How to,  Travel

Master Packing for Every Length of Trip

Dear Carla,

I’ve been told that I’m a pro when it comes to packing and, even to this day, friends ask me for advice when they need to fit a lot into a suitcase, sometimes inviting me over to pack it for them! I wouldn’t say that packing is my special gift or anything like that; I’ve simply packed for so many different trips of different lengths that I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t, what’s essential and what isn’t, and what I always regret bringing (or not bringing).

The hardest part about giving advice on this topic is that my thought process changes a lot depending on whether someone is going on a weekend trip, a longer trip (like 1-2 weeks), or for a long-term stay (ie. study abroad semester or year). Thus, I’m going to break down the details of what I personally do for each of these three categories. As with most everything we say on this blog, please keep in mind that these are MY preferences and yours may lean towards something else. Before you start packing for any trip be sure to consider your travel style, the travel style of anyone else you may be traveling with, and what your priorities are in general!


Weekend Trip

If we’re being honest, I think the weekend trip can be the hardest one to pack for! You are generally only taking a small bag (i.e. carry-on or backpack) and you want to ensure you have everything you need to shower, sleep, and explore for two nights without going overboard on the weight, liquids, etc. It’s definitely a mind game and it can be much harder if you’re a girl trying to decide how many health and beauty products to bring along! When trying to determine this balance I ask myself the following questions:

What does my itinerary look like?

It’s a nice thought to want to get dressed up and therefore need my heels, a cute dress, and hair and makeup products for Saturday night. However, the reality is that when I’m going on a weekend trip I generally want to make the most of the little time I have and thus spend the entire day out sightseeing, only to grab a quick meal on the way home before crashing at the accommodations early in the evening. Therefore, it’s much more important for me to pack comfortable shoes and sunscreen than heels and makeup.

Am I going to full-out shower?

Maybe this seems like an unhygienic question to some people but the reality is that unless I am going swimming or working up a real sweat over the weekend, I likely don’t need to wash my hair over the span of two nights. If that’s the case, I can avoid packing shampoo, conditioner, and any styling products altogether. But of course, I want to have a realistic idea of my itinerary before making this decision.

Pro-tip: If I’m going to be spending time outdoors in a hot and sticky location, I make sure to bring at least conditioner and a comb in case I change my mind.

Example of my packing list

(Keeping in mind that I can wear my bulkier items)
– two tops
– one bottom (shorts, skirt, jeans, etc – wear another)
– pajamas
– eye shade (sleeping mask – because I hate waking up to the sun)
– sweater or cardigan*
– socks and underwear
– flip flops or travel slippers
– basic toiletries (facewash, bodywash, toothbrush & toothpaste, sunscreen, mascara, q-tips, deodorant- all travel-sized)
– chargers and adapters (if applicable)

*In the summer, I’m sure to wear or carry this with me on the way to my destination. In other seasons, I do so in addition to a coat (or wear a coat and pack the sweater). I’m sure to always have something like this with me because I get cold inside air-conditioned building even when it’s hot out.


One-to-two week trip

This sort of trip can also be tricky because it’s right in that range where some people can comfortable fit all the clothes they’ll need for the entire trip (probably repeating bottoms and cardigans a few times) whereas others need to plan a laundry trip along the way. When trying to determine how much to bring I ask myself the following questions:

Do I plan to do laundry at some point?

As unrealistic as I think images like these are, I do believe you have to learn what are YOUR essentials for a weekend trip so you can pack accordingly.

Generally, I’m one of make-it-the-whole way people and so my packing lists allows for this. However, you can definitely cut down on items if you’re factoring in a washing day. Just be sure to keep in mind that in Spain (and Europe in general) it is not common to use dryers for your clothes. If I’m staying in an AirBnB or hostel that boasts a washing machine that’s a great perk, but I’m also aware that I probably won’t have a dryer. Thus, I’m sure to do my washing on the first day I arrive at the accommodations rather than the last! If I give myself enough time, hang-drying works perfectly but I never want to risk having to transport damp clothes to my next location, one of the big factors for just packing enough.

What kind of luggage will I bring?

I like to have a lot of things with me, but it is usually not worthwhile for me to pay for a checked bag if I’m flying or to lug around a full-size suitcase if I plan to be in and out of trains, buses, and Bla Bla cars. I always think carefully about how much time I will have to spend with my luggage (i.e. those days when you arrive in a city at 10 am but can’t check into accommodations till 3 pm) and weigh that against how many different outfits and products I ideally want with me. In the summer, I can totally get away with my carry-on roller suitcase and a shoulder-bag. In the winter it gets a little more complicated. If I’m traveling with my husband I also have the advantage of choosing the middle-ground of the two of us going in on one checked/full-size suitcase together.

