Living in a city that’s rated the number one travel destination on the planet, I often see tourists dragging around enormous suitcases — the kind that, in a certain sort of movie, would likely contain a dead body and/or ancient artifacts stolen from the museum. Incredibly, however, most travelers aren’t forced to buy these behemoths to accommodate criminal activity but freely select them in order to haul around extra clothes that are never worn, shoes to go with every outfit, hardbound books, full-sized bottles of shampoo, and other weighty objects they'll soon wish they'd left at home.
When it comes to luggage, less is more. A couple of years back, Rich and I went all the way with a luggage-free, six-day trip to France. I’ve never spent so much time doing laundry or fielding emails about our undergarments’ hygiene regimen. (They were washed daily, if you must know; occasionally they didn’t dry overnight so we'd finish them off in the morning with the hotel’s hair drier.)
I wasn’t keen to do quite that much daily laundry on our upcoming most unplanned, disorganized trip ever. But how exactly do you pack when you have no idea where you’ll be, what weather conditions will prevail, or how many weeks you’ll be on the road?
After some discussion, Rich and I agreed we’d pack the bare minimum of practical travel wear, including wrinkle-resistant, fast-drying garments that could be layered to adapt to spring’s changeable temperatures. If we find ourselves in sudden need of special attire — swim suits, red sequined tuxedos, or something suitable for a private audience with the Pope — we’ll buy it on the spot.
So here’s my packing list:
17-pocket travel vest
Cashmere cardigan and pullover
One pair of shoes (comfy, supportive sneakers)
Two pairs of trousers (black crepe slacks, fast-drying jeans)
Three shirts (two travel knits, one cotton)
Two long-sleeved T-shirts
One tank top
Yoga pants and short-sleeved T-shirt for lounging, yoga, sleeping
Socks and undergarments
Toiletries and medications
MacBook Air, Kindle, iPhone
Rich’s list is nearly identical, except that he will be wearing one of his trademark hats, in this case his rain-resistant Navy-blue felt fedora. And while I prefer extra layers to allow a nuanced response to changing temperatures, he wears a more robust jacket with hidden compartments, so he doesn’t need a 17-pocket vest or a cardigan to layer over his sweater. For specifics on brands and styles— our favorites, and those we avoid at all costs —see my post How to Choose Great Travel Clothes.
As for luggage, we’ll each have a small, roll-aboard suitcase, and I’ll carry a purse for incidentals like maps and water bottles. Rich is still debating whether he’ll bring a day pack or stuff his incidentals in the roomy pockets of his jacket. Our valuables will be safely zipped into the hidden inner compartments of our clothes.
Will we end up making purchases along the way? Undoubtedly, if only to replace tiny tubes of toiletries as they run out. I'm not worried about finding shopping opportunities. In my experience, just about the time you think, “Damn, I really should have brought a sun hat,” some enterprising local will be standing there offering an assortment for you to choose from. And if we do wind up needing those red sequined tuxedos or a suitcase large enough to hold ancient artifacts, I’m sure Rich has an app that will help us find what we need.
Stay tuned for updates on our trip. I’ll be posting at unplanned, disorganized intervals, so if you’re not already on my mailing list, sign up now to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I never obtain any free or discounted gear, clothing, or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know about products Rich and I find particularly useful for our kind of travel.
If you have questions or packing tips to share, I'd love to hear from you; please leave a comment below.
4/2/2018 07:30:50 pm
I love packing light for trips. Even then, I still always pack too much and there are clothes that I never wear. It is a challenge and I like challenges. I always love your tips!
4/3/2018 08:12:44 am
You're so right, Andrea, packing is always a challenge! But it's also part of the fun of the trip. At some point we always sit down and evaluate what works, and what we maybe should have brought along after all. We're always refining the list. I'll let you know how this one works out.
4/2/2018 09:12:23 pm
Thanks Karen for doing this blog. It is such fun to read and laugh with you and Rich. Have fun in Napoli! Bill
4/3/2018 08:13:18 am
Thanks, Bill! We'll keep you posted on our adventures.
4/3/2018 12:28:06 am
My sister and I are doing Iceland, Scotland and England for the month of September. I have a 20 carryon and a daypack. Of course we will have to carry lur coats(from Florida) so hope we find some cool weather. Love your helpful stories.
4/3/2018 08:17:22 am
Sounds like you and your sister have an amazing trip planned, Susan. Given your itinerary there's a good chance you'll need warm coats; coming from Florida, you'll feel the chill more than the locals. Here is Seville, on a cold day that requires my warmest jacket, I often see people in t-shirts, and I know they're from places such as England, Scotland and Iceland. Have fun and keep me posted on your adventures.
