Everyone aspires to pack light. Some travelers are successful, others can’t help but bring everything and the kitchen sink.
Here on our blog, packing light tips are the most popular posts. Even veteran light packers like Jeremy and I are always open to new ideas.
Packing light is a process, not a goal. We can always get better.
So we asked our favorite travel writers, speakers, designers, and CEOs,
“What’s your best, non-obvious tip for packing light?”
These travel experts all took different approaches. Some downsize their luggage forcing themselves to carry less. Some focus on clothing, others on toiletries. Some use technology to replace physical objects. Every one has great advice.
Check out their packing tricks below then let us know your best tip for packing light in the comments.
Follow the entire list of travel experts on Twitter.
Skip ahead by expert:
Rolf Potts, Adam Seper, Matt Wilson, Tony Rulli, Christina Ricchiuti, Dave Dean, Blaine Ballard, Alex Jimenez, Netanya Trimboli, Clint Johnston, Nick Huggins, Katie Coakley, Lina Stock, Shaun Huberts, Frank Brown, Michael Tieso, Jessica Festa, Mike Stone, Isabel Clift, Matt Long, Sean Keener, Jess Dante, Mike Richard, Megan Lee, Doug Dyment, Taylor Welden, Jill Permadi, Chez Brungraber, Diego Saez-Gil, Tania Cruz, Jeff Broman
Rolf Potts, Travel Author
My best unorthodox advice for traveling light is to not take a bag.
Adam Seper, Editor at BootsnAll Travel Network
Never buy a backpack/suitcase that is bigger than carry-on size. If your travel pack/suitcase is small, there is no possible way to overpack.
Matt Wilson, Adventurer in Residence at Under 30 Experiences
The best packing tip is to pack a daypack inside your fullsize bag. This way, at the airport, you can take the second bag out, and have two bags small enough to carry them both on. Now, you never lose your bag, and don’t pay baggage handling fees.
Tony Rulli, Travel Blogger at Landing Standing
You will always pack whatever size backpack you have to the absolute exploding point… it must be some kind of immutable law of physics. So knowing this, buy a bag at least 10-20% smaller than you think you want and take it home and pack it full. This is then the most you are allowed to bring on your trip. Then return the backpack to the store and buy the original size bag you wanted, like say from Tortuga :), but only pack what you stuffed into the smaller bag. Now your bag is lighter, you still have everything you need, and you might just have a little extra room for things you buy along the way.
Christina Ricchiuti, National Geographic Channel Producer and Travel Blogger
Leave those bulky jackets and boots behind and head instead to a warmer climate. Bikinis and sandals don’t take up much room… leaving your suitcase light with plenty of room for souvenirs!
Dave Dean, Founder and Editor of Too Many Adapters
Merino. Clothing made from merino wool is super-lightweight, keeps you warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather and you can wear it for days on end and it still won’t smell.
Blaine Ballard, Bag Reviewer at Loaded Pocketz
For me, the key to packing light is clothing choice. I always favor synthetic materials for undergarments and insulting layers in favor of cotton because they are lighter weight and don’t take up a lot of volume. They also dry quicker if you need to launder while on the road. For instance, I’d favor a Polartec quarter zip over a heavy cotton sweater. Smart wool is another alternative.
Alex Jimenez, Founder and Editor of Travel Fashion Girl
When choosing your clothing for a trip take a look at each item’s fabric and consider the following factors: quality, thickness, weight, wrinkles, transparency, and texture.
Your ideal travel clothing is durable, takes up minimal space and weight, is wrinkle-free and opaque, and matches with the rest of your clothing in style and fit.
Netanya Trimboli, Communications Manager at Hostelling International USA
Versatile, low-maintenance clothing is key to packing light. Consider these 5 factors that make an article of clothing desirable when traveling and aim to have each piece you bring satisfy at least 3 of them:
- Comfortable for touring around, but can be dressed up for the evening
- Is appropriate for cool or warm weather
- Doesn’t show stains
- Folds up small
- Coordinates well with almost everything else you’re bringing
By following these guidelines, you’re maximizing the usage of each article of clothing, so you can bring less.
Clint Johnston, Travel Hacker
I only pack clothes that are versatile and my best example of this is my brown leather boots that I can wear for a full day of hiking and out to dinner the same day. Recently I wore them dune bashing in Dubai and then to dinner at the Burj al Arab.
