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10 Essential Tips for Packing Light

Learn from the experts on how you can lessen the luggage load on your next trip.

One of the most stressful parts of preparing for a trip is the packing. How many times have you gathered everything you thought you might need only to realize you'd need five bags to carry it all? Then you try to narrow things down and nix the non-essentials, and still end up with more than you can handle. It's a situation many of us find ourselves in before leaving for a trip: The art of packing light is something even the most frequent travelers struggle to master. But as major airlines have started to raise their checked baggage fees, more and more travelers are looking for ways to take nothing but a carry-on with them. Need some help? Read on for expert-based tips for traveling light on your next trip.

RELATED: 10 Clothing Items You Shouldn't Wear on a Plane.

How to Pack Light When Traveling

Whether you're planning to pack everything in your carry on luggage, or just looking to save space in your checked baggage, there are tried-and-true tricks the experts swear by. To help you pack light when traveling, too, here are 10 tips you can try.

1. Use the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method.

Young man in a bedroom packing and organising clothing for a trip into a suitcase

It can be easy to get carried away with your wardrobe choices when packing for a trip. That's why seasoned traveler Hammer Tsui, travel expert and co-founder of the A Fun Couple travel blog, says they always adhere to the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method when they want to travel light.

This clothing countdown helps you limit the amount of each type of piece you pack. Typically, it's broken down to mean you can pack "5 tops, 4 bottoms, 3 accessories, 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 swimsuit, which is ideally all of the clothing you should need for a one-week vacation," Ravi Parikh, founder and CEO of the travel booking site RoverPass, tells Best Life.

But some say you can adjust the formula to better fit your specific travel needs depending on where, when, and how long you're traveling. For instance, you might opt to do 5 tops, 4 bottoms, 3 layers (like a jacket or sweater), 2 pairs of shoes, and 1 dress instead.

Either way, the 5 4 3 2 1 packing method is meant to "minimize the clothes you pack," according to Alexandra Dubakova, a travel expert working with

"Using this method, you create a capsule wardrobe where you mix and match items effectively, which helps limit overpacking, and you can comfortably fit everything on a carry-on," she explains. "When packing, opt for a neutral color scheme or a splash of color to ensure the outfits coordinate well."

2. Invest in lightweight luggage (or just stick to a carry-on).

woman buying a suitcase in supermarket

Packing light isn't just about what you're putting in your luggage. The kind of luggage you're using can also play a major role, according to Audrey Kohout, CEO of Luggage Forward.

"While it may feel like hard shell cases are trendy right now, the outer shell can make them a whole lot heavier than a fabric bag," she cautions. "You may also be surprised to hear that typically, you can actually fit more in a soft-sided bag, too, as it offers more flexibility to different sized and shaped items."

Many people seek out bags with hard-shelled cases because they are advertised as more durable, Kohout notes.

"But in reality, these shells can actually crack and break more easily than a soft-sided bag," she says. "So not only will a fabric suitcase make your journey less of a hassle, but it will also protect your belongings better."

Going a step further, Tsui says that deciding between checked and carry-on luggage can also make a significant difference when it comes to packing light.

"Sticking solely to carry-on size ensures I don't overpack," she shares.

RELATED: 8 Brands That Sell the Best Quality Luggage, According to Experts.

3. Buy packing cubes.

Cube meshed bags with rolled clothes, t-shirt, pants. Set of travel organizer to help packing luggage easy, well organized

They're no gimmick—packing cubes "really are the lifesaver that everyone raves about," according to Kohout.

"They're great when you're trying to fit more in your bag, but can also help hold you accountable when you're in the editing phase of packing and trying to determine what you really need," she explains.

Kohout says she likes to divide up her packing cubes by the type of clothing. So, pajamas in one, beachwear in another, nice dinner outfits in a different cube, and so on.

"Once you've got everything in its respective category, it's easier to reassess and determine whether you really need 10 outfit options for a three-day trip, or if there is anything you can rewear in different scenarios," she says.

Dubakova also notes that there are two different packing cube styles you can choose from: standard or compression.

"The standard cubes ensure the clothes remain contained and don't shift or create gaps," she says. "Compression cubes have zippers that squeeze our air, making your clothes compact and saving space."

Don't have the time or money to go out and buy packing cubes? Cody Candee, CEO and founder of luggage storage locator website Bounce, says you can always use Ziploc bags to separate clothing in a similar fashion.

