The 4 Rules I Follow to Pack as Efficiently as Possible

Kelly Dawson
4 min readJan 19, 2024
Looking down at a reusable plastic back and toiletries on a blue bedspread.
Photo by Kelly Dawson

Last month, I headed on an extended vacation with only a carry-on bag. I had a backpack as well — which was mostly full of reading material — but the luggage is what piqued people’s attention. “How long are you going to be gone?,” a friend asked on Instagram, sending a line of exclamation marks when I said a little over two weeks. Someone else wrote “How?,” while another joked, “This is what I pack for a weekend.”

There are a few reasons why I like to pack as lightly as possible, but these are the biggest three: My parents met in the travel industry, and so efficiency through airports was as important a lesson to learn as, say, chewing with my mouth closed and sending thank you cards. The other reason is that if there’s ever a situation where I am absolutely left to my own devices, I want to be able to carry my stuff. But the last reason is perhaps more universal. When I have less to look after, I enjoy myself more.

I took off on what I called a “rectangle ‘round America,” where I went up to Portland and the Columbia River Gorge, then over to Minneapolis and a small city in Wisconsin, and finally down to Kansas City. That route is enough to consider, and I didn’t want to worry about lugging too much with me in the process. I also like the challenge of packing light and seeing how many outfits I can piece together from a handful of options. If you’re hoping to do the same, read on for four tricks to follow.

Say This Sentence as You Pack

There are a lot of necessities involved in packing, whether it’s for a short getaway or an extended trip. So, it’s no wonder that this sentence gets repeated a lot as a bag fills: “I need this.” But if that sentence extends beyond items like a toothbrush and sunscreen — ahem, when it gets applied to all of your clothes — then it’s harder to only pack the essentials. “I’ll need this jacket at night” is one thing,” but you probably don’t need four different dresses and seven different shirts. Instead, try this sentence to help clear out the clutter: “Here’s how I’ll use this.” If it doesn’t have a clear use, it’ll hold tight until you get home.

Most Clothes Need More Than One Use

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Kelly Dawson

i write, i edit, then i write again. | kellymdawson.com | instagram: @kellydawsonwrites