A Thorough Guide on How to Travel Light

An in-depth guide on how to travel light A Thorough Guide on How to Travel Light thegearhunt.com

It is important for you to travel light when you go on a trip. For example, you will never come across a traveler who will brag to you that after every one of their trips they pack heavier and heavier. You just can’t travel cheap, happy, and heavy. This means that you will need to choose two of those options.

One Bag

The limit that I set for myself when traveling is 20 pounds in a bag small enough to fit into the overhead compartment on a plane – 14’’ x 21’’ x 9’’. However, that is an American domestic flight. Many of the European airlines will restrict carry on luggage to smaller dimensions and weights.

For many people, this size bag and no more might seem to be an impossibility. There are even some who will claim that those are just the dimensions of their cosmetic or shaving kit. However, if you can do this, you will be glad for it. Once you have enjoyed the sweet freedom and mobility this gives you, you will never want to pack heavier.

The thing is, you will tend to walk more with your luggage than you might realize. Before your next trip, test yourself. Pack everything you want to take and walk just around your block – or even just around your house. You might even want to practice being a tourist right in your town for about an hour. With all of your bags, you should be able to enjoy the outing. If it is too much, drag it all back home with you and thin it out a bit.

See, when you make a point of carrying all of your luggage with you, it will be less likely to get stolen, broken, or lost. Last minute and quick flight changes can be easier. Small bags will fit nicely on your lap in a taxi or a bus and will be easily stashed on a plane. You won’t need to worry about it, and when you reach your destination, you will have the ability to hit the ground running. That is a great feeling. When you arrive at your destination, you can head off into the city while everyone else is crowded around the baggage carousel. When you fly home, you will not have to wade through those luggage carousel crowds and can just head home to relax.

Nowadays, you can even save more money if you pack light. Most overseas trips will still allow you to check one bag for free, but for a second bag, there can be a hefty charge. If you happen to be taking separate flights out of the country, you can plan on paying for even a single bag.

Dragging all of that luggage through a crowded airport can be a drag. Sometimes though, you might even wonder why you should bother with a single carry on. At other times, you will be reminded of the advantages of carrying all you packed with you – such as when you will be able to hop an earlier flight at the last minute. You won’t need to worry about making sure that your luggage makes it from where ever they stashed it for your original flight to the plane you will be boarding for the earlier one.

Even taking all of that into account, packing light isn’t solely about saving money or time. It is ultimately about your traveling style. Carrying too much luggage can single you out as a tourist. It will slam doors shut and your serendipity can suffer. Moving from one location to the next can turn into a major undertaking. Con artists can target you. Porters can pose problems for those who need them too. When you have only a single bag, you will be in control and mobile. This is advice that needs to be taken seriously.

Packing 101

So how do you manage to fit everything you will need for your trip into a small suitcase or backpack? The answer is really quite simple – take very little.

Spread everything that you might need out on the floor in your living room. Scrutinize every single item. Ask yourself if you will really need each thing enough to warrant carrying it around with you for the entire trip. Take note – this should not be whether or not it will be used, but if it will be used enough for you to feel good hauling it around.

Don’t pack things thinking that you ‘might’ need them in a worst-case scenario. Instead, pack for best-case scenarios and purchase what you might need if you get in a jam. Instead of taking a heavy coat, bring layers. Think about what you can make do without, not about what might be handy to have. When you find yourself in doubt about an item, don’t pack it. You don’t need to pack an entire summer’s worth of toiletries. These things are sold all over the world. You can even find them in the tourist shops in many hotels. Rather than carrying all of these types of toiletries, take what you need to get started, and then when you run out, buy it where ever you might be.

It doesn’t matter if you will be gone for a week or a month, you should pack the same. If you want to keep your clothes packed tightly while still being organized well, zip them into packing cubes. In order to truly make the most of the space in your luggage, think about getting clothes compressors or airless baggies – but look for the more heavy-duty ones that have been made to stand up to a lot of usage. You can also get specially designed folding boards, like the Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder. These will allow you to fold and carry your clothes with only minimal wrinkles. Another item that comes in handy are mesh bags. You can use them for socks, underwear, and even gadgets, a sewing kit, clothesline, earplugs, a first aid kit, and more.

Let’s talk a bit about a couple of different types of challenges when it comes to packing.

Long Trips Covering Multiple Climates

If you aren’t quite sure how to pack for your South American trip that will take you from the beaches in Rio to the mountains of Patagonia, you don’t need to worry. You can get everything you need into a single carry on.

