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Travel Light Packing Guide

Vacation Packing List: A Printable Checklist for Your Next Trip |

We all have that one friend. That one who looks so confident as they glide through airports, in and out of taxis, with their one small suitcase and purse, and nothing else. They never have to wait for a checked bag (or deal with a lost one!), they can carry all their items without stress and they effortlessly change hotels and even continents. So how do they do it? We’re here to help you start packing light with our new guide.

Be sure to check out our master Vacation Packing List to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, or grab our Beach Vacation Packing List for your island getaways or beach-bound road trips.

Half the Clothes and Twice the Money

When Susan Heller Anderson recommended in the New York Times in 1987 that you should “take half the clothes and twice the money”, she hit the travel light nail on the head and coined one of the most enduring travel mantras ever.

Packing light is not just a technique – it’s a philosophy. You need to let go of your anxiety about not having your entire closet with you. “But what if…?!” is your enemy! You need to plan for the best-case scenarios, with maybe one extra outfit (and extra underwear. Definitely always pack extra underwear). You don’t need twenty different outfits, and unless you’re going to somewhere as remote as say, Antarctica, you can probably buy anything you really need. Forgot conditioner or toothpaste? Hotels often provide complimentary toiletries. Run out of clothes? Do laundry! It’s worth spending a little extra to travel light and not worry about dragging all of your stuff through checkpoints and terminals.

Planning is Key

You’re going on a trip, not moving. The key to taking only what you really need is planning. So print out our attached Planning Guide, and grab a pen. It’s time to organize your packing.

To start, list out generally what outfits you will need, and how many of each. This will depend on where you’re going, and for how long. Let’s say you’re going to a city for a week – you might need one casual daytime outfit for touring the city each day, one outdoors outfit for that hiking tour you want to take, one outfit for nice dinners out, one set of pajamas and a swimsuit. Start thinking about what items can be used more than once, especially for your casual outfits. Jeans can often be worn multiple days, but you’ll want clean socks every morning.

Pack Clothes for One Week

If you’re traveling for a month, first of all, we’re jealous. Second, you CAN still pack carry-on only—you’ll just need to plan on doing laundry once a week or so. Check with any hotels you’re staying at, and get laundry info and prices in advance so you can plan them out. If you’re staying at hostels, the front desk will definitely know where you can clean your clothes. It may feel wasteful to spend time and money doing laundry on vacation, but it’s worth it. You’ll save money on checked bag fees, and you’ll save tons of time and stress by traveling lighter.

Dress Clothes: Take One

Take ONE nice outfit – unless you’re attending something specific, choose one outfit that will work for dinners, the opera, etc., and just take that one! If it rubs you the wrong way to wear the same dress out to dinner three times, see if you can change things up with easy-to-pack accessories. Silk scarves are great for travel – they can change the look of an outfit, and double as light layers to keep you warmer or keep the sun off your shoulders. List how many times you’ll want to wear it, and plan a different accessory for each.

Rules for Shoes: Four Pairs or Fewer, and Make Sure They’re All Comfortable

Next, plan your shoes. Shoes are some of the bulkiest items to pack, so keep this number as low as you can. You’ll need one pair to go with your dinner outfit, sneakers or walking shoes for tourism and sandals if you’re going to be swimming. If you really want to, you can take one extra pair of shoes – something comfortable, but dressier than an athletic sneaker – but see if you can go without. Don’t take more than four pairs of shoes, and don’t take any shoes that rub or that you can’t walk in for more than an hour. Heels don’t need to be stable enough for hiking, but you may have rain, cobblestones and public transportation to contend with, so leave the stilettos at home.


Light layers are your friend here. Not only are they easy to pack and adjust easily to different weather, you can mix and match layers to create different outfits. If you’re going somewhere cold enough that you need a big coat, plan to wear it on the plane instead of letting it take up half your suitcase. If you’re taking gloves and a scarf, see if you can store them in the pockets of your big coat.


This is one of the trickiest parts of flying carry-on only – TSA liquid restrictions. Make sure you have quart-sized plastic bags ready. First, try to get your product list to a minimum. Maybe you need your specific lotion, but try to decide which product is most important to you. Make sure you have containers for these – if you can’t get a travel-size of an item, you can buy small containers to pack it into. For anything you can compromise on, check if you can either buy it at your destination, or see if there’s a solid version you could take instead. Bar soap won’t count towards your liquids limit, and there are bar shampoos nowadays too. Remember that liquid makeup items, like mascara and lip gloss, have to go into your quart-sized bag as well.

Keep Spares To a Minimum

You should definitely take two extra pairs of underwear and an extra pair of socks. If you’re worried, one extra shirt isn’t a bad idea either. Beyond that, just don’t do it! Remember that most hotels offer laundry services, and every city is going to have a laundromat somewhere (or even a fluff and fold).


How To Pack Your Suitcase

Your list is set and you fly out tomorrow, so here’s how to pack like a pro.

Get Everything Out

Get out everything—and we mean everything—that you’ll be taking on your trip. A bed, table or couch is usually easiest. Group like-things together – casual outfits in one spot, socks in another. Go ahead and put all your liquids in your one-quart bag and store your socks inside your shoes. Put the outfit you’ll be wearing on the plane to one side, along with your overcoat or travel pillow. This is also a good time to make sure you have your wallet and passport.

Minimizing Clothes

There are two main ways to maximize your clothes packing: packing cubes and rolling. We definitely recommend rolling your clothes, no matter what else you do. Rolling provides the maximum compression for each item, and if you roll multiple items together, the outside items are less wrinkled when you arrive. There are several different methods to rolling, and a variety of video tutorials online.

Packing cubes are great because they not only help compress your clothes, they keep them organized. If you’re living out of your suitcase, it’s a lot easier to lift out the cubes than to have to dig through every shirt you brought. However, you may want to skip the cubes if you have a lot of oddly-shaped items – like boots, and heels. Individually rolled clothes can pack around odd items and help you really use every inch of space in your bag. However, it does mean your bag will be less organized.

Packing Tips

  • Pack the biggest and heaviest items first. The bulky items need the most space, but pro tip: make sure your heaviest items are at the bottom of the suitcase, near the wheels. This will help stop your suitcase from tipping over and make it easier to roll and maneuver through the airport.
  • Make sure your liquids are packed where you can easily pull them out for screening. Ditto for laptops and tablets.
  • You can easily pack generic, replaceable drugs into small bags. Things like multivitamins and Ibuprofen are often labeled on each pill, and are easy to replace. But keep prescription medicines in their original packing, just in case – you don’t want to worry about replacing those while on a trip!
  • Empty out your purse and wallet before you go. You should definitely take insurance cards, but that coffee shop card? Leave it behind.
  • If you’re having trouble leaving an item behind, fire up your internet and figure out where you can buy it at your destination. Sometimes, just knowing that there’s a drugstore within walking distance from your hotel can help you cut down more effectively.


That’s all there is to it! The first time you pack light is the hardest. It can be nerve-wracking to leave so much up to chance. But once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll feel like a pro – especially as you roll through the airport, breeze through security and skip the baggage carousels entirely.


Featured photo by Chris Holgersson on Unsplash

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