The clothes you pack also need to have great wearability. Clothing that can only be worn once before a wash is a waste of space. I like merino wool shirts and socks from Icebreaker and Smart Wool. These can be worn days on end without needing to be washed and they seem to never smell.
Nick Huggins, Chief Adventurer at Nick’s Travel Bug
Only pack enough clothes for 7 days, no matter how long you’re traveling for. It is easier to find a laundromat once a week than it is to carry all of the extra weight around with you the entire trip.
Katie Coakley, Travel Writer
I’m a big fan of objects and items that can perform a double duty. For example, I always pack the sarong I bought in Thailand. Not only is it a beach cover-up, but it can also serve as a tablecloth, picnic blanket, makeshift satchel (hobo style), pillow, head scarf for bad hair days, shawl, changing room screen, privacy curtain for a bunk bed…the list goes on. Having one item serve many purposes keeps my packing to a minimum.
Lina Stock, Travel Blogger at Divergent Travelers
Be aware of your color palette when selecting clothing. If your color palettes are cross compatible, you will have many outfits from less clothing while you are on the road.
Shaun Huberts, Musician and Author
Place all your clothes into your bag vertically so it looks more like a filing cabinet; this way you can see all the clothes you have with you without having to lift up or remove the ones on top. From here you not only have a better view (and reminder) of how many shirts or pairs of pants you have but you can also see which shirts (or whatever clothing item) stand out and potentially don’t match your outfits. Remove the oddballs.
Frank Brown, Editor at 1 Bag, 1 World
Go through your packing list or lay out everything you plan to take on your bed or the floor. With every item, ask yourself why you’re taking it. If you start with the words ‘what if,’ or you only plan to use it once during an extended trip, it may not be a necessity. Too many non-necessities and you go from packing light to packing heavy.
Michael Tieso, Travel Blogger at Art of Adventuring
Rubber bands. While they won’t make your bag lighter, you’ll be able to fit more into a smaller bag. I use rubber bands to tie up each piece of clothing and use up the most space that’s available to me in my bag. It’s also a great way to keep the clothing in your bag neat and organized.
Jessica Festa, Travel Writer and Blogger
I’m a firm believer that everything you need for a trip — whether it be three days or three weeks — should be able to be packed in a carry-on.
This is simple once you master the art of layering your clothes. Choose a color combination for your attire and pack only pieces that match this so that you can mix, match and layer to create different looks (instead of packing completely separate outfits).
Mike Stone, President of Abroad101
I couple the carry-on mentality with wearing my bulkiest clothing items for the travel itself. If you sport your bulkiest shoes and a jacket, you can clear plenty of space for more items in your carry-on while having an extra layer for the chilly plane ride.
I also pack a large plastic bag in my carry-on that I can use after passing security to redistribute any items from my luggage and store my shoes overhead during the flight. Bring a pair of comfortable socks and enjoy your upgraded shoe-free leg room, all while experiencing the relief of embracing the minimalist approach to packing and enabling your trip to be filled with experiences rather than clutter.
Isabel Clift, Senior Content Editor at Web Reservations International
- Ball up your socks and underwear and stick them inside your shoes – this saves space in the rest of your bag.
- Don’t bring toiletries you can just buy there for cheap – shampoo, conditioner, bodywash and sunblock, for example.
Matt Long, Travel Blogger at Land Lopers
[P]ack no more than two pairs of shoes. For guys especially, shoes can take up a lot of room so it’s important to be selective when packing. I usually take a nice pair of sneakers that can be used for everything from hiking to happy hour as well as a light pair of loafers for more dressy travel occasions.
Sean Keener, Founder of the BootsnAll Travel Network
Everywhere you go, has 99% of what you need. You can buy almost anything, anywhere in the world. So, it truly is safe, to pack 1/2 of what you think you’ll need.
Jess Dante, Creator of The Abroad Guide
Unless you’re traveling to a remote village with no electricity or running water, purchase all of your toiletries at your destination. Hit up the dollar/euro/pound store when you arrive for hair products, deodorant, toothpaste… everything.
You’ll save a ton of space in your luggage and you won’t have to lug around any heavy liquids.
