Packing light with only one carry on bag is a concept that is still very foreign to many mainstream travellers. Even those working in TSA and airport security often seem surprised or confused that I only had one carry on for my multiple month journey.
Advice to Beginners for Packing Light
Here at Packing Lite we want to help more people get into packing a single lighter bag. So we decided to ask our favourite travel writers, bloggers, youtubers and experienced travel experts one question.
“What advice would you give to a beginner who wants to pack lighter?”
Jessie – Travel Writer and Blogger
One tip I’d provide for those wanting to pack light is to learn the art of color coordinating. Choose a color scheme for your trip, then choose items that fit that. You’ll want a mix of garments you can mix and match to create different outfits as well as layer to roll with the changing weather.
Jimmy & Doug – Minaal co-founders
For someone trying to get down to one bag, I like to say, “take two… for now.” Think of the second bag as ‘overflow,’ but give yourself permission to bring along the kitchen sink. Try to consider what you’ll really need and put those essentials into your main bag. Then put all of the ‘nice to haves’ in your overflow bag. Drag both of them with you on your next *short* trip. Keep careful track of how often you actually have dip into your overflow gear. If it turns out that you hardly use that stuff, you’ve proven that you can live out of just one bag from now on!
Shaun – Musician, Author, Traveller
Start with a smaller suitcase, like a carry-on, which already limits you to fewer clothes. From there, pack with purpose by using the Rock Star Method (or Fold ‘N File Method as I also call it), and pack everything vertically like you would in a filing cabinet. Packing this way allows you to fit in the maximum amount of clothing while simultaneously allowing you to visually see everything from the moment you open it up (for ease of picking and choosing your outfits later on!). Take account of what you’ve brought, or more importantly, make note of what you didn’t wear on the trip afterwards, cause chances are there are things you never wore once, proving you didn’t need as much as you thought… Therefore I dare you to pack even less next time!
Dave – Founder of Slimfold
When you travel abroad, you’ll want a wallet that’s going to hold currencies of any height. Having room for other large items such as boarding passes is handy as well. Protecting against RFID skimming is also something to consider if you’re going to be in major metropolitan cities.
Ailish – independent backpacker and blogger
Let your photos be your souvenirs. It’s tempting to pick up trinkets as you travel, but they’ll weigh you down. And, in the end, they won’t be nearly as wonderful a memory as a photo you took yourself.
Dave – founder of BOgear
Always ask yourself: Do I really need this?
Closely followed by: Can I get this at my destination?
If the answer to the first is NO, then don’t take it. If YES, move to your next question.
Chances are you can indeed can get everything at your final destination, and you wont be bringing it with you. I can’t think of a single thing apart from my computer and digital peripherals which I truly need to bring with me. Forgotten clothes can always be bought, along with toiletries and other “important” items. Before you know it you will be travelling without it, and not feel that you need it. This is truly liberating!
More from Dave at BOgear
Randi – Travel writer & co/founder Justapack.com
When I started preparing for a round-the-world trip in early 2014, I was clueless about what to bring. The best piece of advice Michael (my Just a Pack partner) gave me was to avoid buying a huge backpack. The idea behind a smaller bag is that you can’t over pack if you don’t have the space and you’ll end up taking with you only the items that are truly necessary.
So if you want to pack lighter, get a small bag. Not only will you have less space to carry around unnecessary items, you’ll also avoid extra fees with airlines and save your body the effort it takes to lug around a heavy bag.
Zeke – Inventor, Writer, Filmmaker, founder Aviator camera gear
My advice to travelers just diving into the packing light idea is to make a list of everything they think they’ll need to bring way in advance. Then every day try and cross something off until only the true essentials remain.
James – Founder of The Savvy Backpacker
The best way to pack lighter is to physically make it impossible to pack a lot — that’s why we recommend sticking to a smaller backpack or luggage. Because, let’s face it, humans tend to fill up the space we’re given (whether it’s a backpack or a house). Doing this makes you super conscious about what you’re bringing and it forces you to only pack the essentials.