"We've all heard of the packing cube, yet this travel tool can cost a small fortune to purchase. A budget alternative is the no-frills Ziploc bags," he shares. "Not only do Ziploc bags make it easier to organize clothing in your case, but they also condense clothing even further to allow for more room in your suitcase. As they are fully transparent, it is also much quicker to locate items of clothing you're searching for compared to when using solid packing cubes."

4. Pack lightweight, versatile fabrics.

Wool fabric texture close-up background. Knitted warm beige, white sweater or scarf with folds. Top view, flat lay

You might not have thought to pay attention to the material of the clothing you're packing. But being purposeful and picking a few pieces that could work in any environment can certainly lighten your load.

If you're wanting to travel light, Parikh specifically recommends looking for clothing in lightweight fabrics such as merino wool.

"It's soft, and thermo-regulating," he says. "So you stay cool in the heat and warm in the cold."

5. Plan on repeating outfits.

Man packing luggage for trip

It's no secret that wearing the same thing more than once on your trip can help to reduce the amount of clothes you need to bring. But if you're someone who likes to switch things up everyday on vacation, repeating outfits doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your desire for new looks.

"Stick with a simple color scheme, so you can mix and match different pieces and feel like you're wearing something new even when you're not," David Ciccarelli, CEO and founder of the vacation rental platform Lake, advises.

Or you can consider trying what Ciccarelli says has become his "best travel hack" over the last few years: buying reversible clothing.

"Though brands that offer reversible clothes, like Lululemon, aren't cheap—you're investing in versatile pieces that last through long travel days," he explains. "If you're on a relatively active vacation, being able to flip around a piece of clothing for a new look and feel is invaluable. And with reversible clothes, you can virtually cut your travel wardrobe in half."

Making a packing list beforehand can also help you keep track of what you can reuse during your trip, according to Candee.

"Plan your outfits based on your itinerary and the weather forecast for your destination," he recommends. "Only pack the clothes you are actually going to wear, and try to choose multi-purpose items that can transition between day to dinner, pool to bar, to reduce the number of clothes you need to pack."

RELATED: 5 Ways to Keep Clothes Wrinkle-Free in Your Suitcase, According to Travel Experts.

6. Plan on doing laundry there.

laundry inside machine
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Of course, you can easily pack lighter for a long trip by planning to rewear things—but that doesn't mean you need to put on dirty clothes just to save space. Instead, Parikh suggests thinking about your laundry access when booking your accommodations.

"It is better to stay at locations with laundry facilities," he says. "It ensures you pack less and plan to wash your clothes during your trip."

7. Layer up.

Woman putting on a gray cardigan.

Don't underestimate the power that layering can have when you want to pack lighter, too, travel PR specialist Jennifer Maguire adds.

"Multitasking basics are essential and they are the key to packing for up to 10 days in a carry-on," she explains.

Maguire recommends focusing on lighter tanks and tees as your base, and then blazers and sweaters as pieces you can layer on top.

"It also helps to stay with basic colors like black and neutral tones, but you can punch up an outfit with a colorful layer, scarf, or outerwear," she notes.

8. Bring multipurpose footwear.

hands put sneakers to valise. packing for trip. travel concept

It's not just your clothes you need to downsize. Jessica Sproat, founder of Next Up Adventure, says she used to think she needed five pairs of shoes for even a short trip. Footwear can easily add extra weight to your luggage, and leave very little space for much else.

Over time, Sproat has come to realize that she can get by with much less by focusing on multipurpose footwear.

"These days, I stick to just two pairs of versatile shoes—one for exercise and one for going out," she tells Best Life.

Depending on the trip you're taking, consider opting for hiking boots that can be worn everyday and during hiking treks, or flip flops that you can use at the beach but can work as your day-to-day shoe as well.

Candee also shares another tip you can use to save space in your luggage: Store underwear in your shoes.

"If you're a shoe lover who can't bear the thought of a holiday with only one pair of shoes, use your trainers, boots, or sandals to pack your underwear," he suggests. "To keep it sanitary, simply roll your underwear and place in a light bag, then stuff it inside your shoes. This trick saves space in other parts of your suitcase for other items."

RELATED: 6 Shoes to Never Wear on an Airplane, Podiatrists Say.

9. Leave most toiletries at home.

Bag of airplane items ready to be tucked into the suitcase. Liquids in containers less than 100 ml. Bag on the bedspread.

