How to Pack Light for Travel
Travel Accessories Product Links Below
How to Pack Light Using Compression Bags
Pack for a Week in a Personal Item
The question I get asked most when I travel is, “How do you pack so light?”
I don’t like to travel with checked luggage, but instead prefer to pack light. However, when I go to Europe for six weeks, or on a cruise, it’s necessary. I’ll go through how to pack and travel with just carry-on luggage, and how to make the best use of your suitcase when you do have to take checked luggage. I also wrote a blog on items to pack that will make your next cruise better.
Many Airlines Now Charge for Checked Luggage
While many of the big airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines still let you check one suitcase for free with a standard economy ticket, most of the discount airlines charge for them. They will give you a super-cheap fare, but then charge for every extra like choosing your seat or checking a suitcase.
If I’m traveling for a week or less, I try to get by with only a “personal item”, but will take a carry-on if necessary. Most airlines will let you take a personal item for free, but may charge for carry-on. The personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. In fact, they now designate your boarding zone based on whether you have carry-on luggage or not. And for many of these discount airlines, their overhead bin space is quite small and will not accommodate a larger rolling carry-on suitcase. In that case, they’ll make you gate-check it as you board.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Using Compression Bags for Carry-On Luggage
If you’re going to travel with just a personal item, or a small carry-on, then compression bags are a must. I can fit all my clothes for a week in a medium sized compression bag. I’ll generally carry my jacket if I’m going to a cooler climate. Shoes can be an issue, so I wear my bulky shoes (boots or sneakers) and pack small, fancy shoes in my bags.
The type of compression bag DOES matter. Don’t go cheap on these if you want them to last. The quality of the zipper is very important. I have used Eagle Creek Pack-It compression bags for about 5 years and have never had an issue. I travel about 10 times a year, so they get a lot of use. There’s a link at the bottom where you can buy the same ones from Amazon.
If You Have to Bring a Suitcase
I prefer to travel with only carry-on bags, but when I go somewhere for more than two weeks, it’s necessary to bring a suitcase (or two). I also do a lot of sea glass collecting on the Mediterranean coast and sometimes bring back as much as 30 pounds! So then I need to have an extra suitcase.
My first advice about traveling with checked luggage is DON’T BUY BLACK! Please, buy a color or slap stickers all over it. Something to distinguish it from a sea of black bags. If your luggage does get lost, it will make it immensely easier to find it. I also recommend getting a bag that can roll while upright as well as roll at an angle with an extendable handle. Sometimes it’s impossible to be able to pull a large suitcase behind you.
I ALWAYS pack my medication and computer equipment in my carry-on. I also add one set of clothing and some toiletries in case my luggage is lost…which is a distinct possibility these days.
Leave Room for Souvenirs
It’s important to think of what you’ll bring back when packing your suitcase. I usually bring a cheap bean bag pillow to use when I’m there, which also keeps my items from sliding around in the suitcase on the way there. Then I leave the pillow there and have plenty of room for my souvenirs.
Rolling clothes is a must for getting the best fit. Weigh your suitcase on the handheld luggage scale as you’re packing so that you have an idea of what the weight is before you’re finished.
I use travel cube bags inside my suitcase to keep small items from rolling around in there. I use that for my adapter plugs, eye mask, luggage scale. It keeps everything neat and tidy for when you open it back up.
Don’t Do This…
You are not allowed to pack battery or charging packs in your checked luggage. So make sure it’s all in your carry-on bags.
DON’T lock your suitcase! Customs often checks the contents of your luggage and they’ll break your lock if you’ve engaged it. They will put in a card if they go in there, so at least you’ll know when you get to your destination.
Types of Clothing for Packing Light
When packing light is a concern, I choose my clothing carefully. I live in Florida and travel to the Netherlands and Spain frequently. The climates are VERY different from each other and require a full spectrum of clothing. I usually get UPF long-sleeved shirts which are light weight. So I can wear them by themselves in Spain and layer them in the Netherlands. A good waterproof rain jacket can also keep you warm because wind can’t get through them. They’re lightweight and can usually fit over almost any kind of shirt or sweater. I bring only one or two sweaters which I wear over a t-shirt, so I don’t have to wash them often.
I always plan on doing laundry when I travel and make sure that all my shirts and pants go with each other. You never want to pack one outfit that doesn’t go with anything else. I also don’t go to fancy places when I travel, so I pack casual clothes.
Leggings are a good staple item for women. They are easy to pack, and comfortable on long flights. I get some with pockets that are fleece-lined and water resistant. They were great for the beach in Spain in the winter when it’s in the 50’s all day. (see link below).
Using a Travel Pillow for Packing Clothes
If you don’t want a large carry-on, consider getting a neck pillow that has a removable cover. You can take the inside pillow out and fill it with rolled clothing and wear it onto the plane. I can fit 4-5 days worth of clothes in one of those! Then you can leave your personal item for laptop, other electronics and toiletries.
