Packing light for a vacation sounds relatively straightforward on paper. In practice, however, it can be a real logistical feat. Packing light requires self-restraint, ruthless self-editing and a few tricks up your sleeve.
But your efforts will be rewarded. Before delving into some sure-fire tricks and tips, let’s explore are a few undeniable benefits of packing light:
- Packing your belongings into a compact carry-on saves you money (sometimes hundreds of dollars) on checked bag fees to and from a destination.
- It saves you time by skipping the luggage carousels and hotel porters, so you have more time to actually enjoy your holiday.
- It’s the safer way to travel: Lugging a bulky suitcase around signals to potential thieves that, “I’m a tourist.” It’s also a numbers game –the more you pack, the higher chance you will lose something.
- And, perhaps most importantly, packing light frees you up to be spontaneous. You literally and figuratively lift a weight off your shoulders, allowing you to go wherever the proverbial breeze takes you.
Now that you understand the benefits of packing light, one small question remains: How do you actually do it? It might seem like a gargantuan task, especially if you’re heading on a multi-week trip, or traveling in cold weather. But packing everything into a svelte carry-on bag is doable, provided you follow some best practices. Below, explore tried-and-tested ways to pack light on your next trip abroad.
The benefits of packing cubes are twofold. For one, they keep all of your belongings neatly compartmentalized so everything’s easy to find (how often have you rooted around your backpack for a pair of socks?).
Second, they save space in your bag by compacting clothing items that might otherwise take up too much space. For the nominalinvestment (they cost around $20, and last several trips), packing cubes are worth it.
Merino Wool Clothing
Merino wool has been a “known secret” in the travel community for a few years now. It’s incredibly versatile — insulating in cold weather, breathable in hot weather, sweat-wicking, fast-drying and wrinkle-resistant. But its real talent is odor-resistance; since the material is naturally antibacterial, it wards off body odour, keeping you smelling fresh.
What does this mean for the light packer? You only need to pack a couple of garments. Some travelers wear their merino wool travel clothes for weeks between laundromat visits, reporting no noticeable odors. Check out the men’s clothes from Unbound Merino for an excellent example of travel-focused Merino wool wear.
The Army Roll
True to its name, this technique is an old army hack for traveling GIs to make efficient use of their pack space. It’s pretty simple to master but makes a considerable difference. Basically, you roll your clothing items tightly – almost like making a burrito – thereby reducing surface area. Because of the reduced surface area, you can fit much more in your bag. The only trick with this strategy is not to slip; you need to stick to the roll method every time you unpack/repack your bag.
For a more in-depth tutorial on how to do the roll method, check out this YouTube video.
There have been some funny headlines recently regarding fliers who wore six or seven layers on the plane to circumvent the airline’s exorbitant baggage fees. We aren’t advocating for that degree of commitment. But you can save space in your bag by wearing bulkier items on the plane. Before flying, opt for a classicthree-layer outfit (base, middle and outer layers).
In winter, make sure you wear that heavy coat and cold-weather accessories like gloves, beanies and scarves. And, if you’re bringing multiple pairs of footwear, wear the bulkiest pair on the flight (like boots).
Trust the Mighty Phone
You could pack a camera, a notebook, an e-reader, a phrase book, a guide book, etc. But why would you, when you have all those things consolidated into one slim, 5- by 2-inch package? Of course, we’re talking about your phone.
Sure, photos are marginally better on your camera, and there’s a tactile satisfaction that comes with reading a physical book. However,in the interest of packing light, consider the cost-benefit analysis. Unless you’re a professional photographer or you really love books, it’s probably best to consolidate. It’s not the most romantic way to travel, but it’s sensible and efficient.
Travel-Sized Toiletries (or No Toiletries at all!)
Ditch those full-sized bottles of shampoo and body wash. They take up way too much space in your bag and typically won’t make it past security (due to volume limitations on liquids). Instead, pack travel-sized toiletries, which you can usually find in their own aisle at the drugstore.
Alternatively, consider not packing toiletries at all. Instead, pick up things like body wash and hair products at your destination, or rely on the complimentary toiletries from the hotel. Most destinations have all the same products you use at home – often for a lower price.
Lastly, a parting tidbit of general wisdom: Be ruthless. Some people assume that they’re going to somebody else entirely when they travel, so they pack things they normally don’t even wear or use at home. Moreover, some people get swept up in “fear packing,” where they try to accommodate every possibility, plan for every permutation.
Don’t fall into these traps. Your tastes abroad will be the same as your tastes at home. You probably won’t need all of those extra just-in-case items. And, if you do end up needing something you failed to bring (like that umbrella or dry shampoo), you can buy it at your destination. A little ruthlessness will go a long way toward packing light.
By following these five tips, you should end up with a lean, light and nimble piece of luggage. Grab some merino wool and packing cubes, trust the roll method and your phone, edit your toiletries and be ruthless with everything else. Now, the only thing left to do is enjoy your vacation – without having to lug a giant suitcase everywhere.