How to Pack Light for Travel

March 19, 2019

Packing light is one of the best decisions you can make when traveling anywhere, at any distance. From not paying excess weight fees at the airport to having less weight to stress your back and body, packing light is a smart choice. However, that doesn’t mean it will be easy for all. Packing light means having to do some compromising, taking only the things you really need and not much of what you don’t. This isn’t quite minimalist packing, if you’re wondering. If you want to take an extra book but don’t “need” it, take it anyway. If you really want to pack a backup charger or car charger for your laptop, take it. Sometimes you’ll compromise with what you want to take, too.

Before starting, you should try to set a limit on a certain bag size or weight. If you can pack everything you need into a single suitcase—or better still, a backpack—that can fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane, super. If not, that’s okay. Sometimes medications or other essential items can take up more space than you expected, or other issues can arise. If you can’t fit everything in one suitcase (or luggage piece) plus a small backpack, you’re technically not going to be traveling light. Not quite there yet? Let’s dive in.


Picking an appropriate suitcase is essential, as it will become the building block for your packing. Firstly, instead of opting for the biggest suitcase you have, instead try fitting everything you need into your smallest suitcase. Mission success if you can get everything you need into it. If not, or if you need just a little more space, see if the extras will fit in your backpack or other very small carry-on luggage. Looking for a new suitcase, perhaps smaller or more modern? There are plenty of options on the market, but here are two of the best.

The 20 inch Samsonite Flexis Expandable Softside is one of the most popular suitcases on the market. It’s small enough to be light and easily-transported, but big enough to fit everything you need, and even a little more than that. The Aeronaut 45 by Tom Bihn is a more expensive ($140 for the Samsonite versus $300 for the Tom Bihn) option but keeps a compact size in a different package and form factor, perfect for those who want the versatility to carry their luggage as a backpack, shoulder bag, or duffel bag.


The next step is straightforward, probably obvious for most. When actually packing your bag, make sure you only bring the clothes and shoes that you’ll need and know you’ll wear. Here, you’ll likely have to do some compromising again. That means no packing an extra pair of shoes just to go with one outfit and no packing three sweaters when one sweater will suffice for a week (if traveling to a warmer climate). Remember, your aim is to make your luggage as compact and lightweight as possible. Writing up a checklist of everything you’ll need might be a good step to take here.

Once you have everything you need, it’s time to actually pack. A great packing strategy is rolling your clothes instead of folding them. This condenses the amount of space your clothes would normally take up, and may even be enough to warrant buying a new, smaller suitcase. If there is excess space, don’t try to fill it up with extra items. Shoes can fit in free space when before, you may have had a tough time squeezing them in. Just be sure to ration your shoes too. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, use your best judgement. For example, if you’re only taking a one-week trip, two pairs of shoes should suffice, but you can stretch to three if you really need to.


Grooming products, medications, and other accessories can quickly eat up extra space. Instead of using the original shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles your products came in, pour out enough of what you need into travel-sized containers. Hair products, plus skin products, plus deodorant, a toothbrush, toothpaste, plus this and plus that; it all adds up and takes up more space than you would expect. Some medications can also be placed or poured into smaller containers, so do as well if possible to save space. Again, organize only what you need and pack it in.

Now you’re well on your way to packing light and enjoying a new, more mobile way to vacation. Want to reallypack light? You may even be able to fit everything you need into one travel-sized backpack which you can take with you straight from the hotel room into exploration. If not a backpack, stick to one or two suitcases max rule (technically it should only be one if you want to be traveling light). Lastly, use a regular scaleor specialized travel scale to weigh your total. You should see a big difference between your new, light luggage and how much it weighed before.


Packing light will pay dividends for your back, body, and mind at the end of the trip. Less stress, less weight to lug around, and much less stuff to unpack and pack again is the recipe for a great vacation. That’s why when packing light, less is definitely more!

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