There are so many benefits to packing light and travelling with only carry on.
When travelling, not only does heavy luggage weigh you down and make moving exhausting, but it also costs a small fortune! These days many low-cost carriers have even started charging for a cabin bag (looking at your Ryan Air and Wizz Air!!).
However, packing light like a pro is easier said than done, especially if you love to have all the things you love and creature comforts from home. In this post, we’re diving into the art and science of packing light and sharing our secrets for keeping your luggage under control.
1. Keep in mind all the benefits at all times
There are so many benefits to travelling light! Think about which benefit motivates you the most and keep it in mind when you are packing off your trip.
Is it about the money you’ll save on flights? That you’ll be able to easily walk and take public transport with your bags? That you don’t need to worry about your luggage being lost by an airline? Is it the feeling of liberation you feel by not being literally weighed down by stuff?
Whatever your reason, get clear on it and use it to motivate you to stick to the next secrets to packing light.
2. Pack for One Week
Whether you are travelling for a week, a month or a year, the trick to packing light and staying within luggage limits is to strictly pack for one week only. Identify the number of items you will need for a week (depending on the climate of course) and stick to it. Don’t pack multiples of things that aren’t necessary such as swimsuits and outwear.
Be utterly ruthless with this because every single tiny little thing you decide to pack is taking up valuable space in your luggage.
This system will keep you on track!
It is a lot easier to do laundry once a week than to lug around a month's worth of clothes (not to mention cheaper than checking in extra baggage for each flight).
If you are on a long trip and know that for example you will be in a winter climate in 6 months and a hot climate now, consider buying the warm things you need once you are there instead of carrying them with you.
TRAVEL HACK: Bring a pouch of laundry powder and a dry bag so that you can hand wash dry underwear & socks in-between big laundry loads.
3. Write a packing list & stick to it
Once you have gotten clear on what you need to pack for a week. Write every little thing down. You can use the notepad on your phone for this.
Once you have written it all down, pull out what is on your list and ONLY what is on your list.
Be strong, if there is extra room in your bag, leave it! You will thank yourself later when you find some awesome souvenirs that you can take home with you.
If you leave 20% space in your bag, you are onto a winner!
4. Adopt a minimalist mindset: Only Pack “Must Haves” Not “Just In Case”
“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”
If you have written out your packing list and still find all of the stuff you MUST bring with you won’t in a suitcase that can carry 25kg, then it’s time to adjust your mindset.
Make sure you know what your bare essentials are for your trip. Only take things that you NEED not things that you want or might be nice to have just in case. You will come to regret all of your “just in case” items! Doing this may even result in you throwing away beloved possessions that you could have left safely at home because you get sick of lugging around those stilettos you brought in case of a night out on the town!
- What are your must haves?
- What can you do without temporarily?
- Are there any toiletries or cosmetic essentials that you can’t buy on your trip?
- What clothing do you need to take for comfort and practical reasons?
- What medication must you have with you?
- What gadgets are non-negotiables?
If going over all of this in your head is proving difficult, work backwards. Gather all of the items you want to take with you and lay them all out on your bed. Evaluate every single item and decide whether it is a nice to have, just in case or a must-have.
If it’s not a must-have, leave it behind. If you won’t wear it or use it every day, leave it out.
Do not pack clothes that you don’t reach for all the time at home, just don’t.
If you find yourself on your trip and you need something that you ruthlessly left behind, just buy it when you’re there. Easy.
We tend to want to pack 50% more than we need, so keep this in mind!
5. Start with a smaller bag
Whatever space you have, trust us, you will fill it. You simply can’t overpack a small bag! If you are aiming for carry-on only make sure your bag fits within the maximum dimensions.
Starting small will help you stay on track and keep light.
Also, consider the weight of the bag itself. Some backpacks and suitcases use heavier materials and come with lots of sleeves and pockets that add bulk and take up valuable space.
Hardcases as well limit the amount of stuff you can squeeze it so fabric backpacks and suitcases tend to be easier to pack (and less likely to be smashed by airlines!).
6. Use packing cells
Packing cells are an essential packing hack when it comes to fitting all your stuff into a small space. Packing cells help you organise your stuff (one cell for tops, one cell for bottoms, one cell for undergarments etc) so it’s easy to organise and locate while you are travelling and they also allow you to significantly compress your clothing and shoes.
Just remember that this will do nothing to help your bag weigh less!
7. Pack versatile layers, not bulk
When it comes to your clothing, opt for lightweight and multifunctional fabrics. Try and pack clothing that you will always reach for daily, is comfortable, can be layered, is easy to wash & dry and has multiple uses in various climates.
If you travel frequently or are going on a longer trip traversing different climates, consider investing in some new pieces.
In colder climates, multiple thin layers of good fabric such as merino take up less space and give you greater flexibility than packing bulky clothes. Fashionistas may be cringing at this tip but you may need to sacrifice your personal style to keep your luggage light.
Also, consider only taking simple colours that all go well together. This way you can easily create a range of different outfits by mixing and matching each piece you pack to give yourself the illusion of a bigger wardrobe.
Consider taking or investing in a lightweight down jacket that can be compressed down to a small size. This will keep you warm in many different climates and at any time of day.
