Once you have the perfect piece of luggage for your adventure, it’s time to focus on what you’re putting in your bag. I’ve lived exclusively out of a carry on backpack for five months, while traveling to multiple weather climates. Trust me, I know how to pack like a minimalist. Which is why I’m going to show you how you can embrace the art of packing light too!

Get Prepared

  1. Pick Your Luggage: Have the luggage you plan to travel with ready to go. Not sure which is the best? Check out our luggage guide, to find your next travel companion.
  2. Do Some Research: Look up the climate(s) of the places you are going to. This will determine what kind of clothing and footwear you’ll need.
  3. Look into the Culture:  By researching how people dress in your destination’s culture, it will help you blend into the crowd. This prevents you from looking like a stereotypical tourist or making a cultural faux pas.

Change Your Packing Mindset

The biggest problem most travelers have is they overpack. When you have a giant suitcase with extra space in it, you will likely fill up that space with unnecessary items. If you choose a smaller suitcase, you have less packing room to play around with. This pushes you to only pack the necessities.

Are you asking yourself, why do I need to limit myself to just a carry on? Here are a few reasons why:

  • You save tons of money on airline baggage fees, because you don’t have to check a bag.
  • When you carry heavy luggage around it causes sore muscles, which is no fun on vacation.
  • It’s easier to climb the six flights of stairs to your Airbnb in Italy with a carry on bag. Of course, they don’t have an elevator!
  • You can keep an eye on your stuff better, which makes it more difficult for someone to rob you.
  • It’s less stressful to get around. You don’t have to worry about dragging a giant suitcase across cobblestone streets, or fitting into a packed bus with your humongous backpack.

Start with a Packing List

By forcing yourself to sit down and think through all the items you’ll need, you’re also organizing your luggage. I like to group things by how necessary they are to my travels. 

Essential Items: Things I can’t leave for a journey without (passport, wallet, luggage locks, medications, phone/computer, etc).

Nice to Have Items: Items that I can buy while on the road, but would make life easier to have (good walking shoes, comfortable clothing, camera, an eye mask for restful sleep, toiletries etc).

Luxury Items: Things that make you feel comfortable when you’re away from home (workout clothes, a nice outfit for special occasions, etc).

Having a packing list is helpful when you have too much stuff and need to figure out what to cut. You can go straight to your list of luxury items and see what can be crossed off the list.

Find Your Packing Organization of Choice

It’s important to keep your bag organized. Otherwise, you’ll be that person that has to dig through their entire bag just to find that one article of clothing. When you finally find it, your bag looks like a bomb exploded. To avoid this from happening, I’ve found two solutions:

These zippered, Nylon bags allow you to keep your luggage organized. I keep similar items together, that way you can find things quickly. All my shirts go in one bag and my dresses in another. This product has different sizes, which makes it ideal for fitting things into your luggage and identifying the bag you need it on the go.

I like the Bagail brand because they mesh on the top, which allows your clothes to breathe while they are packed and you can see the colors of the clothing you packed. This product also comes with a laundry bag, so you can keep your dirty clothes separate.

Note: If you use Packing Cubes, roll your clothing items to maximize your space.

These plastic bags are amazing to pack with. You can squeeze excess air out of the clothes-filled bags to maximize the space in your suitcase. No vacuum required! Once you have the bag full of clothes, open the ventilation cap and squeeze the air out.

This package is great, because it has multiple sizes of SpaceSaver bags, which allows you to fit the most stuff in your luggage. The clear plastic allows you to see the contents of the bag. This is convenient when you need to pull something out quick.

Note: If you use SpaceSaver bags, lay your clothes flat in the bag. This will allow you to get the most air out of the bag and stack the bags on top of each other in your luggage.

