Last Updated on December 15, 2019 by Janine
There are all kinds of reasons to pack light, but saving money is my favorite one of all.
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. While cheap flights can certainly be found, it’s important to read the fine print to ensure you don’t end up spending a ton on hidden fees.
I travel frequently, and with the average cost of a checked bag sitting at around $25 per flight, my ability to travel with carry on luggage ONLY has saved me about $300 in the past year alone.
That’s enough savings to buy an entire new flight to somewhere warm and tropical!
Aside from saving money, it’s nice to have less luggage to carry with you when you’re traveling. 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 have reformed and I’m here to help you do the same.
Are you ready to change your ways?
how to pack light to save money
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. Because I almost always travel with only carry-on luggage, I now challenge myself to fit everything I can into the smallest bag possible.
I usually use my Osprey Farpoint 40, which I am absolutely in LOVE with. It doesn’t have a metal frame, which makes it very light, and means it crunches down pretty well for storage when I’m not using it. Plus, as long as you don’t over-stuff it, the bag meets carry-on size restrictions for most airlines. I also love that this pack comes in lots of colors (because everyone in my family has one)! Mine is Caribbean blue, obviously. ?
If I’m going on a really short trip, I’ll take just my Patagonia Refugio daypack. I love this pack because it’s compact, comfortable, and doesn’t have lots of straps dangling off of it. It has water bottle pockets on the sides, which are super handy, and a padded laptop sleeve to protect my electronics. It too comes in lots of fun colors! I can easily fit everything I need for a weekend away inside this pack (including my hair dryer!).
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 will need to do to make it fit. Personally, I like to plan for two outfits per day- one for daytime and one for the 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!
By 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 traveling 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!
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Packing light really is an art form! These are some great tips, especially trying on everything before you pack it! I’ve bought SO many pieces of clothing just for trips that actually didn’t look as great as I thought. Definitely going to be smarter about it in the future!
I would add that if you are packing similar items, t-shirts, tank tops..layer them on top of each other then fold. This way they take up less room and most of the items are not wrinkled when you unpack them! I do this everytime I pack – It may not make it ‘lighter’ but definitely leaves room and less ironing..
That’s a great tip! I need to start doing that. I’m always trying to come up with creative ways to reduce volume.
I literally just finished packing for a trip to Maui tomorrow morning. I had to work hard to close the zip on my bag. I think I have to get everything out again and use this post to make some better choices.
Hahaha oh no! This is a pretty fool proof system, I must say. It can be SO hard to decide what to take though, so I sympathize entirely. I hope you enjoy Maui, I’ve never been but it looks amazinggg!
I am quite an overpacker especially for trips lasting more than a month. But it sucks to be lugging heavy baggage on public transport. I recently just traveled to Taiwan for a weeklong trip and didn’t check any baggage in because I wanted to be mobile on public transport. I ran out of clean underwear but I managed to hand wash some pairs to last me through the trip. I think a carry on is totally doable if you have access to washing facilities.
Lugging heavy bags on public transport is the bane of my existence! I agree, access to washing facilities makes carry-on travel a LOT easier. I always try to squeeze in a few extra pairs of underwear just in case though.
My husband has been bugging me to start doing this for some time now. I have to admit that I do always come back home with stuff in the suitcase that was never taken out! I need to be brave, just once, and try this. Thanks for the “how to”!
Haha! Glad it was helpful! I know what you mean. I’m someone who likes to have lots of options too. Start by trying it out for short trips — it helps you to get in the habit of bringing less.
Thanks for these tips! I am completely with you on the Osprey, and the trying everything on beforehand. It’s a pain, but it saves so much stress down the line when you figure out that certain things don’t match like you thought, or that that skirt *really* won’t do for a work gig. 😮
Exactly! It takes some time, but it definitely pays off!
I live in the two extremes. Either I pack a crazy amount and check bag, usually only for long trips, like if we’re going to be somewhere for months and my husband’s company picks up the tab OR if it’s for a week or less and I can cram into my carryon. My brother is usually amazed when we’re traveling together because I pack less than him. Usually that doesn’t include hair tools, even though I’m sure I would look loads better if I took them. HA! Great tips. I need a new backpack. I’m going to check out your recommendation.
Haha! I’m kind of the same. I always try to fit everything in a carry on (and usually do), but if I can’t then I just throw up my hands and get out a giant suitcase! I figure, if you’re checking a bag you might as well take the biggest one you can! Definitely check out the Osprey pack — it’s such a nice travel pack because it’s so light, but has lots of padding. It’s also really reasonably priced in my opinion.