1. Understand Your Needs
The key to packing light is to only bring the things you need.
It took me some trial and error to get my travel wardrobe down to the exact minimum of items I can get by on. Occasionally I’ll change some details up here or there, like rotating out my ties and pocket squares for some different designs, but mostly I stick to the same core collection of interchangeable items.
Knowing what you’ll need means thinking about where you’re going and what you’re doing. For example, most of my trips involve hotels and convention centers — I need to take the weather outside into a little bit of consideration, but mostly I’m dressing for climate-controlled indoors settings. That means long trousers, dress shirts, and jackets for the most part. If I’m going somewhere really formal I’ll throw a suit into the mix, but there’s really not that many suit-and-tie occasions on my agenda these days.
I pack a little bit of variety so my outfit can adapt to different places. I’ve got my dress trousers and nice leather shoes for a more refined look, and when I want to dress it down a bit I use dark denim jeans and a pair of Western boots to relax the look.
What I don’t have is a lot of “just in case” items. I leave the heavy overcoat at home and skip the suit unless I know there’s an occasion that will demand it. They’re not going to be useful 95% of the time, so there’s no reason to worry about them.
2. Protect Your Investment
Good jackets and shirts are not cheap. My travel wardrobe alone is worth about 5-8K depending on what I pack.
You see most of my traveling wardrobe is custom made. Some of that came from my own custom clothier, of course, but it still represents a significant investment. Keeping it in good shape is important to me – these are my tools!
Anything that can spill or stain (toiletries, mostly) goes in my Dopp kit. That’s a small, zippered container that I put inside my other luggage. It has a lined inside, so that even if my shampoo explodes at 15,000 feet or something like that, nothing but my other toiletries get messed up.
3. The Interchangeable Wardrobe
Here is where we really come to the secret of packing light.
I’m able to get by with so few garments because almost all of them can be worn interchangeably.
I don’t have one jacket with a couple shirts that go with it, and then another jacket with two different shirts to match that one.
I can wear any of my jackets with any of my shirts, and vice versa.
I always travel with at least two jackets, and preferably three (it’s easy to do even when you’re flying if you wear one of your jackets onto the plane).
They’re all different colors, and I pre-load each of them with a pocket square in the breast pocket. I also stick some business cards in the pockets of each one — not a fashion tip, per se, but handy when you’re traveling from conference to conference.
4. Wear Your Bulkiest Clothing In Transit
This is an easy way to save yourself some space in your luggage: when you travel, and especially when you fly, wear your bulkiest items.
For me, that usually means my boots, my jeans, and one of my sports jackets. I don’t necessarily wear the jacket if I’m driving, but I’ll have it on a hanger in my car, and I’ll throw it on when I get out.
If your travel plans are going to necessitate an overcoat, you’ll want to be wearing that onto the plane or throwing it in your car as well. There’s no need to try and fit it into a garment bag or small duffel. A big coat can even become cargo space of its own — you can fill the pockets with small items.