12 Tips for packing light

I have a confession – I used to be a heavy packer. Ok, I said it! I went to South America for 3 months with a giant roller duffel, full-sized suitcase, carry-on AND backpack! I was staying with a friend and I became embarrassed of the amount of luggage I had brought. Over the course of the three months I was there, I realized that I really didn’t need or use all that I had brought and some of the stuff – though it was convenient, I could have lived without. I ended up getting rid of a lot of stuff before I came back home (partially to allow space for the gifts I had bought ; )

This used to be me!

This used to be me!

Since then, I’ve realized that packing lighter saves time, money and stress. I have successfully learned to pack carry-on only for most of my trips. My proudest moment being my 5-day trip to Boston where I was Maid of Honor in my friends’ wedding (think dress, shoes, makeup, etc) all of which I fit into my carry on bag and messenger bag! Go me! 

Following are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way:

1.  Try to pack in a carry-on only – delayed flights, lost luggage, most airlines now charge for checking even a first bag, less time checking bag and getting it from the endless baggage carousel – all reasons to not check bags when you can. I take a big messenger bag with a smaller purse inside. As you are allowed a carry-on and a “personal item”, I can fit a lot into both without going over the limit.

My trusty and stylish carry-on

My trusty and stylish carry-on

2. As you aren’t checking luggage, do remember the 3-1-1 Rule: 3.4 ounce or smaller containers of gel or liquid in a 1 quart bag, 1 per traveler. If you can’t fit something or forget something, most of the time you can find it at your destination. Also make sure you don’t bring any prohibited items. When an agent has to check luggage or a person, it slows up the security line. Check tsa.gov or your destination country to see what is/is not allowed. If in doubt – don’t bring it!

my 3-1-1 bag, which I keep in the front part of my carry-on for easy removal in security lines

my 3-1-1 bag, which I keep in the front part of my carry-on for easy removal in security lines

3. Take versatile items that you can mix and match – this reduces the amount of clothing you will bring and space in your bag. Remember to check what locals wear for blending in and dressing respectfully. Bringing basic items versus loud patterns will reduce the feeling of wearing the same thing repeatedly. For example, bringing a basic top which can be word over jeans, a skirt and even a dress and adding jewelry to the mix will make you feel like you have many options.

photo from travelfashiongirl.com (she has great tips too!)

photo from travelfashiongirl.com (she has great tips too!)

4. Leave color to the accessories – Accessories can make an outfit unique with minimal space; a chunky pink necklace or a yellow scarf will add much to an outfit.

5. Plan out your outfits – this will guard against bringing items that don’t match or bringing too much because you aren’t thinking in terms of what you will actually wear

6. Make a packing list and stick to it! – this allows less for the last-minute “I might need these” items. You can download a generic one from the internet and add or remove items to make it personal for your needs and weather conditions.


7. Stuff socks, undies, anything into shoe spaces – use all the space in your carry-on including pockets and shoes.

8. Keep shoes to a minimum – I ended up wearing sandals most of the time I was in South America and didn’t need the other shoes I brought besides my sneakers. Now, most of the time, I travel with only two pairs of shoes

9.  Use compression bags when needed– (non-vacuum kind) these are wonderful for bigger / puffy items. I used one to bring my sleeping bag for the Inka Trail. I was able to condense a big sleeping bag into about an inch – inch and a half high!


10. On longer trips, plan to do laundry – I’ve been there – I want to save money, but you can save tons of space by bringing fewer clothes and washing them along the way. Bringing laundry soap sheets, a travel clothesline and universal sink plug will make it easy to do laundry on the road.

11. Wear your bulky/biggest items on the plane – wearing your boots and heavy coat on the plane saves so much space in your bag!

12. It’s ok if you don’t fill up the bag – especially for shorter trips, you might not need all that room and it leaves room for gifts or items bought! And most of what you might forget can readily be bought many places or you find you can live without it. Seeing people who pack like I used to gives me pride now that I am wheeling past them and flying through security while they are struggling with their mound of luggage.

Happy Packing!

This entry was published on March 12, 2013 at 08:00. It’s filed under Argentina, Chile, Europe, Lists, North America, Peru, South America, Tips and Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

6 thoughts on “12 Tips for packing light

  1. I used to pack heavy as well. And then I started to travel more. Experience teaches you wonderful things. And I got tired of carrying my heavy bag! Great tips.

    • Travel sure does teach us a lot! I feel a lot freer now! I’m kind of surprised it took me so long to learn these lessons as I have been traveling for many years now!

  2. It’s definitely an art!

    • sure is, Andrea! Do you have any to add? I’m sure I was missing something! And I hope you had fun in California! I live in Northern Ca, near San Francisco if you’re ever in town!

  3. I was also a heavy packer, and like yourself, I also got embarrassed when I had to leave half my stuff at the friend I was visiting (because I bought some new stuff during my visit, of course!) but luckily that made me realize that I hadn’t even used half the stuff I packed, so on my latest travels I’ve tried to pack as light as possible, with clothes that I can mix & match.

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