During a job interview, I was once asked, “If you were going on vacation to Ireland, what would you pack and when would you start packing.”

My answer was normal for how I used to pack – I’d make a list of everything I need about two weeks ahead of time and double it and then I’d probably add more right before I left, too.

I’d like to change my answer.

Since embracing simple living, I’ve realized that the way I pack could totally be improved upon. So for the last several years, I’ve been practicing packing lightly, not only for myself, but my four kids as well (my husband already had this down).

By the time this post publishes, I’ll be on a plane, heading to Tuscany to hang with Tsh and other amazing friends for a writer’s retreat. I am ridiculously excited to see my friends and spend time in such a magical place.

I’m also super excited that I’ll be able to put my light packing to the test (I’m a nerd like that). I’ll be gone 11 days and my goal is to get away with just a carry-on and my backpack as my personal item with room to bring some things back. Ambitious, I know, but doable.

Here’s what I’ve learned about traveling lightly, whether it’s for one or six:

Know your style

Since finding my style a few years ago, I’ve been able to simplify to a capsule wardrobe. Everything can be mixed and matched to go together to make different outfits and though I have a relatively small wardrobe now, I always feel like I have something to wear because I love everything I own.

This has simplified packing for the trip SO much because I know that no matter what I take, it’s all going to go together so I can get away with bringing fewer pieces but still get plenty of outfits out of them.

Lay it out in advance

Before you go, lay everything you plan on taking on your bed or floor so you can get a visual of it all. By doing that, I usually find that I’ve planned too much (old habits die hard) and take out a few things.

Then, if I’m still not sure I’ve pared down enough, I actually try putting in my bag to make sure it’s all going to fit and take things out accordingly.

I’ve gotten to the point where I just take a mini version of my everyday capsule wardrobe.

Plan for souvenirs

If you know you’re going to bring things back, plan for them. Maybe you’ll need to bring less clothing so you can fit them in your bag. Or, if you’re flying, bring an empty backpack as a personal item that you can use for souvenirs on the way home.

You could even find out where the nearest post office is and just plan on mailing things back if that works better.

Do your research

It usually doesn’t take much time to find out what’s available where you’re staying and the surrounding areas. On a recent trip for instance, I found out in advance that I would have access to a washer and dryer. (I also found out there was a hairdryer and plenty of pillows and blankets, so I didn’t need to pack any of that).

Knowing that I would be able to wash clothes if necessary, I was able to bring even less to wear and just packed a small packet of laundry soap (I have super sensitive skin and can’t use most detergents).

Pack versatile shoes

It’s tempting to take all the shoes. Really, I know (and I’ve done it in the past). But I’ve found that I can usually get away with just a pair of comfy walking shoes, sandals if it’s warm and my running shoes. The same goes for the rest of the family.

Examine normal daily habits

If you typically wear one pair of jeans for a few days, you’ll probably do the same while you’re away. My husband would always just pack one pair of pants for trips and now I know why. He almost always makes a pair of pants last for a few days, so why bother packing extra for a trip “just in case?”

The same goes for traveling with little kids. If you have frequent accidents with one, plan accordingly.

The other kids might be fine with one extra pair of jeans, but this one will probably need two or three. In this case, I usually pack leggings as extras since they take up less space.

Buy or borrow when you’re there

If you get there and the washer is broken or your little is peeing her pants faster than you can clean and dry them, you still have options. We usually visit family, so borrowing something for us or our children is pretty easy to do.

If we’re not, a clothing store of some kind is invariably within close walking or driving distance. I heartily recommend checking out the thrift store before making your way to Target. Whoever’s dirtied all of their clothes can lounge in jammies while they wait.


Simplifying your travel baggage isn’t only for singles or couples with one or no children.

All it takes is a little planning (even less than before in my case) so you’re sure to have the stuff that’s too expensive/impossible to replace and letting go of the “what if and just in case” mentality.