10 Sensible Tips for Traveling Light

Ladies, let’s face it: we’re often guilty of over packing. Five pairs of sandals, three pairs of knee-high boots, matching outfits and accessories for every occasion, big bottles of hair products, our beloved blow dryer, flat iron, and creams of all kinds. It’s not an easy task to travel light,but with rising costs for checked luggage, why jam the entire contents of your closet and medicine cabinet into a bursting suitcase? Lugging around heavy baggage leads to limited opportunities to just go with the flow, and being bogged down by unwanted attention from porters offering to carry your load.

I have always been a light packer. I traveled through East Africa with a backpack and a handbag. I was able to toss my pack over the back of trucks, on empty chairs on ferry rides, in the overhead compartments of crowded buses, and stow it at the corner of my tent. On luxury trips, I stuck to my carry-on suitcase to store all of my essentials. I never once felt like I left anything behind.

Here are ten tips for traveling light, so you can have a great vacation without breaking your back (or your bank account).

1) Simplify with Packing Cubes: These rectangular shaped, lightweight fabric zippered bags with mesh windows keep your clothes organized and prevent wrinkles. I used three packing cubes during my recent Australia adventure; they stored my outdoorsy clothes, warm weather wear, and pajamas, and fit nicely in my Osprey Farpoint 40 carry-on size backpack.

2) Go With One Pair of Heels: Heels take up a lot more space than you can afford. If you are on vacation, you are probably doing a ton of walking, so heels won’t do you any good. If you are bumming it on the beach, a pair of comfy flip-flops will do. If you must bring a pair, stick with standard black. My go to brand is Aerosoles, which makes comfortable and stylish sandals.

3) Wear Your Boots On the Plane: If you are going on a hiking trip, boots are a must. But they weigh the most. It’s best to wear your heaviest boots on the plane, rather than carrying them on your back. You can always slip them off once you’ve boarded the jet.

4) Stick with Travel Toiletries: Whether you are traveling for three weeks or three months, pack as if you are going for a week. Take only small amounts of shampoo, conditioner, and creams. If you are away for a longer stay, you can purchase your necessities at your destination, and get your clothes washed. Leave you blow dryer and iron at home. Most hotels and Airbnb hosts provide them free of charge.

5) Choose Light Dresses: Leave heavy or frilly dresses at home. Opt for light cotton or wrinkle-free dresses to remain fashionable without compromising on style. And always pack a sarong, which doubles as a cover-up and a beach towel.

6) Match Your Outfits: Take shorts and pants that go with pretty much the blouses you pack. Jeans take up too much space and weigh you down. Go with comfortable hiking or light cotton pants.

7) Clothes for Volunteering: If you are volunteering on your trip abroad, and know your clothes will get dirty, take old clothes that you can leave behind. Whether you’re working with animals, building a school, or on an archaeological dig, this is the ideal opportunity to make final use of that Hootie and the Blowfish concert t-shirt.

8) Dressing for Cold Weather: Instead of dragging around your heavy winter coat, pack layers. They are easier to carry and less bulky. Wear your heaviest sweater on the plane. The same advice applies to scarves.

9) Real books v. eBooks: I struggle with this one because I love traditional paper books. I once packed five hardcovers for a month long trip to India. I barely finished one.The lesson I learned— pack just one real book (preferably a soft cover), and keep the rest on your eReader for backup. You can also do a book swap with new friends you make on longer journeys.

10) Limit Souvenir Shopping: On my Africa trip, I brought back a few souvenirs, including a beautiful, animal-inspired mask that now hangs on my wall. If you really want to get something, but are afraid it won’t fit in your carry-on, consider key chains and magnets. Jewelry is always a good bet, and lasts longer. Remember, the best souvenirs are the pictures and memories you bring home with you, which don’t take up any space at all.

If you have more ideas for traveling light, feel free to share them in a comment. Thanks!


Published by Lavanya

Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover, and globetrotter based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Architectural Digest, Fodor’s, Forbes, USA Today and many more in a career spanning ten years. She covers travel, eco-lifestyle, culture, pets, and wildlife conservation.

6 thoughts on “10 Sensible Tips for Traveling Light

  1. hey there! i’m loving your recent posts!
    I also blogged about my first backpacking experience and my thoughts about it, on how great it feels to travel light!

    here’s what my recent post is all about…

    what do you think about backpacking? do you think its more convenient?
    would be so nice to hear from you! 🙂

    cheers! xx

    deanna ( http://www.talkaboutbeauty.wordpress.com )

  2. Great travel advice! Another well-written article with lots of sensible tips!

  3. I like to use flat rate shipping of there is something I absolutely must buy. That way I don’t have to schlep it all around.
    I’d add a couple more tips: Plan on doing laundry and re-wearing your clothing and also try to bring USB powered electronics instead of 120/240 V electronics. The chargers and cords are way lighter.
    I don’t use packing cubes. I like zip-locs.

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