Example of my packing list

– 5-12 tops*
– 3-6 bottoms (shorts, skirt, jeans, etc)
– 2-4 dresses / nicer outfits added to top/bottom count
– pajamas (1-2)
– eye shade
– sweater or cardigan (1-3)
– socks, bras, and underwear
– flip flops or travel slippers
– activewear (if applicable)
– swimwear (if applicable)
– two pairs of comfy shoes (wear the third [bulkiest] pair)
– toiletries (face-wash, body-wash, shampoo, conditioner, hairbrush, hair care products, toothbrush & toothpaste, sunscreen, basic make-up, q-tips, deodorant, nail file and clippers, perfume, lotion—split between travel-size and normal-size if taking a checked bag)
– accessories (scarf, jewelry, second purse/bag, etc)
– entertainment options (book, journal, headphones, downloaded podcasts)
– chargers and adapters (if applicable)

*In the summer, I can easily pack clothes for each day, in the winter I plan to reuse or wash clothes halfway through the trip (also very much depends on the size of luggage!).


Long-term stay

The long-term stay sounds the most overwhelming but, trust me, once you do it a few times it starts to feel easier! For me, this is because I don’t have to think about perfect combinations the way I do for shorter trips. When going somewhere for a week I want to bring only the three pairs of pants that can go with every top I’ve packed, only the one cardigan I can wear with each outfit, and only the comfiest shoes I own.

Short-term travel means I want to pack as efficiently and reasonably as possible. Long-term stays mean I can throw in all my favorites and simply build a mini wardrobe abroad. Of course, I’m still being realistic enough to know it will be a smaller wardrobe than I’ve amassed at home but the possibilities are much greater! For first-timers, the best advice is start packing as though you were traveling to your destination for just two weeks. From there, expand on your options based on the following questions:

What clothes have I genuinely worn in the last month?

If I’ve worn it in that time frame, chances are it’s one of my go-tos that I will be looking for wherever I am. (Obviously, if you’re currently working in a professional position and won’t be doing so abroad use your best judgment as to whether that clothes would be useful to you or not but, in general, this is a good standard to follow. After I make my main pile with those clothes I add in the things I love that didn’t make the first cut and anything I’ve been told will be essential where I’m going (i.e. when I moved to Costa Rica I prioritized having a raincoat and rain boots even though these were items I never used at home).

Remember, you don’t want to look like this on the day you leave your abroad adventure!What specific health and beauty products do I absolutely need?

When I first came to study abroad in Spain I had no idea if I would be able to find the same brands here so I packed enough face-wash, acne spot treatment, sunscreen, and make-up to last me the entire five months. Now, I recognize that’s not essential and pack only what I have on hand to get me started. I even only bring travel-sizes of shampoo, conditioner, and the like—or, better yet, I pack solid versions of these. Prescriptions, however, are another story so be sure to read through the whole thought process on that in this article!

Pro-Tip:If you’re coming to Spain (as well as many other countries), you’re likely to find the same products once you arrive! The prices may vary slightly, but this price-check we conducted last year showed us that oftentimes the differences were minimal.

Example of my packing list

– 12-25 tops
– 5-10 bottoms (shorts, skirt, jeans, etc)
– 5-8 dresses / nicer outfits added to top/bottom count
– pajamas (2-3)
– eye shade
– sweater or cardigan (1-3)
– socks, bras, and underwear
– flip flops and travel slippers
– 3-6 pairs of comfy shoes (wear the bulkiest pair)
– toiletries (face-wash, body-wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair brush, hair care products, toothbrush & toothpaste, sunscreen, make-up, q-tips, deodorant, nail file and clippers, nail polish, perfume, lotion—I’m actually more likely to pack only travel-size for long-term because I’m happy to purchase normal-size upon arrival)
– accessories (scarf, jewelry, second purse/bag, etc)
– entertainment options (books, journal, headphones, downloaded podcasts)
– laptop, chargers, and adapters (if applicable)

*As you’ll notice from the numbers, I definitely increase the number of tops and bottoms but all my other items only slightly increase or stay the same. Many people will tell you that you only need to pack for 2 weeks no matter how long you are staying, which is relatively accurate. You’re always going to be able to wash your clothes every two weeks. I simply tend to have plenty of room to take more and enjoy having options when I’m living somewhere for numerous months.

PinterestSo that’s a very long way to say “I pack differently depending on the length of my trip!” Still, I hope the questions, examples, and details help you to figure out your own priorities and style when it comes to packing so that you can master the method that works best for you. Do you have other questions you consider that help you with the process? Feel free to share your experience with us and other readers down below.

Happy packing!


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