8 Tips for Packing Light

by Chris on October 8, 2009

Going on a longer trip? It’s always difficult to pack light. Here’s 8 tips for lightening your load when you’re on the road.

I’m on my way tomorrow to Guadalajara, Mexico, for the annual conference of the Society of American Travel Writers. As usual, I’m packing at the last minute – my flight leaves at 7:10 a.m. And true to form, I’m putting everything I need for one week into one carry-on bag.

Some friends and family members have expressed surprise that I can travel for up to two weeks without checking luggage. I’ve been strict about keeping things light since last year’s trip to Costa Rica, where we lost a precious day of travel due to bag delays. And honestly, having less comes in handy when you move around as much as I do when I travel. When you have just one major bag, it’s easier to catch a bus, hop on a boat or manuever a tight train corridor.

Here are 8 tips on how to pack light.

1. Choose a dominant color scheme. Almost all of my clothes fit into the “black” or “brown” family. After considering my trip’s itinerary, I then decide which scheme will work best. If something doesn’t match, out it goes.

2. Lay out all potential items of clothing on the bed. Then take away at least one-third. A good travel wardrobe is all about the editing. Think about pieces that can do double duty, such as jeans or ankle-length black capris that can be worn touring during the day or out to dinner at night. If you have three dresses, cut one. If you have six tops, cut two.

3. Be ruthless with your shoes. It’s no secret that shoes are a major space hog. And with outdoor and sporting stores suggesting a different shoe for each activity, it’s easy to believe you need an arsenal of footwear. Trust me, you don’t. One pair of broken-in walking shoes (I like Clark’s Priva Mary Jane style), along with a street-friendly sandal, are usually all you need. And forget about heels. Unless you are going to a wedding, you aren’t going to wear them.

4. Choose your accompanying personal item well. I carry a backpack as my personal item that also functions as a laptop/camera bag. I also have a Tumi daypack that I can flatten out and stick in either my luggage or my backpack while I’m in transit. That means I actually have three bags instead of the two allowed by most airlines (and I don’t have to pay ANY fees).

5. Throw out your fashion ego. I’m often working when I’m traveling. But with long days of walking, often in the heat or on uneven cobblestone streets, I need to be comfortable too. I’ve decided it’s OK if I’m not board-room ready. If meeting hotel biz types is on the agenda, I always carry a structured professional-looking sweater coat or light jacket that spiffs up a dress or more casual outfit.

6. Remember past packing mistakes. On the road, I always gravitate to the pieces that feel comfortable and easy. And when I get home and unpack, I almost always find at least two things that were never worn. That’s usually a sign those items should have never come along in the first place.

7. Take advantage of laundry when available. If you are visiting friends or family, remember that they often have washing machines you can use. Or consider renting an apartment that might have facilities, especially in European cities. In our Barcelona apartment this June, we were thrilled to be able to wash our sweaty clothes before going out for the evening.

8. And finally: practice, practice, practice. With all the trips I’ve taken this year, packing light has almost become second nature. My bag for Mexico came together in enough time for me to write this blog post. The more trips that you take with one bag, the easier it will get.

Got any tips to add? Write them below!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori October 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Hi fellow Problogger, this is a great list. I think I would struggle with #3 the most, but I know you are right. =)


Dipankar Kuzzuk Subba October 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I always forget my past packing mistakes. Duh! A great list.

See ya back at pb.com


Jackie Dishner October 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Great tips. I’ve had to learn all these things over the years as well. I’m always amazed when I can get my luggage to fit in one bag. But it’s not as hard as it seems. The biggest challenge I’ve had is cleaning supplies. Burt’s Bees makes a body cleanser/shampoo/laundry soap that smells like mint, which I love–but the all-in-one bottle is too large. I want them to make it in the 3 oz bottle size, but haven’t seen that yet.


Wendy Xavier November 22, 2009 at 7:30 pm

I found your blog on Google. I’ve bookmarked it and will watch out for your next blog post.


Chris November 22, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Thanks for reading, Wendy! Welcome!


Jason Cohen December 9, 2010 at 11:46 am

Great post Chris!

My wife and I just quit our jobs to go travel in Latin America for 6 months. For me it was not that hard to pack light, but my wife had a extremely tough time. When we started the trip her main suitcase was 50 pounds and her carry on bag was around 25 pounds. She quickly realized the second day that she had to shed a lot of this weight! We laid out all her things and made a pile of clothes and other items. We decided to donate all her excess items to a local organization and they were extremely pleased!

Your 8 tips are right on the money, but especially number 2 is a great way to reduce excess items!



Chris December 10, 2010 at 10:49 am

Jason, sounds like you guys are in for a fantastic trip! Being on the road certainly forces you to get rid of the things that aren’t essential. I did the same thing in my backpacking days. Only the essentials! Thanks for reading and I’ll check out your blog to see how the trip is going.


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