Lean Packing: An Introduction

I am tagging along on Greg's work trip to Berlin this week! We're adding on a weekend to Belgium beforehand and then I'll be spending a few days in Stockholm visiting a friend before joining Greg in Germany to work some. As I mentioned here, Greg and I learned that if one of us has a nice work trip that's longer than a few days, it's worth it to try to get the other one to come along for part of it... to be a part of the adventure. I'm so looking forward to this one!

This is a good time to discuss essentialism in travel and packing!

+ A little background… a few years ago, after traveling for work, I arrived home with luggage delivered to me half-empty. My belongings had been stolen out of my luggage at JFK! The two-week trip included client dinners and work commitments so I had most of my electronics, nice clothing and jewelry with me—all stolen. I was so sad and at a loss. It was the beginning of my journey of letting go of attachment to things. I wanted to own less, travel with less and be able to take better care of my things. I also decided that I would try my hardest to only travel with carry-ons in the future.

Packing can be a huge source of anxiety for us and one of too much decision making. We usually leave it to the last minute and either forget things or pack too much… or both. There’s another way. I've figured out a way to make it simpler, less stressful and lighter weight. Start a little earlier, plan a little more, and enjoy the benefits of lean packing!


1. Now: Packing Checklist. Create a packing checklist template… it’s the best way I have found to avoid those dreaded "I forgot to pack..." moments. Everything has been forgotten at some point: toiletries, underwear, and always a bathing suit. Instead, use a template to mindfully list all of the items you might need to pack. Consider what you'll need on most trips ahead of time. Like before you've even planned the trip so you're not stressed or rushed. In addition to clothing, also list items for work, entertainment (I try to have books and crosswords on an iPad), logistics (passport, hotel reservations), and maybe even some gifts!


We used to have a spreadsheet in Google Docs that we would consult before every trip but now we have a checklist in Asana… it’s satisfying to be able to check off items while packing. The template changes over time as we add or subtract things after the experience of another trip. Snacks and water bottle have been added, running shoes (for me) have been removed. (I never used them and I don't even own a pair anymore.) Now, we just copy this project in Asana and go through the checklist as we pack. Easy!

2. Now: Toiletries and Luggage. Have your toiletries and luggage easy to access and pack. Finding items, taking out luggage, rounding up toothpaste… all annoying things to do right before a trip. Instead, keep a second set of all toiletries (in travel size) in one place so they're easier to grab and go. Or, like me, just have one set for home and travel but keep them all together, smaller and the liquids under 3oz.

3. Week before: Prepare. About a week before a trip, take a little time to figure out logistics. (If this is a fancy trip, start even earlier in case you need to buy something or get alterations.) Make sure that essential work is done, laundry is scheduled and that you have everything you need. Do you need a converter? A ride to the airport? Clear your calendar for the timeframe of the trip and make sure all the bills are paid.

4. Day before: Plan. Take the time to sit down and plan out your packing for the trip. Consider the location, length of stay, activities, weather, and the size of the luggage you want to lug around. (I can fit up to 6 days of everything in my carry-on bag… if a trip is longer than that, I plan to do laundry. I actually plan laundry: where, when and how.)

Trip: European adventure w/ some nice dinners
Length of Stay: 12 Days
Activities: 3 travel days, 3 dressier, 6 sightseeing/work
Weather: lows of 27, highs of 53. partly cloudy with some rain
Luggage: carry-on suitcase and laptop bag only (easier to travel with, fits on regional planes)

Also, Plan Outfits. List your daily outfits and clothing on a packing template. Stay within a small color palette, considering layering and choose items that can be worn multiple times. (Lean Closet rules ;) Same with jewelry. Travel doesn’t need to be a time of experimenting with clothing. Stick to the basics.

5. Day-of (or night before): Pack. Using your well-thought-out checklist, physically pack everything into your luggage! With careful planning, you should feel more confident in your decisions which will allow you to pack a lot less!!

+ Just in case: Try to just plan what you'll need and keep it basic. Don't get too carried away with “just in case” items. You'll most likely be able to find most things at your destination if an emergency arises. “Just in case” items add up to make us pack twice as much as we actually use. Keep track of what you don't use so you can remove it from your packing checklist!

Do you guys have any other tricks to make packing easier?

+ Next post, I’ll share what I packed for this trip. A mini-capsule within a capsule ;)