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How to travel light but right regardless of where you travel to?

Whether you’re planning to explore the rainforests of South America or eat your way through the street markets of Thailand, you can always make your trip hassle-free if you learn how to travel light. Lugging around a huge suitcase full of “just in case” items will only make traveling stressful and awkward. But this doesn’t mean it’s easy to determine which items should take priority in your backpack and packing light can indeed be a challenge for most people.

And if you are the kind of person who regularly pays excess baggage fee at the airport because you always pack too many things, don’t worry; I used to do that too until one day I realized that I don’t use (roughly) half of the things I carry with me. In this article, I’ll share some of the things I learned during my travels and share my favorite tips on how to travel light regardless of where you travel to. Let’s start!

To travel light, start with a smaller suitcase

small suitcase travel light

It’s simple, if you have a smaller suitcase, you won’t be tempted to bring more things just because “you have space”. Now, if you already have all of your things on your bed and are looking for immediate tips on how to travel light, this might not help you (a lot of the tips below will, though) but it can be a game-changer.  Also, if you’re buying a new backpack or a suitcase, always opt-in for lightweight products. This can also help you save a lot of space. If you’re curious about what I use when traveling, my backpack choice is this ultralight Teton backpack or this Coolife super-light suitcase, depending on the occasion.

Also, if you’re looking for a good daypack, make sure the pack is sturdy, theft-proof, and yet lightweight. Not just because it’s easier to carry but also because of different airlines’ weight limits on carry-on bags. Finally, make sure the pack has a lot of pockets that will allow you to store more things, such as your camera to take some incredible photos while traveling, some tasty snacks for your trip, some of your necessary travel documents, and other essential accessories.

Now, I know you might start thinking that this light travel thing isn’t for you because, at a glance, your new small, lightweight backpack/suitcase seems too tiny. That’s probably because you never heard the basic law of travel physics…

Travel physics 101: Your backpack/suitcase can expand to fill all the remaining space

crammed luggage

Did you ever notice that if you shove hard enough you can fit more clothes in your bag than what you thought was possible? It’s actually simple; when you shove hard enough, you take the air between your clothes out and the tiny clothes automatically fill in the empty compartments of your backpack/suitcase. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to cram as many things as you can in your duffel bag, that’s not the point of traveling light. It’s about doing more with less. Which brings me to the next point…

Use compression cubes, folders, and sacks

packing cubes

Packing cubes are great not only because they make your clothes take less space but also because they create a natural limit on how many things can you pack. Another alternative are packing folders that are great if you want to keep your clothes wrinkle-free and organized in categories. And I know these things can tempt you to pack more clothes with the extra space that you get by using them. So, this is the part I tell you about…

The holy trinity of travel

Always carry things in threes. Three pairs of pants/jeans, three pairs of t-shirts, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, etc. for anything shorter than a two-week trip. Wear one, wash one, dry one. This minimalistic approach works perfectly when you combine it with…

Mix and match

travel light

Pack clothes that can be worn with everything else in your wardrobe. This golden rule can help you eliminate a lot of the unnecessary things you’d be tempted to bring. It’s safe to assume that if you can’t wear it with any of the other clothes you packed, you won’t wear that particular clothing during your trip.

And speaking of things not to pack…

Don’t pack thick and heavy clothes

Even when you visit winter destinations. A couple of thin layers can oftentimes warm you up as much as clothes made of thick materials. Personally, my go-to choice are always merino clothes. They dry quickly, keep you warm when it’s cold, keep you cool when it’s too hot, and last but not least, you can wear them for days and they still won’t get a bad smell. Even if you do need to wash it, it dries rather quickly, and it can actually keep you warm even if you wear it wet.