8. Pack light, multipurpose shoes
When it comes to unnecessary overpacking, the most common culprit is shoes, especially ‘just-in-case’ shoes.
Take a maximum of three pairs of shoes, including the ones you are wearing on the plane, bus or train.
Take one pair of light slides or flip-flops (the Arizona Essentials EVA Birkenstocks are perfect for this), one pair of walking/hiking shoes and one pair of light casual sneakers (think Converse) is what we recommend.
Stick to neutral tones that can be worn with any of the outfits you pack. Comfort and quality are king when it comes to the shoes you decide to pack!
9. Don’t take a towel, take a sarong instead
Towels are bulky! Sometimes those travel towels just don’t cut the mustard either. Most places apart from cheap hostels will provide you with a towel, either for free or for a small fee. If you don’t want to keep paying the fee, take a sarong or Turkish towel instead.
This is especially true if you are on a beach trip as the sarong/Turkish towel can be used as a beach towel, a scarf and shower towel, a shawl and a sarong).
If you’re travelling to a beach destination, you will be able to find amazing sarongs once you get there so there is no need to even pack one.
10. Only pack travel-size toiletries or buy them there
Don’t take full-size shampoo and conditioner, just don’t. If you can’t live without your special type of shampoo, pour it into a 100ml travel-size container (which lasts a surprisingly long time, depending on your hair!).
Also, avoid liquid soap and stick to a bar. It lasts so much longer and takes up much less space. We also love shampoo bars for this same reason.
11. Minimise your makeup
If you don’t want to go totally makeup free (we don’t blame you!), minimise what you take. Adopt the same approach as you would with your clothing. Take only the essentials and nothing else. Don’t worry about the different shades of lipstick or eyeshadow you might need in case of a glam night out.
Stick to your holy grail items, the ones that you will always reach for and that you will use every time you put your face on!
And also remember, you can always buy makeup for a special occasion once you are there if you need it.
12. Pack a canvas tote bag
Canvas tote bags are lightweight, strong and can hold a surprising amount of stuff. They are multi-use and so versatile (they can be your beach bag, shopping bag, handbag, overnight bag, gym bag, laundry bag etc).
Canvas bags are a great way to temporarily expand your luggage capacity if you need (for example food you have left over that you are carrying from one destination to the next).
They are affordable too so it doesn’t matter if it gets ruined.
13. Evaluate which gadgets you need to take carefully
Let’s face it, travelling with electronics is kind of essential (especially if you are a digital nomad or a remote worker). However, gadgets tend to be hard, bulky and heavy so make sure you do an audit on which gadgets you are taking with you before you begin packing.
- Do you really need to bring your laptop with you? If you are just going to a short holiday, consider leaving it behind.
- Is your bulky DSLR really going to be used much or does your smartphone actually take just as decent photos?
- Do you really need to take your chunky headphones? Earbuds are a much more compact option.
What about your wireless speaker? If you can’t live without loud tunes, think about investing in a small speaker.
Consolidate your cables, adapters and chargers. Consider what you need and what you don’t, carefully.
Think about whether it is worth investing in more compact electronics, depending on how much you travel and what work you do.
Maybe selling your old camera in favour of a smaller one is worthwhile. Maybe investing in a lightweight laptop will be totally worth it. Perhaps purchasing a lightweight portable charger and multi-input charging will be worth its while.
Just don’t skimp out on quality! There is nothing worse than electronics failing when you are travelling!
14. Wear your bulky stuff
It’s not always possible to only pack thin layers and light shoes. There is a simple fix to this, don’t pack them, wear them! Wear your thicker jumpers, heavier jackets and chunkier shoes on travel days.
This tip may be a bit tricky if you are on a trip that is traversing the tropics and the Alps, but trust us, it will be worse wearing heavier clothes in a warm climate if your luggage also weighing you down!
Also, consider purchasing warmer items once you arrive at your cold destination instead of taking them with you. If the cold destination is your first stop you may be better off sending your warm stuff in a package home if it's valuable or donating it to a second-hand shop if you can live without it.
15. Invest in a Kindle
This may be controversial for book lovers but if you need to be reading on your travels then you need a Kindle. Books are ridiculously heavy and super annoying to lug around. Investing in a Kindle is the best way to keep reading without the extra weight and hassle of paper books.
16. Pack in advance & not in a panic
If you are reading this post with only a few hours til your flight, you’re a bit late for this tip!
Save yourself a lot of hassle by being organised and packing in advance. Start adding to your travel list weeks ahead of your trip. You can even start a list of things you need to buy for your trip and a separate packing list of things you already have.
Have all of the items purchased and list done at least 48-24 hours before your flight and start laying things out and organising them into packing cells the day before.
If you start your packing list the day of your trip and panic pack, you’ll end up taking a bunch of stuff you don’t need and leaving essentials behind.
17. Get some luggage scales
And take them with you! This will take the guessing out of packing and repacking. You will always know whether you are in or outside of your weight limit and will make the airport a much more enjoyable and stress-free experience.
Luggage scales are affordable and lightweight. Amazon is the best place to pick up a pair!