We’re all prone to excess when it comes to packing for vacations. Most of us are familiar with that moment of truth when we’ve pummelled, squeezed and sat on our holdalls with all the intensity of a sumo wrestler. Yet, still – still – we can’t find room for the extra charger, our sunscreen or that must-read thriller.
Well fear not, help is at hand. We’ve asked two experts for their advice on optimal packing: from sparking joy with Marie Kondo minimalism to the precision of packing as if for a military drill, get set to shed your excess baggage and hit the road fuss-free.
Spark some joy: the Kondo method
Like many of us, professional organiser Sue Spencer used to pack far too much when she traveled – only ever using half of what she’d brought. Then a qualification in the method of Marie Kondo, schooled by the Japanese decluttering guru, changed all that.
Sue became one of a handful of KonMari Master Consultants, a qualification she describes as “a bit like having a black belt in tidying”. A master in simplification, she now applies the same logic to packing as she does to her clients’ homes as part of her consultation business A Life More Organised.
“I love the simplicity of a capsule wardrobe when traveling,” Sue says. “There’s something quite freeing about the way it reduces decision-making. Having a set number of mix-and-match outfits means you won’t spend ages thinking about your stuff. You’ll be able to spend more time immersing yourself in the adventure. You may even create space to bring home a few joy-sparking mementos, too.”
Sue’s top tips:
Plan a week in advance: Give yourself time to lay your things out so you can see what you have. This will give you plenty of opportunity to wash, buy or mend anything without a last-minute panic.
Sub-categorise your clothes: Create piles of swimwear, tops, dresses and shorts on the floor or your bed. This way, you can see clearly see how many of each different type of clothing you are planning to take. Think back to your last vacation – what can you afford to do without?
Refine each pile: Pick out the items that you’d go to first – these are ones you definitely want to pack. Keep doing this, bearing in mind the activities (sightseeing, beach or partying) you have planned when you’re away. Pack clothes that spark joy, too. This is your time to be the most relaxed, ‘best’ version of you.
Pack by outfits: You should be able to wear everything with at least two different pieces. If garments can be interchanged between outfits, it cuts down on what you need. Take a pashmina/scarf (it’s versatile) and decide on footwear and accessories last, as they’ll be determined by the outfits you’ve chosen.
Roll your clothes: Packing them upright in your suitcase will maximize the amount you can fit in. It also means you can see at a glance what you have and makes unpacking into drawers at your destination easy.
Put sun hats upside down: Place them between the folded clothes and fill with your underwear. Put your shoes in bags around the sides of the case. If you want to take jeans, wear them on the plane and then store them in your luggage at your destination – it stops them taking up too much space.
Best case scenario
Technical and lightweight in a joyful shade of tangerine orange, this trekking backpack, from hip Swedish brand Fjallraven, is ideal for traveling the world Kondo-style. £165, Fjallraven.
Check your vitals: the commando method
From sparking joy to survival tactics, packing well in the Royal Navy is a matter of discipline and necessity. “Packing is incredibly important when operating in the field,” says Sean Lerwill, former Royal Marines Commando Officer and physical training instructor at Commando Conditioning.
“Not only does a commando need to be able to pack everything they require for a specific role or operation into their bergan (backpack), they also need to be able to unpack and repack as silently as possible, in pitch-black conditions. It’s therefore something to be practised and perfected.”
As Sean explains, order is everything in the commando method of packing. “You need to ensure you can get to what’s needed without emptying the bag,” he says. “The sleeping bag will be at the bottom as, in theory, it should be the last thing you require. At the top will be the things required soonest, including a grab bag with ‘can’t do withouts,’ like your communications kit and medical supplies.”
Sean’s top tips:
Only take what you really need: One set of dry clothes only. A warm jacket. Minimal toiletries to stay clean. A medical kit with the essentials to cover all bases. Enough food and water until the next resupply. Unless you’re heading somewhere very remote, you can usually find back-ups if you need them on the road.
Buy well, buy once: By prioritizing quality, hard-wearing pieces of kit, you don’t have to rely on backups, which saves space and weight. For example, a good jacket negates the need to layer and take multiple pieces of clothing. Choose a strong bag rather than something cheap that’ll need replacing.
Test your load: If you’re unsure about how much to take, pack everything into a backpack-style bag and go for a walk with it. After an hour or so, return home and repack immediately. You’ll probably be far more ruthless.
Pack in the order you’ll need things: Put essentials above niceties, so you can get to them first. Commandos always have a gash bag to put in rubbish or used underwear and keep apart from your other things. Your key kit is most important but, once you have that, you might make room for luxuries like books, iPads and toiletries.
Pay attention to where you put things: In a backpack, put softer kit inwards against the body and harder stuff outwards. You don’t want the hard edge of a shoe/wedge heel digging into your back. This is especially important if you’re yomping (walking with load) for long periods of time.
Pack light, move fast: Packing light can be a godsend if you need to move swiftly: for example, when you’re running late for a plane or anything unexpected happens.
Best case scenario
The Base Camp Duffel from North Face doubles up as either a holdall or a backpack. With 50-litre capacity, it’s roomy, durable and ergonomic: the perfect Commando choice. £115, North Face.
Ready to hit the road? Read more about Flash Pack adventures right here.
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Images: Courtesy of North Face, Fjallraven, ©Imogen Braithwaite, ©Tom Miles,