Packing Light; 24 Expert Tips to Travel Light (From a Fellow Traveler)

by | Nov 24, 2022

I was never any good at packing light.

My husband used to say if I packed it I’d have to carry it, and so after a couple of trips where I’d take way more than I needed and didn’t wear/use half of it, I started to pack less and less.

It was only after backpacking across India with my sister in 2019 however, did I learn the true art of packing light.

We took only one carry-on bag each, weighing 7kg for a 3 week trip from Nepal, through India and on to the Maldives.

Something about packing light for that trip and being able to travel light across a huge country like India, taking my bag on and off planes, and avoiding the long waits at the airport baggage claim was truly liberating!

Plus I realized we really don’t need as much as we think we do and it’s just about being savvy, exploring all options for how to travel light and using the best travel gear available to minimize how much we pack.

These days there are so many fantastic gadgets, tools, alternatives and tech gear to help us pack lighter.

So let’s get cracking, here are my top tips for packing light;

packing light - packed backpack

19 Tips & Hacks for Packing Light

1. Make a packing list

Much like going to the supermarket, you’ll be far more efficient if you make a list of absolute necessities first.

Here’s an example of my packing list which rarely weighs more than 7KG;

Clothes

  • Swimming costume or bikini / Light Beach dress
  • 2 x pairs of shorts / 2 x light summer skirts / 3 x t-shirts
  • 1 x ‘going out’ dress
  • 2 x night shorts & tee
  • 14 x underwear (I always take a lot as I hate washing underwear in hotel sinks)
  • 1 skin color plunge bra (can wear under black or white, and with posh dress or t-shirts)
  • 1 x flip flops or thongs or sandals (depending where you’re from in the world)
  • 1 x trainers / sneakers (which I generally wear when traveling from place to place or hang off the back of my bag
  • 3 x trainer socks / 1 x leggings / 1 x light cardigan

Toiletries

  • Travel size all in one Shampoo/Conditioner (sacrilege to some women, but hey I want to travel light) / Travel size shower gel
  • Mascara / Bronzer
  • Makeup wipes
  • Small battery powered toothbrush / 50ml toothpaste
  • Travel size sun lotion / 50SPF lip balm
  • Hairbrush / Hair scrunchies
  • Travel size body moisturiser / Deodorant

Medical

  • Antihistamines / Paracetamol / Ibuprofen
  • Tiger Balm / Plasters
  • Ear Plugs / Face mask /
  • Mask / Hand Sanitizer

Technical

  • Adapter / Phone/ Kindle/ Computer & Fitbit chargers
  • Phone – iPhone / Computer – Macbook 12” Notebook
  • Kindle

Useful Extras

  • Ziplock bags & spare plastic bag – for anything and everything!
  • Travel Bags – for separating tops/shorts/underwear etc, and also great for laundry
  • Combination padlock

My husbands bag usually weighs less than mine and he takes;

Clothes

  • 2 x shorts (Both double as swim shorts) / 2 x tees
  • 7 x socks / 7 x boxers
  • 1 x ‘going out’ shorts & tee
  • 1 x croc flip flops / 1 x trainers/sneakers
  • Travel size shampoo / 1 x razor / Deodorant / Toothbrush
  • Phone / Kindle / Computer

Write down details about your trip and make a list of what you’ll need for each activity. Then work out how you can make some of your clothes dual purpose (shorts can be swim shorts for example) and lay everything you think you need out on your bed.

If it’s still too much, be strict! Do you really need that extra tee?

2. Choose a light bag

A big mistake many travelers make is by choosing a heavy suitcase or backpack.

Sure it would be great to get that back that doubles as a backpack and wheely case, but remember if you’re going carry on bags, every extra feature weighs a little more and means less stuff in your pack.

Pick a backpack or suitcase that’s ideally under 2kg (2.2lb) and around 40L capacity to fit everything neatly inside.

I personally use either my Firepack backpack which unzips like a suitcase or the Matein gray backpack, which is sturdy, water resistant, comfortable to wear and has lots of pockets and storage areas, so I can organize my packing super efficiently!

firetrap backpack

Another recommended bag is the Fendong 40L lightweight backpack.

If you’d prefer a suitcase with wheels, your best bet is the 21 inch Travelpro Maxlite expandable case. Weighing in at 5.4lbs (2.5kg), you’ll need to be more efficient with what you pack, but if you want the luxury of wheeling rather than carrying, this case is one of the lightest around.

3. Use packing cubes/bags

Packing cubes or bags are to help you organize your clothes more efficiently.

