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The art of Packing Light - ultimate travel tips


After you have finished all the research, planning and booking leading up to a trip, it is finally time to actually depart....But first comes packing. Many travelers begin this process by laying all the outfit and accessory options on the bed, along with everything they could possibly need while away. Then the battle to fit it all in begins. This process often leads to over packing and bringing unnecessary items. When traveling abroad, whether the it is a short or long trip, packing light is absolutely essential. I would never take anything more than a carry-on bag and small backpack.  You can get everything you need in carry-on luggage, I promise. I have packed for a two week trip in the Canadian winter with only a carry-on-sized bag and backpack. The above picture is the only luggage I take on a trip whether one week or one month, whether in December in Canada, or July in the south of Spain. The length of your trip doesn't really matter. A longer trip doesn't mean more luggage! In this article I will go over why it is so important to travel light, as well as give some packing tips. I also consulted some of my expert traveler friends and will include their favorite tips and travel hacks as well. 

Ok, the first thing we need to talk about is why it is so important to pack light. I have a few answers to this question. 

Flexibility and Mobility: Carrying heavy luggage or an overstuffed backpack can quickly become a burden. It is difficult to navigate crowded airports, busy train stations, bustling streets, or rugged terrains with heavy suitcases.  Carrying large luggage up hills, over cobblestone streets, and on stairs can get tiring very quickly. Trust me, you will be much happier with smaller luggage. Even if you are renting a car and won't be using public transportation to get to your accommodations, a small suitcase is still very beneficial. Most of the time cars in Europe are smaller than what we are used to in North America. Trunk space will be limited. Also, you may not be able to park right beside your accommodation and will have to walk. This also applies if you are using a taxi or uber as the trunk space may be small. Lightweight luggage will be an asset no matter where you are going or how you are getting around. 

carrying a suitcase in Portugal

Save time, and money and have less stress : Say goodbye to the hassle of waiting in long check-in lines or worrying about exceeding weight limits at the airport, not to mention the huge fees for checking a bag. When you go to the airport you can go straight to the security line and don't have to go to the check in desk. Also, there is no need to worry about lost luggage. It will be with you the whole time. Another benefit is the time it saves you when you land at your destination. You don't have to go the baggage carousel. Instead, you can head straight out of the airport to begin your adventure. 

Here are 10 different ways to maximize your available space:

Plan and Prioritize: The biggest mistake travelers make is simply bringing too much stuff that they don't need. Start by making a detailed packing list and carefully assess what items are essential for your trip. Write it down ahead of time only adding travel essentials.  It is kind of like a shopping list. If you go into the store without a list, you usually come out with a lot of things you don't need. The same is true with your closet. Go in with a list and stick to it!! 

Pare it down: Even after you only pull the items from your closet that are on your list, try to pare it down Even farther. You actually need fewer clothes and less stuff than you think you do and will probably only end up using a fraction of what you bring. A good rule of thumb is to get rid of a third of what was on the original list. Try to only bring two pairs of shoes, one in your suitcase and one to wear as you travel. Shoes take up the most space in luggage. 

My friend Greg Ball from Euro Travel Coach has similar advice. This is what he says about shoes, "Limit the number of shoes you bring. Shoes take up a lot of space in a suitcase. I generally bring a pair of hiking shoes and a pair of casual dress shoes I can wear with anything I brought to wear. Wear a pair, pack a pair. I used to wear my hiking shoes on the plane to make more room in my suitcase but lately I’ve packed few enough clothes that I pack my heavier hiking shoes and wear my lighter, more comfortable shoes on the plane.

And to be clear, this is a small 20”x14” carry-on bag I’m packing into. That’s how we travel, one carry-on bag and a day pack backpack each.


I also sometimes take a pair of flip flops. They can double as casual wear, shower shoes, slippers in the hotel room, sandals on the beach, etc. And there’s always room for a pair of flip flops."

Aim to pack versatile clothing pieces: Try to pack items that can be used for multiple events and multiple outfits. Pack things that can be dressed up or dressed down, that can be mixed and matched to make multiple outfits. Choose clothes with a simple color palette that can be used multiple times and then use small accessories that don't take up much space to change the look of the outfit. 

Greg Ball agrees. This is his advice, "Make sure all your clothes match and can be worn together. In other words, if you are traveling for 10 days there is no need to bring 10 separate outfits. Bring a few pants, shirts, and sweaters that you can mix, match and layer throughout your trip. Focus on comfort and flexibility. You also want clothes that pack nicely and don’t need to be ironed to wear. 


Also keep in mind you won’t be seeing the same people day after day, except those you are traveling with, so repeating an outfit is just fine. If you wear something on Monday and Wednesday’s activities and the weather call for the same outfit, don’t worry about it!" 


