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Top Ten Reasons to Pack Light – And How To Do It

Are you a chronic over-packer?  I was!  I’ve changed my ways and travel is so much better now.  Here are the top ten reasons why you should consider packing light for your next trip: 

The Obvious:

1) Save money – no luggage fees

2) Save time – no need to wait in the baggage check line before departure – head right to your gate

3) Save more time – no waiting at the baggage claim for your luggage to be delivered from the belly of the plane

4) Peace of mind – no worries about lost luggage – if you carry it you know where your belongings are at all times

The Not So Obvious:

5) It is much easier to use public transportation – no need for taxis

6) Easier to maneuver through crowded city streets – you’ll be less of a target for thieves

7) No need to have a bellman escort you to your hotel room

8) Easier to stay organized on the trip if you brought less with you

9) Quickly repack if you are changing hotels mid-trip

10) Quickly pack up when it is time to go home – no need to spend your last night packing

This post contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, you do not pay a penny more but I may receive a small commission.

An Experiment

If you are a woman, you can practice traveling with less by reducing the size of your everyday purse by half or more.  I often carried a very large purse full of “what-if” items no matter where I was going. Grocery store, mall, movies, you name it; my big purse came with me.  As I thought about traveling light, I realized that I generally never use any of the “what-if” items, I just lug a heavy purse everywhere I go. I decided to experiment and transferred only the essentials to a small cross-body bag.  My large billfold was switched out for a very small wallet, I added one pair of reading glasses, I replaced my hard side sunglass case with a protective cloth glasses bag which doubles as a polishing cloth, I chose one lip balm instead of several lipsticks, I added one small tin of tiny mints rather than an assortment of gum, and I added a small travel pack of tissues. At first, I left the house feeling like “I forgot something,” but as the days passed and I realized I never missed the “what-if” items I used to drag around with me, I began to realize that I rarely, if ever, used those extra things.  All I was doing was ruining my posture with a heavy bag hanging from one shoulder every day.

This experiment emboldened me to try packing light on my recent trip to Germany and Ireland. It was an eight-day trip and I packed with only a small, international-sized wheeled carry-on suitcase plus a small tote bag as my personal item. Check with your individual airline for allowed carry on measurements – each airline has their own requirements and they could change.

Go Small

Buy a small suitcase and make sure it meets the carry-on size requirements for each airline you will be traveling. Remember that overstuffing a soft-sided suitcase can cause it to measure bigger than the stated measurement. If you are a chronic over-packer, having a small suitcase will force you to limit what you bring.  A larger suitcase lends itself to adding “just-in-case” items which means you end up overpacking (more on “what-if” items later). Buy a properly-sized, small suitcase and resist the temptation to go back to your large, unwieldy luggage.

Suitcase measurements
Check the measurements of your suitcase.

Weight Matters

Pay attention to the weight of your empty suitcase.  Buying a lightweight suitcase makes a world of difference in the final weight of your packed bag. I use an older model of this suitcase because it is lighter than most at only 4.7 pounds:  Delsey Carry-on Suitcase.

 I am able to easily carry the fully packed suitcase myself. The packed suitcase is light enough that I can easily lift it to the overhead bin without assistance, and I can easily carry it if the street surface is uneven or if we encounter stairs.  In the airport and on level ground I can simply roll it along.

Update: I have recently discovered a new carry-on suitcase that has become my go-to favorite.  It is the Minima by Chester.  The co-founder of Chester reached out and offered me a test drive of the suitcase.  I was happy to test it out and loved everything about this functional little suitcase.

carry-on Suitcase at the airport

It measures 21.5” x 13.5” x 8.5” (including wheels) which meets the international carry-on size allowed by the major airlines. It weighs only seven pounds which is very light for a hard-sided suitcase.  A fabric suitcase may be lightweight but can be prone to staining, tearing, and if it rains the contents may get wet.  A hard-sided bag, on the other hand, protects the contents and keeps them dry if caught in an unexpected rainstorm. The exterior of the Minima by Chester is made of 100% polycarbonate, making it not only unbreakable and lightweight but also flexible enough to expand slightly for maximum packing space. Visit the Chester website and take a look.  My readers can save 10% by entering the code EXPLORE at checkout. Read my full review of the Minima by Chester for more details about all the cool features of this bag including the 100-day trial period offered by the manufacturer.

Rolling vs. Carrying

Speaking of rolling vs. carrying:  You will find very strong opinions about this.  Some “experts” are extremely averse to rolling suitcases.  I tried to follow this advice and bought a very nice backpack style suitcase for a trip last year.  The fact that it was 20 pounds of weight on my back was somewhat unwieldy, but the worst part for me was that after wearing it all through the airport, my back was a sweaty mess when I took it off. My personal preference is a bag that has wheels for easy terrain like airports, but is still light enough to be carried by a handle when the situation demands.

