There are so many benefits to traveling light: not only do you not have to pay baggage fees, wait for your bags, or risk the airline losing them, but you become much more mobile and flexible with less weight to carry, making traveling more comfortable and enjoyable. The key to traveling light is to not pack much—in this case, less is most definitely more.
Invest in the Right Bag
It’s a universal truth that you will fill up whatever size bag you have. So the first rule of traveling light is to get a smaller bag (whether a roller or backpack). Aim for a carry on that will fit under a seat or in the overhead compartment. Just be aware that different airlines have different carry-on size and weight limits. Buy the lightest bag you can afford and weigh your packed bag so there are no surprises at the airport. Also try rolling your suitcase around or carrying your backpack to check their comfort and maneuverability before your trip. Bring a lightweight and collapsible tote bag to use while traveling, and to fit souvenirs for the return flight.
Make Smart Decisions on What to Bring
Clothes make up the bulk of most luggage, so be very picky about what to bring. Only pack what you absolutely need, not what you think you might want. You only need to pack one week’s worth of clothing, even if your trip is for much longer. Plan to do laundry along the way—find a laundromat or laundry service, or wash things by hand in the bathroom sink.
A good rule of thumb for a week or longer is three bottoms, five tops, five pairs of socks, and seven pairs of underwear. Ladies can add a dress or two. Bring versatile pieces that can mix and match, in neutral or easy to pair colors, to maximize the number of outfits you can get from limited pieces. Even better if those pieces are convertible or can do double duty—like a sarong that can work as a skirt, scarf, wrap, towel, blanket, or even a bag.
Traveling to a cold climate? Bring light layers instead of bulky sweaters. Performance fabrics (like merino wool or synthetic blends) that breathe well, minimize wrinkles, and are fast drying are better options than cotton. If you need a jacket, bring one that takes up minimal space, like an ultralight down jacket that packs down really small, or a lightweight rain jacket for rainy areas. If you must bring a heavier fleece or jacket, wear it on the plane with you.
Don’t bring more than three pairs of shoes. Planning to sightsee or do a lot of walking? Bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. Swap them out for hiking boots with support if you’re planning on a serious trek. Pack one pair of sandals, flats, or flip flops. Only bring a pair of dress shoes if you absolutely have to, and your walking shoes or sandals won’t cut it. Use Ziploc bags or shower caps to wrap your shoes in your bag, and wear your bulkiest pair.
Chances are, you can buy toiletries wherever you are going. Most hotels also offer at least soap and shampoo, and many will offer additional items if requested. If you must have your favorite brands, pour them into travel-sized containers less than 100ml to carry onboard. Also consider whether you even need that much—if not, use even smaller containers like pillboxes or contact lens cases. Solid toiletries are also a good option, last longer, and can be cut into smaller pieces. If you’re traveling with someone, share toiletries.
Unless you’re on a business trip, you likely won’t need a laptop. Even then, a tablet or phone may suffice. Like to read? Bring a Kindle instead of bulky books. Also consider whether you need a camera. These days, most phones take very high quality photos. If you must bring a camera, invest in a compact and lighter mirror less model. Do bring a portable battery pack and a universal adapter with multiple USB ports (especially if traveling overseas), and leave unnecessary plugs at home.
Learn to Pack Well
Make a Packing List
To avoid the temptation to over pack, create a packing list (or find one online) and stick to it. Factor in the weather conditions at your destination(s), as well as any planned activities. Lay out everything you want to bring, and consider whether you absolutely need each item carefully. If there’s any doubt, don’t bring it. And don’t wait until the last minute to pack, as you’re more likely to pack the wrong, or unnecessary, things in your rush.
Use Packing Organizers
Packing cubes are a game changer in helping you pack like a pro. They come in different sizes and you can fold or roll your clothes inside them. You can organize the cubes by type of clothing (tops, bottoms, underwear) or by outfits and days. Some even compress, freeing up even more space. Just bear in mind that adding more things to fill that space will add more weight. Don’t have packing cubes? You can also use Ziploc bags and force the excess the air out. Bring extra Ziploc bags. They will come in handy to keep you organized, store wet or dirty clothing, and numerous other uses.
Traveling light may seem like an impossible goal, but with some planning, using tips gleaned from years (and many miles) of experience, and a change in mindset, you too can learn to pack well and travel light on your Gate 1 Travel trip—and you’ll be so glad you did!