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Travel season is here again. I’m knee deep (literally) in packing up my bags for a month-long trip to Italy. Want to see my process? It may not be as professional or glamorous as you may think, but it gets the job done. Springtime is changeable, it’s hard to predict the weather. Packing for spring can be a challenge, but it’s not too hard to conquer.

Evaluating my Needs

I have to begin by thinking through what I’ll need to bring. Not every trip is the same. I will mentally assemble my list for a couple of weeks ahead of time, and then begin to set aside things as I think of them.

I need to consider the weather, the length of the trip, what kind of work I’ll be doing and so on. This particular trip is in spring, which will require warmer clothes, although it’s possible that the weather could change by the end of April.

I’ll be working on updating guidebooks and doing a tour. Guidebook work requires many mikes of walking, so I must bring reliable shoes and comfortable clothes, along with my laptop, books and paperwork. I don’t think I’ll make the 10 pound mark this time, but I’ll try and keep it light.

Make Piles

When I’m ready to start packing, I clear the living room floor. I bring everything I think I will need on my trip and make piles of potential items. At this point, anything and everything will be on the floor. I think it’s better to have all of my travel gear out to evaluate, and then thin out what I really need.

Mix and Match

My next task is to make sure I will not clash. I know, some people feel it doesn’t matter, that a plaid shirt easily goes with a plaid pair of pants. No judgement there, if that’s your thing, but I’ve been trained by Italy to put some thought into my outfits. The easiest test I’ve found is to lay pants in a row on the floor and the lay my shirts on top of the pants, making certain that every top goes with every bottom, and that all of the layering tops go together. If anything doesn’t match the rest, it’s out.

If you’re an advanced packer, you can think color schemes. I tend to either do a brown/beige color scheme or a black/gray/red color scheme. If you pick a palette of colors before you pick your clothes, It makes it easy to grab the clothes that match.

Wash Well

After I’ve picked all of my bag’s contents, I toss everything in the wash. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I think it’s important to shamelessly wash everything together because your travel clothes must be able to take a beating at the foreign laundromat. My beloved cashmere sweaters are the exception. No careless laundromat will ever get ahold of them.

When I wash before departure, I add a cup of vinegar to the load and some nicely scented fabric softener. Vinegar is great for fixing any dyes that could bleed and sanitizes/destinks your clothes. It is a wonder product. I go a little crazy with the fabric softener because I really enjoy pulling clothes from my bag that smell like home.

Fold, Roll, Stuff and Go

When everything is laid out and ready to go, I pack it all up into cubes and stuff sacks. I never leave anything loose. This is also the point where I pair down a little bit. There’s always that one thing in the bag that I know I don’t really need but for some reason I try to bring it. This is the moment to take it out. (I’ve actually done that at the airport, left things with my friend who drove me– the guilt of knowing I brought something stupid was killing me.)

What does packing for spring turn out like? Here are the contents:


Many readers have wondered if my ultralight packing strategy could work for travel in colder months. I’ve decided to give it a try. I’ll be using the same bag again that I took to Thailand. My day bag is a favorite, a messenger bag from Tom Bihn. I’ll need to have my laptop, books and research materials, so a more rugged bag with a comfy strap will be required.

Packing Cubes

I’ve used the Eagle Creek Specter cubes for a few years now, as they are the lightest cubes around. Last year, I bought a packable duffle from Lewis N Clark that is made of this crazy fabric called Electrolyte. It is super thin but strong, packing down to almost nothing. I liked it so much that for this trip I have their cubes. They are expandable, have a mesh panel in the middle and are still light.


Spring can be trick, so I am going with a layering strategy. I’ve chosen two tank tops, three sleeveless and two short sleeved tops.


I’ve got four pairs of pants going along this time. Skinny jeans that are super stretchy, gray linen pants with an elastic waist, my favorite black rayon wide-leg pants and thick gray leggings. These leggings are cozy enough to wear on their own but can also go under other pants for extra warmth.


I’ve got three sweaters of varying warmth. A gray cashmere sweater that can go over collared shirts, a super light lace sweater, and my classic cream 3/4 sleeve cardigan. That cardigan came from Macy’s years ago, it’s a junky acrylic number, but I just love how it looks over dresses and sleeveless tops. Very versatile.

Long Sleeves

Since I have multiple sweaters, I have only two long sleeved shirts. The one on the left is actually made of ultralight Merino wool, and promises to be warm, light and “unstinkable”. I can guarantee them that I’ll be putting that claim to the test.


I’ve got two short dresses with me, although they are almost more like tunics. I’ll wear them with leggings and a sweater. The soft blue one is silk, I bought it at a market in Thailand, and it weighs almost nothing. The other is a Target clearance rack find, a light cotton tunic with long sleeves for $12. Both weigh in at 4 oz.


My typical assortment of underthings are here. Three pair short athletic socks, one pair Merino wool socks, seven pairs of undies, three bras, one silk nightgown. Added in this time is a shaping camisole, which will serve to keep me cozy and maybe a little skinnier looking. That’s a big maybe.


I will be walking so much with my book research, I had to go with my absolute classic shoes. I can’t afford any nasty surprises. These time-tested favorites are my black leather boots, Asics Metrolytes (on their third season!!) and Tom’s wool slip-ons. I do adore my comfy and lightweight Tom’s, I’ve already killed one pair and bought these new replacements. The wool interior is so cozy in the cooler months. Only drawback– their soles are terrible. I’ll be adding some non-slip tape to the soles for added grip.


