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I'm a chronic over-packer. I've been to 30+ countries, across all seven continents, schlepping way too much stuff that I don't always use or need. I often turn into a fairy godmother for travelers, sharing my miscellaneous items with friends and even strangers in my tour group, who may need a jacket, headlamp, beanie, tote, you name it. I love being overprepared and helpful. But lugging the extra baggage on planes, trains, and automobiles as well as across borders and time zones is annoying, unnecessary, backbreaking work.
Before temporarily moving to Europe for the summer, I reached out to experts in prudent packing to ensure that I was bringing everything I needed, not everything I own. Here are some of their best tips for paring down essentials and using strategic systems to fit my entire life for the next two months into one lightweight, reasonably sized checked bag. (Related: Lea Michele Shares Her Genius Healthy Travel Tricks)
1. Take the "lug" out of luggage.
While I considered a traditional backpack, I didn't really want to shoulder the load. Instead, I opted for the lightweight roller bag, Gear Warrior 32, from Eagle Creek. It offers 91 liters in a 32-inch durable and stable frame, and it weighs only 7.6 pounds when empty. I knew it would be my best option for my adventures in Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. The bag's other bells and whistles include lockable zippers with stow flap and an elastic equipment keeper cord, which was great for tethering my leather jacket to the suitcase while running through the airport terminal.
"Place the heaviest items at the bottom of the bag, near the wheels, so that when your bag is upright, those weighty pieces won't smash the lightweight ones," says Jessica Dodson, Eagle Creek resident packing expert. Fill in the nooks and crannies between your bigger items with small, bendy pieces, like resistance bands for on-the-fly workouts and a collapsible beach hat, like this one from Muji.
Photo and styling: Vanessa Powell
2. Bring versatile daypacks that you don't need to check.
When you're limiting your luggage, you need to choose pieces that are multi-use or stash-able. Enter Osprey's Ultralight Stuff Pack. "It's a thin, nylon, mini backpack that rolls up to the size of a pair of socks. It's perfect for when you want to go for a hike or hit the local market with just your water bottle and wallet," says Lindsey Beal, a packing expert at Osprey. "It's a nice alternative to your everyday, urban laptop bag when you're hitting the trails or the town." (Related: I Put These Healthy Travel Tips to the Test While Traveling Across the Globe)
Beal also recommends the small, but mighty Porter 30 as your carry-on. A staple in Osprey's collection, the Porter 30 is a sturdy, well-padded, secure pack with straightjacket compression and lockable zippers that are ideal for keeping your electronics (including laptops up to 15 inches) and other valuables safe wherever you go. Since I'm working remotely via Unsettled, I made this my everyday bag to/from the office. I also use it as a weekend getaway bag when I can leave my wheeled luggage at my home base.
3. Create a packing list in advance, then lay it all out to evaluate, KonMari-style.
This way, you can double-check if each item will really "spark joy" and make sense for your trip. Sure, you love those hot new heels that you just bought, but maybe they'll serve you better when you're back home rather than when you're walking on the cobblestone streets of Europe.
"Think through your mode of transportation, where you're going, and what you're doing. Be intentional. If you're going on safari, for example, you may only be allowed a duffel bag. Pack leggings instead of jeans to save space. Consider how much you sweat and whether you'll be able to do laundry abroad," Dodson says. "Aim to have enough clothes to get you through four or five days so that you don't have to wash items in the sink every night—that'll get old quick. Eagle Creek's Pack-It Active antimicrobial collection, which launches this July, is designed for folks who expect to sweat and want to keep the stinkiest stuff from contaminating the fresh, clean items," she adds. (Here's how your favorite celebs stay healthy while traveling.)
Photo and styling: Vanessa Powell
4. The rolling technique works, but sometimes folding is better.
After years of tightly rolling all my clothes to maximize space, I found that I gained more real estate folding items flat and stacking them in Eagle Creek's efficient Pack-It Specter Tech system. Their new Ultimate Adventure Travel Gear Kit, which combines seven Pack-It cubes of all sizes, allowed my organizational skills to really shine, inspiring me to designate specific cubes for my tops, bottoms, workout gear, undergarments, etc., so that I know exactly where everything is.
Amazingly, I was able to compress 10 summer dresses into one medium-size cube and five pairs of footwear in a shoe cube. It helps that my sneakers, New Balance's soft, featherweight Fresh Foam Cruz Knit (also available in Nubuck soon), feature a collapsible heel, making 'em a traveler-slash-runner's dream. Because these compression packs earned me some extra space in my bag, I had room for one more cube: An electric green nylon pouch, the Ultra Garment Folder from Osprey, which I used for my bulky outerwear, including a jeans jacket and a rain jacket, and other items that had no appointed cube. (Olivia Culpo has a genius hack for packing clothes.)
5. Leave liquids at home.
"Toiletries can be heavy and take up a lot of space," Dodson says. "Use Eagle Creek's 3-1-1 Travel Sac with Silicone Bottle Set to bring those must-have liquids." For other liquids that you're not married to, you can always restock at your destination. "It's fun to try toothpaste and sunscreens from drugstores in foreign countries," she says.