Jesse – Founder of Loophole Travel
Carry on only! Lightweight/quick dry clothes in single color scheme. Wear heavier clothes in transit. Buy toiletries upon arrival
Pat – Adventure Youtuber
Look at each item you plan on bringing and ask yourself these questions, “Does this really give me value?” – “Can I get by without this item?”
I often tell people to pack heavy anyway. Soon after they will know what they truly need and don’t need, especially if it’s weighing heavy on their back.
Will – Adventurer and journalist
When packing for your first trip, it can be super damn tempting to take a zillion and one things you don’t need – what you need to remember is that, with the exception of tech, most items can be bought on the road for cheaper than home prices. I only ever have a couple of tees on me and a pair of adventure trousers, you can pick up new ones once they are trashed. If you need to take a lot of gear, e.g. camping stuff, compression sacks make it easier to shove everything into your pack… At the end of the day, if you won’t use something at least once a week, it isn’t worth taking it. If you pack just two adventure items, make them a head torch and a multitool…
Hannah & Adam – Travel Writers & Photographers
Packing light is a skill that is hard to master and we’re still mastering it ourselves even after 3 years of full-time travel. Packing cubes are a must. as they keep your belongings organized and compact therefore you can fit more in your bag. Bring lightweight clothes for several reasons: weighs less in bag, cheaper laundry bills, and dries quicker. Bring items that you can easily mix and match that way you have a ton of outfit combinations with only a few pieces.
Alexandra – Editor of Travel Fashion Girl
Toiletries: Think about how much product you actually use. 100ml/3oz bottles might be too large for a weekend jaunt or even a one-week vacation. Use smaller containers (5 gram, 10 gram, etc) and take only what you need.
Clothing: Did you know you can make 3 weeks outfits with just 10 clothing items? By choosing 7 tops and 3 bottoms that are interchangeable you can make 21 unique outfits.
Shoes: Comfort is the number one priority with travel shoes. Choose 3 pairs that match with all your clothes and can be used for various activities on your trip.
Paul – Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog
When packing, roll your clothes tightly rather than fold them. They take up less space this way – not only that, but they won’t tend to be wrinkled as much that way, either. Stuff footwear with rolled up clothes, too, be it underwear, socks, or whatever. You might be pleasantly surprised by the extra space next time you pack!
Edith – Author, Blogger, Backpacker
Don’t underestimate the size of small things; a little gadget here, an extra item there… All these things, that seem so small individually, can end up using an important part of your luggage. If you pack something “just in case”, make sure it’s an item that is crucial to your well-being or health. Otherwise, leave it, especially if it can be found easily once you reach your destination.
Tania – PoshPacker Co Founder
To pack lighter while traveling first consider the appropriate clothing for the climate and possible activities for your trip. Clothes and shoes are normally your heaviest items. Sometimes we want to bring everything on our trips but the truth is that we normally end up only using our favorite clothes and shoes. Combine a pair of jeans, shorts, a few colored t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, and/or tank-tops; with a pair of flip-flops, tennis shoes, and “going out”/ “dress shoes or boots if needed. But remember to only bring the clothing items you really love.
Eytan – Founder of Snarky Nomad
The biggest secret to packing light is pretty simple: Laundry. If you bring a week’s worth of clothing and do laundry once a week, you can travel forever. That’ll fit in a carry-on. For big things like jackets, shoes, laptops and electronics, find the lightest ones you can. Make sure everything is versatile and can work with everything else, and in as broad a range of weather conditions as you can, and you’ll be all set.
Lauren – Blogger & Teacher
If I had to give advice on packing light, or should I say lite…ha ha, it would be to book an airline ticket without luggage. Clearly, this will force you to think light and pack light unless you intend to pay exuberant prices at the airport and no one wants to do that. Now, of course, don’t do this on a 6-month trip or on a voyage to the Arctic, for obvious reasons. Instead, go for a week and go to the tropics. You need next to nothing for beaches and humidity, and therefore it is a great stepping-stone into the world of packing light. Through using the skills of packing everything you need into a carry-on bag, you will soon be able to transpose these tips to keep yourself packing lighter than usual in the future, even for longer and in more lively locations.
