The #1 piece of advice you hear from frequent travellers: Pack light. Lay out everything you think you need. Then put away half:
You see that pile of stuff sitting on your bed, waiting to be stuffed into your suitcase? Take half of that stuff and put it back in your closet. Seriously. I know you think you’ve already narrowed your pile down from what you really want to bring. I know you don’t see how you’ll ever survive for weeks/months/years on that meager selection. But you will, I promise. And you’ll thank me when you’re dragging/carrying an already heavy suitcase/backpack down a 500-year-old cobblestone road. If you don’t ditch the stuff now, you’ll ditch it on the road. Trust us: unlike most scenarios in life, having too little is far, far better than having too much.
It’s pretty good advice for how many features you “pack” into a product too. Lay out everything you think your product needs and then cut out half.
You’ll be liberated:
1) You don’t have to spend as much upfront.
2) You don’t have as much weight to carry.
3) In truth, you won’t actually need a lot of the things you fantasize you’ll need.
4) You can pick up whatever you didn’t include when you get there.
5) You have extra room for future additions.
“Proper Trip Preparation” offers similar advice:
Remember and repeat these words: PACK LIGHT. PACK LIGHT, PACK LIGHT. A good rule of thumb is to pack half of what you need, then take half of that out of the bag. Face it, do you really want to be schlepping around a three suitcases on the train or dragging them up five floors of narrow stairs in Amsterdam?
Keep your product light and it will have a lot better chance of chasing down that train about to leave the station.
Related: Getting Real: Half, Not Half-Assed
Lar Vealeon 06 Oct 08
Can you email this to my missus?
tom s.on 06 Oct 08
Graeme Shawon 06 Oct 08
This is absolutely true. I’m not a particularly seasoned traveler, but on the couple of walking/camping/cycling holidays I’ve had, there are always things I’ve not used at all that I’ve regretted bringing, but I’ve never once regretted leaving ANYTHING at home.
Tim Jahnon 06 Oct 08
So true. When I went backpacking in New Mexico years ago in high school, I started the week with a 55 lb pack. Within days, I lowered that to 35 lbs or so. Shoulda packed lighter!
bryanlon 06 Oct 08
I’m going on a trip for 4 days. I’m not only going to pack 2 days worth of underwear. It isn’t civilized.
Charlie Parkon 06 Oct 08
Matt, I think this is your best post yet. Thanks.
Carlon 06 Oct 08
So very true. Packing light has other benefits, if you pack light enough you can bring everything carry on which makes dealing with air travel a little more bearable.
Last October my wife and I went to Mexico for a week, one last trip before our first child was born. We decided to only pack one bag each as carry on and it worked great.
I was able to bring a weeks worth of clothing, laptop and camera equipment in 2 carry on items. A backpack and a camera bag. She was able to do the same with her backpack and smaller carry on item.
And we STILL had plenty of items that neither of us used on the trip. We could have packed even lighter.
It was the best air travel experience I have ever had.
Our son was born in May and we took our first trip with him last month to Colorado. It was a little bit different. We each had a backup as a carry on item, and then we checked 2 items which were primarily baby related. We still ended up with a lot of things that we could have left at home.
Next time we will be able to pack even lighter, although the baby certainly throws a new wrinkle in things.
Gregon 06 Oct 08
“3) In truth, you won’t actually need a lot of the things you fantasize you’ll need.”
Don’t pack protection!?
James McKinneyon 06 Oct 08
So, I guess I need to decide between packing a top or a bottom…
Peter Hentgeson 06 Oct 08
A great site for learning to pack light (what to choose to bring, but also what to pack it in and how to pack it) is One Bag.
GeeIWonderon 06 Oct 08
Nah, not true—at least not if you set reasonable terms for packing anyways.
Definitely true for closets though.
Timon 06 Oct 08
I’ve noticed again on the Twitter 37signals feed that Basecamp was down over the weekend … yet, the Status page (status.37signals.com) was not updated.
This has happened now a few times over the past month or so.
What page should I monitor for Basecamp outages? Should it be the Status page or the Twitter feed?
Jason Heisson 06 Oct 08
If I followed this advice literally I’d rarely leave the house with more than a sock and a t shirt. :)
I have never had that urge to take a ton of stuff on trips, and am always amazed to see people hauling around multiple suitcases. I spent three weeks in Europe and just took a knapsack. On business trips I almost always just take a knapsack and a laptop bag. The knapsack doesn’t look quite as professional as a roller bag, but it is a lot easier to get in and out of shuttle buses, airplanes, etc. and when walking long distances through airports. For trips that do require more stuff I have a larger travel bag with backpack straps hidden behind a flap on the back.
Flying to go skiing is the one time I feel like I have way too much baggage. Hauling skis, boots, helmet, etc. around is a royal pain, but so is renting gear (and rental gear is often junk anyway).
Anyway, I definitely agree with the idea of packing light and I suppose if you are inclined to pack a big suitcase to the gills then this advice of putting half of your stuff away is a good deal.
Don Schenckon 06 Oct 08
Just returned from my week surfing trip at Kitty Hawk.
