15 Ways to Pack Lighter


I receive reader emails on a regular basis, many of them asking for specific tips on travelling, like how to plan or what to pack. I recently received this email, asking for some suggestions on how to pack lightly:

Just curious if you had any suggestions on packing lightly? I’m headed to the UK for a study program for 3 weeks and then staying in Europe for another couple weeks to travel around. I’ve been many times before, but it’s always a hassle with lots of luggage. So just wondering if you had any suggestions for packing!

For this reader and every other reader that may ask in the future, I have written a list of tips on how to pack lighter.

I’m using an emphasis on the word lighter, not necessarily lightly. It has taken me years of packing, unpacking and repacking over and over again to perfect my own style of packing lightly, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to be able to do it at the suggestion of some list.

“That’s all you’re taking?”

I commonly hear this as I set my bag on the scale at the luggage counter.

Following that question, I am usually waved on to carry my bag with me (which I prefer).


So, that brings me to the benefits of packing lightly:

1. Saved baggage fees
2. Saved storage fees for day trips
3. Less back pain
4. Easier to get around
5. More space for bringing items home
6. Less to replace if luggage lost
7. Less chance to lose luggage if carried on
8. It feels better

Carry a Smaller Bag

First of all, carrying a backpack rather than a suitcase will force you to wear it on your back instead of rolling it on its wheels. This alone will make you want to pack lighter.

Now that you’ve made the right choice with a backpack, don’t over do it with a massive 70L pack that is better suited for a six month trek into the Andes. Unless you’re doing that, then by all means, go ahead.

You probably won’t need more than a 42-53L pack. I use the MEC Wayfarer.


Pack Earlier

I’m notorious for packing the night before, or literally hours before my flight. But, this is NOT the way to do it if you’re an over-packer.

Packing ahead of time will allow you to rethink what you have put in your bag.

Do I need those extra shoes?

Do I really need three pairs of black jeans?

Will a bubble gun really come in handy? (probably)

It’s not necessary for every trip, but try packing a full week in advance for your next departure. Chances are that by the end of the week, you will have removed 40% of the original contents.



If you’re packing for a multi-climate trip, it is best to pack lots of layers instead of bulky items like a big winter coat. Bring your jacket (and perhaps an outer shell) along with a warm sweater and various inner layers.

I recently packed a small bag for two months of travel through the scorching Sahara Desert, snowy Norway and humid Dominican Republic and relied on different layering methods for all three.


Purchase Abroad

Don’t stock up on sunscreen before your beach vacation, buy it when you get there and leave it behind when you’re done. Keep in mind this is a post on saving space, not money ;]

Even items like sandals, sundresses, hats, shampoo and other toiletries can be picked up on the road.


Travel Sized Items

Keeping below federal liquid regulation sizes may be a bitch at airport security, but 50 ml is the perfect size for a mini toothpaste and shampoo bottle.

Even if you’re going on a longer trip, pick these up at local pharmacies or gas stations as you go. They will save you space and weight.


One of Each

One pair of pants. One pair of shoes. One skirt. One bathing suit. One sweater. You get the point.

Obviously there are a few exceptions like shirts and underwear, but there is no need to go overboard.

Life isn’t a fashion show.


Laundry Detergent

For those items that have been worn multiple times, carry a small packet of detergent to hand wash in the sink.

If you’re travelling longer, bring machine washable detergent (read the label, many travel detergents are for sink only) and do laundry about once a week. Pack appropriately.


Wear Heaviest Items

Adorn yourself in your jacket, jeans and other bulky items on days that you are flying. This will save on weight and keep you warmer on the airplane ;]


Go Natural

No, I don’t mean naked–keep your clothes packed.

This one is mainly for the girls; leave your hair tools and products at home. Curling irons and gels can take up a lot of space and chances are that no one is going to judge you for slightly limp/frizzy hair.

Air dry your hair and save a kilo on the luggage scale.

Or, if you’re travelling with a group of girls, coordinate for one person to bring one item and share amongst each other.


Multi-Use Items

My ultimate travel accessory is a thin, square light grey scarf that I bring with me everywhere. I use it as an airplane blanket, as a shawl in conservative regions, to keep my neck warm in the cold and to cover my eyes at night in an ever changing environment.

It replaces the multiple items that could have served in its place (extra layers, sleep mask, etc.) and saves a ton of space in my bag.



I don’t have one myself, but if you tend to read a lot during your travels, you may want to invest in a Kindle to carry your books around.


Forget What You Think You Need

Whether you are a first time traveller or an expert nomad, you’ve probably packed at least one or two things you don’t need.

For example, you probably don’t need the following items:

1. Sewing kit
2. Poncho
3. The entire pharmacy
4. A 50 pack of Bandaids
5. An alarm clock (use your phone)

Take a moment to think about each item before you pack it and consider if you really need it.


Take Out 5 Items of Clothing

I’m a big believer in “pack your bags and remove 50%” before you leave, but I know this is just downright impossible for some people.

