How to Pack Light for Any Trip
Not only does packing light save you money (and not just on checked baggage fees) and time, it gives you flexibility in your itinerary and ground transportation options, lets you move around the world with more ease, and is more eco-friendly. But packing light isn’t always easy.
I should know. I’ve spent years obsessing over how to pack light, both as a travel writer (I’ve written over 100 articles on packing alone!) and a traveler. Since I began traveling frequently in college, I’ve gone from a 65L to a 45L, and now a 25L backpack for every trip I take — regardless of trip duration, season, or destination.
In both my work and personal life, several packing light strategies repeatedly come up — no matter if I’m writing a minimalist packing list, or packing carry-on only for winter travel . No matter when, where, and for how long you’re traveling, use these tips on how to pack light for your next trip:
1. Get a Smaller Bag
No matter how big or small our bags are, we always feel compelled to fill them. After all, how many of us have packed an extra dress or t-shirt that we never ended up wearing, just because we had the space for it? I’m absolutely guilty of it.
To prevent this, get a smaller bag. While something as small as 25L is probably extreme for most people, start by going down 10L from what you’re currently used to. It will act as a forcing function to limit your packing list, and reevaluate what you really need when you travel.
I’m a bit biased, having worked with Tortuga Backpacks for several years, but would genuinely recommend looking at one of their backpacks if you want to downsize. I use their Setout Laptop Bag ($125; 25L) for my trips, but their Setout Divide ($179; 26L and expands to 34L) is more specifically designed to be your main luggage.
2. Longer Trip Doesn’t Mean Bring More Shit
Packing for anything longer than a week feels intimidating. While we all have a pretty good idea of what we’ll need on a quick weekend getaway, most of us freeze up trying to predict what we’ll need for two, three, even four weeks away.
For long trips, remember that you don’t necessarily need more stuff just because you’re gone for longer. In fact, the core of our packing list (passport, phone, chargers, water bottle, book, comb, travel pillow, etc.) stays the same across every trip we take.
Instead, simply pack as you would for a week-long trip, and toss in a bar of soap or travel detergent so you can wash a few items while you’re on the road. When I’m gone for a long time, I’ll get in the habit of hand-washing a pair of underwear in my morning shower (ExOfficio’s quick dry undies are good for this).
3. Create a Travel Capsule Wardrobe
Clothing is the most variable part of our packing lists. It also tends to be where we overpack most often — especially when we think in terms of packing outfits, not items of clothes.
To keep the clothing portion of your packing list light and straightforward, create a travel capsule wardrobe. A travel capsule wardrobe:
Is a set of 10-12 items
Includes all of your clothes, shoes, and jacket(s)
Features easy to mix-and-match items
Doesn’t include underwear (pack however many you’ll need outside of the 10-item limit)
4. Always Bring Travel-Sized Toiletries
… Because I don’t want to see you lugging around a full-sized bottle of shampoo on a week-long trip. Instead, invest in some reusable, travel-sized containers you can put your favorite shampoo, conditioner, and lotions in, like the silicone travel bottles by GoToob ($25 for 3).
5. Limit Your “Just-in-Case” Items
Focus on only bringing what you know you’ll need and use, not what you think you’ll need. No rain in the forecast for your 3-day trip? Leave the umbrella at home. No plans for a fancy dinner? Ditch the heels. Going on an urban adventure? Re-think that backcountry first-aid kit lying next to your suitcase.
Remember: unless you’re going somewhere incredibly remote (and few of us are), you’ll be able to handle most things you were unprepared for with a quick stop by your hotel’s front desk or a shop down the road. And, often, these situations are ones we hadn’t thought of in advance anyway.