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How To Pack Light For A Trip -- Tips For Packing Light

Updated on May 4, 2012

Travel With Just One Bag?

"You're kidding," my friend Lani exclaimed when I told her that when we visit Puerto Rico, she'd have to travel with just one bag. "How I am possibly supposed to do this?"

"I'll pack for you," I assured her, determined to show that there is a way to travel with just one carry on bag. I wasn't crazy -- I was going to prove it!

As frequent travelers, my husband and I have mastered the art of packing light for a trip and flying with just one carry on bag -- even for international journies. I first began doing this after my mom lost her bag after flying to Mexico and had to wear the same outfit every day for a week. Since then, I've forced myself to pack extremely light and taught my husband to do the same. When we went Australia for two weeks, for example, we not only had to deal with going on a long journey, but also the fact that we were visiting a place where it was the opposite season -- and that we were traveling to Sydney, the Outback and the tropical area by the Great Barrier Reef. Still, I managed to get everything into one carry on bag. I packed: three pairs of jeans; a pair of sweats; four T-shirts; one skirt; one button-down shirt; two cardigans; one bathing suit; two pairs of shorts; underwear, toiletries. That was it ... and I did fine for two weeks.

When you pack light, it saves time and you have fewer things to keep track of. At airports, you don't have to worry about checking bags and paying extra fees. You also don't have to worry about bags getting lost when you go to pick them up at the baggage claim.

Moreover, when you pack light, you can simply get up and go. So if you're in England and suddenly decide to take the train to Paris, as we once did, you don't have to worry about schlepping all sorts of stuff. You can just move and feel free.

Still, many people -- and I see this ALL of the time at airports -- feel as if they have to pack EVERYTHING, even for a short vacation. This isn't the case at all, especially if you're going to a modern city. Here are my tips for packing light so that you, too, will be able to travel with just one carry on bag. Get ready to see how easy this really is!

How To Travel Light

How To Pack Light And Tight

How To Pack Light For A Family

Carry On Bags For Light Travel

How To Pack A Carry On Bag

Before I launch into my travel tips, let me just say is that my main tip is that you should really take only what you need for a vacation. Don't bring things that you think you might need and decide to bring them "just in case." Most of the time, your instincts are on and there is no "just in case" -- and then you end up with extra stuff. Here is how you can avoid that:

1. Research the place you're visiting to see exactly what you need. For instance, if you're visiting Disney, do you REALLY need to bring a fancy dress or a lot of jewelry? If you're visiting Hawaii, do you REALLY need to bring a bunch of sweaters? If you're going camping, do you REALLY need to bring fancy shoes? Read up on the place to see what the weather will be like when you get there and how you should truly be dressed. Then start to plan accordingly. Don't guess and throw random stuff into a suitcase.

2. Go for practical clothing that travels well and works for different seasons. Don't cram your suitcase full of silk shirts and cashmere sweaters. Instead, go for durable things. Jeans are always a safe bet because you can wear them almost all year and they don't wrinkle much. Same goes for cotton T-shirts or sweat shirts. This isn't to say that your clothes can't be nice, but choose items that will look good after being stuffed into a suitcase. the great thing about jeans is that they sell so many different, cute kinds, so you can look nice and be casual.

3. Go for streamlined clothing and layers. One big no-no for me are bulky sweaters. Even if I'm going to a colder place -- like when we visited Iceland in February -- I didn't bring any. Instead, I suggest getting some cardigans or blazers to wear over something else. Cardigans tend to fit better in a suitcase and take up less room. If you layer a couple over a warm shirt, they will feel as warm as a sweater does. Plus, you can always take them off and tie them around your waist, whereas it's more difficult to do that with a big, bunchy sweater.

4. Mix and match. You don't need to bring six dresses and eight pairs of pants. Instead, choose a few outfits that have a color scheme or that you can mix or match. This is why I'm a big fan of jeans, because they go well with almost anything. I also recommend bringing separates - separate tops and skirts -- because you can mix and match them. I like to go for mainly neutral colors like blues or grays or blacks. This way, if you do bring, say, a pink top, it'll look good with everything else. When I went to Australia, we had dinner with friends one night, so I wore the one skirt I wore with my one button-down shirt and then added the little bit of jewelry I brought. I looked fine. I was as dressed up as anyone else there.

5. Keep jewelry and makeup to a minimum. I generally bring one necklace and pair of earrings, and then wear them on the plane. As for makeup, I keep it very simple by bringing some foundation and a little eye shadow. That's it. Unless you're traveling to a fancy place, you don't need a million necklaces or different colors of blush. Again, pick one set of jewelry -- necklace, earrings, bracelet, watch -- that goes with everything and keep your makeup neutral so that it matches all of your outfits. Besides, when there's so much to see and do, do you really want to waste that much time in the bathroom?

