Packing light: The tale of a reformed over-packer
I used to have two very different philosophies when it came to packing for work trips and for pleasure trips. For work, I have a very large, expandable rolling suitcase that I fill to the brim. I then pack some kind of tote or carry on as well as a small purse. BRING ALL OF THE THINGS might be a good explanation for that. When I travel for fun, I edit heavily because I want to carry on and not pay baggage fees. I normally re-wear things, especially if I have access to laundry facilities somewhere along the course of the trip, and I minimize beauty products, color palettes, and accessories.
For my trip to Iceland I used the two bags above: a SMALL, borrowed rolling suitcase from my sister and the polka dot soft-sided bag that I used as a carry-on. The very small roller was checked, it was tiny, I’ve never packed in anything that small yet I managed to do it for a week. A week with cold weather clothing, 4 pairs of large shoes (and came home with a pair of souvenir flip flops!), a marathon and all its necessary gear, and a few books.
I think that packing for Iceland in summer is probably easier than packing for winter. I like climates where you don’t get sweaty walking around but you’re also not freezing, so 40-50 degrees is my ideal, they make for easy packing. I don’t get cold easily, so I’m lucky to be able to pack lightly for such a trip. I don’t want to entirely bore you with details but I made a packing list of everything I needed to bring two months before, to assess whether I needed the big suitcase or the small one.
I decided I could squeeze everything into the small one and pack my race clothing in my carry-on. I know that might seem silly to a non-runner but let me explain, if your luggage is lost, finding some new clothes is easy. If your marathon ensemble is lost in that luggage, you’re faced with wearing something entirely new for 26.2 miles. Did you know clothes can chafe your skin when you’re sweaty and rub your skin raw and sometimes you don’t know this until they’ve been on a test run of longer than 13-15 miles? (Pun intended) That’s why you want to wear something you are comfortable in. I have a particular pair of capri compression leggings from Old Navy that I wore in the Napa Valley marathon and in the Reykjavik marathon. They’re comfortable, they don’t chafe, slip, or rub, and they stay up. So in my carry on I had those pants, a long sleeve running shirt, a running tank, my shoes, socks, sports bra, hat, all snacks and nutrition for the race, Garmin watch and charger, hand held water bottle.
My carry on also had my: North Face ThermoBall jacket, a book, phone charger, ziploc baggie of toiletries, a waterproof plastic file containing all of my travel info, passport copies, excursion itineraries (anything I’d booked), and a ziploc bag of my makeup. A last minute decision was made to not bring my whole makeup bag, I brought mascara, concealer, eyebrow powder compact, tinted moisturizer, a rollerball bottle of perfume, one bright lipstick, and a tiny, sample sized eyeshadow with a brush. Do you know how many times I wore makeup? Twice. Once out to dinner with a friend and the other time to the circus the day of the marathon. What a waste of space. Next time I travel I’m only bringing mascara, lipstick, a tiny vial of perfume, and some tinted moisturizer. Who needs the rest? Apparently I don’t. The carry-on was three-quarters full, I advise this capacity or less if you plan on bringing back souvenirs.
My strategy for packing for this trip can be summed up in one word: LEGGINGS. I brought:
- 4 pairs of black leggings, (I wore 2 pair and rewashed them, so PACK LESS)
- three long shirts (blue, black and red plaid, and blue/black polka dots)
- a grey, thick open cardigan (very warm)
- a big, bright teal scarf
- a fitted, black and white striped boatneck dress that I wore over leggings one evening
- three neutral-colored, long tanks for layering under shirts and over leggings
- a warm beanie hat (never worn)
- two pairs of black, quick-dry, ankle-length running tights/leggings for hiking
- one black heavier running shirt that is a quick-dry, asymmetric quarter zip up, turtleneck style, it was great for one of the excursions and it is cute, warm, and stylish, it is from LOLE and I can’t find a link to it
- lightweight flannel pajamas (I like to be warm at night)
- black leather booties (for city walking, they are VERY comfortable)
- trail running shoes (for the excursions)
- socks (not enough!) and underwear
- toiletries such as deodorant, 3 oz bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bar of soap, razor, facial moisturizer, facial cleanser, eye makeup remover wipes (which are great when you need to clean your hands too!) and 5 .5 ounce packages of lotions that I used and then tossed the cardboard packaging
I walked on to the plane wearing a tank top, skirt, Vans, and carrying a jean jacket because it was hot in both Chicago and Boston but planes are cold. I would probably just wear the booties next time and wear a dress for a boho look. Four pairs of shoes was too many. All of my shoes were packed in those little drawstring backpacks that I get from races. I LOVE those for packing shoes because I do not want to buy special shoe bags. The booties had not been worn prior to Reykjavik and so the bag they were packed in became my “purse” for excursions when I didn’t want to carry a real purse. My original plan was to pack an empty backpack in the suitcase (and my sister laughed at me) but she was correct, it didn’t fit.
I always roll all of my clothes and it was a tight squeeze going there, coming back was ridiculous. My dirty clothes were stuffed in the extra drawstring bags I had stashed and they were not rolled so the suitcase was not carefully arranged and easy to close. It was a nightmare, lesson learned. I will even roll the dirty clothes from now on to save space. I also hit the duty-free quite hard so I had two large bottles of liquor and some mini-bottles. I should be thankful I had that big sweater and lots of shoes to stuff them in with clean socks!
I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to packing, but my new strategy for any trip over a week is to pack basic colors, stick to a palette, and plan on finding a laundry facility - I washed clothes a few hours after I finished running the marathon. I also highly advise leggings because you can dress them up or down, they’re comfortable, they pack very easily, and they can be worn with nearly any shoe, if you think about it. They can also be worn under skirts or dresses if it is too cold to go bare-legged. For future trips, I will stick to booties or knee-high boots, depending on the season, some kind of running shoe, and a ballet flat or the trail runners again depending on the activities I have planned.
This is dragging out what is probably a very boring topic to some, but packing light was my goal and I succeeded. I now will invest in a small suitcase for myself so that I don’t have to borrow one next time. I am capable of surviving with less stuff - which is actually the mantra I came back with after this trip. I want to travel, so much, the 40 countries before 40 is an achievable goal and this trip reaffirmed my belief that my money is best spent on travel and things that make me happy, like my hobbies and experiences. Clothes and things are not important.