Mike Richard, Editor of Vagabondish
The one tip that’s allowed me to cut my luggage by more than half is simple: pack concentrated laundry detergent and quick-drying, synthetic clothing and wash everything while you travel.
This one tip has allowed me to travel for months just about anywhere with little more than 2 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, and 3-4 pairs of underwear.
Megan Lee, Study Abroad Director at Go Overseas
You’ll likely need to wash your clothes at some point, and carrying around a big bottle of Downy or Tide isn’t even enjoyable when you’re not toting your belongings on your back. My suggestion? Bring a ziplock baggie of powder detergent, and extra gallon size ziplock baggies (these come in handy in more ways than you can imagine).
If you find yourself sans-washing machine, you can make your own by stuffing water/laundry/soap into the bag and giving it a little (okay, a lot of) shake. Rinse in water and voila: clean clothes. Easy peezy, fresh and breezy!
Doug Dyment, Travel Skills Writer and Speaker
For those trying to pack light, it’s difficult to choose worse items than bottled liquids (and gels, and aerosols). They are heavy, bulky, prone to leakage (especially on airplanes), and a security concern. And with but a little forethought, the vast majority of them can be eliminated entirely.
From shampoo/conditioner to toothpaste, from sunscreen to insect repellent, from facial cleanser, foundation, and moisturizer to mascara, bronzer, and face mask, even exfoliants and perfumes, all come in solid versions that will save you weight, space, hassle, and the environmental cost of excess packaging.
Taylor Welden, Soft Goods Industrial Designer and Senior Editor at Carryology
- One pair of jeans only. Yes, only one pair. A second pair or pants only if you’re going to be 7+ days.
- Lay out everything you think you need to bring on your trip. Then remove half of these items. You don’t need all that stuff.
- Packing light sometimes means no carrying a bag at all. Utilize airport lockers for specific travel situations where you don’t need everything.
- Don’t use cotton socks. Invest in a few pairs of ‘smart’ socks made from wool and/or synthetics.
- Use ExOfficio boxers. Seriously. Just do that now. On a 10 day trip to Asia, I will be completely comfortable only bringing 3 pairs of boxers (1 pair I’m wearing, 2 pairs in the bag). They pack down super small, they’re extremely lightweight, they can be washed easily and dry really fast (way faster than cotton). The other knock off brands don’t come close either. Lifetime warranty. Love mine.
Jill Permadi, Travel Blogger and Rock Climber
- Forgo towels. They’re heavy and hard to dry. Most hostels will have them available for free or for rent.
- Packing cubes and compression bags help tons in limiting what you bring! When traveling with only a daypack, I made sure all of my clothes fit in one of the packing cubes.
- Super wicking clothes and underwear. Since you’ll be doing more laundry than usual, quick-dry clothes come in handy.
- Start with your bag. If you start with a smaller bag than usual, you’ll end up taking less than you would. I ask myself this question a lot, ‘Can I get this at [my] destination?’ if the answer is ‘yes’, most of the times it doesn’t make it into the bag.
Chez Brungraber, Founder of Gobi Gear
For summer travel, choose clothing and fabrics that dry quickly, and if possible, are not too heavy even when wet. Whether from hiking hard or getting caught in a rain storm, wet clothes can add considerable weight to your pack.
For colder weather, choose one great outer-layer that will keep everything dry underneath. Also, a trash bag or rain-cover for your entire pack can be essential.
Diego Saez-Gil, Founder & CEO of WeHostels
You can ‘de-materialize’ certain objects by replacing them with apps on you phone. The obvious example is the camera, but also think of the travel guide book, maps, the moleskine, books, magazines, etc.
Also, if you are taking a long term trip, you can buy clothing from locals as you go with apps like Modabound (an Airbnb for clothing) and others.
Tania Cruz, Co-Founder at the Poshpacker
Don’t bring any books on your trip. This way you’ll be forcing yourself to talk and meet new people. Don’t worry about books, no need to carry them, you’ll find plenty where ever you go.
Jeff Broman, Travel Blogger at Go Travelzing
Download guidebooks to your phone using the Kindle app to save weight and space. You also do not look like every other tourist carrying around the same guidebook.
Now it’s your turn. Share your best light packing tip in the comments.
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