A few of you were impressed with my recent social media post that I packed for a two week trip to Germany using just a standard-size carry-on bag. To be fair, this is also supplemented by a backpack (see tip #5) which is bigger than I need actually but that gives me some flexibility.
Even with a free checked bag for international travel, I opt for the carry-on bag whenever possible (which I will check for this trip). Because I simply don't want to lug anything bigger around - on trains, subways and down the street to hotels.
I'll provide my basic packing list at the end (Tips #4 and #5). Because you don't really care how many pairs of underwear I am taking, right? Or, maybe you do. But you are here for the secrets! Right?
Secret Packing Tip #1: Woolite and Frebreze
I am not kidding. These two items require a bit of a mind re-set from the American "OMG I HAVE TO WASH EVERYTHING AFTER I WEAR IT ONCE" to a more global "scratch-n-sniff" perspective. Woolite is great - you can wash pretty much anything, it's good in all water types (low suds). Frebreze is handy for emergencies or for spritzing that sack of dirty laundry before your toss it back in your suitcase.
Secret Packing Tip #2: An elastic clothesline
You can get these at pretty much any camping or sporting goods store. Just pull an edge of your freshly washed stuff through the twisted elastic (or drape over top). String it in the bathroom, closet or wherever. I didn't need this is Japan, where they sensibly include a retractable line in the bathroom above the tub.
These two tips can automatically cut the amount of clothing you need for two weeks (or more) by half. Caveat: if you aren't staying anywhere for more than a day, this may not work as well. You do need some drying time!
Secret Packing Tip #3: Packing cubes
I think I paid maybe $20 for the set of 4 or 5 with different sizes. Keeps everything neat and organized and easy to find. No more rummaging through the suitcase to find the socks. Lightweight. I fit 8 t-shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 capris into one of these:
Obviously, packing for a summer trip is easier than packing for winter. And it helps to have a few items that are dri-fit or similar. While I don't especially like the fabrics (too nylon-y), I do have a couple pairs of travel pants (Columbia, Eddie Bauer) and some dri-fit type shirts - they generally don't stain and dry quickly.
Secret Packing Tip #4: Be strategic
In both your clothing choices and how you pack them. What do you really really need? And don't just thrown it all in there (packing cubes help!). This standard-size bag contains: 2 pairs of shoes, 8 shirts, 3 shorts, 2 capris, 6 pairs of underwear, 2 bras, 6 pairs of socks, raincoat, umbrella, small dual-voltage travel hair dryer, pajamas, 2 pairs of shoes, string bag, small fabric purse, kit, woolite/frebreze/clothesline. And probably some other stuff.
Secret Packing Tip #5: Supplement with a backpack
Depending on the airline, you can get away with a carry-on bag AND a reasonable backpack or messenger bag as a "personal item." I got this one at Target for $40. Lightweight nylon, huge interior, lots of pockets. I used another packing cube to house a shirt, socks, underwear, meds, toothbrush and toothpaste as insurance against late/lost luggage.
Into the backpack also: gray cardigan, lightweight black hoodie (super thin, from Uniqclo), nylon messenger bag for day trips, snacks, empty water bottle, passport, wallet (slimmed down to essentials for travel - you're not gonna need that JC Penneys card, are you? and all the rewards cards, etc) and all the usual "purse" stuff like ibuprofen, lip balm, etc. BUT NOT ALL THE PURSE STUFF LADIES. Seriously, I've seen some of the bags you all lug around. Unless you have a bunch of kids under the age of 9, you do not need all that shit.
And of course, electronics: iPad mini, phone and all the charging debris. I use another packing cube for this!
Now I always to get to this point in the packing and think "What am I missing? I know I am missing something..." but usually, it ends up I am not. And if I am, well, it's likely not critical. My trip isn't ruined because I should have packed that certain pair of pants, you know?