According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. airlines raked in almost $4.2 billion dollars in baggage fees in 2016. That’s billion. With a B. Americans definitely don’t travel light. Aside from the financial cost of paying for checked bags, there’s the worry that your bags might not show up where you do. Or that things might get destroyed in transport. Plus, no one’s a fan of dragging heavy suitcases through various terminals, shuttles, or crowds.
After a crazy day of travel, lugging heavy, stuffed bags around, one begins to wonder if all the stuff was really needed in the first place. Ever look around the airport at how light someone else was traveling and have bag envy? Take it from this reformed overpacker- there’s a better way! Commit to travel light on your next trip and see if you won’t become a believer, too! Here are 15 practical tips to get you started!
Travel Light: 15 Practical Tips
1. Only take a carry-on sized bag.
Packing a small bag forces you to make decisions to get everything to fit in it. Make a packing list, gather everything together, and then pick and choose what goes based on the room you have left. A smaller bag makes certain that you can’t overpack. We use these bags when we travel and can’t recommend them enough!
2. Pack a smaller, compact bag inside your carry-on.
This bag is great for day trips on your vacation. Use it to store essentials you’d like to keep with you as you adventure around, such as sunscreen, glasses, water, or medications. It’s also great for small souvenirs you might see on your travels.
3. Pack versatile clothing
Opt for clothing that can be layered or that has multiple uses. A sundress can be worn as is or makes a great cover-up for a swimsuit. A scarf can be used as a head covering, a shawl, or as a wrap. Pack a single jacket or sweater that can transition from day to evening.
4. Consider buying some wool pieces
Merino wool clothing is great for travel! It’s breathable, great in hot or cold weather, and dries quickly. It’s naturally odor resistant thanks to the keratin protein found in its fibers. Merino wool can be worn several times between laundering, which is a huge perk! It also dries fast and offers some natural UV protection.
5. Pack half as much clothing as the length of your trip
One of the most chronic places to overpack is in the attire arena. Packing versatile pieces, as mentioned above, helps you stretch your wardrobe by pairing different outfits together. If you’re visiting somewhere with moderate temperatures, you might be able to wear something more than once before laundering (especially if you pack some wool pieces!).
6. Consider clothing color
Sticking with clothing options that are in the same color family makes it easy to mix and match outfits while on the road. Opt for pieces that work well with multiple elements so that you have the most variety.
7. Do laundry
Consider staying somewhere that has a washing machine and doing laundry halfway through your trip. Last summer we spent two weeks in Italy, so I made certain the Air BnB we rented in Venice had a laundry feature. It was our halfway point, so washing our clothes there gave us fresh threads for the rest of the trip.
You can also find local laundromats or consider washing essentials in the sink with some detergent and water. We pack a travel size powder detergent when traveling. It’s best to avoid heavy, leak-prone liquids whenever possible!
8. Consider the drying time of your clothing
Dryers are not quite as common as washing machines when traveling outside of the US. By packing lightweight, quick dry clothing, your clothes can air dry after washing. As a bonus, clothing pieces that fit this rule are often less prone to wrinkling, which is a double win when living out of a backpack!
9. Avoid “just in case” items
Apply the Minimalists’ $20, 20-minute rule. If you can buy an item for less than $20 and find it within 20 minutes at your destination, don’t pack it “just in case”. Chances are you won’t need it. Even if you do, you can source it for under $20 bucks within 20 minutes.
10. Purchase toiletries at your destination
Liquids add a lot of weight to your bag and are prone to leaks. If you’re flying, you also have to take care not to pack more than the TSA allows. Save the fuss and purchase small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, or sunscreen at your destination. If you’re staying at a hotel that provides toiletries, even better!
For some people, this tip will be just a bit out of their comfort zone. As a curly-haired girl, I get maintenance. If you absolutely can’t go without a product, Amazon has an awesome selection of travel size toiletries for meeting TSA requirements.
11. Minimize your makeup
Ladies, I know this is a hard one to hear (I get it…I used to sell makeup as a side hustle), but bear with me. Instead of packing every color in your palette, consider a small palette of versatile colors that could work for the duration of your trip. You don’t have to skimp on any part of your routine. Just pack your favorite of each item- one mascara, eyeliner, lipstick- and leave the rest at home. You’ll get ready a lot faster every day and will not be carrying around a bunch of unnecessary items. I assure you…no one will notice!
Tip: Pack a cream to powder foundation for air travel to avoid leaks and liquid regulations.
12. Flexible Footwear
This is a big one! Consider all the things you might do on your travels and figure out what styles of shoes will work best. For Italy, I took a pair of gym shoes for hiking and these Sexi Crocs. I know, sexy and Crocs sound like an oxymoron, but trust me on this! These are the most comfortable, flexible shoes you can pack! I wore them all day as we explored the cities and they still looked great paired with a dress for an evening out.
lf you decide to buy new shoes for a trip, be certain to get them in advance so that they can be broken in. There’s nothing worse than taking up prime real estate in your carry-on bag for something you don’t end up using on your trip. And if your new shoes give you blisters and hurt your feet, you can bet you won’t be wearing them.
13. Go digital
Consider purchasing digital travel apps & guidebooks versus their physical counterparts when you travel light. This will save space in your bag and will make it easier to check out your destination. You know you’ll already be carrying your phone. Save yourself the burden of carrying around a book or maps. Your adventuring will be more enjoyable, and you won’t look as much like a tourist!
My go-to app for all things travel is Trip Advisor. Their thorough guides have everything you need to plan an epic trip!
14. Packing Cubes
Use packing cubes to keep your bag organized and your essentials easy to locate. We love these from eBags! When we traveled to Italy, we stayed in six different cities over two weeks. Some places we only stayed for a night. It would have wasted valuable exploring time packing and unpacking at every location. Instead, we lived out of these cubes. Since we packed clothing that was wrinkle resistant, it was easy to select what we needed each day and keep the rest tucked away in our bags.
15. Plan for Souvenirs
You might be wondering how you’ll have room for everything you feel you need to pack when you travel light for the first time. You can’t imagine how you’d buy anything while you’re away to add to your bag, but I promise this trick works! When you pack your bag at home, be sure the extension zipper is closed and not extended. Then, open the extender on vacation to allow for a few souvenirs.
My husband and I both applied this tip in Italy last summer during our two-week backpacking trip and had plenty of room for a few well-selected treasures. We bought an oil painting from a street artist in Venice, a Christmas ornament (my required souvenir from every trip), and a few gifts for our parents who were watching our boy while we were away.
One more tip…
If you’re a light sleeper, consider packing foam earplugs. These little babies have saved me countless hours of sleep and they weigh virtually nothing, so they’re definitely worth the purchase! They especially come in handy when staying somewhere loud or when it’s necessary to sleep with the windows open. They’re also great for the plane ride or public transportation when you want to catch some sleep in a crowd!
Some feel that traveling light is a skill set. You either have the gift for it or you don’t. While packing less may be considered an art, if you have a desire to travel light, it can be done. I believe the more you practice one bag travel, the easier it becomes. After years of packing things “just in case”, I have now traveled with only one bag to Mexico, Italy, and a few stateside trips to Tennessee.
Whether your trip takes you away from home for a long weekend or several weeks, you can apply these practical tips to travel light. You will enjoy the journey more by not being weighed down with stuff. With practice and intention, even the most chronic overpacker can be redeemed!
Still not convinced you can travel light? Check out these awesome benefits of traveling light for more motivation!
Ready to start planning your next vacation, but you have a shortage of funds? Check out our 6 part series on traveling on a budget and learn tips & tricks for planning an epic adventure on limited cash!