Affordable Travel Guide to Packing for Travel

Use Our Four Factors System to Pack it Properly

Packing for Travel

There’s an old axiom in the travel world: bring half the clothes and twice the cash. It’s hard to know just what items of clothing you’ll need for a vacation away from the normal climate, routines and activities you’re used to, but that’s half the point of getting away from it all! Our editors have devised a system of calculating what you’ll need and it falls into four factors; answer to these with research and common sense, and you’ll pack just what you need. Here they are:

  1. Where? Your destination will rest at the heart of what you’ll need to pack. An informal week at a relaxed resort in Jamaica will obviously necessitate a very different wardrobe from a long weekend skiing in the Swiss Alps. But there’s bound to be crossovers (and we don’t just mean that you’ll need toothpaste at both places!). You might, for example, need your swimsuit on your Alpine vacation if there’s an indoor pool at your hotel. Or maybe your evening dress will be needed for dinner that the captain’s table when you’re on your cruise to Jamaica. So, when we say, “where are you going?” we mean all aspects of that. Make a list: airport; hotel; beach; parties; swimming; playing golf. And pack accordingly. For those of us who live in a cold climate and are traveling to the tropics, don’t forget to allow for a winter coat for your ride to and from the airport. Here’s a great tip: instead of leaving your winter coat in the car, parked at the airport, where it will be nice and icy when you get back, rent a locker inside the airport terminal and leave it there.
  2. What Time of Year? Winter and summer are pretty easy to pack for, as long as you always remember that evenings are normally colder, in virtually any climate. It’s spring and fall that are tricky to plan for, so think layers. Perhaps a short-sleeved shirt or top with a lightweight jacket. Be sure to check the weather forecast for your destination the day before you’re going to depart so that you get the latest possible prediction and judge your wardrobe needs accordingly. Always take a light, completely foldable nylon raincoat or poncho, and a hat or cap to protect your head from the sun. You’ll need sunglasses no mater what season it is or where you go.
  3. How Long? A weekend, a week, two weeks, a month? A short vacation, like a weekend getaway, will demand fewer clothes, and that should be a piece of cake to plan for, especially given that in two days you are likely to have vaguely similar weather, and if your location is stable, you’ll know what you’re doing and be able to allow for that in clothing. But a month or maybe longer? Key to an extended stay vacation’s clothing considerations is the availability of a laundry facility where you are staying. Call or e-mail ahead to find out what is available, either right on premises, where you are staying, or in the vicinity. Odds are you can’t take enough clothing for an entire month without doing any laundry over that timeframe. Heck, if you have that many shirts, maybe it’s time to donate a few to Goodwill! And if you were to pack everything you’d need for the entire period, your luggage would be unmanageable. Pack as lightly as you can for the circumstances; you’ll avoid a sore back and airline baggage surcharges.
  4. Why am I Going? Holiday with a loved one? Family reunion? Business trip? Honeymoon? To visit the Queen? The purpose of your trip will dictate what you need to pack above and beyond the basics.

Combine your answers to all four of these factors, and then make a list of what you plan to take. Check the weather forecast and then pare it down by 25%. If you respect that old axiom and take more cash than clothing, then if you run into a situation where you need a Dior ballgown for a black tie at the Ritz, but left yours at home in the closet, you’ll have enough money to buy one!

One thing that is tried and true about packing for a trip: avoid fabrics that crease easily!

South America, if you’re visiting several of its diverse countries, is a good example of variety in clothing needs. Read our article What to Pack for South America to get an idea of what we mean.

Pack with your head, not your emotions. That favorite pink sweater or navy cords may be dear to your fashion-conscious heart, but useless at an informal, red-hot beach setting!

Explore Packing for Travel

What to Pack for South America

What to Pack for South America

Weather Extremes Will See You “Sent Packing”

More in Travelers' Information

Embassy List

Embassy List

A Little Piece of Home When You Travel Aboard
Immunization & Medical Matters

Immunization & Medical Matters

Taking Care of Your Health Before and During Your Vacation
Safety & Security

Safety & Security

Getting You There and Back in One Piece
Time Zones

Time Zones

The Clocks that Govern the World of Travel
Travel Agency

Travel Agency

Have Agent Will Travel
Travel Guides

Travel Guides

Official Country and State Travel Guides
Travel Tips

Travel Tips

Insider Information and Savvy Ideas Make for Better Travel