amount of weight allotted in your bag. In these cases, the art of underpacking is crucial for your well-being. Trust me, your legs and back will thank you after you’ve walked 10kms.

Happy Packing! xx

6 responses to “The Art Of Underpacking & Why You Shouldn’t Buy “Travel Gear”

  1. Thanks for sharing…your post is quite timely for me! I tend to bring too much when I travel and will certainly keep your tips in mind. I always intended to pack one of my suitcases only halfway because I know that I will be buying a lot of Aussie souvenirs during my 3-month stay.

  2. Love all these tips. Whenever I travel with my family, everyone’s always wondering how I’ve managed to fit everything into a carry on while they’re toting giant suitcases. It’s because I just bring a couple pairs of the same jeans and a few tops to match, and I’m done. Also, running sneakers = ew. I LOVE Keds 🙂

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