However, even if you are planning to bring thick layers of clothes, try multi-pocket jackets (there are also ones for girls). You can use this jacket to pack some items and save on space in your bag. The next thing you should do after doing this is…

Wear it on the flight

woman airport

Well, maybe not like the girl in this picture, but always wear the bulkiest items on the flight. This applies to your jacket, your biggest shoes, your thickest pants, etc. Try to minimize the number of bulky clothes in your luggage to as few as possible. You can’t pay excess baggage fees if all of your heavy clothes are on you. This might not be very practical if you have a long layover and by the time you reach your final destination, most of your clothes will probably be too sweaty to wear them again. That’s why I only recommend doing this ONLY if you think your luggage might exceed the weight limits.

So, even if you decide to do this and your laundry needs cleaning, you can always use a…

Portable scrubba wash bag

One of my favorite travel items ever. It’s pocket-size, doesn’t take a lot of space, it’s great for washing your clothes on the get-go without paying expensive hotel laundry services, and it’s not even expensive. It’s perfect for camping, but also for longer backpacking trips. This also allows you to wear your favorite outfits multiple times throughout your trip, which makes it easier to…

Pack the must-haves, not the nice-to-haves

packing light tips

Lay everything out on the floor and think long and hard about every item you’re thinking to pack. Ask yourself “Do I really need this?”. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to discard things using this approach. I know packing more things feels more comfortable and safe but most rookie travelers admit that they could have had a great trip even with one-half of the things they packed.

Another useful approach for packing is…

Using a packing list

travel check list

Make a shortlist of all essentials that you need to bring on a trip. Taking an item we absolutely don’t need but forgetting something very important is something that can happen even to the most seasoned travelers. Make a list of the essentials and stick to it; this way, you’ll ensure you’re not forgetting anything important but it will also help you eliminate all things that aren’t essential. And when you make the, list my personal advice is to cut on toiletries because…

The rest of the world doesn’t live in the 15th century

Wherever you travel, I’m pretty sure they’ll have laundry services, pocket-size toiletries, and perfumes. So, don’t bring your favorite perfume, deodorant, shower gel, shampoo, etc. You can buy pocket-sized bottles at any one-stop-shop abroad. Alternatively, you can consider…

Solid toiletries instead of liquids

Solid toiletries are usually less bulky, lighter, and you can take them in your carry-on bag. You can easily find a solid shampoo, solid deodorant, body lotion, and instead of shower gel, you can bring some good, old-fashioned soap. The flexibility of adding these items to the carry-on bag is priceless because.

Every bit of space is important

suitcase camera

So, swap your books, and other papers for kindle, or other types of e-readers. Don’t bring any just-in-case items, fill in empty spaces with tiny items like socks and underwear, and try using rubber bands. These can make your clothes take less space and be more organized.

Also, don’t pack shoes for every occasion. Shoes are the bulkiest items in most travelers’ bags and If you want to travel light, I suggest you carry only one or two multi-purpose shoes. And yes, this is applicable to girls too. If it’s summer bring just flip flops/sandals, and flats, and wear a comfortable outdoor shoe that you can mix with most of your clothes on the flight and you should be fine. If it’s winter, wear your bulky boot on the flight and pack a pair of lightweight winter boots in your bag.

And speaking of tips on how to travel light for girls…

Use a thin drawstring wash bag instead of bulky beauty organizers

The most lightweight option when it comes to storing your toiletries and makeup is a cheap drawstring wash bag. It adds no weight, it doesn’t take up any space in your bag, it’s easy to wash and dries very quickly.

Finally, we’ll round up these tips with the golden rule of light travel…

Never pack more than a week’s worth of clothes

roll clothes

Most trips people take last between 7 and 14 days and it’s safe to assume that you won’t need more than a week’s worth of clothes for this period. Even if you travel longer, you’ll probably do your laundry from time to time. So, if you ask me, I’d say there’s no such trip that requires packing more than a week’s worth of clothes. I’ve used this approach for the last two years and not only did I not regret it a single time, but I also encourage others to do it too.

I know you might think that some of these rules aren’t applicable to your specific situation and in the final section of this article, I’ll try to show you that it is, even in some more complicated situations.