Just because you’re packing in smaller bags, does not mean your luggage is lighter! Compression merely means smaller. I know that sounds obvious but some of the marketing language on these products can be a little misleading.

You also don’t need to pay through the nose for fancy packing bags. On my recent 3 week trip across Europe and then Dubai, I used these bags which only cost $7.99 and did a fantastic job of helping me to separate tops, shorts, underwear, dirty clothes etc.

packing light - packing organiser bags

If you’re looking for more colorful bags, I recommend this 8 cube set in multiple colors.

4. Roll, don’t fold

Rolling your clothes doesn’t necessarily save space. Your clothes will take as much space as your clothes will take, whether you roll, fold or throw in!

However, to keep your clothes crease free and to be able to maximize bag space without leaving lots of gaps, your best bet is to pack clothes by rolling them rather than folding.

I had a dress I wanted to wear in Dubai that I carried with me through Europe for 19 days rolled up in the bottom of my backpack. When I pulled it out, there was hardly a crease to be seen!

rolled clothes

5. Take minimal toiletries in small containers

I don’t know about you, but my toiletries are always what weighs the most!

Once I’ve included my favorite body spray, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, contact lens solution, electric toothbrush, etc, etc!

So it’s time to get strict! Almost everything you want to take can be bought along the road. Even countries in far out places will sell basic essentials and any personal item you may need these days.

Stop being a hair product snob and buy a two in one shampoo/conditioner, then transfer it to a small bottle. Take a small travel size shower gel. Leave the electric toothbrush and charger at home and buy a cheap disposable battery powered toothbrush. Ladies, wear less makeup!

Here’s what’s in my toiletry bag;

  • Travel size all in one Shampoo/Conditioner / Travel size shower gel
  • Mascara / Bronzer
  • Makeup wipes
  • Small battery powered toothbrush / 50ml toothpaste
  • Travel size sun lotion / 50SPF lip balm
  • Hairbrush / Hair scrunchies
  • Travel size body moisturiser / Deodorant

Here is the best invention ever for those of us who like to smell nice – portable mini refillable perfume atomizers! Easily fill with your fave perfumes and throw in your bag!

Also I regularly buy packs of travel bottles to take a variety of liquids in handy, safe for carry on, containers.

packing light - toiletry bottles

6. Only pack for a week to 10 days

No matter how long you’re going to be traveling for, the secret is to only pack for 7 – 10 days.

Take a small wash powder for washing essentials in a sink when you need to and be prepared to head to a launderette on route.

On my recent trip across Europe, my sister & I found a launderette in Venice and sat at a cafe opposite drinking wine while our clothes washed and dried. Then again in Luxembourg, where I sat in a cafe next door drinking a hot, sweet macchiato latte!

Who said washing couldn’t be fun!

7. Use a luggage scale

If you’re determined to take only hand luggage, a luggage scale is essential.

You’ll want to be sure your carry on size bag is no more than 7kg or 12kg, depending on your airline limits.

I’ve used a multitude of scales over the years for carry on and some seriously heavy bags (before I worked out how to pack light!)

It may sound silly, but it’s important to use scales which fit well in your hand and are designed to help you lift your luggage easily while being able to read the weight!

One set of scales I had, you had to be a contortionist to be able to lift a 20kg bag and see the weight on the side of the scale!

Here are the luggage scales I use and recommend. Easy to lift and easy to see the weight. Plus super lightweight themselves if you plan on doing some shopping while overseas and need to take them with you!

8. Take dryer sheets to keep everything smelling nice

Inevitably you will have to wear the same clothes several times between washes. A great way to keep your clothes smelling nice is to add in the sheets generally used for tumble dryer washes.

This keeps your clothes, bag and shoes (stuff them inside the shoe), smelling fresh and lovely!

9. Ladies! Take a skin color bra for all color clothes.

I used to pack a black bra and a white bra to cater for different color clothes. I would even take a separate plunge bra for lower cut dresses and tops.

Nowadays, a skin colored plunge bar caters for all occasions & outfits!

I also take a super light skin colored non wired t-shirt bra, which folds up to almost nothing for slouchy or low exercise days.

10. Fold underwear into a small cuff shape

A great way to save space and take as much underwear as possible, is to fold your underwear up into a small cuff like shape. This works for womens knickers/panties & mens briefs/boxers.

Simply lay your underwear flat facing up. Fold the sides into the middle, left to middle right to middle. Then starting at the bottom, roll the underwear up and tuck into the waistband.

It takes some practice, but the end result is a tight small oblong shape that can be neatly added to a packing bag or cube.

folded underwear

11. Use same moisturizer for body & face

One for the ladies, if you apply moisturizer daily use the same one for your face and body.

