10 Packing Light Tips For The Smart Traveler

I remember when I first went camping. I was fairly young and my mother helped me pack. Needless to say I was the kid with the biggest backpack in our group, I never got to wear all the clothes my mother had packed for me, and my backpack was so heavy I almost fell on my back. It was a traumatic experience, believe me, but it taught me over-packing wasn't something a smart girl should practice. Not even for fun; because it's not!


Packing light and smart is an art based on the idea of letting go. Have you ever wondered why you always over-pack, whether you are going away for a long weekend break or a two weeks vacation? You don't know what's going to happen next and that makes you feel insecure. You try to compensate by thinking through all the possibilities and packing accordingly. And the result is a bulk of 'if's (if it rains, if I go to a fancy restaurant, etc) stuck together in your now very heavy luggage. But you go on a vacation to relax, and enjoy yourself, and hopefully to learn something new. Why not start with mastering the packing light skill?

Carry-on luggage vs. Backpack

Another thing I learned the hard way was to always take a carry-on luggage instead of a backpack whenever traveling to cities, be it for a short city break or when hopping from one city to another. You can't walk the Camino de Santiago with a carry-on bag, but cities are paved and have smooth sidewalks and are carry-on baggage friendly. It's a pity to punish your spine by carrying the backpack from the bus station to your hotel, from there to the train station, while walking in search for budget accommodation options at your next destination, etc. Your spine is your friend, but if you treat it badly it will kick back. A wheeled backpack might be a good solution for mixed trips.

Choosing the luggage

When buying the luggage choose one that you will easily recognize. In addition you can write your name on it and get creative so you can easily spot it on the airport carousel. Don't buy it too big nor too small. The cabin size that will fit under your sit or in the overhead compartment during the flight is the best. Also choose a light but strong bag. It's silly carrying around a bag that's heavier than its content.

What to pack

Pick clothes that coordinate well together, based around complimentary colors. Also check the weather forecast of the destination and plan accordingly. Don't pack more than two pairs of socks and a couple of lingerie items. They can be easily hand washed at the end of the day. I won't go through an exhaustive and exhausting list of what to pack items. I figure it out you won't have many problems with that. It's the over-packing that's 'killing' us.

the cats now like to hang out inside luggage
However cute, please don't pack the cat

What not to pack

Don't pack what you don't want to lose (e.g. jewelries, expensive watches), or could attract thieves. Leave the books and CDs at home too. They are heavy and chances are you won't use them. Take instead your e-reader or iPad with you if you think you'll need some entertainment on the flight or on the beach. Also check out the airport's security guidelines. Many airlines have restricted the amount of liquids passengers can carry on the plane and some of them won't let you take aboard neither knives, scissors, nor any other pointy objects, shaving foam, hairspray, insect spray, etc. But these are not vital objects. However, if you can't survive a few days without them, you can always buy them at your destination. I haven't found a country without shops yet! 

Size matters

When it comes to personal toiletry items, pack the travel size bottles, choose a regular toothbrush or razor over electric models, and look for the all-purpose lotion instead of multiple lotions for hands, face and body. You can also buy some toiletries at your destination. Depending on where you are headed, they might even be cheaper than if you bought them in your country. Leave the almost empty bottles behind to make room for the souvenirs.

what's in my bag

How to pack

Iron everything before placing it in the suitcase. Button all buttons and zip all zippers. Learn to fold. Roll the clothes or place a piece of tissue paper between each layer of clothing to prevent wrinkling. Place the items to be worn first on the top and unpack as soon as you get to the hotel. Packing too tight or too loose causes clothes to wrinkle. Eliminate wasted space, such as the insides of shoes, which are perfect for socks.

Safe packing

Always carry travel documents, medication, traveler's checks, keys and other valuables in your carry-on luggage. Items such as these should never be packed in checked luggage, though I could argue you should never pack more than one bag. No matter how attached we might be to our material possession, we don't really need them all that much.

Ask for help

You can always ask a friend to come over and go through the packing list together. It can be just the pinch of salt packing might need to become fun.


Repack your used clothing identically to your original packing method. Balled-up, dirty laundry takes more space than carefully folded clothes.

The benefits of packing light

Being a one-bag packer has lots of advantages. You eliminate checked baggage fees, while it's easier to take public transportation, instead of the more expensive and sometimes scam-prone taxis. You avoid lost baggage, you have greater mobility and you can enjoy your vacation hassle-free.

Do you have any more light packing tips? 

Photos via Flickr Creative Commons