I'm currently abroad for almost six weeks. During this time, I will have been to Namibia, Germany and Norway, which as one might guess all have pretty varied climates.
I only brought a carry-on bag and a personal item.
As a 20-something-year-old female, this may sound crazy. My mother was certainly surprised when she dropped me off at the airport... she thought I had forgotten my bag. I promise I'm not a magical travel-genius, as much as I probably claim to be around my family/friends. But the fact of the matter is, traveling light is one of the best things you could ever do to yourself... and it's surprisingly easy.
Don't know where to start? Here are my top 10 tips for traveling light and maximizing space:
1. All of the research. Are you going somewhere warm? Somewhere cold? What do the locals wear? Is dress more or less conservative than your hometown? I usually add the cities I'll be visiting to my phone's weather application when I buy my plane ticket, partially to get excited about the trip but mostly to pay attention to what the weather is like so that it's easier once I start packing. Looking at historical temperatures and weather patterns is always helpful, too. If you know someone who has spent time where you're going, talk to them.
2. Lay out everything you think you want to pack and put back half. My mom has been telling me to do this for years, but until I decided to move to South America for a semester, I didn't realize how important and useful this advice was. Be very strict with what you discard -- even if there is a little bit of extra space left at the end of the process, leave it alone. You will have access to laundry facilities (or soap and water) anywhere in the world -- the locals have to wash their clothing too -- so don't worry about not having a fresh outfit every day.
3. On the way there, fold your clothes. On the way home, roll them. Chances are, by the end of your excursion your clothes are mostly dirty and you'll be trying to cram in the clothes/other souvenirs into your suitcase anyway. Generally speaking, rolling your clothes takes up less room than folding them does. However, some items (sweatshirts, some jeans, etc) are easier to pack flat. Experiment with what you're taking to discover the best method for you.
4. Pack clothes that all match. I have a lot of solid, neutral colored pieces that can mix and match in almost any combination. If you have to be dressier, consider bringing jewelry or a flashier cardigan/scarf/other accessory.
5. Scarves, scarves, scarves. This is where to get creative with the colors/patterns/etc. You don't need to bring one for every outfit, but they can brighten up an outfit and can go with almost anything.
6. Minimize your shoes. I love shoes, and own way more than I actually wear on a regular basis. When you're traveling, wear the heaviest/bulkiest pair even if they aren't the easiest to slip on and off in the security line. For this trip, I have a pair of black ballet flats, my red Toms, a pair of sandals and my five-year-old Sperrys. If needed, I can discard them en route, but as of now everything still fits with extra room in my carry-on.
7. Bring and use gallon-size ziplock bags. Do not think that you can buy them anywhere in the world -- ziplock bags are apparently not sold throughout the world. Whether you're masking the smell of shoes, keeping your clean underwear away from everything else, or providing a waterproof safe-house for your phone or camera when you leave your umbrella behind, these come in handy on an overly-regular basis.
8.Leave the hair products and styling do-dads at home. My hair is short enough not to really benefit from a hair dryer or straightener, but unless you are overly specific about your hair care, buy what you need when you arrive or forego it altogether. This only takes up space that could be used in a much better way.
9. Leave room for a sweater or another significantly warm jacket. Even if you think you'll always be warm or that you'll never need anything warmer than a light jacket, you will most likely be surprised. I, stupidly, didn't realize that the sun would set by about 6 p.m. in Windhoek... thus the temperature would drop significantly. Luckily, I'm always freezing in airplanes so I had a sweatshirt with me.
10. Don't be afraid to discard items. Unless you have one-of-a-kind tailored clothes, you can always replace something. Get a stain on your shirt from the chocolate you made in the rainforest? Toss it. Go wading through more mud than people should ever have to touch? Toss your pants.
There are many other tips and tricks for traveling light and flying without having to worry about losing your baggage. Got one (or more) to share? Tell us in the comments.
Find More Student Travel Stories on The College Tourist.
Read The Ten Commandments of Packing Here.