How I learned to pack light + tips

February 26, 2018

pack-lightPack light? Not hardly! I felt extremely stupid the year I brought two gigantic suitcases to Europe and had to wrestle them up long staircases by myself. I was, in a word, clueless. I wanted to prepare for any eventuality, and I did. I had outfits for every occasion and I do mean EVERY occasion. Even those that never happened.

Since then, I’ve traveled all over the world and have learned (mostly the hard way) how to pack light. I’m sharing those tips with you.


I am never going to be that girl who rinses her dainties in the hotel sink. Sorry, won’t. Except for bras and with those, I wear one and bring one, making sure I have one dark, one light. And I might wash lightweight socks out. But only lightweight.

As far as other unmentionables go I either pay for laundry OR pack enough for one a day plus a couple extras. The key is to ROLL them up and use a packing cube. I can usually fit a few pair of lightweight socks and the extra bra in that same small cube. The bonus to using a cube is they’re all organized together and the cube can go right in a drawer without unpacking.


I have never needed more than one dress. Ok, except for that one time at a friend’s private club in Antigua. But I could’ve gotten away with one. So one dress and one pair of dressier shoes. If you don’t wear dresses, bring black jersey pants. The fabric looks dressy and packs light — like a dream. If you’re going to be with the same people for multiple dressy events, a second top, a chunky necklace and a scarf can transform one outfit into three.

Capsule wardrobes are all the rage today, but it’s just a new term for what we called mix and match. Mix and match is made for travel. Compatible colors and styles can make two outfits look like six. Or even more, if you’re clever.


I bring flats so they can do double duty. I never bring heels on a trip because they take up too much space.  Actually, I rarely wear them at all any more.  I usually bring two pairs of walking shoes in case one gets wet. One wet fall in Rome I brought tall, heavy rainboots. They were cute and pink–and super heavy. Soo heavy. Soo cute with jeans tucked into them.  But they took up a LOT of space in my bag. Never brought them again and finally gave them away. Just too impractical. And heavy. Sooo heavy.

Cosmetics & Toiletries

Travel size. Everything from cosmetics to toiletries. That’s the beginning and end of it. Tiny everything, including lippies.

A friend travels with full sized shampoo and conditioner. Her bag is the size of China. Ok, India. It would take months to go through that much shampoo. If you haven’t stolen hotel shampoos, start now. To avoid leakage I package small tubes (which don’t usually leak) in a ziplock snack bag. I also pack a mini flat iron. I have to bring a hairdryer with brush attached because I’ve always been too uncoordinated to manage the two handed blow dry. So that takes up space.

But when I go to Maui with friends, I don’t bring any hair tools at all. I let the humid air reveal my naturally curly hair and I enjoy it. I don’t bring makeup to Maui either–we have a super-casual visit with our good friends. Almost like camping. But in their large 3BR 3BA luxury condo on Wailea Beach. Next to the Four Seasons. No, not camping at all. But without all the warpaint and tools I can fit almost a week’s worth of clothes, two pairs of shoes, 3 bathings suits, a big sunhat and hostess gift in one small bag. I’ll be doing this in Sept.

I think I’m going back to Maui for a Ram Dass event in December. I’m going to take the same approach to packing. The question to ask is “how great do I have to look every day?” and if the answer is “my friends love me just as I am” leave your warpaint and tools at home. If you’re going for work or a special trip, it’s a different story.


I always leave the good stuff home so I don’t have to worry about it. I had a small travel wedding band made with tiny diamonds from one of my mother’s rings. It’s got sentimental value and I wear it on all my trips. Or I will wear a sterling silver band.  I’ll bring two pairs of costume earrings, if that. Sometimes, just one pair of hoops, which go with everything. If I really need necklaces and bracelets I try to choose the ones that work with several outfits. I do wear a watch.


One travel pocketbook and a small clutch if I have evening events. In France last May I have to admit I skipped the clutch, even though we stayed at really nice places and ate at really great restaurants. I was serious in my quest to pack light.


I once went to Rome for a month with an entire suitcase full of used books. I did not pack light.  In my defense, it was back in the day before electronics. I do know people who still fight against an E-reader but I love my Kindle Paperwhite and bring it and a charger.  I also enjoy a good Audible book on long airplane flights and download a few before I leave.


Because I do a lot of writing when I travel, I like a real keyboard, Microsoft Word and my old Air that’s small and portable. It’s also dying. We have regenerated it time and time again because I don’t like the new Macbooks or Airs but at some point I will be forced to replace it. That is, if Apple doesn’t completely go to the tablet. Which I would hate.

