Why Packing Light Is a State of Mind

Why more space in your suitcase equates to more room in your heart for amazing travel experiences

[Editor's note: Kelsea Crawford is a recent University of Georgia college graduate and travel writer who's off traveling Europe for the summer. We asked her to file dispatches with us as she roams the continent. Look for her writing on the WhereTraveler blog.]

Preparing for a big trip is exciting and inspiring. Even the "work" of researching the destination, planning what sights to see, finding the best restaurants and studying up on the public transit system all build anticipation of the travel experience. On the other hand, deciding how and what to pack is a completely different story, one filled with stress and anxiety and that dreadful feeling that you are never going to fit everything you need (or want) to bring. Trust me, I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. I’ve spent what felt like half of my trip lugging around 40 pounds of stuff that I often didn’t wear, didn’t need and certainly could have left at home. So when packing for an 8-month solo trip to Europe, I did something totally radical: I decided to pack light.

And by packing light, I mean really light. Only what was absolutely necessary came with me. Here's what I learned:

My first tip: Interrogate your clothes.

Each piece of clothing underwent an intense interrogation process: Can it be worn in more ways than one? Can it be dressed up, or dressed down, depending on how I need it? Can I wear this in the spring, but then when I need to, add tights or a scarf and wear it in the fall? Only the shoes that I could imagine myself spending the entire day walking in were considered (OK, and one pair of heels). What passed this test came with, and what didn’t stayed home. Needless to say, most things stayed home. This was not only lighter packing but also smarter packing; something that with a little time and effort anyone can do well.

Packed suitcase

My second tip: Stick with a theme.

Sticking to a neutral color palette like black or navy blue for your heavier items like jackets, pants and shoes will make you look and feel more pulled together despite having limited options. Use accessories like scarves, funky socks or jewelry to add pops of color and to switch things up a bit. After all, your clothes are a representation of your personality and style when traveling. They should be seen as an asset, not as something that slows you down.

My third tip: Leave room for the experiences (and packing for the return flight).

After fully committing to this plan, I noticed much of my anxiety about packing had disappeared. I was able to focus my energy less on what I would bring and more on what I would find; the space left in my suitcase became space that was opening in my mind for experiences and transformations that we are all searching for when we travel. I was able to fit everything I needed into one carry on bag, a backpack, and one leather tote bag with room to spare. Being light on my feet and able to move around at a moments notice is an amazing feeling, and I often find myself thinking that I could have packed even lighter (maybe even like Austin-based writer Clara Bensen whose 21-day Europe trip didn't involve a suitcase, a backpack or a change of clothes). I like to think of it this way: the less that you bring with, the more that you have to bring back—both in terms of possessions and experiences. So spend a bit of time and energy preparing, leave your extra baggage at home, and allow yourself to experience how liberating it feels to travel light.