When's the last time you were genuinely happy to lug an oversized suitcase around with you while travelling?
For the modern traveller, getting the most out of limited packing space is an essential skill.
It saves you from carrying heavy luggage around everywhere, enables you to travel with just a carryon, and frees you up to enjoy your trip.
Packing light is also a great way to stay safe and keep your most valuable items secure. Because it leaves you with only one primary bag to monitor - not two, three or even four that are easy targets for thieves.
So how do you pack light?
Let's take a look at 16 quick tips for how to pack light and make the most of your luggage space:
1. Create an itinerary
This might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of people don't put together a very specific itinerary before they travel.
Itineraries are a smart choice for several reasons. They inform your loved ones back at home about exactly where you are on certain days. They also help you save time and money when it comes to pre-booking accommodation, flights and other transport.
But when it comes to packing light, an itinerary can be an essential guide to what stays in, and what's left out of your luggage.
For example, if you are going hiking at different times during your trip, but you know that there is a laundry service near your accommodation, you may only need to take one set of hiking clothes, rather than several.
So if you know what you are doing every day of the trip, it’s easier to pack exactly what you need, and nothing you don't.
An app like Tripit can make building your itinerary much easier to track:
2. Write a packing list
Once you have an itinerary locked and loaded, your next piece of planning should be your packing list.
Literally write down everything you plan to take on your trip on a piece of paper, or in a note-taking app on your phone.
As you are writing your list, compare it to your itinerary and make sure that there is absolutely nothing unnecessary on there.
If you are not 100% confident that you need something for a very specific reason on the trip, don't pack it. You can always buy little knick-knacks while you are travelling.
By seeing everything listed out on paper it will help you cull the things that are too heavy, unnecessary, or taking up a lot of space in your luggage.
3. Do a packing audit before you go
Even if you systematically map out your day-to-day itinerary, and write a list of the things you need to take, there is still likely to be unnecessary items that have made it into your luggage.
Before you zip up that bag, lay EVERYTHING out on your bed, the floor or some other wide open space, and audit what you are about to pack.
Anything that is too heavy, remove it and find a lighter more appropriate solution.
Also, look out for clashes with your clothing. The key to packing light is to stick to versatile clothing options and basic colours that can match with each other in multiple different ways.
4. Use a smaller bag
This tip is a bit of a mind trick you can play on yourself to keep things light in your luggage.
Something about human psychology tells us to make the most of the room we have in a bag. So if you take a big bag on your trip, you will likely find a way to fill it.
If you take a smaller bag, and use your wits to pack it to its full capacity, it will force you to take less.
The Zoomlite Road Warrior, pictured below, is an example of a lightweight backpack that carries deceptively more than you would think.
5. Pick versatile clothing
We briefly mentioned this tip earlier, and it's one of the smartest ways to save room in your luggage.
The more versatile your clothing is, and the more ways you can utilise it on your trip, the less you will need to take.
Here are some things to look out for when deciding if a piece of clothing is versatile:
- Is the material high quality and durable?
- Does it easily dry?
- Will it wrinkle in your luggage?
- How thick is it, and will that take up a lot of luggage space?
- How heavy is it, and will that push your bag into the next weight category?
Aim to take durable clothing that is wrinkle free, and doesn’t need too much washing (or at least dries very quickly). Also, take things that you can wear multiple times in different situations.
6. Pack simple colours
If your clothing is versatile it means you reduce the amount you need to take, as well as the need for washing it. The same goes for the colours you choose.
By picking simple colours such as greys, blacks and whites, you deliberately limit your style combinations for the trip. It also allows you to mix and match the different items of clothing, so that you don't feel like you are just wearing the same thing over and over again.
7. Wear your bulkiest clothing items
If you're travelling to a cold climate or are planning on doing a lot of hiking, you may need to pack some heavy-duty shoes and clothing. But if you absolutely need to take a bulky jacket or some heavy shoes, try to keep them out of your bag.
For example, you could wear your heaviest jacket and shoes on the plane, and then store them in the overhead compartment. This will save you space, and a significant amount of weight, in your checked luggage.
An added bonus is that when it gets cold up on the plane you will have a jacket to keep you warm.
8. Don’t pack toiletries
Many of us see toiletries as an essential item when travelling, but it's not always the case.