Jones – Travel Blogger, Photographer, and Backpacker
I think the main key is picking outfits that are standard colors, and go with everything. One or two pairs of khaki or black shorts, one pair of jeans, and one bathing suit (if even necessary). For shirts, I just normally wear plain colored shirts, and maybe one or two dress shirts if I’m planning on going somewhere fancy. Obviously, it really depends on the type of destination your’e traveling to. You can do laundry on the road pretty easily, and can also wear outfits multiple days on the road. Just always think when packing — is this absolutely essential and practical?
Nina – Travel writer
A few ways I’ve learned to pack light are remembering that you don’t need to bring everything you use at home. You need to be selective, and choose versatile items you can use for many things. (Such as scarves, tote bags that work as backpacks, button up shirts for sleeping or over a swimsuit.) I’m a huge fan of packing cubes because they give you a space constraint to meet; plus they keep your bag neat and tidy.
Brooke – Founder of Her Packing List
If you’re serious about packing lighter, it’s important to understand one key thing: You can’t prepare for everything, so don’t stress out and overpack trying to achieve this goal. You can, however, pack smart by focusing your energy on a small, yet effective travel wardrobe where pieces pull double-duty (this goes for all aspects of your packing list). You can become comfortable with wearing fewer items of clothing more often. You can wash your clothes while on your trip (even in the sink if needed). You can also buy and restock necessities as you go, especially since stores exist all across the globe.
Konrad – Founder of TripScout & GoKonrad
Don’t pack for every scenario. You may miss something important, but you can always buy it on the road and it is better than lugging around 10 extra things you didn’t need. Also, bring a fraction of the clothes you think you need and simply pack a small tube of detergent to wash your clothes at the end of the day.
Arnette – Founder of Round The World Girl
Pack what you think you will need and then take out half. You don’t need as much clothing because you can always wear bottoms over again. You can wash underwear in your bathroom sink in a pinch or get laundry service. I tend to wear monotone colors but packing neutral colors in similar palette makes packing and outfit planning a breeze. After doing my round the world trip through 19 countries, I learned that it easy to buy things on the road.
Jill – Adventure Travel Blogger’
I always travel with a 25L bag. I bring thin layers of clothing that pack small and work together as a system (color and style wise). I also assume that I can buy what I need further at destination so I don’t overpack. So far, it has worked out great.
Arndell – Photographer
A good pair of black jeans can cheaply and easily become the only pants to bring since they can fit both formal, day to day and rough work – it also helps that they don’t get dirty fast.
Shannon – writer, traveler, founder of a little adrift
Eliminate single purpose items on your packing list. Usually, I only high-tech travel gear when it serves dual purposes — gear and clothes that will help me eliminate extra items. So a nice travel shirt in a good material can work well for sightseeing, and then dress up nicely with a scarf or necklace. I have a tiny power strip with two USB ports — this means I only need one plug adapter to serve all my gear. It’s about combining necessary items into one, well-made piece. Then, eliminate anything that you might only use once or twice, but that you can easily buy in a pinch.
Graeme – Founder of all-you-need
Packing light is supposed to make travelling less stressful, so if you are getting sweaty palms as you walk straight past the check-in at the airport, we have a problem.
I believe in practice makes perfect, so why not experiment with what you need in the comfort of your own home? If you are going on a trip in a months’ time, spend the prior weekends (or more) using only what you are bringing with you. That way there’s no nasty surprises… washing your clothes in the shower will come naturally to you!
Make sure to be critical and creative, every trip and every person is different, so use these trial runs to figure out works best for YOU.
More from Graeme at all-you-need
Anne – Founder of Packing Light Travel
Travel for a week, month or year… pack the same amount of clothing. Stick to no more than 5 tops and 3 bottoms and 2 pairs of shoes. Choose a colour palette in wash-and-wear fabrics, ensuring all tops can be worn with all bottoms (and shoes). Layer up and down with long-sleeved merino and packable jacket or waterproof shell. Pack a couple of scarves (e.g., pashmina, Buff) for accessorizing and warmth. Limit underwear to 5 pairs (ExOfficio) and merino socks to 2 or 3 pairs. Organize clothing in lightweight packing cubes and compression sacs.
