There are all kinds of reasons to pack light. Airlines are constantly cracking down on baggage allowances by raising baggage fees and decreasing the accepted size of carry-on luggage. Some airlines even charge for carry-on luggage now, rather than just checked bags as they did in the past.
Aside from saving money, it’s nice to have less luggage to carry with you when you’re travelling. Waiting for checked bags in the airport takes a lot of time- if you simply have a carry-on item you can breeze through customs while everyone else is waiting at the luggage carousel.
Additionally you’re more mobile when you’re not laden with heavy bags. You’ll have an easier time maneuvering through public spaces and on and off of public transportation if you keep things streamlined. There’s nothing worse than lugging around an overstuffed suitcase all the while knowing you could have left half of the items at home!
That said, packing light is an art form. It requires serious discipline and careful planning. I have not always been good at packing light but after many trips I’ve reformed and I’m here to help you do the same.
Are you ready to change your ways? Read on!
1. Choose the bag you intend to bring
When I travel by air I make it my goal to fit all of my belongings into a carry-on size bag. If I choose the bag in advance I can easily visualize how much I can pack. Of course, if you find this size to be totally unrealistic you can re-evaluate down the line, but I like to challenge myself.
2. Lay everything out
This is just your first pass. Lay out every single item you wish to pack on your trip. You’ll be cutting it down as you go, so no need to hold back at this point. Haul out those cute dresses you’ve been dying to wear since last season! Choose all of your potential outfits, toiletries and accessories.
Once it’s all spread out in front of you (next to your suitcase), you’ll be able to visualize how much reducing you need to do to make it fit. Personally I like to plan for two outfits per day- one for daytime and one for evening (though generally this just entails changing my top).
3. Try everything on
That’s right. Put on every single clothing item you’ve just selected to bring. There’s literally nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing the swimsuit you carefully chose doesn’t actually fit the way you remember. Or worse, it’s uncomfortable. Try everything on and make sure it lives up to your expectations.
Try to start streamlining at this point. If you need a different pair of shoes for each outfit you may want to reconsider.
Try your shoes on. Which ones are the most comfortable? Pack those pairs and leave the rest at home.
Do you really need 3 pairs of sandals? Do you really want to wear those wedges you bought on sale? How much walking will you be doing? Will you be going anywhere that warrants wearing dress shoes? Even if you are, can you get away with a versatile casual shoe? Think it through.
4. Coordinate your outfits
This is my least favorite part of packing. I prefer to decide in the moment what I want to wear, but if you do this you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.
Make sure that everything you pack can be incorporated into an outfit– if it can’t set it aside. You’re better off packing versatile pieces that you can re-wear (ie, neutral bottoms that go with all of your tops rather than a fancy skirt that only matches one of your tops). Versatility is the key to packing light.
This is also a good time to figure out which accessories and undergarments you’ll need for each of your outfits- again, choose versatile pieces!
At the end of this step you should have coordinated a set of outfits for your trip. Now it’s time to pack them into your suitcase!
5. Streamline toiletries
Once you’ve carefully packed your clothes into your suitcase you’ll know how much space you have leftover. Now it’s time to pare down the rest of your things.
Toiletries can take up a lot of space, and if you’re travelling by air they can be a hassle due to volume restrictions. On top of that, it’s a nuisance to pull them all out of your bag when you go through security, and then repack them once you pass. With that in mind, now is the time to be minimal.
It’s likely that you can buy a lot of the things you need once you arrive, so if you’re tight on space just pack the essentials. It may be just as easy to buy things like sunscreen and bug spray when you arrive, rather than lugging them on the entire journey. However, depending on where you’re headed this may not be the case, and you’ll need to plan accordingly.
Consider whether you really need to bring things like hair dryers and straightening irons. Sure they’re nice to have, but many hotels will have these items for you to use. But maybe you can just forgo them for the length of your vacation.
By now you’ve filled your suitcase with your carefully selected your outfits and pared down your toiletries to the essentials. At this point you’ll know whether you can actually fit everything into the suitcase you originally chose.
Now is the time to decide whether you need to up-size your suitcase or streamline your packing a little bit more. You’ll have to decide which is most realistic. If you’re really careful maybe things fit perfectly into the bag you originally selected and you’re good to go! Personally I usually end up going far more minimalist than I need to and then I have room to add things back into my bag.
So there you have it! This is my method for packing light! Do you have a different strategy? Let me know in the comments!
I’m Janine, a Canadian-American expat based in Mexico. I feel strongly about living life on my own terms, which is why I left my 9 to 5 job to become a digital nomad and live abroad! Follow me for travel inspiration, stories about expat life, and the journey to becoming truly location independent!