8 Tricks For Packing Lightly No Matter Where You’re Going

The flights are booked, and the perfect hotel is picked out. You have activities planned and dinner reservations made. The next step is packing. But how do you bring everything you need without overpacking?

By Alyssa Rinelli4 min read
Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

Packing for a trip can feel like a Tetris match, squeezing everything you want into those weight and size limits. This guide will help you master the art of packing light, showing you how to bring just the essentials while still looking and feeling your best.

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Choose the Right Luggage 

Packing light isn't just about what you bring, it's also about how you carry it. The right luggage can make all the difference in navigating airports and exploring your destination. 

For your carry-on bag, look for one that's both spacious and expandable to fit all your essentials. Opt for a lightweight case with 360-degree spinner wheels for effortless gliding through airports. This allows you to avoid baggage claim waits and potential fees for checked bags while having enough space for the essential items on your trip.

Checking a bag? Look for a lightweight roller suitcase. The last thing you want when packing for a trip is to lose part of the allotted suitcase weight to the actual suitcase. If you're traveling with multiple people, consider sharing a large checked bag for bulkier items. Remember, never check expensive or essential items like medication in case your luggage gets lost or damaged. 

Next, choose a functional personal item. You can push the limit when it comes to your personal item. Instead of a purse or a backpack, I bring my large canvas tote bag or a medium-sized duffel that I can strap to my carry-on suitcase handles. It’s a sneaky way to pack more into your carry-on bag. This is great if you’re trying not to check a suitcase. 

Write It Out

Visualization is key to packing light! Before diving into your closet, write out a list of everything you think you might need and your essentials. This activity helps identify potential overpacking.

Next, take things a step further by laying everything out physically a few days before your trip. Spread clothes, toiletries, and essentials on your bed or floor. This visual inventory allows you to assess if you're truly bringing only what you need. Seeing the piles can be a wake-up call to edit what you’re packing.

Remember, packing light is a skill that gets easier with practice. By establishing a system that works for you, you'll breeze through this step on future trips. Think of it as an investment in smoother travels to come!

Don't Skip Packing Cubes 

Packing cubes have become an essential travel accessory. These lightweight cubes help organize your items and keep your clothes tidy, wrinkle-free, and easily accessible. 

Take it one step further and categorize each of your packing cubes. For example, the smallest one is for socks and underwear, the larger one is for bulky items like a sweater or a microfiber beach towel. Consider packing your clothes vertically like you would in a dresser at home. That way when you unpack at your hotel or Airbnb, you can simply transfer your packing cubes directly into the dresser drawer for the easiest unpacking ever. Plus, doing it this way will help prevent you from digging around in your suitcase to find what you need, ultimately wrinkling your clothes.

If you use packing cubes, it’s easy to distribute the weight in your suitcase. If you put the heavier cubes toward the bottom of your suitcase where the wheels are, it’s much easier to roll your carry-on through the airport. 

When looking to purchase packing cubes, look for ones with multiple different sizes as this helps with organization. Also, consider sets that have a dirty clothes bag, which is great for longer trips or trips with multiple legs to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones. 

Pick a Versatile Pair of Shoes

One of the easiest ways to overpack is to bring too many pairs of shoes. Shoes are bulky, and they can use up much of your suitcase. The key is to pack shoes that don’t take up a lot of space. 

Pack a classic and comfortable pair of flats that can be used out at dinner and for walking around. Wear a nice pair of tennis shoes on your travel day. You can also easily pack a pair of flip-flops in your suitcase. They take up almost no space and are great with a pair of shorts, at the beach or pool, and even as hotel shoes. 

Only pack heels or boots if you know you will absolutely wear them for part of your trip. Otherwise, they’re just taking up precious suitcase real estate. Repeat after me: I don’t need that many pairs of shoes. 

Adjust Your Skincare Routine

The idea is to trim down your skin and body care routine into just the essentials that will leave you feeling refreshed without needing to pack your entire skincare regime. I usually pack items that are double duty, like a makeup removing and face cleansing balm, a lightweight moisturizer that can be used day and night, and a lightweight sunscreen. I am a huge fan of Korean beauty brands like Clean It Zero for its hydrating formula, which is great for traveling. 

Depending on whether my hotel has shampoo and conditioner products or if I can easily purchase hair care when I land, I will also pack a travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. I found that having a “fill-your-own” toilette set allows me to pack my hair care essentials without purchasing an overpriced travel-sized product. 

Consider not packing items that can be easily purchased when you land. Toiletries like toothpaste, razors, lotion, and shampoo are readily available almost anywhere in the world. Save space and buy them when you get there. 

You Don’t Need an Outfit for Every Day

One of my biggest mistakes when I first started traveling consistently was packing a separate outfit for every day and for every occasion. I almost never wore every outfit I planned, and the extra clothes took up precious suitcase space. I now pack versatile items with lightweight fabrics that layer and build into multiple different outfits. 

I look to pack colors and materials that don’t wrinkle as easily. I travel with wrinkle-free fabrics such as synthetics, wool, denim, and knit. Fabrics like linen wrinkle easily, so I usually avoid them. Darker colors hide their wrinkles better than lighter colors. 

My capsule wardrobe consists of a few staples and multiple layering pieces: classic jeans, wide-leg drawstring pants (if a warmer location), a white button-up blouse that can be worn as a top or as a layering piece, two or three neutral tops, a skirt, and a midi dress for going out or during the day. I pack multiple different lightweight accessories to add some flair to my outfits as well. Invest in a few statement scarves, belts, or jewelry that can transform your basic outfits into unique, personalized looks. Remember, accessories pack light but add major impact. 

This isn’t the catch-all formula. Each location and season is going to require different pieces, but packing a few pieces that layer and go together allows you to create an array of daytime, evening, and travel-ready looks. Remember, it’s about traveling, not the outfit. 

Think About Which Electronics You Really Need To Bring

Headphones, cameras, laptops, iPads, phones, e-readers – it's a lot of weight to carry around. Let’s face it, you probably don’t need every electronic device for your trip. 

If you’re traveling for pleasure, you may just want to bring your phone. Your phone does it all: It takes stellar photos, you can download books onto it, you can type and send emails, etc. It’s an easy way to save space. 

Make sure you pack a portable charger, though. It’s a lifesaver on long flights or car rides and while out and about in a city. You won't have to worry about running back to your hotel or into a cafe to charge your phone, especially if you’re using your phone as a “catch-all” while traveling. 

Wear Your Bulkiest Items

You can’t always avoid bringing boots or jackets when traveling. If you must bring these items, you will want to wear them to avoid them taking up precious suitcase space. However, if you must pack multiple bulky items, here’s a pro tip: lay them flat at the bottom of your suitcase. Folding or rolling them can actually create more bulk, so give them the flat-out treatment instead.