This post is not sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. To learn more, hop over to our Disclosure page.
So you want to pack light for travel?
You may not believe this when you hear it, but I was once the ultimate overpacker.
Growing up, my family and I took several trips to Disneyland. Disneyland. You know, the land of sitting on the ground, dripping mustard on your shirt, and being bombarded with more activities than you could possibly hope to experience in five days. What am I getting at here? Well, I actually needed to pack much less stuff than 10-year-old me believed I needed.
My parents attempt at “packing light” came in the form of one large, hard-hard sided suitcase which our family of four shared. Each person was allocated a quarter of the space. Though I’m pretty sure that my shenanigans occupied much more than my share. Disneyland isn’t a fashion show, yet I needed my fanciest zebra coat. Disneyland isn’t a waiting room with nothing to do, yet I needed books and toys. And Disneyland is located in California, where it almost never rains. But I swear I packed my raincoat and boots one year.
As an adult who is in charge of lugging her own belongings, I’ve become obsessed with packing as light as possible while still being prepared for anything. It’s a tall order sometimes, (especially when you’re traveling for a special event, like I am later this summer,) but so far I have not ever been on a trip thinking, “Gee, I wish I had packed more.” I admit, I am still sometimes guilty of packing 15 pairs of underwear and 16 pairs of socks for a seven day trip. What kind of tragedy I expect is going to happen to my socks and underwear, I do not know. Socks and underwear aside, these are the eight guides that I use when I’m packing light for travel. I am a work in progress.
use a hard-sided carry-on + backpack
Hard sided suitcases are great for several reasons. First, they protect your clothing and other items from being squashed by the guy who gallops onto the plane at the last second and heaves his overpacked suitcase into the overhead bin with no regard for anybody else’s stuff. We’ve all run into that guy. Second, hard-sided suitcases are usually not expandable, so you can’t shove unnecessary items in there and expect the bag to accommodate your whims.
The backpack is the travelers’ dream. I use a backpack for my personal item because it is hands-free, plus it offers more space, organization, and security than a tote. It’s also malleable, which is important because it will be stored under the seat in front of you if your flight is full. Bummer, I know.
Now that we have the perfect amount of space, not too much and not too little, it’s time to pack!
pack clothing in “outfits” not “items”
Thinking in outfits ensures that you’ll have just the right amount of cohesive looks, and won’t be stuck with random clothes that hardly match. Unless I’m going on a theme park trip where the only qualification for my clothing is “comfortable,” I follow this simple formula for figuring out my clothing needs. Pack one outfit for each day, plus half of that number in night outfits. So for a 4-day trip, you’d pack 4 day outfits and 2 night outfits. Remember, items such as jeans and pants can be worn more than once!
test run your clothes beforehand
Here’s what I mean. Pack your clothing into your suitcase, all stuffed and crumpled like they would be if you were really traveling. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can send your suitcase for a tumble down the stairs. After a day or two, unpack and evaluate each item. See what looks presentable and what looks like roadkill. It’s much better to discover fussy items at home, rather than when you’re away.
Take it a step further by washing each of your items by hand in a sink, and either hanging the item or laying it flat to dry, per the washing instructions. Anything that still looks good after all this unmannerly treatment is a keeper!
favor smaller items whenever possible
This one sounds like common sense, but it takes a good bit of thought in practice. First, choose clothing made from synthetic fabrics whenever possible. They take up less space overall. Also, two words, packable jacket.
For other items, if you can get your hands on a mini version, or even better, you already one, then pack that! Paperback novels instead hardcovers. Mini hair dryer/straightener/brush instead of full size. Slim glasses/sunglasses cases instead of bulky ones. Collapsable water bottles. Microfiber towel instead of a regular one, (if you really need it.) In-ear noise canceling headphones instead of over-ear versions. Sample-size mascaras instead of full tubes. Hey, the littlest things make a big difference!
Sometimes you just need to pack more clothing, for example when traveling during winter. If your day-wear consists mostly of sweaters, then compression bags are awesome for getting everything into your suitcase and keeping stuff organized. Remember, you want to be able to quickly open and close your carry-ons, just in case a bored TSA agent accuses you of smuggling a dozen forbidden oranges to California, so they insist on opening your bag and giving those suspicious round balls a squeeze only to confirm that that they are, in fact, socks. *Rant over*
Anyway, make sure you grab the compression bags that roll the air out, and not the type that requires a vacuum to suck out the air. You’ll fit so many necessities in your little carry-on, and have room for more.
pack “more” toiletries
I know, this sounds nuts. But hear me out. The trick to packing light for travel but still looking great is all in the toiletries. People are mostly looking at your face and hair rather than your clothes. As long as your clothes aren’t totally wrinkled, stained, or mismatched, people won’t notice that you’ve worn those pants three times in the last week. But if your face and hair are looking like you’ve been on the streets for the past three days, then well, you might get some concerned questions.
Pack tiny amounts of as many toiletries as you can so you are prepared for any hair, makeup, or skin emergency. That means a variety of makeup, creams for different skin issues, (including rashes and itches,) and a few hair products to tame your mane no matter what its problem is.
Another simple sounding, yet invaluable when you’re in space-saving mode. Any item that can be used for more than one purpose is a win in my opinion. My favorite example of this is my handy-dandy blanket scarf.
I’ve got an entire post on the wonders of scarves. Check it out here >> 18 Nifty Ways To Use A Scarf When Traveling.
Digitize things that you didn’t think you could digitize! We all know that carrying digital books is much more practical than traveling with physical books.
But many of your travel documents are perfectly safe being digitized as well! I suggest saving important information such as your hotel and transportation information to cloud storage so you can access it from anywhere. Additionally, download offline copies onto two main devices, so you’ll never be without your important arrangements. Though you will be without all the paper!
I’ve also gotten into the habit of using Apple Pay wherever I can, especially when traveling. This way, I can leave most of my cards at home and only carry one or two physical credit cards for backups. I just need to keep track of my Apple Watch and a small wallet with only a few cards in it, rather than a wallet full of complicated-to-replace stuff.
That’s all for today!
Like this post? You’ll love this one too >> 10 Worst Packing Mistakes *Not* To Make + Helpful Packing Tips
If you find this post interesting, informative, or just plain entertaining, tell me about it in the comments below! And don’t forget, sharing is caring. Share this post!
Till next time ♥︎
Sign up for my free monthly e-journal, The Millennial Maven Love Letters for exclusive content + millennial inspiration and lifestyle hacks. Plus get instant access to my library of on-the-go style downloads!
FTC- Not sponsored by any brands mentioned. I purchase all products myself. All opinions are my own. Some links may be affiliated.