The first thing you need to realize is that if your trip is going to last for more than a week, you will need to do laundry. Your back and shoulders will definitely thank you for not carrying around a month’s worth of clothes. You have choices too. You might pay the hotel to do your laundry for you, find a laundromat, or do it old school and wash your clothes in the sink in your bathroom.

The second thing you can do is to be creative. This is when those neat little dual-purpose clothes come in handy. You know the ones, the pants with the zip off legs that can be used as shorts too, or the jackets with a bazillion packets that can hold all of your little gadgets and necessary items.

It is critical for you to choose your carry-on luggage wisely. You should ensure that it features enough compartments and pockets to assist you with being organized. It also needs to have as much room as possible while not being too large to fit in the overhead compartment on a plane.

The secret when it comes to going through multiple climates has to do with layering. That same t-shirt that you will wear while strolling through the hot streets of Rio can also be your base layer for when you are hiking through the snow-capped peaks of the Andes. Keep heavier layers to a minimum. Remember that you can wear the same fleece or sweater each day as long as you change the lighter layer that is next to your skin. Also, make sure that you wear your jacket on the plane so that you won’t have to give up that precious space in your carry-on for it.

If your trip happens to begin in a cold climate but end in one that is more tropical, you might even want to think about mailing your cooler weather clothes home so that you won’t need to worry about carrying them with you until you get home. However, depending on where you are, this might be expensive. That said, if you still have a few weeks left for your trip, lightening the load might well be worth the cost. You might also just consider taking older clothes with you that you won’t mind leaving behind or donating once you are done with them.

The Business Trip

When it comes to packing light, the business trip poses 2 main challenges. These are: managing to look professional without needing to bring along half of your clothes, and bringing just the gadgets that are necessary to get your job done.

Unless your trip will be a long one, you will typically be able to get by with just a suit in a neutral color that you can change the look of with different accessories, ties, and shirts. For example, you might wear black suit pants paired with a jacket and button-down shirt for a meeting during the day, and switch it up with a different shirt and no jacket for a dinner out that night. By staying with colors that are neutral, you can also stick with only one pair of dress shoes. If you will be bringing a jacket or blazer, you can wear it on the plane in order to save space in your carry-on luggage.

The use of iPads and other types of tablets has assisted in lightening the business traveler’s load by giving them a great alternative to laptops that can be a bit bulky. If you don’t have a tablet, you might be able to get by with just a smartphone on a short trip if you will be in a hotel that offers a computer kiosk or business center.

For the business traveler who will be attending a conference, you can forget about carrying around all of those freebies and folders you got on the floor of the trade show. Go through all of them the night before you leave and only pack the ones that you will truly want or need. If your carry-on just doesn’t have the room for them, have the hotel mail whatever is left to your office.

The Cardinal Rules

There aren’t any sort of hard and fast rules that will apply to each and every trip that you go on, but there are a few tips that have served me well whenever I needed to pack light:

Limit yourself to only 2 pairs of pants and 2 pairs of shoes. Wear your heavier items while you are on the plane.

Never pack more clothes than you can wear in a week. For trips that are longer than that, plan on doing laundry while traveling.

You should only pack clothes that can go with all of the other clothing items you will be packing. If you have a garment that won’t work with multiple outfits, you don’t need to pack it.

Remember that every bit of available space is helpful. Get rid of all of those old receipts in your wallet or purse, change out those paperbacks for a single Kindle and forget about all of those items that you might pack ‘just in case’ that you can also buy with ease at your destination.

There are quite a few travelers who swear by space bags (compression bags). While these do help when it comes to making the most of your space, you need to remember that they still won’t help you remain within the weight limits set by the airlines. Remember that some airlines even weigh carry-on luggage.

Make the most of your personal item. Keep in mind that most airlines will allow you to bring a single personal item in addition to your carry-on. This can be something like a laptop bag or a purse. I tend to bring along a smaller backpack because they can hold more than a purse, but it will still be able to fit underneath the seat that is in front of me. If you need a purse, you can always fold one up and put it in a larger bag.

Try rolling your clothes up as opposed to folding them. This will minimize wrinkles while it also maximizes your space.

For all of those seasoned travelers reading this, what tips and hacks have you come up with over the years?


  1. Conde Nast Traveler, How to Pack Light: The Flight Attendant’s Guide
  2. YouTube, How to Travel Light and Look Cute
  3. WikiHow, How to Travel Light
  4. Tortuga Backpacks, 31 Travel Experts Share Their Best Tips for Packing Light