In reality, anything you are going to need from a toiletries perspective will be available from the local supermarket or pharmacy where you are travelling. Or, the hotel you are staying at might have amenities all stocked up in your room.
So when you are considering what toiletries to take on your trip, don't pack the really heavy items such as shampoo or hairspray. Anything with liquid or in bottle form is usually a space-waster and heavy to carry.
You could even get away with not taking your toothbrush if you want. But if you must take it, just pack it in a zip lock bag and preserve as much space in your luggage as possible.
9. Leave your towels at home
Towels are thick, heavy when wet, and typically take up a LOT of room in your limited packing space. So don't take them with you.
Just about all hotels, motels or hostels you are likely to stay at, allow you to access towels - whether they are to buy, rent or hire.
And if you're going somewhere that doesn't, plan to pick up a cheap towel at the very last place possible, so you aren't lugging it around everywhere with you.
10. Only pack for 7 days
This tip is very similar to the "take a smaller bag" tip. No matter how long you are going away for, try to think in 7-day increments at most.
By creating a constraint on the amount of things you can take, it immediately forces you to make decisions and remove things from your packing list.
Just about everything you need can be washed, purchased, or changed on your trip. And for those absolute essential items that can't be, pack them and leave the unnecessary items behind.
11. Take 50% of what you think you will need
Have you ever gone on a weekend away and felt like you took your whole wardrobe with you?
We've all been there! If you leave packing to the last minute or are a little bit unsure about exactly what is panned for the trip, you'll likely just pack everything and hope it works out.
Most of what you pack will stay at the bottom of your bag and not be used at all, so it's wasted space.
Whatever you think you "need" to take with you, take half of it. You will find a way to get by.
The best way to stay true to the 50% rule is to plan a strict itinerary, write a packing list, and stick to the simple colour combinations we mentioned earlier.
12. Use packing cubes
Even though they don't specifically save you "weight", packing cubes help you fit more into less space. If you can fit more in less space, you can take a smaller bag and not leave as many of your favourite clothing combinations at home.
By taking a smaller bag you will have a lighter travelling experience overall, and also feel that little bit safer - without worrying about multiple bags, checked luggage or dispersed valuables.
Below is an example of packing cubes in action:
If you're still not sure if they are right for you, here are 5 reasons travellers shouldn't go anywhere without packing cubes.
13. Take one piece of technology
Unless you absolutely have to for work reasons, don’t take your laptop, tablet, camera and whatever other technology you think you will use.
Your smart phone can achieve just about everything you need to while travelling, so stick to the smallest piece of technology and get the most out of it.
14. Make the most of your smart phone
If you're only taking one piece of technology, don't think of it as just that - "technology".
Smart phones and their endless list of available apps, can help you save an enormous amount of space in your luggage.
For example, you can leave the bulky cameras, travel guidebooks, reading material, language dictionaries, and anything else that can be replaced with an app at home.
15. Rent, hire or buy while you’re away
To save space in your luggage and help you pack light, make the most of the variety of modern services available all around the world. You can basically rent, hire or buy just about any every day necessity while you are away.
Things such as laundry services, car sharing services, and other rental services can help allow you to leave unnecessary items at home.
Here is an example of a laundry service, FlyCleaners, which is available in many parts of the world:
16. Eat the local foods
When you are packing your bag, try to go light on the snacks.
Snacks can take up a lot of space, be heavy, and cause you unwanted customs issues at airports.
Instead of packing snacks from your local store, enjoy the full travelling experience while you are away and eat the local cuisines. Go to the supermarkets, street markets, convenience stores, cafes and restaurants in the city you are staying in.
Not only will it save you packing space, but it will also make your trip more memorable.
For some, packing light comes easy. But for most us, we are more inclined to err on the side of excess when it comes to preparing for a trip.
If you fall into the second bucket, the only way to cut down your luggage size and make travelling that little bit easier, is to create some constraints on what you can and can't take.
Consider planning your trip well in advance with a well-structured itinerary and packing list.
Then when it comes to packing, think smart. Pack basic but versatile colour combinations, light-weight clothes, and the bare minimum amount of toiletries.
Also, pick a smaller bag, only pack for 7 days at a time, and make the most of your space with packing cubes.
Packing light isn't always the right answer, but if you are moving from place to place at regular intervals on your travels, it just makes sense.
What did we miss, how do you manage to pack light and still get everything you need in your luggage?