Packing light is an artform, one I am still trying to master.
I recently returned from a two-month trip around the United States, encompassing everything from the mountain snows of Oregon, to a desert hiking heat wave in Santa Fe, to business meetings in New York City and Washington D.C.
In total, 13 flights took me through two countries, eight states, and 53 days. The trip was a good reminder of the art of packing light, particularly in summer. In reality, I needed only 10 essential pieces. One-third of the way into my journey, I was already so tired of wrestling luggage through airports and packing and unpacking that I shipped half of what I had brought with me home to New Zealand.
Traveling light makes everything easier, from navigating airports, staircases, cab rides, and cobblestone streets to lightening your overall mindset. If you nail your basics, a handful of versatile pieces are all you’ll need.
Assuming that you’ve already packed socks, underwear, toiletries, and pajamas, here are the 10 essentials for a summer getaway:
- A good pair of pants: the right pair of long pants can go a long way. I wear long pants on airplanes to keep my legs warm, in business meetings, and while out hiking to protect against everything from sun to ticks to aggressive shrubbery. Try: the Women’s Discovery Pencil Pant or Men’s Gulf Breeze 5-Pocket Pant.
- Comfortable, lightweight shorts: It’s surprising how much of travel is ‘down’ time – relaxing with friends and kicking back at your accommodation, or getting out for a stroll to explore new surroundings. A good pair of shorts are easy to throw on and comfortable to wear. Try: the Women’s Bay Breeze Short or Jammer Short or Men’s Billy Goat Short or Convoy Utility Short.
- A versatile short-sleeved shirt: My short-sleeved shirt needs to be comfortable to throw on when I’m relaxing, it needs to dress up, be easily layered, and have a performance fabric to keep a little sweat off my back. That’s a tall order for a T, but if you choose the right shirt, it can go a long way. Try: the Women’s Merinolux Short Sleeve Henley or Wick-ed Cool Short Sleeve or Men’s Merinolux Tee or Salton Sea Short Sleeve Popover.
- A fleece or long-sleeved layer that can double as a jacket: A warmer layer is essential, even in the summer months. We all know the temperature drops after dark, particularly in the desert or mountains, and I always get chilled in air conditioning. Try: the Women’s Merinolux Wrap or Flynn Hoody or Men’s All Season Merino Thermal Full Zip or Truckee Soft Shell.
- A dressy item: There’s always a cause to dress up, so having something swish in your wardrobe that also folds up well and packs tightly is a necessity. Try: the Women’s Essential Tencel Dash Dress, Active Essential Talavera Skirt, or Expedition Chill Stretch Sky Print ¾ Sleeve. For Men’s, try the Point Reyes Plaid Short Sleeve or the Painted Canyon Plaid Long Sleeve.
- Swimsuit: You never know when you’re going to need it, so never leave home without one.
- A sarong or quick-dry towel: I always carry a sarong with me. They’re so versatile. They can act as beach blanket, cover-up, towel, skirt, or even a scarf in a pinch. If you don’t have one handy, they’re usually cheap and easy to buy, and make for a great travel keep-sake. Not interested in a sarong? A quick-dry towel doesn’t take up much space and they come in very handy.
- Boots or walking shoes: A lightweight, sturdy pair of hiking boots or walking shoes always make my list. Everyone has his or her individual preference, but mine is Salomon’s X Ultra Mid 2 GTX W because they’re extremely lightweight and breathable yet sturdy, and the style and charcoal color are discreet, even in a business meeting.
- Sandals: As with hiking boots, it comes down to personal preference, but I’m partial to Keens, either the Women’s Dauntless Strappy II for more casual wear, or the Women’s Clearwater CNX if I’m going to do some adventuring. Either way, my three requirements are comfort, protection, and style.
- A hat: Never leave home without a hat. Whether you prefer a bucket hat, sun hat, a baseball cap, or something more stylish, a hat will keep you cool, protect you from the sun, provide coverage on those bad hair days, and give your travel wardrobe a little extra kick when you need it.
Make sure that everything goes with everything, and choose fabrics that travel well – wrinkle-resistant, easy to care for, moisture-wicking, and/or sun-protecting. I opt for performance clothes that look good, rather than fancy pieces that are useful only in specific scenarios. Make every piece earn its place in your suitcase!
Did I leave anything off the list? Tell us in the comments!