More from Anne at Packing Light Travel
Tom – Creative Director of The Infatuation
I use one question to sort through what to bring and what to cut. “Is the function of this item worth the weight it is to carry?”
More from Tom at TomWahlin.com
Seth – graphic designer, blogger and world traveler
One of the best things a frequent traveler can do to lighten the load is replace all of their cotton clothing with wool. It is expensive, yes, but a single well-constructed wool shirt can do the job of 4-5 cotton shirts due to its natural durability and anti-microbial properties. It’s kept me both warm in Northeast China’s -30°C winters and cool in North Carolina’s 40°C summers. I want to hug every sheep I see.
David – Founder of Globalized Citizen
When you make an effort to pack light, then you are ultimately deciding that you want to experience less of your hotel room and more of your surroundings. It is important to plan ahead by researching the climate of your destination and stick to a strict list of your essential items. Plan to do laundry in your hotel room and invest in light weight, active clothing. A major key to packing light is to roll your clothing instead of folding them and use ziplock bags to organize your clothing and to serve as protection from rain.
More from David at Globalized Citizen
Clare – blogs at Simple Adventure
For several years I worked as a volunteer in the summer, and used only 3 outfits during those weeks. There was no washing machine, so at the end of each day I would wash my clothes in a bucket, and hang the outfit to dry overnight. The biggest lesson I learned was how little I actually needed in order to be happy. When you pack less, you find ways to make do and you discover how little we really need. These lessons now allow my family of 4 to live with less stuff and more life.
More from Clare at Simple Adventure
Victoria – Founder of Pommie Travels
Toiletries tend to take up the most room, so try to take mini versions or even just buy them in the supermarket when you get to your destination. Some hotels will stock the bathrooms with essentials like shampoo and soap, so it’s always worth checking before you go. Packing methods – like rolling your clothes or fitting them into packing cubes – help to save space, so you won’t end up having to stand on your suitcase just to get it shut. I try to lay all my clothes out and decide exactly what outfits I’ll need for the number of days I’m travelling, so I won’t be tempted to throw everything in ‘just in case’. I have a lot of shoes in my closet but when I go travelling, I stick to one pair of comfy flat shoes for the day and then a versatile pair of espadrilles or heeled boots for the evening. I also stick to thin, light layers and leave the bulky sweaters at home, unless it’s going to be really cold. In that case I wear my thickest layers and coat on the plane, then pack the rest.
More from Victoria at Pommie Travels
Frank – Founder of One bag One world
Make a packing list. There are dozens of examples online. Pick one or two to use as a template and then customize it for your needs. Then go through each item and ask yourself if you will really use it or are you just taking it as a “what if” item. It’s usually the “what if” items that cause people to overpack. Remember, you have to fit everything into a carry on size bag. By the way, if you haven’t chosen your bag yet, I suggest first doing the packing list. Once you know what you are bringing, you can then decide on the best bag for your trip and travel style.”
More from Frank at One Bag One World
Jen – Founder of Thrifty Nomads
Take your time when packing – only do it when you have the patience to sit and revisit your options over and over. This will help you to choose items that are versatile and essential, as opposed to hastily packing unnecessary items. The more you can review, the easier it becomes to critically decide what should stay and what you can do without.
More from Jen at Thrifty Nomads
Brian and Noelle – Wandering On Adventure Travel Blog
You only use 20% of your clothes 80% of the time so packing light makes sense. It’s important to be ruthless, ensure you pack clothes that are interchangeable with each other and leave your bulky jacket at home. If you must bring it, wear it! The golden rule is if you think you might not need it, you probably won’t. Remember, you can get almost everything, or the local version, when you arrive at your destination, and depending on where you’re going it could be much cheaper too – win-win!
Bruno – Travel Blogger
My first advice is to pile up all the clothes you want to take for your next trip and drop at least 30% of them. You most likely won’t need them anyway but if you do, you can always buy them wherever you’re going!
Also, instead of taking bulky items like your biggest raincoat, wearing thinner layers saves some precious space and weight. Plus, it makes you much more prepared for different weather events.
