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80-20 rules of travel packing

80-20 rules of travel packing

By on Apr 29, 2015 in Packing, Travel, Travel planning | 3 comments


There a lot of talk online about the 80/20 rule but its not a new concept. My Grandfather enlightened me about the 80/20 rule in the early 80’s. We discussed the principle and its application to cropping, cattle feed and even shearing of sheep. Then during my time as a software developer I certainly learnt about its effect on project management. Simply the rule states it will take 20% of the time to design 80% of a project and then 80% of the design time to complete the last 20% of the design. In time management we say it will take 20% of the allotted time to get a project 80% complete but a further 80% of the time to finish the last 20% of the work.  As a rough rule of thumb we could use this rule to estimate how far behind schedule a project was once 80% of the work was complete.

It’s not a provable theory but it certainly is a fact of life and it apply to everything including packing your bag for a trip. Here are the two main findings I have discovered during our travels. Firstly  I only use about 20% of the clothes that I’ve packed 80% of the time and secondly 20% of the items I take with me consume around 80% of the available space in my suitcase.

Knowing these simple rule I use a few strategies to make the whole packing process easier.

I lay everything I intend to take, out on a piece of floor and apply two simple groupings. First by priority and secondly by size. Firstly I include items I simple must have to fulfil the purpose of the travel. Thinking safety, function and then comfort in that order.  If I’m going to be exposed then things like tents, sleeping bags, water proofs etc are on top of the list. If its all fun in the sun then sunscreen, bathers, hat and sunglasses are the priority. Next are things that I will use every day, sleeping attire, everyday cloths, underwear and toiletries etc.   Finally the luxury and nice to have items.  Now I apply the 80/20 rule.  Since the rule states that 80% of the time I’ll be using only 20% of the items. I create a group of these items, everyday clothes, night attire, underwear etc and only the items I know I’ll actually wear. If there’s any chance I won’t wear an item it get placed in the discard pile. This is made easier if I know that at my destination there may be and easy and cheap alternative.

For example I only pack one or two t-shirts as these are available almost every where so if I need more its easy to acquire another.

Once all the must haves and everyday items are piled up I should have discarded about 20% of the total pile I laid out on the floor. Why only 20%? Well because the 80/20 rule applies to the things I think will not be needed on the trip also. Only about 20% of the things I initially laid out for the travel will I believe may not actually be needed.

Now I use the 80/20 rule of packing space. Taking all the biggest and bulkiest items and roll them into the smallest size I can manage, I put them into my suitcase. Next I progressively roll the 20% of larger remaining items and fit them in around the first items packed. Repeating this process till all the items are packed or it become obvious that a larger suitcase is required.

If a larger case is required but not available I do both the following. Starting with the largest and bulkiest item I try and find a suitable alternative that doesn’t take up as much space. If a suitable alternative isn’t available then I’ll look for the biggest items that isn’t an every day item to leave behind.  Especially if its possible to acquire a similar item during the journey. But even if its not I’ll leave it behind because the chances of needing it for any length of time is only about 20%. Thanks to the 80/20 rule.

Even if I’ve been really aggressive in my packing and packed just the bare minimum I still find that the 80/20 rule applies and I’m using only about 20% of what I’ve packed the majority of the time.  So if its not really necessary leave it behind it will make your choices easier and your suitcase lighter.







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Up Sticks N Go father of the crew. Works as a Social Media Manager and Website Optimiser with Michon International. Helps business develop automated systems to manage their social media, content creation and long term SEO strategies. This includes optimising websites to convert visitors into customers and track the value of a business website. Follow Simon on Twitter @becauseihadto , connect with him on LinkedIn Simon Frost and stay in touch.


  1. avatar

    Goodness me! What an involved process! I hope that by the time you get home you will have streamlined this process somewhat. As I’m a person for whom matching is important I find the mix’n match process serves me well and ensures I have a variety of outfits available with the minimum of articles. Easy care fabrics are also mandatory. On a recent two month bus tour of Great Britain and Europe my husband and I observed the time wasted by fellow travellers who had to spend time each week in the Laundromat. Sometimes a whole day wasted. Anyway, I’ll be interested to hear of your recommendations when the travel is over. I’m enjoying sharing your experiences. Thank you.

    • avatar

      I know that ladies like to think about what they wear to ensure they look different from day to day. Mix and Match is a great way to achieve the appearance of many different outfits using a minimum of articles. But the 80/20 rule still applies of those minimum articles in your pack. You will still only use 20% of them to achieve 80% of what you where day to day. Which means you could still significantly reduce the number of items you carry. It’s a trade off between feeling good about your appearance and packing light. Which is the biggest hassle, not looking optimal for 24 hours amongst people you will probably never see again. Or dragging around a significant surplus of belongings for several months.

      I wrote this article after a visit from our daughter Nikki. She arrived with two huge suitcases for a 3 week stint. Just about double the weight of any one of our packs and we have been traveling for nearly a year. The ratio of luxury items, like makeup, special occasion clothing and nick knacks v’s everyday items was about 60/40. Most of them didn’t see the light of day. She even off loaded a third for us to mind while she travelled through Europe for a week.

      • avatar

        Great to hear your response, Simon. We certainly did have to plan our wardrobe carefully because we were travelling with the same busload of people and didn’t want to look the same for day and night functions. We took no jeans but all drip dry fabrics which dried in our bathroom overnight. As we are seniors, our suitcases were on wheels but the smallest we could find, almost passing for hand luggage. I even limited myself to buying ear rings as souvenirs which I could pack in my shoes! Most memories are retained in our photos and diary recorded daily on our tablet and published by my scrapbooking daughter on our return. Your family is so lucky to be experiencing it together. More happy travels!

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