Packing Tips to Save Space & Stress

  • Choose your footwear first. This will determine the outfits you pack.
  • Carefully select clothing items that are mix and match. This increases your number of packed outfits.
  • Wear neutral clothes. If I’m going to Europe, I’ll pack mostly black. Then I look chic and it’s easy to blend in. If I’m going to a desert or tropical area, I’ll aim for lighter colored clothing that breathes well.
  • Pack the same colors so you only have to do one load of laundry. Say goodbye to separating colors!
  • When you choose clothes, do a wrinkle test. Hold the fabric and hold it in a fist for 15 seconds. This will show you how wrinkled the fabric will be after being shoved in your luggage for hours.
  • Stuff socks and underwear into your traveling shoes to save space.
  • Roll, don’t fold, your clothes (unless you’re using SpaceSaver Bags).
  • Wear your heaviest clothing items on your travel day. Planes and buses are usually over air-conditioned, so it’s nice to have layers.
  • Buy clothes when you get there. Some of my favorite clothing items I bought while I traveled. Now you have a souvenir!
  • Put items you know you’ll need on top. I always put my pajamas on the top of my suitcase. When I arrive at my destination, I’m tired and jet lagged. The last thing I want to do is dig through my bag for pjs.
  • Leave some extra room for souvenirs and food. You’ll probably buy stuff, so plan on it. I also like to bring snacks with me to ward off being hungry.

Don’t Forget...

Now that I’ve given you tons of packing tips, here are a few more items that will make your life easier and should be on every traveler’s packing list.

Make sure you can charge your electronics while you’re on the road You’ll need a electric converter if you plan to use any hair straighteners or curling irons. Learn the difference here.

Bendable luggage lock to keep your stuff safe no matter the size of the locker or cubby.

Have a good night’s sleep in strange places. This is my favorite luxury item. When I’m sleeping in hostels or on a plane, I can get some shut eye despite what’s going on around me.

Pick one that lays flat so it takes up limited room and keeps stuff together. My sister bought this one for me, because she was tired of fixing giant knots of necklaces.

Keep dry, weather happens everywhere. They take up less room than an umbrella and you can easily layer underneath it.

You might as well save the Earth while you travel it. Keep water in your pack so you can grab a swig wherever you are. The USA is known for having water fountains every few blocks, but in other places, expect to pay for water. Check to see if tap water is safe to drink in your country.

If you’re a female, a scarf can come in handy when you want to take a nap on a bus, or enter a place of religion where you need to cover your head or shoulders.

Put all your liquids in a clear plastic baggy. Explosions are imminent when you’re traveling.

The Ultimate List of Toiletries for Travel

I try to keep my list of toiletries relatively small, because they can easily take up too much room in your bag. Remember, most of the countries you’re going to will have toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap that you can buy.

I like this, because I can throw my toothbrush in the bag without worrying what gross things the bristles have come in contact with.

I’ll keep this in my purse so I can easily brush my teeth on the go or at the airport.

I like to use soft travel bottles for my shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. The silicone material allows you to squeeze every last drop out and takes up less space in your bag. I typically skip bringing a bar of soap, because once you put it in a travel case it becomes too bulky.

I pack a solid deodorant, so that it doesn’t count as a liquid in my bag.

Travel Razor (Men/Women)

Guess what? You can bring a disposable razor on a plane! You cannot bring safety razors with exchangeable blades or a straight razor.

Shower Shoes (Men/Women)

I pack sandals that can be worn on the beach or in gross hostel showers. No foot fungus here!

Most hostels won’t have free towels. When I’m using my own towel, I know it’s clean. If you’re on the bottom bunk of a hostel bed, you can also use it as a curtain to give yourself some privacy.

Spray bad smelling clothes (I’ll let you be the judge of whether you can wear them again…). Don’t judge me, but you can double it as perfume/cologne. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh laundry?!

When you need a shower, but there isn’t one in sight use baby wipes to give yourself a “portable shower.” It’s not as good as the real thing, but will keep you going.

If you’re walking a lot, which you probably will, make sure to have plasters/band-aids handy to save your feet. Put one on as soon as you feel irritation. Then you won’t get giant, painful blisters.

Nothing is worse than suffering from a sunburn and looking like a lobster. Then you have to cover up the rest of the trip. Be prepared with sunblock to protect your skin. Remember that the sun may be stronger than it is at home.

You can get buy mosquito repellent wipes so it doesn’t count as a liquid in your carry on. Goodbye West Nile and Zitka!

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