Clearly if you tend to use ridiculously expensive face cream, this isn’t a tip for you. However, to save space and weight this is a great hack and these days there are some fantastic products which will work just as well no matter where you apply them!

12. Wear trainers, pack sandals

I spend my life in flip flops (thongs/sandals) or trainers/sneakers.

For big walk days I’ll want to wear my trainers. For more relaxed days I’ll want to wear my flip flops.

When traveling from place to place, always wear your heaviest shoes and pack your lightest!

13. Use clothes for dual purpose

On a hike last week, my good friend rocked up in some awesome hiking trousers which doubled as shorts. All she had to do was to unzip the trouser just above the knee and hey presto, shorts!

You can use your clothes for multiple purposes if you’re clever.

  • Shorts can double as swim shorts.
  • A sports bra can double as a bikini top.
  • A sarong can be used as a skirt, a cardigan/throw or a makeshift towel.
  • A day t-shirt can easily be made into an evening shirt with a necklace and belt.

As you pack, ask yourself how you might be able to use an item of clothing for a second or third purpose, rather than taking something extra.

14. Quick Drying Clothes

Ditch the jeans my friend! Not only are they heavy, bulky and actually not that comfortable to travel in, they’ll also take hours to dry if you’re caught in a rainstorm!

Your goal is to take lightweight clothes that dry fast. This helps when out and about and if you have to do a quick wash in a hotel bathroom.

15. Take a lightweight fast drying towel (optional)

To be honest this is an optional item.

Most hotels and hostels will provide small shower towels, so if you’re desperate and need a towel for the beach you can usually grab one of theirs, albeit it might be very small!

However, if you’d prefer to have your own towel on hand, something light and quick dry is preferable!

Microfibre is the way to go and here’s the towel I recommend.

16. Take a jewelry organizer (optional)

To be honest I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and if you’re the same, then don’t even bother.

However, every now and again a nice necklace or dangly earrings adds to a plain t-shirt and turns it into evening wear!

Depending on the type of trip I’m taking sometimes I will opt to take some extra necklaces and jewelry with me, however simply throwing a necklace into a toiletry bag generally means half an hour of trying to untangle it at the other end!

A jewelry organizer is a game changer!

Here’s the one I use – Becko Jewelry Organizer – small, lightweight, stores 6 – 8 necklaces, loads of earrings, rings and bracelets, it’s easy to slip into your backpack and ensures your necklaces don’t get all tangled up.

packing light - jewelry organizer

17. Post souvenirs home

Looking to do some shopping while abroad? Consider sending souvenirs home rather than lugging them around with you.

Many shops will package up bulky items and happily send them for you, at a cost of course!

18. Take a small foldable rucksack for days out

Even as a digital nomad or long term traveler, you’ll likely be staying at a hotel or hostel, leaving your main backpack and heading out exploring for the day.

At the very least you’ll want to head out for dinner without having to take your luggage with you.

I recommend a small foldable rucksack or small bag, you can put your essentials in, such as a purse or wallet and phone, your water bottle and of course your passports or valuables you don’t want to leave anywhere.

When you’re ready to travel again, you simply fold it back up and slip it into your main backpack until the next time you need it!

19. Take a tech kit

Being a digital nomad, I always take a tech kit containing my charger cables, power bank, my adapter, extra camera battery etc.

Check out Express VPN’s tech survival kit article for other things to include.

This is the handy pouch I use to organize all my cables etc.

packing light - cable organizer

And this is the excellent universal adapter I use, which covers every country you can think of and includes USB ports and a USB type C port.

5 More Tips for Packing Light for the Cold!

So what happens if you’re going to a cold country, but still want to travel light?

Here’s some tips and tricks for packing light for the cold.

  1. Take leggings instead of jeans. Men take Chinos instead of jeans
  2. Wear leggings under light walking trousers
  3. Wear your heavy stuff like your main jumper & coat & pack your lighter clothes
  4. Layer clothes with multiple thin layers
  5. Pack light thermals!

packing light - cold

Tips for Packing Light Summary

As you can see there are so many ways to make packing light easier and more efficient.

Even if you want to take checked baggage as opposed to carry on, packing light means less risk of excess baggage fees, less creased clothes, less space used in your hotel wardrobe, less washing and more flexibility if you want to explore different areas of the country you’re visiting.

For digital nomads or long term travelers packing light is a skill which must be mastered!

As silly as this may sound it’s also a liberating experience to travel more minimally, focusing only on the essentials.

I hope this article has given you some great ideas to pack light for your next world expedition. Happy packing!

Jo Swimming Pool small

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