Packing Success

With my lightweight rolling suitcase, once we landed, it was easy to take the bus from the airport to our hotel. Before adopting my pack-light mindset, I would have had a large rolling suitcase that would have needed to be checked with the airline. That suitcase would be difficult enough to maneuver on to public transportation that we would have needed to Uber or take a taxi.  Even after  successfully getting to the hotel, it would have taken up more space once we were inside our small room. At no point on this trip did I think, “I wish I had packed more.”

What to Pack

Everyone has their own ideas of comfort and style. Some people are happiest in specialized travel clothing.  Personally, I am not comfortable wearing zip-off pants. But if that type of outfit fits your style, go for it.  I prefer to pack clothes that I like to wear and feel good in. Packing with a neutral color scheme in mind makes for mix and match outfits that, with the addition of a colorful scarf, can look very different from day to day. If a piece of clothing does not work in multiple outfits, leave it home. Same goes for shoes; shoes that only work with one outfit do not earn a spot in your carry-on suitcase.

Trick for Cold Weather Destinations

Traveling to warmer destinations makes for easier packing.  Lightweight summer clothes take up less space than bulky sweaters and boots. One trick to remember, if you absolutely must bring more than fits in your small carry-on suitcase but you don’t want to check any suitcases with the airline, involves the “wearing is not carrying” principle.  The airlines limit what you CARRY on to the plane. They do not limit what you WEAR on to the plane. Wear your bulkiest items. Wear your boots, if you are going to bring boots. Pack your smaller shoes/sandals. If you are going to need a heavy coat at your destination, wear it on to the plane. You can remove it as soon as you are seated. If you really want to exploit this principle, pack a small collapsible tote or packable backpack inside of your “one personal item” carry-on.  Once you are on the plane, you can remove your extra layers and put them into the spare bag that you had in your carry-on.  You will exit the plane with more bags than you entered but at that point, no one is counting.

How to Pack Your Carry-on Suitcase

When packing your carry-on suitcase, use packing cubes like these to keep everything organized.  When you arrive at the hotel simply put the cubes inside the dresser drawers, no need to unpack out of the cubes.  When loading your suitcase, place the heavier items towards the bottom (where the wheels are). That way when the suitcase is upright it will not try to tip over. I like to put one large packing cube with pants/skirts on the bottom of the suitcase then on top of that place two smaller packing cubes, one with underwear/socks and the other with shirts.  Shoes in a shoe bag get placed on the bottom near the wheels then on top of that the plastic bag with toiletries and a small bag with chargers/electronics accessories.  

Packed suitcase
Don’t overstuff your suitcase. Choose packing cubes that fit the dimensions well.

How to Pack the Packing Cubes

Inside the packing cubes, roll your clothes.  Fold shirts into thirds lengthwise, then roll tightly starting at the short end. For pants, fold in half, one leg on top of the other, then starting at the waist roll tightly. Pack tops in one packing cube, bottoms in another. Pack underwear and socks in a third cube and pack your accessories in a fourth.  Choose a combination of packing cubes that fit your suitcase dimensions – think of it like a game of Tetris®. Once you find that perfect fit of cube sizes that works well for your suitcase you can use them every time you pack to maximize packing space and organization. 

packing the packing cubes
How to pack your packing cubes to save space and reduce wrinkles

How to Pack Your Toiletries

Pack your toiletries in a clear, quart-sized zip top bag.  If you do not have TSA precheck (or want to be prepared for the very real possibility that no one bothered to open the precheck line that day), be sure to keep this readily accessible because when you go through security you will need to remove it from your suitcase or tote. Speaking of toiletries, this is not the time to pack every possible cosmetic item you own.  Bring what you use daily. If you have them, sample sizes are great for travel. Otherwise, transfer liquids into smaller travel bottlesif your bottles are larger than 3.4 ounces. I no longer bring shampoo, conditioner, or shower gel with me. I use the products provided by the hotel. As long as you are staying in nice hotels this works out well.

How to Pack Your Chargers

A small canvas zipper bag is helpful for corralling your charging cords and electronics accessories. Repurpose an old cosmetic bag or get something like this travel gadget organizerUse gear ties to keep the cords from becoming tangled. If you plan to use these items in the airport or in-flight, keep it handy in your “one personal item” carry-on. Update: I’ve recently started bringing a portable charger with me on all trips.  This can be a life-saver on long flights or long days touring when you don’t have access to a place to charge your phone.  This one is small, lightweight and best of all, it can charge your device several times. On a recent trip, our first night in Dublin, I was exploring the area alone when I realized my phone was almost out of battery and I was far from our hotel.  This was frightening as I did not know how to get back to my hotel! I had planned to use Google maps when I was ready to return.  Without battery, I was not able to use my phone for maps or to make a call or text! I decided then and there that before my next trip I would buy a portable charger. Update: Check out this new post on Top Tech Travel Gadgets for more packing advice about chargers and tech gadgets.