Traveling with Computer Equipment
I work remotely, so I must have my laptop with me wherever I go. Mine fits perfectly in my small backpack, where I also stash all my power cords, mouse, and portable charger. My husband bought me the BEST portable charger for Christmas one year. The charge doesn’t degrade over time and I can go 4-5 weeks on one charge using it only occasionally. It has two USB ports as well as a USB-C port. We often charge two phones at once. It’s big and heavy, but nothing I’ve used compares to the battery life on this beast. (link below)
I use a low-decibel mouse, so that I don’t wake my travel companions up with all the clicking. I sometimes get up early to work and the click, click, click of the mouse can be SO annoying. I also like this mouse because it’s low-profile making it more comfortable for my hand and easier to pack. (link below)
The Best Way to Pack Medication and Toiletries
Like I said before, I like to travel light, so I’ve come up with my own system for toiletries and medication. I travel with a LOT of medication because some standard over-the-counter meds can’t be found in Europe. So if you get a cold or have allergies, you could be left suffering if you haven’t brought your own. I got some tiny ziploc bags and put small pieces of sticky notes inside them with the medication written on them. I have packed about 15 different meds and vitamins in my tiny Tumi bag.
If you do have to travel with prescription medication, you might want to consider taking the bottle, or just take a picture of the label on the bottle, and the put them in the small plastic bags.
I also put an oximeter in there. I always travel with one since COVID, so that if you do get sick you don’t have to go to a hospital to have your oxygen levels checked. Plus my son has asthma and it’s nice to get a quick check of his oxygen if he’s wheezing. (link below)
I don’t use much in the way of toiletries. I bring a small bar of soap, and use shampoo and conditioner disks instead of bottled liquid. I save my sample glass containers for facial products and reuse them for my moisturizer, and deodorant (which I buy in a tube – Lume). One tiny container is enough for two weeks. I also got some silicone bottles that are under 3 ounces in case I do need to take anything liquid, like sunscreen. I don’t want to risk my expensive sunscreen getting taken away in security, so I transfer it to these small silicone containers. They are vacuum sealed, so they won’t leak, even if the top pops open. (links below)
Plug Adapters and Voltage Converters for Different Countries
One thing most people don’t realize is that you only need a plug adapter for your phone and laptop (please double check the specs for your specific equipment). Most computer equipment and phones are designed for the 110 (American voltage) and 220 (European voltage) outlets. The only thing you’ll need is an adapter for your plug, NOT a power converter. In fact, converters can sometimes damage your electronics.
I bring both a converter and adapters just in case. I have single adapters as well as a larger adapter that has two USB outlets as well as two regular outlets. It has a quick release plug in the back for compatibility in different countries. I mostly stay in the EU and UK, so I just bring those two adapter cartridges. Be very careful with things like hair dryers because they take a lot of power. But many of them have switches to go from 110 to 220 voltage, so best check yours before you travel overseas with it. I have Amazon links below for both plug adapters and power converters.
Staying Fit While Traveling
I always bring my resistance workout band when I trave. It has handles and a stopper piece to put in the door. It doesn’t take up much room, and that way you can continue strength training while you’re traveling. I also make sure that I always pack good walking shoes to get exercise while I’m traveling…and to run through airports to make connections. (link below)
Handheld Suitcase Scale
This little thing has saved me more than once. One time I thought I knew roughly what my suitcase weighed before heading to the airport for my return trip. Then I used my travel sized suitcase scale and discovered I was 8kg overweight! I was able to transfer some heavier things to my carry-on and didn’t waste time at the check-in counter. It’s very easy to use, it’s small and weighs in pounds and kilos.
Travel Mugs and Bottles
I never thought I’d use my travel bottle as much as I do. I take it everywhere. What I love most about this one is that it’s plastic, so it’s lightweight and the top seals completely, so no leaking. I don’t think it matters so much whether it’s metal or plastic as long as it says BPA free. Mine is also easy to clean because it has a wide mouth and the entire top screws off. The type with the small openings make it so hard to clean! (link below)
Miscellaneous Travel Accessories
Some of the other things I like to travel with are (links below):
- A good book light, because you never know if your hotel or Airbnb will have good lighting next to where you want to read.
- A collapsible beach bucket because I spend a lot of time sea glass hunting, and it’s easier to collect in a bucket, than a plastic bag.
- Flax seed eye mask. This is the kind that you heat up in a microwave for 1 minute and lay it over your eyes for 10 minutes or so at the end of a long day. It helps with dry eyes after flying too. I love this particular one because it’s filled with flax seeds and smells nice. I’ve been using it for two years and it shows no signs of wear. I use an antimicrobial “yoga mat” spray to keep it clean.
- Cheap ear buds for listening to music or movies on your phone. I bring two sets (they cost about $12) and if you lose them, it’s no big deal.
- Cordless phone charger. Twice now on trips to Spain, my new phone wouldn’t charge properly because it apparently got moisture in it while I was at the beach. I had to roam the streets of our tiny Spanish town looking for one. So now I always bring my own just in case.
- Ear plugs…lots of them. Nothing is worse than trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar sounds. I always use ear plugs and sleep like a baby.
- Passport waist belt by Bandi. I use this mostly for easy access to my phone. I love it because it’s not bulky, and it’s easy to wear with anything. (link below)
Travel and Packing Accessories
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I use all of the below products when I travel.
Medium and Small Compression Packing Cubes
Travel Neck Pillow
Cordless Charger Stand
Cordless Charger Plate
USB Silent Mouse
Anker Portable Charger
Oximeter with Case
Fleece-lined Leggings with Pockets
Plug Adapter (not voltage converter)
Individual Plug Adapter
Resistance Exercise Band
Portable Luggage Scale
Travel Book Light
Collapsible Beach Bucket for Travel
Bandi Belt for Phone or Passport