How to Travel Light: 12 Pro Tips to Optimise Your Packing

If you’re a chronic overpacker like me, you’ve probably had the unfortunate and highly embarrassing experience of lugging a 30kg suitcase up a cobbled hill in a European city. Over the years, I’ve slowly learnt the tips and tricks to sticking to a carry-on and backpack. Partly because airlines started charging extra for luggage, partly because I travelled around Australia as a backpacker (with a huge suitcase, mind you) and it’s impossible not to learn the tricks of the trade from the most experienced backpackers of remote hostels. 

Travelling light can often seem impossible, but if you stick to a few key organisation and packing tips, it’s really easier than you think.

Packing light - how to optimise luggage space - carry-on for travelling
Avoid the packing chaos! - Photo by Vlada Karpovich

1) Start with a lightweight bag

The bag you use is what sets you up for success or failure. I didn’t put small because I’d search for the airline’s luggage allowance and choose the perfectly sized hand luggage – meaning it’s as big as it possibly can be while still counting as hand luggage.  Using only hand luggage won’t just save you luggage costs but make life a ton easier at your destination. It also means you don’t have to worry about losing your luggage which is a real concern this summer. 

Make sure your bag is really lightweight – Travelpro and Samsonite are common favourites. Do some research into what you’d like from your bag and the allowed size and look for reviews that mention the weight. 

2) Wear your bulkiest shoes and clothes on the plane

This is one of the simplest tricks and probably the first one anyone will tell you, but wear your big hiking shoes and winter jacket on the plane. Yes, you may get too warm but you can always use the jacket as a pillow and remove your shoes (leave your socks on though, don’t be that person on a long flight). Wearing heavy and large items while travelling is really your best shot at bringing them with you.

3) Packing cubes are a lifesaver

Listen, I used to think packing cubes were overhyped and ignored them for years. I wish I hadn’t – they changed my packing game. I’m actually not sure why – maybe because you can stuff them full and still be organised, maybe because they limit how many tops you’ll stuff into your suitcase. Whatever it is, they save space, keep your stuff organised and help you make smarter choices about what to take. 

4) Wash your clothes while travelling

This tip is only really relevant if you’re going for more than a week or so, but it’s not expensive to wash your clothes in another country. Your hotel/hostel or other accommodation may offer affordable laundry services or you can always find a local laundrette. If everything fails, handwashing also does the job. This prevents you from overpacking on basics (no 30 pairs of underwear) and will keep your luggage light.

5) Buy affordable hygiene items when you get there

Anything that costs under £5 and is easily available in other countries should be left at home. You can buy toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner when you get there. It’ll just take up unnecessary space and weight. 

6) Stick to a packing list

A packing list is the only thing that prevents me from stuffing every empty space of my luggage with items I may need. I call them the ‘just in case’ items and I love adding them when I’m basically done packing. However, they add so much unnecessary weight and I never really end up using these items. So, write a packing list of necessary items only and stick to it. It’ll be key to keeping your luggage light. 

7) Get a good quality microfibre towel

This is probably my number 1 space-saving tip of all of these. Microfibre towels fold up tiny, are lightweight and dry quickly. They are also multi-purpose as a beach towel, cover-up, blanket and more. I don’t travel anywhere without one. 

8) Buy travel hair tools

Whether you need a hairdryer, straightener or curler, invest in the travel version. It does the job and takes up very little space. 

9) Stick to 2-3 pairs of shoes

This one is something I really struggle with as it’s one of those things I’m always sure I MIGHT need. It took me a while to realise it’s just not worth it. Get a comfortable pair of flip-flops, some high-quality trainers and another pair of your choosing (e.g. heels or dress shoes) and leave it at that. 

10) Reduce toiletries to the basics

This is anything from skincare to hair products to make-up. What do you really need? What do you swear by? Strip down your routine and only take the items you know make a difference.

11) Carry a large scarf / cover-up

I read somewhere that every flight attendant has a pashmina on them at all times. Any big, lightweight scarf will do the same job though. They function as a cover-up (temples, churches, etc. will expect this of you),  a jacket, a beach outfit, a pillow while flying and more. 

12) Make the most of your personal item

Most flights allow a carry-on and a personal item. I’d recommend a small backpack or tote bag with lots of different compartments so it’s easy to find stuff. You can usually also get away with having a small purse on top of that, just stuff it inside your tote or jacket at the gate. When buying these items, I recommend looking for ones that are practical but you also like the look of! That way you won’t be frustrated about not having other bag options. 

Do you do any of these things already?
And what’s your favourite way to pack light – share your top tips in the comments!

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  1. This was informative. I liked your tips about traveling. Thank you for sharing your suggestions.

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