And last but not least, pack things inside other things. I always put my socks, chargers or small souvenirs inside my shoes!
More from Bruno at Geeky Explorer
Alex – Designer
When you pack, don’t think of what you need for your trip. Think of what you don’t.
More from Alex at Alex Kwa
Beck – Entrepreneur, Adventurer
You’ll fill up whatever space you have. So keep your luggage small, carry on if possible. The only things you can’t actually travel without are a passport and your wallet. Everything else is just weighing you down – so choose wisely.
Anthony – Travel Blogger
I’m completely anal about travelling light as I hate lugging around more than I need to – I tend to travel with a backpack that weighs around 12 kilograms at the most. Most people tend to overestimate what they need in their luggage and would probably not use the majority of things they pack away. If just travelling with a carry on bag (eg a 30 L backpack) for a few days, wear one pair of jeans with about 3 shirts + a few pairs of underwear, also include the laptop and camera.
Amelie – Miss Vagabonde
Unless you’re going to the middle of the jungle, you most probably don’t need to pack shampoo, conditioner, body moisturizer and showel gel. That is stuff you can buy at destination. That’ll make your pack way lighter!
Hugh – Vagabond, Founder of Rising Roads
The main piece of advice I would give to would-be travellers is not to pack your bag to the brim; leave plenty of room for items you might pick up along the way, otherwise you will be forced to make difficult decisions on what to keep and what to discard. Not fun, and a huge waste. Also, it really is unnecessary to aquire whatever clothes, equipment or paraphernalia you feel you may need before you set off. Unless you are heading to some extremely remote region, you’ll be able to purchase items later when and where you need them, often much cheaper.
Anthony – Founder of BRKN LABEL
Downloading your lonely planet guide and books on your iphone ibook or kindle is the best advise I could give. I had a traveling guide for every country I went too and all of my books on my phone.
Jema – Author of HalftheClothes.com
Fear of not having something you might need keeps many beginners from packing light. Here’s my advice: remember you’re heading out into a very globalized world. Everything from a pair of earbuds to gastro meds to shoelaces can be found elsewhere. If you can muster the trust it takes to set out without bringing the kitchen sink, that attitude will infinitely improve your travels. And your bank account. And your mental and emotional health. Keeping track of and paying for unnecessary luggage robs you of energy and cash you could spend enjoying your trip. Get more by taking less!
My best tip is to buy a backpack or suitcase that is smaller than what
you think you’ll need. If it’s too big for carry-on it’s too big. That
will force you to think about what is really necessary for a trip.
More from Karol at Ridiculously Extraordinary
Monica – Founder of The Travel Hack
My top advice for packing light is to plan a rough itinerary and pack your outfits around your itinerary. If you’re away for a weekend and you don’t know what you’ll be doing or where you’ll be eating then you need to pack outfits for every possible situation. This quickly leads to overpacking and lots of clothes, accessories and shoes going unworn because you didn’t need them! But if you know what you’re doing you can plan your outfits accordingly and avoid packing any ‘just in case’ items. If you know you won’t be eating anywhere fancy then you can leave your fancy clothes at home or if you know you’ll be doing a lot of walking you can opt for one pair of comfy shoes and leave the rest at home.
Mandy – Founder of Almost Landing
One thing that I think can really change how much you pack is trying to stick to 20 clothing items, give or take (not including underwear or shoes). We travel carry-on only for most of our trips and find this is around the number of items we always end up taking. Other things like thinking about what you can buy there and being very selective with shoes and toiletries can really help. Packing cells are also great for organising.
Norbert – Founder of GloboTreks
One of my favorite tips when packing light is to pack everything you think you’ll need, then get rid of half of it. Take only what you know you need, not what you think might be useful on the road. Additionally, as much as possible, pack items/clothing that can serve more than one purpose and be layered to serve on different temperatures/seasons.
More from Norbert at GloboTreks
Jonathan – Founder of The Travel Gear Reviews
Pack like you’re going to travel for a week, even if you’re traveling for a month or longer. You’ll usually need just the same essentials. Hand or machine wash your clothes. Plus, you can purchase anything else you might need while abroad.