How to travel light on a long trip

how to travel light

Even if you’re traveling the world for more than a year, you can still travel light. This is a great time to use convertible travel clothes. Minimize your thick layers and carry a few lightweight layers instead. The t-shirt you wore in Thailand can also serve as a basic layer of clothing to wear under your sweater/jacket when exploring the Himalayas and universal bandanas are also a good idea.

This is where the above-mentioned merino clothes and scrubba bag come in handy. Another alternative that you can consider (if not too expensive) if switching between different climate belts is mailing some of your thick layers to your next destination rather than carrying them with you.

How to travel light on a cruise?

cruise party

This section refers to the so-called formal nights some cruisers have where everyone is required to dress formally. Fortunately, nowadays more cruisers skip this altogether for the sake of practicality but if you want to experience this once or twice, there are still some tips on how to travel light.

For the gents, you can get away with a nice pair of pants and a jacket. If you’re looking for something fancy, most cruisers that have formal nights, also happen to rent tuxedos.

For the ladies, you can go with an elegant, tiny dress (you don’t have to wear a gown) and combine it with different accessories if there’s more than one formal night.

How to travel light on a business trip?

Finally, we round up this article on how to travel light with a few tips for business travelers. Business trips can be very challenging if you want to travel light. If it’s a shorter trip, one neutral-colored suit that can be combined with a few different shirts and pants should be enough. Sticking to neutral colors is great because it can also help you in getting away with a single pair of shoes.

If you’re planning to bring a blazer on a jacket, wear it on the flight to save up some room. Finally, iPads and tablets are a great lightweight alternative to their bulkier cousins (laptops).

How did you like this article? What are your favorite tips on how to travel light? Do you think we didn’t mention some important things? Let us know in the comments!

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Monday 5th of December 2022

Bookmarked! This article is fantastic, and I just created a Travel Wish List on Amazon for some of the recommended products, or alternates, if some were no longer on Amazon. I'm a senior solo traveler on a limited budget so encountering this article was very fortunate.

Passport Symphony

Saturday 31st of December 2022

Hi Darren, I'm glad you enjoyed the article and found some useful suggestions here. Thank you for your kind words.

Mike Howard

Monday 27th of January 2020

great post! So true that it starts with the bag. I had this huge duffel that I was using for a while and inherently filled it. I finally got a great carryon and i still had just what i needed for a 10 day trip...especially with the help of packing cubes!

Passport Symphony

Monday 27th of January 2020

Great to hear that, Mike.

Shreya Saha

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Thanks for this blog, being a minimalist I love the way you chose to travel around the globe, I really love the concept of traveling lightly with a smaller suitcase. People are now really concerned more about traveling instead of carrying too much and struggling. I do love travel with the Merry condo methods while packing my travel backpack.

Passport Symphony

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Glad to hear that Shreya.

Bhushavali N

Friday 24th of January 2020

I travel light, thanks to airline restrictions, haha!! There is no other choice... I pack everything for 3 of us, in 1 cabin suitcase and 2 backpacks! But it was better before my kid was born, we used to pack for 2 of us in 2 backpacks. Now, kids stuff takes a lotta space! Packing cubes are great! Apart from those, I also have a couple of wetbags for those sweaty, wet clothes... And yeah, I look funny in airports coz I wear mix-matched heavy stuff that cannot be packed! Hahaha...

Passport Symphony

Saturday 25th of January 2020

HAHA. I cannot imagine how hard it might be to travel with kids stuffs too as most of them come in super jumbo size. I guess everything has it own perks and cons. Packing cubes are bliss when it comes to traveling.

Adele Gee

Friday 24th of January 2020

So many great tips in one post! I just started to use compression bags for packing and find it very useful. At least I can wear all clothing that I bring without it getting rumpled. What a good idea about the portable wash bag, I must have one the next time I do longer trips.

Passport Symphony

Friday 24th of January 2020

Compression bags are honestly a great tool when traveling.