Not to brag, but my husband and I are pros at packing light. We’ve learned a lot of great tips for packing light along the way that I’d like to share.
We have a long history of packing light for multi-week trips. Some examples:
- I spent a month in Europe with only a carry-on backpack and day pack.
- My husband and I got married in Europe and spent three weeks there. I brought my wedding dress, veil, and shoes with me on that trip (and UPS’d them home as soon as the wedding was over). Again, I only used a carry-on backpack and day pack.
- We spent two weeks in Australia and New Zealand in their winter and visited both tropical and colder environments. Again, we had carry-on backpack and day pack.
- We spent two weeks in Italy and France with our kids (ages 11 and 8) and niece. My husband and I packed our kids’ clothes in our backpacks. Yet again, I brought only a carry-on and day pack.
So we know how to pack light. Obviously it is not easy to pack light every trip. Camping, for example, takes a lot more equipment than just a stay in hotels or vacation rentals. And travel with children who can’t carry their own stuff takes the volume of things to pack to yet another level (especially if they’re in diapers…). But where you can minimize your load, I would contend that you should.
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Why pack light?
This is the biggest reason for packing light. Seriously, who wants to lug around all the weight?
The Expense and Hassle of Flying with Checked Bags
If you are flying, paying to check bags feels so frivolous to me. I’d rather put that money toward a meal or admission to a cool place. Plus there is the fear I have every time I check a bag that it won’t arrive with me to my destination. That happened to me once on a work trip, and it was such a pain and expense. That experience was a big reason that I have converted to light packing.
Losing Track of Stuff
The more stuff we have along, the more spread out it seems to get, and the more likely it is I will misplace things or forget to bring them home.
Tips for Packing Lighter
The most important thing to do is to use a good packing list, Staying with your packing list will keep you disciplined.
Here are some additional tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep down the amount of stuff I lug along on a trip. Feel free to pick and choose which of these strategies make sense for the trip you are taking.
1. (If you are able) Use a backpack.
Using a backpack instead of rolling luggage is the ultimate way for me to stay accountable to my packing-light priorities. If I can’t lift my backpack, and not everything fits, then I have too much stuff along. Using packing cubes and garment folders inside your backpack or luggage will help more stuff fit efficiently within it.
2. Be OK with repeating clothes and outfits.
There is a reason I don’t have a fashion blog. Fashion is just not a big priority for me. So this advice is admittedly easier for me than for others. Generally the only person(s) who will notice you only brought four different tops along on your trip are your traveling companions and, frankly, if that is going to put them off, they’re not the type of people I want to travel with anyway.
3. Have a strategy for what clothes you are going to pack.
I try to pack clothing that all generally matches. They don’t all have to be the same color, but I try to not have any outlier pieces that only go with one other thing in my backpack. All the tops should be able to match most or all of the bottoms I pack. I also make sure I have one or two sweater or fleece layers that also match everything I bring along. Being able to mix and match my top layers with a few different bottoms helps me not feel like I’m wearing the same thing over and over. Also, if you are on a trip that is amenable to looking like you stepped out of an REI catalog (and really, that’s every vacation for me…not a fashion blogger), then lightweight pants are so much less bulky than denim or most other pants options.
With shoes, I try to only bring two pairs, three pair if I am bringing hiking boots. I make sure one pair that is comfortable for walking, and then I bring one more pair, like sandles or Keens, that are also comfortable for walking. And you can pack your socks and other items in your shoes to save space.
As for the times we’ve needed both warm and cold-weather clothing, I brought a winter jacket shell. I could wear that over a couple other layers to stay warm enough. (Now I will say that I haven’t had to worry about what would be a super cold winter for me. This strategy works when it’s 30’s F for a high. For this Minnesotan, that’s almost balmy winter weather.)
One final tip: I have a fantastic travel jacket with almost two dozen (!) internal pockets for valuables and documents. Having it all on me makes certain my stuff is secure, and it streamlines my packing load!
4. (When possible) Ensure you will have access to laundry facilities.
On a couple of my trips, “access to laundry facilities” meant doing laundry in a hotel sink. But if you stay somewhere with a laundromat or a vacation rental with washer and dryer included, you don’t need to pack nearly as many clothes. If you have the ability to do laundry on your trip, I would take the number of days of your trip divided by 2 for the number of tops to bring. Also, fabrics that are quick to dry are great, especially when you don’t have access to a dryer.
I find that bringing along powdered detergent pre-measured in baggies is easier to pack (and lighter) than liquid detergents. Also bring a Tide pen and any fabric softener option. (I tend to bring dryer sheets.)
5. Keep a pre-packed bathroom kit.
I have a pre-packed bathroom kit that I always keep stocked and ready to go. It has travel-sized (TSA approved) bottles for shampoo, lotion, etc. I don’t bring a full array of cosmetics on trips, just some basics that will work in most situations. Not having to re-pack my bathroom items every time I go somewhere ensures it’s already a lean-and-mean selection. I just make sure the bottles are full, I have a decent toothbrush and enough toothpaste, and toss it into my backpack!
6. Minimize the bulk and avoid duplication
For example, I know a lot of reader purists out there want the real book with paper. That’s dandy, but such a pain on trips. I have embraced having a Kindle instead of books. My Kindle holds hundreds of books, and it fits easily in my purse. And reading with it is easy.
Also, since my husband is the official photographer with a nice DSLR camera and all the equipment (which he carries in his own stuff), I don’t feel any need to bring another camera. I’ll use my cellphone.
As for my laptop, I have a Surface Pro, so it’s like bringing a tablet along. If I didn’t have a Surface, I would probably just live without a computer or borrow my husband’s laptop for the trip.
7. Get lighter weight bags
This is less about the amount of stuff you bring and more about the weight of it. I have been loving Baggalini bags for their lightweight but durable designs. My travel purse and my work bag are both Baggalini, and they are both great. It’s possible to get quality lightweight bags that don’t break the bank. Your shoulders will thank you for it.
8. Use a travel-specific purse and wallet
Related to #7, I do not bring my everyday purse or wallet with me on vacations. My wallet is full of membership cards, coupons, gift cards and other things I don’t need when away from home. I have a much smaller travel wallet I bring on vacation. I also do not bring everything that’s in my everyday purse with me in my travel purse. Having a travel purse and wallet force you to think about what things within each of them you actually need on your trip.
Again, I acknowledge you won’t always be able to avoid lugging along a ton of stuff on a trip. And road trips do allow you to bring more stuff more easily than air travel. But it’s been my experience that most people pack WAY more than they need to for a trip. If you’ve ever wondered if or how you could get by with less stuff on your trip, I hope this was helpful and inspirational.
Feel free to add any light-packing tips you’ve discovered in the comments.