Imagine: You’re in your hotel room, trying on outfits for dinner amidst piles of crumpled t-shirts. You’re trying not to throw a fit because your polka dots and plaids clash. You put on yet another ensemble, but the stripes and neons don’t match up. You’ve wasted a precious hour of downtime trying out different options when you could have been relaxing, and suddenly your life is spiraling into a puddle of regret because in all of the hullabaloo back home, you forgot to pack your deodorant.

This doesn’t have to be you.

Here are some legit tips to consider when packing a bag that’s not only light, but also has all the essentials.

1. Layer up, just in case.

Largo Cardigan(-ish Pullover)

We all have that friend who carries around a scarf, a hat, a cardigan, and an umbrella, just in case it rains or the restaurant is drafty. Even on the hottest of days, you’ll catch them pulling out a scarf whenever the A/C is on full blast.

Guess what? That’s you now. You’re welcome.

The secret to successful travels lies mostly in temperature control. Not even kidding. There’s nothing worse than being too hot or too cold, so no matter what your destination, you should always bring along a cardigan and a scarf. Planes can get cold. Restaurants get cold. Even on a sunny, sandy beach, rain can happen. You’ll be the most prepared traveler in your troupe.

The key to this trick is to keep climate in mind: For tropical destinations, a light knit will do, but if you’re expecting snow, you’ll obviously want more bulk. For cold weather, you’ll already have some long sleeves packed away, but for the bulk layer, anything you can throw over a tee works.

For best results, aim for something versatile that can be easily added or removed at the faintest hint of a breeze. A knit blazer can really dress up a pair of jeans if you have dinner plans, but if casual is more your speed, bring that puffy vest that’s usually reserved for post-workout grocery shopping.

Just keep in mind you can only fit ONE bulky layer. Choose wisely.

2. Be Switzerland – keep your color palette neutral.

Color scheme

If you try to pack the rainbow, you’re going to have a bad time. That said, keeping it neutral doesn’t have to limit you to boring beige.

It’s true that you’ll never go wrong with staples like blacks, whites, grays, and browns, but if you want to spice things up a bit, there are plenty of other options you can explore. Try some jewel tones, like deep greens, reds, and purples. Lay them out with each piece in the Yes pile, to see how well they pair with some of the more natural hues.

The secret here is not to overwhelm yourself with too many color options. If each piece can effortlessly pair with at least two other items, you’re on the right track.

Still need a little help? If you’re at a loss for color pairings, look up a few scenic photos from your destination:

Tatyana Vyc/Shutterstock

Tatyana Vyc/Shutterstock

Whether you’re headed for the sea, the snow, or the city, it’s safe to say there’s a fairly neutral palette to draw from; find the three or four main colors in the photo that you can pull directly from your wardrobe. Chances are, these clothing options will be fairly interchangeable, which means more versatility when it’s time to choose an outfit.

3. Don’t forget to accessorize.

Accessories are key. They’re small, easy to pack, and are a great way to add a little color and dimension to your look.

Allow yourself three non-essential items that tuck nicely into the corners of your bag. Personally, I use a bold lipstick and bright pair of shoes to top off an ensemble with a pop of color, but if pointy flats and makeup aren’t your thing, try a hat, some jewelry, and that scarf your S.O. got you for your birthday.



Ties and belts are super easy to roll up and nestle into a shoe (or wherever there’s room), and they can work wonders with a pair of jeans and that cardigan you picked out earlier.

Tommaso Delpiano/Shutterstock

Tommaso Delpiano/Shutterstock

If you’ve still got that photo from Tip#2 handy and need a boost of creativity, take another look to see what little accents you might be able to borrow for your wardrobe. Is there a tiny bit of red popping out of those blues and grays? Or maybe some purple and yellow in all of that greenery? This is your chance to try something new, so be brave and try a pairing you maybe hadn’t considered before.

4. Don’t OVER-prepare.

Camel's toe

You aren’t going to need everything you think you’ll need. This might seem like an oversimplification, but it’s honestly one of the tougher lessons to learn.

If you’re anything like me, you tend to squeeze in a lot of those just-in-case items. I totally get it. You pack on autopilot at first, mindlessly throwing a few pairs of socks in with the undergarments just to get something packed.

But wait a sec! Consider your footwear: how many pairs of shoes do you really need? If your dress code will range from casual to fancy, then yes, you’ll probably need at least two pairs, but if you can get away with stylish comfort for duration of your trip, I highly recommend bringing just the one pair, and wearing them on your flight. Trust me, a little extra room for another outfit will go much farther than that bulky pair of shoes.

Remember, you probably won’t need socks if you only plan to wear sandals (it’s still a fashion faux pas, DAD), but if your shoes actually do call for it, bring enough socks for each day of your trip, and one extra pair if you’ll be skiing, trekking through mud, or otherwise being incredibly active.

Anything you can wear on the plane frees up that much more space in your luggage, but don’t pile on so much that you’re uncomfortable. For each item you plan to bring, don’t just ask yourself if you really need it (because the answer will always be yes); instead, ask yourself how you’d fare without it. Cut the non-essentials anywhere you can, and leave the extras behind.*

*The exception here is underwear — pack for one or two more days than your trip (because honestly, you just never know).

5. Leave room to shop.

Rehoboth Beach, Rehoboth Avenue Shopping

Wherever you’re headed, there will be plenty of opportunities to collect souvenirs. You can tell yourself you won’t spend, but shopping happens to the best of us, because vacation.


It’s okay. Really.

Just like you bought that I♥NY mug for your mom, the Nashville snow globe (does it even snow in Nashville?) for your brother, and the Russian nesting dolls you knew would find a home in your living room, you will get caught up in the soul of whatever city you’re visiting and reach for your wallet once more.

Souvenir of Old Sacramento

Whether or not you plan to collect tangible items to bring back with you — maybe some trinkets for loved ones, or an over-sized tee that’ll never be more than pajamas — make sure to allow yourself the room to indulge. There’s nothing worse than squishing, emptying, and re-configuring all your clothes, finally get that zipper to zip, only to turn around and spot your nephew’s new socks still sitting on the dresser.

NBD, if you’re single-handedly filtering funds back into the economy — as long as you’ve reserved the space for it.

The goal of packing the perfect travel bag is to be prepared for anything, without having to bring everything. When you’re done, you should feel accomplished and ready for your trip. Remember, the perfect travel bag is packed with versatility, and will give you a stress-free array of options.

Congratulations! You’ve covered the essentials, and might have even managed to find a new outfit or two that you hadn’t even thought of before. Bonus!

What are you favorite packing hacks? Tell us how you’re filling up your perfect travel bag!


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About The Author

Katrina Koski

Katrina Koski writes content for CheapOair and OneTravel. When she's not traveling or writing about travel, she spends her time strategizing Scrabble and Words with Friends moves -- her magnum opus was 'unrequited' for 139 points. Katrina's favorite words are 'kiosk' and 'usurp.'