Hi Frugalistas! I get a regular stream of questions from readers about packing. In particular readers want advice on how to plan a packing list and exactly what to pack and what to leave at home. It seems frugal first class travel readers want to pack light and travel with one carry on bag or back pack. They just don’t always know how to plan a packing list for one bag travel. Even if you don’t want to travel with just one carry on bag, here is my method for working out my packing list regardless of where I’m travelling.
How to plan a packing list: choose the right shoes to pack
Yes, you hear me right. Pick your shoes first. I think choosing the right shoes to pack is critical to a successful packing list. You should be able to manage with two pairs of shoes (one pair on and one in your bag) if you choose your shoes first, and then pack clothes that can be worn successfully with those shoes. Choose your clothes first and you will find the number of shoes that become “must packs” will grow. And before you know it, you’ll have at least four pairs of shoes………
So how do you choose the right shoes to pack? The key thing is to think about where you are going and what you are doing. What you need for a resort stay is completely different to what you need for a hike, or a tour through Europe. Make one pair of shoes your “go to” pair for every day use that will fit in with your everyday activities. Then choose a second pair for either going out at night, changing up your look in the day time or for added versatility. If you are staying at a resort or a hostel, you may like to add a pair of thongs (flip flops) for the pool or shower areas.
Here are some shoe combinations that you may like to consider depending on where you are travelling:
- ankle boots and a pair of flats: my standard shoe combination for Europe and North America except in summer;
- rubber sole for easy walking
- Comfort features inbuilt
- flat walking shoes and a pair of sandals: my standard shoe combination for Europe and North America in summer. This combo is also my standard for a resort stay. (I like espadrilles as my walking shoes, but you may prefer a lighter sneaker);
- Cotton upper breathes
- Thick rubber sole perfect for cobblestones
- hiking boots for the active traveller (not me) plus a dressier pair of flats.
How to plan a packing list: choose your bottoms
With your shoes settled, it’s time to think about your bottoms. You need three bottoms for a basic packing list. Head to the wardrobe and find all the pants (and/or skirts, shorts and dresses) that match your shoes. It’s best to choose bottoms that go with both pairs of shoes, although that doesn’t always make sense (especially if one of your pairs of shoes happen to be hiking boots).
The next thing is to discard the bottoms that don’t suit the climate or things you will be doing.
You’ll probably have too many bottoms at this point, but that’s OK, we’ll whittle them down later.
How to plan a packing list: choose your tops
Tops will, of course, depend on the climate and what you are doing. My standard travel outfit tops are cardigans (sweaters) with light shirts or Tshirts underneath. For the purposes of this post, I regard a cardigan with a shirt underneath as one top.
You need 4-5 tops suitable for your climate and activities.
To start, get out your tops (or cardigans and shirts combos) that are suitable for your trip. Then ditch the ones that don’t match your bottoms.
Then check your tops and bottoms against each other. The point of this is to make sure that every top matches every bottom, and makes a sensible looking outfit. Discard any tops or bottoms that don’t go with every other top or bottom. Also make sure that if your tops are sweater/shirt combos that all your sweaters and shirts match each other.
Then include your shoes in your “checking”. You need to check that the length of pants is correct with your shoes, and check that skirt lengths create the right proportion and look with your shoes.
frugal first class travel tip:
As part of your checking you may need to do some trying on. Even if you are looking at clothes you wear frequently, it is worth trying a few combinations on to double check that everything is as you imagine, that you look fantastic, and that everything is clean and in good repair.
How to plan a packing list: choose the extras
Depending on where you are travelling your extras will include coats, jackets, swimming costumes and pool/beach cover ups.
You just need one coat, but make sure it is perfect for your destination. You may need to check that your selected tops go underneath the coat comfortably. And if you are planning on taking a jacket that may need to go under your coat, check that that also goes under your coat comfortably. Unless you are doing a lot of travel for business, I suggest either packing just one jacket (again that goes with all your bottoms, and with all the shirts you’ve included with your tops). I like trench coats for their versatility.
- Machine washable
- Longer length for keeping rain off
- Roomy enough for layering underneath
For changeable weather, such as in spring or autumn, regular readers will know that I am a big fan of packing thermal tops. I find them perfect for light layering under shirts or long sleeved tees. Depending on the climate, I pack either one or two thermal tops. For the depths of a European or North American winter, of course, you need two (and two thermal bottoms as well).
Depending on how much swimming you are planning on either one or two swimming costumes should suffice, together with one or two cover ups.
I also like to pack some scarves except for the warmest of climates. I find them handy for keeping draughts away from my neck and changing up the look of an outfit.
You also need some underwear and either socks or tights. I like three sets of underwear (one off, one on and one in the wash). Choose a colour and style that goes under every top and bottom. When you get to your underwear, there’s also an opportunity to check that your bottoms don’t need any specific underwear, or that your tops don’t need any specific bras – to cut down on packing, making sure everything goes with everything else is key.
I also like to take a total of three pairs of socks/tights. If it’s warm I may not pack any, or may just pack one pair. If you have three bottoms that are pants, then clearly don’t pack the tights and go for three pairs of socks. Vice versa if you’ve only packed skirts.
For night attire, I like to choose light lounge wear rather than a nightie or traditional pyjamas. I particularly do this when I’m flying long haul so that I can wear those clothes to get comfy on the plane, as well as to sleep when I get there. Depending on the length of your trip you need either one or two sets of night attire.
- Machine washable
- Range of fashion colours
- Roomy enough for layering underneath
Of course, there are other things you need to add to your packing list, such as toiletries (you can read about how much toiletry items you need to pack in this post), reading material and medications. Some basic first aid items and hand sanitiser are also prudent for most destinations.
What are your packing dilemmas? If you let me know, you never know, you might just inspire a future post!
Paul Williams says
Dear Jo You are dead right in everything you say, but you didn’t mention how easy it is to get in and out of airports with one little bag. Rhonda and I do Europe in any weather with 7kgs. Thanks for your tips,
Hi, thanks for your tips for traveling light. On my last trip I had 33.5kg and I had to take out 1.5kg from my suitcase. I wish I had known about these tips then, too many dresses and shoes lol. Noi.
Dresses are limiting and shoes just take up so much space and weight. You need to cut down on both…………..
Thanks Paul, yes, there are many reasons why traveling light is the only way to go – and getting in and out of the airport is definitely one of them