I don’t bring my Ipad unless I’m going to be gone a while and want to watch my home DVR or Netflix on it. I don’t write on Pages, don’t like to connect a separate keyboard and have to bring it, blah blah blah. Usually it’s me, my Kindle and the Air.

Lightweight, obnoxious luggage

I’d be a terrible Real Housewife because my luggage is practical rather than luxury. I have a super-light Samsonite carry on I bought at Penney’s and another I bought online. I suppose if I had a valet I’d do it differently, but I don’t.

My bigger suitcase is an obnoxious purple so it stands out on a luggage carousel. Which sounded good in theory until we landed in Mumbai and Michael picked up our obnoxious purple suitcases only to get to the hotel at 3 a.m. and discover that someone else ALSO had an obnoxious purple suitcase and we had his. Fortunately, this story ended well. I have some striped tape I might use to make our obnoxious luggage look even MORE obnoxious next time. Make your luggage stand out and people won’t accidentally carry it off.


No, not to weigh you, to weigh your bags. Some flights have luggage weight restrictions. Buy a luggage scale so you save yourself hassle at the airport. They are STRICT.

A few other things

When luggage doesn’t appear….Keep your baggage claim check and ticket confirmation number hand as at some airports you can scan the claim ticket at baggage claim areas to determine where your luggage is.  Also, know your airline’s policy on late bags. Delta posts on the bag carousel the time luggage is due out and if they are half an hour late they will give you 2,500 frequent flyer miles. You must ask for them. This happened to me in Atlanta in January and I tweeted my information to Delta and got instant credit.  Instantly. The only reason I knew this is that I had hung out with four other passengers with disappearing luggage, who told me.

Never ever pack necessary meds or electronics in checked bags. Just don’t.

Make sure your carry on complies with size requirements so that you don’t have to gate-check important things. Like meds. Or your laptop.

There are a zillion You Tubes that show you how to roll tshirts and clothes so they don’t wrinkle. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. What CAN work is folding them with tissue paper or dry cleaner bags. And I am a fan of the packing cube because I do not like to pack and unpack. It’s nice to be able to leave some things in the cube.

If you’ve got a favorite practical packing light tip, share below, I’d love to hear it!

37 comments on “How I learned to pack light + tips
  1. robin rue says:

    My kids are still little, so I pack a lot, but when I travel alone I have it down to just a carry on. It makes life so much easier.

  2. My favorite thing to do is have two purses, one oversized and one a small messenger. I use the oversized purse as a carry-on, but it’s still considered my purse so I can still bring a carryon. I wear the messenger and only carry necessities like keys, license and phone in there. I can put the messenger inside of the oversized bag if questions, which I never have been.

  3. Stacie says:

    For a hardcore reader like me, having an e-reader in my bag is a great way to save room. I’m not bringing on a complete library! LOL

  4. Amber Myers says:

    Thank you for these tips. I’m pretty awful at packing. I usually always go over the weight at airports. Eek! I’m working on getting better.

  5. candy says:

    Over the years I have gotten much better at packing light for different trips. I know some that have to have dozen pair of shoes along with so many different outfits. Wonderful tips and ideas.

  6. I will just never be one to pack light. I’m always worried if I don’t bring it I’ll need it. And I’m too cheap to go buy it when I’m on vacation.

  7. Really great tips, I’ll be using some of these when we travel in the summer. I like the sound of the cubes for socks and underwear. The travel sized products are essential!

  8. Alison Rost says:

    LOVE how helpful this is especially when you’re packing for a long trip. I think it’s really important that you research about how you can manage the laundry as well because that definitely helps with packing less things in that suitcase! Taking notes, thank you!

  9. It is always better to pack light because you will buy things along the way and fill up the suitcase. I have tried to tell my family this but they have to learn the hard way and overpack.

  10. Sara Welch says:

    Packing light is such a great skill to have. Some people really have so much stuff they cannot go without; kinda sad really!

  11. Tomi c says:

    I tend to pack really light as well. I coordinate my outfits and only bring a couple of pairs of shoes. I always pack an extra bag to haul all those souvenirs and new clothes I buy while on vacation.

  12. Wow, this is great information. We travel a lot and I am still working on the drill. I would be interested in what your purse looks like. I just do not have a mental image of what I will look like in things.

    Trying to look like a local and not a tourist is a trick. We want to just blend in. If people ask me directions to places, i know I have accomplished that! 🙂

  13. Penny says:

    I promise to reread this post until I can do it {think: I Can Do It}. It is such a waste to overpack – and what is that about anyway?