Let’s keep it simple, try packing your bag and then removing five items of clothing from the pile. Not so bad, right?

People are creatures of habit and often have a favourite sampling of their wardrobe anyway. Stick with what you love.


Pack Your Carry-On

By placing your carry-on bag inside of your main bag before leaving you will stop yourself from packing additional items that you don’t need.

Pop your carry-on out once you arrive at the airport and you won’t have to worry about lugging around TWO heavy bags for the rest of the trip. Win-win.


Use the Straps

This isn’t exactly a tip on packing lighter, but using the straps on the backpack will make it feel lighter than it is.

You’d be surprised at how many people leave them undone because they want to look “cooler”. Their back problems aren’t going to look so cool in thirty years time.

Place the bag above your hip level (sit down if you need to) and clip the waist buckle into place before fastening it tight. Do the same for the chest strap. Make sure everything is tight and comfortable.



*Bonus* Tips on Saving Space


1. Stuff socks and smaller items inside of shoes
2. Roll clothing and stack tightly in bottom
3. Attach items such as pillows, jackets and water bottles to outside of bag
4. Place clothes into plastic bag and squeeze air out, tie shut
5. Use external pockets
6. Use expanding zippers
7. Use packing cubes or ziplock bags


 I’m sure I missed a few here, so tell me..
How do you pack lighter? 

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12 Responses to “15 Ways to Pack Lighter”

  1. Sapphire
    March 22, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Thank you for the tips Seattle! On my first real overseas holiday with some friends to Fiji I learned this the hard way…

  2. Shailesh Jangra
    March 26, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Good tips Seattle. Traveling light can help you to explore more. I prefer backpack rather than suitcase because with this I can ride easily if I want. 😛
    Thanks for these tips and you are looking beautiful in both of your pics. Keep posting <3

  3. Natalia | Always Trekking
    March 31, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m a big believer in zip lock bags and packing at least a week in advance. It’s not a conscious decision as normally I’m just too excited to leave and the packing phase is a like a vacation phase. Now I feel like a dork!

    I wonder if your backpack would serve as a good day pack.
    Natalia | Always Trekking recently posted..Climbing Mount Kinabalu in One Day – Sabah, Malaysia

    • Seattle
      April 1, 2013 at 10:24 am #

      Hahah travel dork :p kiiidding! I usually pack zip locks too, or just steal a few extras from airport security, haha. I used to pack early like that, and totally wish I still did 😀

  4. Cat
    March 31, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    The one thing I have to disagree with is the sewing kit! I’ve found this to be one of the most useful items I take – it takes up no space at all [I cheat and have a collection from the few actual hotels I’ve stayed in] and is excellent for when you need to sew up those holes from when you’ve torn something hiking, or stitch back together that cheap bag you bought at a market and can’t bear to throw away. This probably depends however on the length of your travels – if it’s only a short break you’re unlikely to need it, but on a longer journey it saves having to replace otherwise still acceptable items!

    • Seattle
      April 1, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks for your perspective, Cat! I know that a sewing kit can be totally useful, but I used to carry one that I literally never used once (on trips as short as one week and as long as two months). However, obviously if you think you’ll need it–go for it, everyone is different :]

  5. Ash
    July 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    This is really helpful, considering I’m backpacking/studying for a 9 month duration. Thankyou!

  6. Bailey
    February 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Here is my tips: buy a 15 inch backpack it forces you to pack light because it’s small mine is from eBay and it has 1 small inside pocket holding my sleeping shorts/shirt and underwear/towel, 1 main zippered pocket holding 1 jeans, 2 tank tops, 1 lightweight rain jacket, 1 sweater, 1 first aid kit, 1 Eton Radio (I’m going to a state has a lot of stormy weather), 2 smaller flashlights, 1 small lantern for the hotel room (I hate banging into furniture in the dark) and my purse because the airlines considers you purse another carry-on and you can only bring 1 carry-on onto the plane so you have to shove the purse into your backpack, snacks, toiletries, 1 small/medium outside front zippered pocket holding gum, aspirin, Starbucks gift card (I don’t want to keep pulling out my wallet and there are a lot of Starbucks everywhere), digital camera and a good amount of SD/Memory cards, I.D., Plane ticket, smaller snacks like snack bag size of whatever you like, 2 outside water bottle pockets which will be holding empty brand new Brita water bottles because I don’t know what’s in the tap water where I’ll be going to and it’s empty because we’ll most of us should already know the TSA Rules least you want to be yelled at by them in front of other travelers. Yes I just realized this sounds like a lot but my backpack isn’t even half full and I have room to buy stuff when I’m at my destination plus the bonus is it can fit underneath the plane seat and I won’t have to pay baggage fee I know how to pack I like to keep a lot of stuff with me so packing the right way is key watch YouTube videos to see what others pack.

    • Anne
      February 18, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

      WOW. Nice suggestions.

    • Anne
      February 18, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

      WOW. Nice suggestions. I would do that!

  7. Ivory Sandoval
    March 22, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    Wow! You’re awesome for this post 🙂


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