I was one of the many travelers who didn’t think I could get by without packing a huge suitcase that usually hit the scale right at 50 pounds or just a fraction below. After a stay in an Irish castle where I had to carry that weight straight up multiple flights of narrow winding stairs, I knew it was time to make a change. Once I finally figured out how to pack smarter, traveling became infinitely easier. Now, all I need is a carry-on and a small backpack, even for trips as long as a month.
Bringing a massive suitcase or multiple bags creates stress and most travelers who do this bring way more than what they really need. How many times have you returned from a trip, unpacked and realized you didn’t use half of what you brought?
Traveling lightly can be a challenge at first, but it will get easier over time, especially if you follow these tips for packing smarter.
You don’t need an outfit for every day of your trip. Pack clothing that you can wear several times and add various piece that make each outfit look different. The fewer shoes you pack the better as they’re usually the heaviest and bulkiest items. If possible, book a vacation rental apartment or home for at least part of your stay that includes a washer and dryer. When that’s not an option, there may be a drop-off laundry service or laundromat you can use. Either way it will make it much easier to pack light.
Use a Backpack as Your ‘Personal’ Item
Most airlines allow passengers to bring a personal item like a purse. Take advantage of this and bring a small to medium sized backpack. You can still bring a purse but you’ll want to pack it inside of that or in your carry-on. Look for something that has a zip-up pocket in front to use for your passort and other items that you’ll need easy access to. I use mine to carry my laptop, snacks, travel-sized toiletries, and a camera with a zoom lens when I’ll be visiting destinations with lots of wildlife.
The key to making a carry-on work instead of bringing that big suitcase is to pack smarter. That means rolling clothing rather than folding, which saves a significant amount of space. Tuck socks and underwear inside of your shoes. Packing cubes can be helpful too as you’ll be able to keep items organized and bring more of them too. You might bing an extra empty one for dirty clothes so that they aren’t mixed with clean ones.
Toiletries are often the biggest issue, but if you aren’t picky about them, just buy smaller sized items when you get to your destination. You can also purchase empty containers that hold 3.4 ounces or less (which pass current TSA rules although that may finally change in 2024). Fill those up with your favorite shampoo, conditioner, and other items, then place them into a Ziploc bag. Be sure to check out the amenities you’ll have at your hotel, rental or other type of accommodation before you leave. For example, most include hairdryers so there’s no need to duplicate an item you’ll have there.
Rent Larger Gear At Your Destination
If you need a car seat, stroller, skis, or any kind of larger sports equipment, you may be able to rent it once you get there. It’s much easier than lugging it through the airports. Do a little research before you go to see if your destination has what you need available for rent and reserve in advance if possible.
Avoid Packing Bulky, Heavy Items
Try not to bring too many heavy, bulky items or at least pack them smarter. Sweaters, sweatshirts and the like are perfect for compression packing tubes. If you need a heavy coat, wear it while walking onto the plane. The same goes with boots.
Keep in mind that there are probably thinner items that can keep you warm without taking up precious space. Thin and breathable merino wool as a base layer works wonders. While most travelers are aware by now, it’s worth mentioning that packing an e-reader is much better than bringing multiple books.