Choose the Right Luggage: Opt for durable and lightweight luggage options such as a carry-on suitcase or a compact backpack. Investing in high-quality travel gear designed specifically for packing light can make a world of difference in your overall travel experience. I have found that the best travel backpacks are the Zomake lightweight hiking backpack. This is not an affiliate link. I don't get anything by recommending this backpack. It is simply my favorite. It is super cheap, durable, lightweight, water resistant and has pockets in all the spots I want pockets, including a place for a water bottle and an inside zipper for small items and an outside pocket for easy access the things I use throughout the day.  It even folds down into almost nothing if I want to keep it in my suitcase to use to bring home souvenirs. It also double as my day bag while I am on the trip. I carry all the essentials that I need for the whole day. 

folded backpack

Pack Multi-Purpose Items: Select items that serve multiple functions to maximize space and minimize the number of items you need to carry. One of my favorite things for this is a scarf. While it takes up almost no room in your suitcase, a scarf can be used for multiple things. It can be a pillow,  blanket, or head covering, for example. It also makes a HUGE difference if it is chilly out. A scarf can keep you quite warm without having to pack a bulky coat. 

Hallstatt Austria

Utilize  Compression Bags:  Compression bags are a game changer. They can add a lot of space to your suitcase by getting rid of the excess air. The bags work by having a valve or flap on the bag that lets air out but not in. You just squeeze the bag, or sit on it to get the air out. It is simple and makes a big difference. They come in all different sizes so you can use a smaller bag for pairs of socks and larger ones for pairs of pants or bulky items. They also make a great place to story your dirty clothes!

compression bags

Minimize Toiletries and Electronics: Instead of packing full-sized bottles of toiletries, opt for travel-sized containers. Of course, if you are not checking bags, you will have to use travel size liquids and gels anyway because amounts are limited to go through security but consider travel size everything. Think deodorant, or make up wipes, for example. Another option to consider is to purchase essentials upon arrival at your destination. Similarly, evaluate your electronic devices and only bring what is absolutely necessary, remembering to pack chargers and adapters in a compact travel pouch. Most hotels and Airbnbs have hair dryers so you don't need to pack one of those but if you do, there are compact, travel size ones. 

Wear Your Bulkiest Items: When space is limited, wear your bulkiest clothing items and shoes during travel days. This is a great way to free up space in your luggage. Layering is key to staying comfortable during fluctuating temperatures, so opt for lightweight and versatile layers that can be easily added or removed as needed. 

Packing Skills: When it comes to actually putting the clothes in the suitcase, the best way to roll, roll, roll. Roll your clothes tightly. This opens up so much space compared to simply folding. 

Plan to wash as you go: Many Airbnbs have washing machines. This is the simplest way to ensure you can pack light because you can wash and reuse items. Many hotels offer laundry services as well. If you don't want to pay for this service however, try the old "wash it in the sink" method. 

Let me say something about packing cubes as they have become very popular in recent years with differing opinions. When I asked my travel expert friends what their tips were for packing light, two of them mentioned packing cubes but with opposite opinions.

packing cubes

My friend Adeline from Savor and Soak  says, "Growing up, my mom only ever allowed me to bring a backpack on our trips. While I’m not as extreme as this now when I travel, I still prefer to pack light to avoid lugging my stuff around with me instead of enjoying my travels! 

My hot take: Don’t use packing cubes! Packing cubes are great for keeping your stuff organized when traveling, but I find I can pack my tiny suitcase much more efficiently without them. Socks and underwear get packed into spare shoes to save space and help keep the shoes’ shape. Smaller clothing can be packed around toiletry bags and wedged into corners.

But most importantly: even if you’re packing light, make sure to save a bit of room in your bag for a souvenir or two!" 

However, Eva from Germany Travel Company loves using the packing system of cubes and believes they help fit more into less space. She says, "In my view, one of the best investments travelers can make is in packing cubes. Typically sold in sets of five or six, these cubes significantly enhance the organization of clothing. Instead of searching through an entire suitcase for a T-shirt, you can just pick up the cube designated for T-shirts. Beyond simplifying storage and organization, packing cubes also save space, enabling you to pack more clothes. In our travels as a family of four, each person gets their own set of cubes, distinguished by color. This strategy allows us to limit our luggage to just 1-2 suitcases in total."

You will just need to try them out and form your own opinion. Personally I agree with Adeline. I think I can fit more into my suitcase without using them. You can squeeze small items into the tight spaces in your suitcase and use every inch when you aren't using the cubes. A couple of my kids, however, swear by them.

Colder climates

While traveling to a cold climate destination does make it more difficult to travel light, it doesn't need to derail your dreams of becoming a "light packer". There are a few things you can do to reduce the bulk. Do not underestimate the power of a warm hat, scarf and gloves or mittens. These items don't take up much room in your suitcase but make a huge difference in cold weather. Another trick is to pack hot hands. You can stick these in your shoes, gloves and there are even ones that stick to your body to keep your core warm. They are very small and take up almost no room. In the picture below we were biking in France. It was a very cold and rainy day. I would have been absolutely miserable without my scarf and gloves on but ended up loving our biking adventure. As you can see, I only had a sweater on but was quite comfortable. The scarf was actually a blanket from our Airbnb because I forgot to pack one...rookie mistake!!

biking in France

On your next trip, try some of these tips and see if you find a little bit of extra space. I promise, you will be less stressed, have more flexibility and mobility and will even save money. If this is your first time transitioning from a large suitcase, to a carry on, you may find it a bit difficult, but I promise it will get easier each time. Once you realize the benefits, I predict you will never look back. 

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