4/3/2018 05:24:53 am
Hey karen, Paul and I are going to Nevada city for 3 nights this weekend. Thanks for the packing list....!!! Now about the electronics....
4/3/2018 08:24:23 am
Have fun in Nevada City with Paul! Sounds like a fun weekend. What electronics are you taking? By far the heaviest things I carry are devices — and I have the skinniest, lightest stuff I can find. I've eliminated my bulky camera and its charger (love the photos I take with my iPhone), my back-up disk for photos (all in the Cloud now) and my hairdryer (we make sure every hotel and Airbnb has one). But still those essential little machines do add to the weight!
4/3/2018 06:31:48 pm
Some day I want to see that 17 pocket vest in action - I have to believe it might come in helpful during Semana Santa... Have a fantastic trip. We’re looking forward to hearing about it upon your return. Besos!
4/3/2018 07:19:36 pm
Brilliant idea, Sage; I could wear the vest during the processions so I could carry my water bottle, Holy Week map and guide, snacks for when I get trapped in the crowd and can't move for an hour — and I would still have my hands free for clapping at the saetas and the costaleros' fancy footwork. Definitely going to remember that for next year. And yes, I'll wear the vest over next time I see you!
4/10/2018 03:45:24 pm
The jacket looks good with nothing in it but if you are larger than a medium I imagine you would look like an elephant with the stuff in your pockets
4/5/2018 03:39:02 pm
4/6/2018 07:39:58 am
Gracias, Isabel. I am so glad you find the packing suggestions useful for your trip this summer. That should be quite an adventure; Germany is so very different from Sevilla! It is always fun to explore different parts of the world.
4/25/2018 08:43:46 am
I find that the older I get, the more medication I need to lug around with me 😂😂😂
4/25/2018 01:43:10 pm
Oh yeah Fiona, I agree and I have to take my just in case prescription medicine because if I don’t *just in case* happens. I hate that we have to take the bottles, some times I get 30 pills in a humongous bottle instead of a nice small bottle.
4/25/2018 07:08:39 pm
Yes, meds do take up space and weigh a lot. So annoying! I sometimes ask the pharmacy or doctor for smaller quantities; if it's pills I repackage it myself. When traveling in Europe, you can carry copies of any just-in-case prescriptions and often the pharmacy can fill them without a doctor getting involved. Saves a lot of fuss. And cost. Last year a visitor needed prednisone and we got it over the counter for about $2.50.
4/25/2018 09:31:57 pm
Yep, that is my just in case medicine—asthma—allergic to England (all grasses and trees—that is where I got asthma)
10/29/2018 08:52:38 pm
I have to laugh because even though I love to travel light and know you can buy anything you need, I can't stand doing laundry when I travel. I thought that before I read that you never did so much laundry. You are so stylish! Do you use the 17 pocket vest?
10/30/2018 07:19:08 am
Laundry is my life when I travel, Kitty! To me, doing laundry is far less disagreeable than hauling around massive suitcases. And by now I have a wardrobe almost exclusively made up of easy-care, travel-friendly clothes that dry overnight, making the whole process pretty simple. And yes, I do wear my 17 pocket vest for all long trips; it's a lifesaver!
10/30/2018 05:26:40 pm
I met my Swedish husband of 30 yrs while an ex-pat living in Stockholm, where he was born.
10/31/2018 08:17:06 am
Thanks so much for the tip about "Life Nomadic," Joan; I have just downloaded it. Looks like a fun read. And kudos to you for traveling with just a small backpack. If you and your husband decide to do petsitting in Europe, I'm sure you'll find lots of interest in the expat community. Here in Seville I had a very difficult time finding a dog sitter; the Spanish all use kennels or leave them with family. Expats tend to leave for longer times, making kennels a nightmare for the dogs, and not having any family nearby, there are few alternatives. Let me know if you follow up on the plan; I'd love to hear how it works out.
9/12/2022 05:15:48 pm
Not sure if you still see or respond yo comments but just found your blog. Fascinating-all of it. I love your sense of adventure. Do you recommend brand of slippers. I love my houseshoes and love you pack them in your luggage. I don’t travel a lot yet but planning a trip in October to see our daughter. Plan on taking a 20litre backpack only. Its a long weekend so not a challenge for you but I am looking forward to limiting to only necessities for me.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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