Packed light … but did some shopping while there! So … yeah … pack light and leave room for the new stuff!
ddon 06 Oct 08
Travelin’ light is the only way to fly…
Marc Ron 07 Oct 08
My partner and I traveled for a year with just one 23 liter and one 35 liter backpack (60 to 80 liter packs are more common). Nothing was strapped to the outside. We could put our shoulder day-pack inside one of the packs. That lasted until month 10 when we needed to buy hiking boots.
Trevor Smithon 07 Oct 08
As I go into the final stretch of building my web app – this is a nice metaphor to remind me that -
I won’t need half as many features as I think I need and I can always add exactly what I need once it’s launched.
Half, not half-assed.
John V. Keoghon 07 Oct 08
Underwear can be washed in a sink.
This is all true, my partner always insists that I take extra shorts and t-shirts that never get used.
Marc Elmlundon 07 Oct 08
Packing only what you really need is an art in itself and it will take some trial and error before you have it down but taking away half is at least a good start ;-)
I spent a few years on the road as a “professional” bum/backpacker. Being on the road month after month after month in every conceivable climate and locations, from remote in-the-middle-of-nowhere tropical rain forest to busy snow covered cities you learn that every gram of packing counts and that less really is more. Less “stuff” to worry about, more freedom to enjoy yourself.
But there is no need to restrict “half of what you think you need” just to traveling. Apply the same principle to just about everything in your life. Take a hard look at all the “stuff” you have accumulated throughout your life and be honest, is all that really necessary?
I stopped the long term traveling years ago and am now enjoying family life but still try to avoid things that aren’t strictly necessary. For instance, I only own two pair of pants since I can only wear one pair at a time. :-)
Frank Joneson 07 Oct 08
More than once I have found that my hotel has a pool—but I forgot to bring shorts and the shops in the business area of town are too expensive; or I get some minor ailment, and don’t have the medicine, but the pharmacies are closed or I feel too bad to go looking; or I spill something on my clothes, but there is no time to dry laundry before I fly to my next destination; or I run out of reading material before a flight, but don’t want to buy expensive and dull airport books.
Pack what you need.
jammuson 07 Oct 08
“Apply the same principle to just about everything in your life.” True enough, except for when it comes to cooking mushrooms. Mushrooms are the exception that proves this rule as you’ll always need twice as many as you think you do.
Keithon 07 Oct 08
“Apply the same principle to just about everything in your life.”
You clearly have never travelled with an infant… Packing half is a recipe for needing something from the other half? Think you need 3 onesies? You probably will going down to 2 is inviting disaster. Think you’ll only need 4 oz. of premade formula….You’ll need 6 oz.
This is great advice for adult travellers though. Now if only I could convince my wife of this!
Marc Elmlundon 07 Oct 08
@ jammus As I don’t eat mushrooms, I have no problem in carrying around twice (or even three times) the amount I “need”. hehe ;-P
On a similar note, my grandmother told me once regarding cooking fish – “Use enough salt that you think that you have way too much salt. Then double it.”
Being vegetarian I wouldn’t know though.
@Keith Point well taken regarding infants. They do require some special consideration.
As for the wife issue, it will take a long time of hard and dedicated effort but I’m sure it can be done.
I’m lucky enough to have found one that is very low maintenance and she travels almost as light as I do.
mieleeon 07 Oct 08
Love the concept. I wonder how much product development overpacking comes from “gotcha” product review meetings where people pose the “well, how will you handle users who…” scenarios to seem smart and thoughtful. Reminds me of how keeping it simple is a philosophy that everyone needs to believe for products to start simple.
Lisa Firkeon 07 Oct 08
I think traveling lightly is directly related to living lightly:
Living lightly can be tricky, though. It’s one thing to let you of one’s own sense of what’s necessary, but society itself hangs on to its ideas of what’s required. Esp. for women.
Martialon 08 Oct 08
Greetings from mostly sunny Entebbe, Uganda. I’ve been here nearly two weeks at a professional meeting (meaning jacket, button-down shirts and slacks) with only a carry-on. Which I didn’t come close to filling. (I use a Red Oxx AirBoss; not cheap, but it’s been around a pretty rough world for a few years and still looks new – and I can buy what seem to be piles of presents).
I have a colleague who always gets pulled aside by US Customs because he can’t possibly have been out of the country for so long (3-6 months at a stretch) with so little luggage. In his laptop bag he carries one extra of shirt, underwear, and socks. If necessary, he buys the local equivalent of a pair of khakis if he needs them. Comb and toothbrush he carries, but all other hygenic needs can be met by borrowing or stocking up on small bottles at hotels.
It takes practice. But I don’t waste any of my life waiting for luggage and very little in lines for taxis. And when I get home and just walk off the airplane, through customs, and into my wife’s arms ten minutes after the plane docks, that’s a better life.
Social Media Marketingon 08 Oct 08
Thats so true but I believe that same principle should be applied in all aspects of your life. Trust me, life would be really easy and simple for sure ..
Mr. Powerson 09 Oct 08
Good post. Another good point, is to pick the right case.
This discussion is closed.