  14. Karen Morse says:

    Loving this post! It’s really nice to bring less clothes on a trip especially if you’re going to be moving around different countries. I love all the tips that you shared!

  15. It’s not easy to pack especially if you’re going on vacation for more than 3 days! It’s really nice to have a guide like this. I’ve gotten used to packing light because of going to blogging events.

  16. These are all very good tips. Took me awhile to figure out how to pack light but now I think I’m getting pretty good and it and I’m already following a lot of your tips here so YAY! Great to have a reminder again for the next time I travel tho 😀

  17. Angelic Sinova says:

    These are great travel tips! I’m a huge travel (I take a minimum of seven trips a year so I’m always on the go) and my go-to packing tip is to roll everything up so it takes up less room in the suitcase. I was once able to bring enough clothes for a six day trip in just a carry on bag because I rolled everything up.

  18. Farida says:

    I don’t travel overseas a lot but when I do, I bring tops that are light and wrinkle-free and black jeans, only the basics for my evening routine, enough cash and my credit card. Recently, the tires of my luggage came apart. How do you solve them?

  19. brianne says:

    I’m such a great packer for my children, yet myself I always forget something. These are great tips!

  20. Theresa says:

    Awesome tips! We are going to Europe this summer and are only taking 2 suitcases for the 4 of us. It will be a 10 day trip, so every little bit of packing lighter really helps. I am going to buy some packing cubes before we go.

  21. Heather says:

    I’ve personally never had an issue with packing too much, but now, with a family of 5 things are totally different.

  22. Heather says:

    I don’t know what a packing cube is, but I agree with rolling your clothes. As a mom, for years I packed way too much stuff…I probably was traumatized by that time when we were 80 miles down the road and my 15-month-old got car sick and threw up all over everything and I never packed any towels..I just thought hotel towels was all I needed. Anyway, that was a long time ago and I’ve learned to pack more efficiently now.

  23. Ricci says:

    I love to travel but I am a chronic overpacked!! I needed this post so much!! LOL!!

  24. Rosey says:

    I took boots to Rome too. My heel got caught in one of the grooves in the walkway and broke off. I think bringing flats is a good idea. Bringing two in case it rains, even better.They’re light and fit right into any carry on or suitcase with ease.

  25. We too like to pack light. It does not make sense to lug around huge baggage on your travels. It is really so inconvenient. So we have compromised on what needs to go and what needs to be jettisoned.

  26. Mimi green says:

    I used to be the overpacked girl. I’ve learned the error of my ways. I’m not on your level but I’m getting there.

  27. Haralee says:

    Great tips.Really excellent tip about things you need like meds never in your suitcase or even in your carry-on that you may be forced to check. I always pack light. If I need something I can buy it except for shoes. I do pack 1 pair and wear one. If it is warm weather I may pack a pair of lightweight sandals.It is harder to pack light in winter or to cold climates but just a few layers and it works out. Of course my sleepwear collection is perfect for travel.

  28. Via B Design says:

    Enjoyed this post as I am getting my passport today – yippee. Great tips to remember. I want to avoid getting an extra fee for going over the weight limit.

  29. Kevin says:

    love all the ideas and shortcuts listed here – been to Europe 7 times and learned a few of these the hard way! thanks for sharing your tips!

  30. Laurie Stone says:

    Great tips, although have to bring heels for at night. My traveling suitcases have gone from ridiculously big to small and practical. This post makes me want to go somewhere again!

  31. I love packing light, after dragging around big suitcases in Spain and try to only bring a carry-on. If I’m going from city to city, no one will remember what I wore anyway. I do bring a laptop with me, which adds some weight and a camera for zoom shots. I don’t own a hair blower, though. I’m strictly drip dry. If I’m on a cruise, I may bring more because I won’t have to schlep it once it’s onboard.

  32. Meryl says:

    I take a fairly large backpack on the plane with me. It includes a change of clothes for one day in case my suitcase doesn’t make it onto the same plane, which has happened more than once. With a backpack I have the use of both hands to carry other stuff if necessary.

  33. Jennifer says:

    I’m with Meryl, my carry-on is a backpack that holds my laptop, a change of clothes, and my medicines.

  34. Diane says:

    Such GREAT tips, Carol! I’ve learned to pack for three days. And everything is washable. (I just saw a handy-dandy little gadget that you set in the sink. Add a bit of soap and it whirls your clothes clean. I’m tempted…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.