Keep your cords, chargers, adapters, and headphones organized.

Plan to do Laundry for Longer Trips

If your trip will be longer than one week, pack enough clothes for one week and plan to do some laundry or have your laundry done for you. Most cities have laundrettes where you can drop off your dirty clothes in the morning and pick up clean/folded clothes that evening or the next day. This is especially useful for heavy items like jeans that would take a long time to dry if washed in your hotel sink.  Keep in mind though that this is not a good idea for delicates. Your clothes will be washed, possibly all together depending on the practices of the business you choose, and dried on high in the dryer. If you usually hang your items to dry this might be a problem. Another alternative, although more costly, is to have your hotel do the washing for you. There is usually a bag in your room that you fill with your dirty clothes and clean clothes are returned to you the next day. On a recent trip when I looked at the pricing, I saw I could have bought a new shirt for the price the hotel wanted to charge to clean my shirt! But, if convenience is what you are after, this is an easy option. For small, lightweight items, you can do a little laundry in your hotel sink in the evening before bed and your items will be dry by the next evening. If you plan to do this pack a little bit of detergent with your toiletries or, in a pinch, use hotel shampoo. Washing laundry in the hotel sink works well for socks and underwear which can easily be hung to dry from the clips on the clip-style pants hanger from the hotel closet to dry. Be sure to wring out as much water as possible before hanging items. After wringing, roll the items up in a towel and squeeze some more to help remove all moisture.  Your items will dry more quickly and you will not need to contend with drips.

Use a Packing Checklist

Use a packing checklist to be sure you don’t forget anything essential.  I have a free set of packing checklists available for you to use. Just subscribe to my mailing list and I will send you the printable packing lists set. (Sign up on the right under “Subscribe.”)

packing list
Free printable packing list

Do NOT Pack for All Possibilities

Final tip: Do not pack “what if” items.  Most of the “what if’s” will not happen on your trip. The chances that you will pack for the correct “what if” that actually might happen are slim anyhow.  Pack items you know you will use several times on your trip. Leave the rest at home. If something unexpected happens you can deal with it without having to carry around large suitcases full of just-in-case items.

Travel Easy

Packing light is very freeing when traveling. While there is always an impulse to prepare for every possible situation, if you find you absolutely need something that you did not pack most likely you can buy it at your destination. When a nasty bug bite needed some treatment on our recent trip to Germany, a visit to the apotheke up the street from the hotel was an interesting adventure and resulted in a remedy significantly more effective than any hydrocortisone cream we might have lugged from home.

Pick your small suitcase, pack it well and enjoy the freedom that packing light brings to your next adventure!

What are your favorite tips for bringing less in your suitcase?

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packing light
Top ten reasons why you should pack light and instructions how to do it


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  • Melissa

    Love the idea of carrying on the foldable bag in your carry on and then stashing your “layers” after you’ve boarded. I’ve never thought of that! Packing cubes are great but I’m still trying to figure out how to best use them, will definitely use your tips next time! Enjoyed your post!

    • Sheila

      Thanks for stopping by, Melissa. I hope the tips help you. I like to separate my packing cubes by category: one for bottoms, one for tops, one for underwear, one for workout clothes. Then when I get to my destination I put the full cubes into the dresser drawers and I know right where to go when I’m looking for a certain item of clothing. Another alternative that some people like is to pack full outfits in each cube: top, bottom, undergarments, accessories for the outfit. This does not work as well for me since I generally wear the same pieces more than once in a trip but if you pack specific full outfits for a trip this might be a good alternative. Happy travels!

  • Jelane

    I always overpack so I really enjoyed reading your tips. Will definitely try them on my next trip. Rolling your clothes looks like it saves a lot of space but was wondering if it causes more wrinkling? Great article!

    • Sheila

      I hope the tips help you. I was concerned about wrinkles too but I find that if you smooth the clothing out before rolling tightly I have fewer wrinkles than if I pack folded clothes! Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

    • Sheila

      Yes, I could never go back to packing without my packing cubes! I have seen some fun, foldable packable totes. I might invest in a few more – although I have been accused of having a tote-bag addiction. I love to corral things into tote bags, so much easier than juggling multiple items!

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