The Art of Packing Light
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
How to spend a week abroad without checking a bag!
Looking for ways to maximize your travel time and reduce unnecessary waiting? Stop worrying about whether your suitcase is going to meet you at your destination. Learn the art of packing light so you can get out of the baggage lines and get your travel on!
Not check a bag? I know it sounds crazy! But imagine spending months planning the perfect trip, only to arrive at your dream travel destination without your suitcase. This can be extremely frustrating and cost you precious time waiting and filling out forms at the lost baggage desk. After which you may spend hours or days without your belongings, and have to coordinate how to get them back. This can prove to be a difficult task, especially if you're visiting multiple locations during your trip.
Keep in mind you can always check your bag on the way home if you buy wine or something else that isn't allowed in a carry-on. The goal here is to maximize your travel time on the way TO your destination so you have more time to enjoy it. Read on to learn how to travel with a carry-on suitcase and a backpack, and still have room for souvenirs!
1. Use all available space in your suitcase.
It's important to arrange what you pack in a way that uses all available space. Treat your suitcase like a Jenga puzzle, and move things around until you find the most efficient arrangement. Some examples are to pack socks inside your shoes, lay your shoes flat across the bottom and stack clothes on top, or invest in some vacuum seal travel bags.
Suitcases with a lot of pockets and zippers can be nice to separate different types of items; however, too many pockets or dividers can actually take up valuable space. Soft cover suitcases like the Protocol® Centennial 3.0 21" Spinner or the American Tourister Pirouette X 20" Lightweight are great soft sided options that meet the requirements for international travel. If you prefer hardcover suitcases there are plenty of options here as well, including "techie" bags that have USB ports for charging your devices!
If you're traveling within Europe, be sure to check your airline's carry-on size restrictions before you go. They will make you pay to check your bag if it's too big. See my article, "Everything You Need to Know for an International Flight" for more information on European airline carry-on restrictions.
2. Take clothes you're willing to leave behind.
This can be a total game changer. The concept here is that after wearing a shirt, sweater, or even an entire outfit, leave it at your hotel. This is an ingenious way to pack enough clothes for your trip while having room for souvenirs on your way home! There are a couple of ways you can accomplish this. If it's time for a wardrobe purge and you have clothes you're ready to part with, take those on your trip and leave them as you wear them.
The second option is to visit your local Goodwill, thrift shop, or consignment store to buy outfits for your trip. You don't even have to buy everything you'll need to wear for the entire trip, just enough so you will have room to replace with souvenirs or other items you buy during your travels. Whether you purge your wardrobe or buy "throwaway clothes", this is a great way to create space in your suitcase as you go!
3. Create a carry-on toiletry bag.
TSA restrictions limit the liquids in your carry-on bag to individual bottles of 100 ml (3.4 ounces) or less, and put in a clear plastic quart size bag. This may be the most challenging part of not checking a bag, especially if you have certain skin and hair products you like to use. The travel aisle at the grocery store is a good place to start. As an alternative, Target usually has an endcap or small section with good quality sample size beauty products. If you still can't find products you're happy with, buy a set of small liquid travel containers and fill them with the products you use at home.
Instead of using a kitchen zipper bag, I would recommend buying a sturdier clear travel bag that you can reuse whenever you travel. Just refill the bottles after each trip, so it's always ready for your next adventure! Keep in mind if you use liquid make-up this will need to go in your clear bag as well. You can put the rest of your make-up and other non-liquids like razors, deodorant and hair ties in a different small bag to make room for more liquids in your toiletry bag.
No matter which type of bag you use, always keep your liquids within easy reach, in an outside pocket of your suitcase or in your backpack. It will make your life so much easier when you can quickly pull them out at the security checkpoint, as well as to freshen up on the plane or in the airport bathroom when you reach your final destination!