6. Forget the hair dryer and iron. I know that some of you will kill me for suggesting this, but it's just not necessary. First of all, many hotels these days have hair dryers and irons in the room. Secondly, if you're traveling to another country, chances are that you won't even be able to use these items when you're there, so it's a waste of space. Finally, these items tend to be heavy -- do you really want to schlep them around? Wash your hair the night before and let it air dry and again, bring clothing that tends to not wrinkle. Even if you need to bring a fancier outfit, as I did when I took a cruise this year, don't worry about the iron. More than likely -- especially if you're taking a cruise -- there will be an iron available, especially if you're attending an event that calls for you to dress up. This was indeed the case with the cruise; there was an iron right in my cabin so I could make sure my dress looked great.

7. Keep toiletries to a minimum. These days, airlines have strict guidelines for toiletries anyway; you can only bring items that are less than 4 ounces onto the plane and you have to keep them in a zip-locked bag. What a pain! But it DOES cut down on what you can bring in terms of shampoo and conditioner, etc. I usually just bring the basics -- some toothpaste and a little makeup. However, most hotels give you free shampoo, conditioner and body wash right in the room, so you don't even have to pack it. And if you're traveling to a modern place, surely there will be a drug store there where you can get what you need. Again, think about if you really need the item or if you can get it when you've landed.

8. Remove medicines from their containers. If you have a bottle of Advil, you don't want to go dumping all of the pills into your bag -- that wouldn't be a great idea. However, many items like various cold and allergy medicines come in sheets which are then put into a box. I simply take out a few sheets, put them in my bag and then dump the box. I also remove the tube of toothpaste from the box, as well as that bottle of aspirin. As I keep saying, try to get rid of as much bulk as you can. Along with this, remove panty house from the box, too.

9. Roll your clothing instead of folding it. You might have learned this trick in camp, but rolled clothing takes up a lot less space. Also, use every space possible. If you have an extra pair of shoes, stick some socks or underwear into them.

10. Pack clothes according to bulk, beginning with the heaviest. I always put jeans and pants in the bottom of the suitcase, working up until things like bathing suits and T-shirts are toward the top. I then stuff the very light items, like underwear and pantyhose, into the corners, again using all of the space available.

11. Get a carry on bag with multiple compartments. This is very useful for separating out your toiletries from your clothing. My bag has three compartments, which I love because it feels almost like I have three carry ons.

12. For ladies: in addition to a carry on, get a large purse. As of this writing, almost every airline that I've been on, from British Airways to JetBlue to Qantas, allows passengers to have one carry on and one smaller bag, such as a purse or a briefcase or computer case. This is useful because you can get away with having a big purse, as long as it can fit under the seat and your carry on can fit in the compartment above. That big purse can give you some extra space, if needed. If you don't want to carry a large pocketbook around, a smaller one can be useful, as well. But I usually bring a big purse to act as an extra "carry on" and when I actually get to my destination, put all of my valuable things like my passport and money into a neck wallet. The great thing about having the purse, though, is that if you buy souvenirs, you have a place to put them.

13. Bring only two pairs of shoes. Sneakers are always great for travel because you'll probably be doing a lot of walking and will want to be comfortable. So bring sneakers and then ONE pair of fancier shoes or sandals, in case you want to dress up a bit. Again, go with neutral colors so you won't need shoes for every outfit. Even leave out the flip-flops; if you're going to a resort, you can probably get a cheap pair right there on the beach.

14. Wear as much as you can onto the plane. I'm not saying to wear 100 layers in the summer, but layer what you can. I always wear a pair of jeans and sneakers because those are heavier items that take up space. I'll then wear a T-shirt with a cardigan if it's the winter time and tie another sweater around my waist.I'll then carry my winter coat and shove it under the seat along with my pocketbook. In the summer, I'll just keep the one cardigan around my waist and either wear or carry my denim jacket. I know that carrying your coat or jacket seems like a pain, but for me, it's MORE of a pain to have to wait on line to check my bags, then pay a baggage fee and then collect my bags at my destination.

15. This is probably the most important tip -- always keep your really important things, such as money and passports in a highly accessible place. Your carry on is going to be stowed in those overhead compartments, so don't keep it in there. Wear a neck wallet or keep it in a pocketbook that you can easily grab. Even when you're with only one bag, you want to make sure that your valuables are in sight -- especially when you're taking an international journey.

16. Don't stress. For many, packing is really big deal, but it doesn't have to be. Don't wait until the last minute; plan out a list of what you REALLY need and remember -- it's the traveling that's important. Don't let a little thing like packing ruin your plans.


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    • profile image

      Paul Hanson 

      8 years ago

      On putting medicines into smaller containers, travel stores carry just such bottles down to tiny tiny sizes.

    • NaomiR profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York

      No, that's fine -- thanks for thinking of me!

    • Ms. Stephanie profile image

      Ms. Stephanie 

      8 years ago from North Dakota

      Hey hope you dont mind but I added your link to my hubpage on cheap vacations. : )

    • Ms. Stephanie profile image

      Ms. Stephanie 

      8 years ago from North Dakota

      Good tips. I especially enjoyed the rolling your clothes in your suitcase. I never thought of that. Will give it a whirl on my up and coming trip. Thanks


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