Many hotels and Airbnb accommodations provide things like soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for guests to use during their travels. If not, "most destinations have stores where you can pick them up," Yulia Saf, travel guru and founder of the Miss Tourist website, points out.

"So consider leaving most toiletries at home," she offers. "This could save significant weight in your luggage."

If you can't imagine jet-setting off without your favorite products, at least leave the full-size toiletries at home.

"Packing light means investing in small, durable containers for your carry-on toiletries," Maguire says. "If you're like me, you'll keep them full and stored in your suitcase even after you get home, so they're always ready to go."

10. Weigh your suitcase before you leave.

Weighing suitcase with a luggage scale

It doesn't matter how many of these tips to pack light you incorporate if you don't weigh your suitcase before you leave for the airport. There are at-home luggage scales that you can purchase online for less than $15.

"Be sure to weigh your baggage beforehand. You'd be surprised how quickly the pounds can add up with all your essentials tucked inside," Giacomo Piva, travel industry analyst and co-founder of Radical Storage, a global luggage storage company, warns. "Staying under the weight limits for carry-ons can save you from having to painfully re-organize or gate-check bags."

Why Is It Important to Travel Light?

Suitcase on luggage conveyor belt carousel in the baggage claim at airport

From meticulously following streamlined packing methods to investing in extra tools like packing cubes and luggage scales, learning to pack lighter can be a hassle of its own. So, why bother? To help you understand exactly why you might want to adopt these tips, here are four different reasons for traveling light.

1. It saves money.

Person putting carry-on bag in overhead compartment.
yacobchuk / iStock

Luggage fees can quickly add up. As Ciccarelli explains, most flyers are looking to pay at least $30 to $35 for their first piece of checked luggage. Meanwhile, checking a second bag will cost you even more, at around $40 to $45 depending on the airline you're traveling with.

"Roundtrip, you can save yourself around $70 by packing light and flying solo with your carry-on," Ciccarelli says. "That little financial boost can fund another dinner out, museum admittance, or another fun add-on to your trip."

Packing light can also help you avoid encountering other added fees when you get to the airport, according to Mariana Montes, a travel expert working with Vibe Adventures.

"If your suitcase is too heavy, you might have to pay extra money at the counter," Montes cautions. "That's a problem because it can eat into your travel budget and could mess up your trip plans."

2. Different airlines have different standards.

Low angle view of unrecognizable businessman in gray suit walking through airport terminal with briefcase and suitcase.

There is no universal standard for luggage size. Airlines are allowed to set their own requirements, and while many U.S. carriers have similar standards, most are not exactly the same. Not only that, but if you're traveling internationally, you may be subjected to even stricter limits.

According to The Points Guy, the standard carry-on size for international carriers is slightly smaller than that of most U.S. airlines, averaging out at about 21.7 by 15.7 by 9 inches, including handles and wheels.

Keeping up with all the different baggage allowances and fees from different airlines can be hard—which is why Parikh recommends lessening your load no matter what.

"Traveling light ensures you meet the strictest standards," he notes.

RELATED: Travel Expert Reveals the Sneaky Reason Airlines Make You Check Your Carry-On.

3. It's easier to get around with less stress.

walking with carry-on bag
Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

Through her experience, Sproat says one of the most compelling reasons she has found to travel light is the freedom it brings.

"When you embark on a journey with minimal baggage, you unburden yourself not only physically but also mentally and emotionally," she explains. "The weight of excess belongings can restrict your movements, limit your spontaneity, and hinder your ability to fully immerse yourself in new experiences."

When it's easier for you to get around, you can also save more money, according to Ciccarelli.

"Without heavy luggage, you might even be able to skip some Uber and taxi rides if accommodations or your next pit stop are within walking distance," he adds.

4. It means less pollution.

a line of tourists getting on a bus with suitcases
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

If you're trying to be more environmentally friendly, packing lighter plays into that, too.

"Less luggage cuts down on transportation carbon emissions, contributing to less pollution," Saf says.

And it's not only about plane pollution.

"If you travel light, you can more easily take a train or bus in between places on your trip," Dubakova points out. "This will change your environmental pollution impact, as a car you take by yourself due to a lot of luggage will add more to carbon emissions than if you use public means of transport."

Wrapping Up

That's it for our expert-based packing light tips that will help you lessen the load on your next trip, but be sure to check back with us soon for more travel hacks that can make all the difference.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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