My toiletries on this trip are the same as usual, with one exception. I am trying out a solid cream deodorant on this trip. It’s a natural kind and so far it is really good stuff. Expensive at $16 a jar, but smells great.


The day bag will be filled with the usual jumble of necessities. I’ve just bought an Macbook Air for my writing, so that is my new addition. No iPad this time. I am bringing lots of snacks with me because I often don’t have time for lunch or dinner when I am working on the guidebooks. I’ve also brought along my titanium mug and water heater to make soup and tea during long nights of work.

Some of you have suggested bringing an extension cord along, which is a good idea. I’ve decided to go with an extra long iPhone cord to reach those awkward outlets.

There is my list, the entire contents of my bag of packing for spring. Only other item is my down coat and scarf. I’ll be packing it all up and will post a weight total on my Facebook page with pictures.

Are you ready to pack? Thanks to all of the great feedback from readers, I have improved my packing list with a master list of all items that were suggested by you. It’s a great place to start from, print it out and cross off the things you won’t need. There’s also an updated sample packing list.

Happy packing!

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • SandyS says:

    Great post Sarah! What brand are your boots and do they hold up well in rainy weather?

  • Carol Lorenzen says:

    I picked up a tip from another traveller on the plane this past week. I’m going to try one of the compression bags for my travel pillow instead of the bag it came in to reduce it’s size to fit better in my daypack. I’m going to attempt to use your packing list on adventure next month.

  • Loretta says:

    Brilliant list Sarah. I’ve been trying to mentally assemble our list for autumn so this is very handy. We’re doing paris, London, Bologna, Munich, Seville for five weeks from mid September in that order. I think Munich is going to be our extreme and we have a wedding there thrown in for good measure. I’ve already limited myself the pre & teen girls to carry on and the eldest is already complaining! 😁 five year old son won’t be a problem with his little superman roller but 6’3″ hubby will be. Gave up and got him a decent rolling backpack. Have been preaching the color coordinating rules to my daughter’s as we’re in Australia so autumn is now and it makes it easy for them to relate at the moment.

  • Andi Cody says:

    OK then…in your toiletries bag you have something in a purple cube that looks suspiciously like a pasta dish I used to make in college (ramen…)! I just have to ask….what is it? I love this post. You have provided a lot of great ideas, as you always do! Thanks!

  • CMN says:

    LOVE this post, Sarah! Your packing posts are always so much fun to read. (Okay really, ALL your posts are fun to read — LOL) I’ve been going back/forth to Mumbai for the last several months and pretty much just bring the same clothes back/forth too. Keeps it simple to just have to wash and put it all back in. My splurge item has been a little unusual — one of those little plastic melamine trays that you always see for sale all over Europe? I picked another one up in Paris last fall, then on a whim, tossed it into my carry-on for Mumbai. Its a nice little homey touch in the hotel room and has been a good catch-all at the end of the day to corral the Lip-stuff, hotel key card, earrings, vitamins I forgot to take, etc., etc. I’ve also got quite a bit more ’emergency’ food in my bag than I would normally pack for most destinations. Like your tour book trips, my work day ends with a lot of late nights and dinner eaten over the laptop: so tuna, crackers, applesauce, instant soup, instant oatmeal, cocoa, granola bars. Most destinations I would just pack 2 just-in-case oatmeal and a few cocoa packets & chamomile tea bags. But for India, I go all out: trying to grab something ‘quick to eat’ can lead to, um, unfortunate surprises. 🙂 LOL! Wishing you a great adventure over the next six weeks!


    Great list. What about your pillow that you have mentioned on other posts? Love your floor! Is it bamboo or wood?

  • Kathleen says:

    You are not taking a swimsuit this time. No chance of finding a hot spring or pool in your travels?

  • Pam Trucks says:

    Hi Sarah,Love your post. I do a similar thing, but I lay a sheet over the guest bed and let the piles rest there for a couple of weeks. Every day I go in and evaluate, adding and subtracting. Being a visual person this method helps me not forget anything. It also helps to have a spare room, hah! When I think I have it, the suitcase, packing cubes, and backpack go on the bed and assembly begins.Now my husband packs two days prior to departure and takes less than an hour. We have identical Rick Steves rollerbags. He has never forgotten a thing. To each his own!

  • Kim B. says:

    Wow, Sarah, you are really devoted, giving your SUPER extra-light packing a try for this long work trip! I can’t complain because I loooooove packing posts. There must be a named syndrome for someone who finds as much enjoyment in seeing other people’s travel toiletries as I do!!!I too took a doubletake at what was in that clear plastic case before I realized it was the rug.Does your family give you any grief for taking over the living room floor??

  • Theresa S. says:

    I trust you are where you are supposed to be, Sarah! Best wishes it is a lovely spring and all your connections go swimmingly. Rome the farthest south you will be this trip? Please update soon ….

  • Steve says:

    Tons of great ideas here, thanks. I recently switched to Crystal deodorant – it’s all natural, is a solid, lasts forever, and comes in tiny travel sizes. It works on me in almost all situations except extreme activity in warm conditions (like spring skiing). I was wondering if any of you pro travelers have tried it.

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