4. Set shoe boundaries for yourself.
You may be thinking, "How can I possibly know which pair of shoes I will want to wear with a particular outfit on any given day? How can I have a variety of shoes without them taking up half of my suitcase?" You have to create healthy shoe boundaries for yourself. Limit yourself to 3 - 4 pairs of shoes at the MOST, especially for a one week trip! Wear a pair of comfy shoes on the flight that easily slip on and off, to make security easier and in case you have a short connection time between flights. These should be shoes that can also be worn during your trip for walking or sightseeing.
Take 2 - 3 other pairs of shoes that will match multiple outfits. Gray, black, brown or off-white are usually good color choices. This is always MUCH less challenging in warmer weather because sandals take up less space than winter boots! If you're going somewhere cold, you'll probably only have room for 2 extra pairs in your suitcase. Good luck on this one!
5. Choose clothes that are versatile.
As with the shoes, be smart about the clothes you pack! It's hard to limit your wardrobe when you want to look cute for pictures, but it can be done if you get creative! Jeans and shorts can be re-worn with different tops. Cotton dresses are a great option during warmer weather and don't take up much space. Take a neutral colored sweater, jean jacket, or flannel shirt to throw on over tanks or t-shirts or tie around your waist while you're out and about.
Don't forget to accessorize! Use necklaces, scarves, and cute headbands to spice up your outfits. Scarves are great to wear or carry in your bag during summer travel if you like to visit churches. Most churches ask you to cover your shoulders if you're wearing a tank top or sundress, and a scarf is great to be able to wrap around yourself on the spur of the moment. To save packing room, buy a scarf while you're traveling...you can wear it on your trip and keep it as a souvenir! Whatever you do, just be careful not to pack clothes that wrinkle easily, unless your hotel has an iron. Although, who wants to spend time on their vacation ironing clothes when you can be out exploring?
6. Know your hotels.
Does your hotel, apartment, or bed and breakfast have a hair dryer and/or bathroom products? Research your accommodations carefully and find out what amenities they offer. If you're worried about the limited amount of bathroom products you brought, use the ones at your hotel first and save yours for a place that may not have them.
If your hotel has a hair dryer, that's one less thing you have to pack. If it's necessary to bring your own, invest in a small travel size hairdryer to save room. Just make sure you have the correct electrical adapter for the plug size and voltage. A great option is the All in One World Travel Adpater on Amazon. See my article, "5 Travel Gadgets You Need for Your Next Trip" for more information on this adapter!
7. Need a coat? Wear it on the plane.
Traveling in the winter or going somewhere that will have cold weather? Save space in your suitcase by wearing your big coat on the plane. Chances are, you'll need to put it on when your get to your destination anyway. Might as well have it handy! You can also ball it up and use it as a pillow during the flight.
If the weather isn't going to be extremely cold, take a lighter weight insulated puffy coat that rolls up or comes with its own stuff sack. Try to fit the stuff sack in your suitcase or backpack, or you can hang it from your backpack with a carabiner. Even if you're going somewhere warm and don't need a coat, at least pack a light raincoat in case of a summer shower or thunderstorm. Again, take something versatile that will match whatever you're wearing!
8. Leave a little extra space in your backpack.
If you follow the tips listed above, you should be able to pack all of your clothes, shoes, and toiletries in your suitcase. That leaves your backpack for everything else! A medium to large size rucksack or day pack should be just the right size. One option is the Northface Recon Laptop Backpack, but any good quality hiking or sports pack will work. You don't need a backpacking pack with a frame and hip pads on the side, just something that will fit under your seat on the plane.
The trick here is not to overpack! Basically, your backpack should have the things you need access to on the flight, and can double as a day pack for sightseeing excursions if needed. You should also be able to fit your travel pillow in your backpack on the way to your travel destination. On your way home, attach the pillow to the outside of your backpack or put it in a stuff sack and attach it with a carabiner. This will leave space inside your backpack for souvenirs. See my article "How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on" for more information on this topic.
Ready to travel light and worry-free?
I hope you found these tips helpful and will put them to the test! Have other great ideas for how to save time and space? I'd love to hear your ideas and feedback!