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  • Carrie Cochran

10 Expert Tips for Traveling Light



We've all been there. Staring down at a stuffed suitcase that refuses to hold your 10-day wardrobe or silently willing the airport scale to magically erase five pounds from your luggage. Neither situation presents a good start to your trip.


Thankfully, some easy planning tips can erase all those packing troubles while still allowing you to bring a killer wardrobe (and all the essentials) on your next vacation. These tips apply whether you're trying to avoid baggage fees or just need to downsize for tight spaces.


Here are 10 of the best light-packing tips to keep your luggage in check.


1. Use a Packing List

You may shrug this off as obvious, but when was the last time you actually used a packing list?

Before you even pull out your suitcase, make a physical list of everything you think you'll need for the trip. Carry the list with you for a day and write things down as you use them to get ready or see them, so you don't overlook them when the time comes. Think through the weather, your planned activities, what travel documents you'll need, and whether you'll be taking extra electronics for entertainment.


In this article, USA Today has some other useful tips, such as starting with the main categories that you fill in to make sure all areas of need are on the list.


When your packing list is made, analyze it. Question everything and cross off non-essentials. Once your list is complete, stick to it.


2. Start with a Small Suitcase

Starting small forces you to analyze your items and prevents you from filling up extra space with non-essentials.

If you have a couple of suitcases, start your packing with the smallest bag you think you can get away with. Why? Because if you have extra space in your suitcase, chances are you'll go ahead and just fill it up with additional items. This is a big no-no if you tend to push the baggage weight limit or will be carrying your luggage around extensively. Avoid the temptation by starting small and only upgrade to a larger bag if you deem it absolutely essential.


If you do have to take the big bag, stick to your packing list and leave the extra space. If you're underweight at the airport, now you have room for souvenirs.


Another bonus of starting small is that a smaller suitcase is usually lighter than a bigger one unless you've purchased a special lightweight bag. Once again, this will help keep your weighty baggage issues under control.


3. Analyze Everything

Think must-have, not nice-to-have.

I know from experience how easy it is to pack something "just in case." But if you're trying to pack light, you can't afford to do that. Rather than think of worst-case scenarios for your trip or what may happen, pack for the best-case situation and stick to the essentials.


If you're going to a mountain cabin, do you really need two coats and a jacket? And if you're at the beach, how likely are you to actually use your snorkeling gear? If there's a good chance these extra items will just sit around taking up space, leave them at home and just pick the essentials.


The nice thing about the modern world is that if you find out you do actually need something, you can likely buy or rent it nearby for minimal cost and zero packing hassle.


4. Pick a Color Scheme

Mix-and-match is the new black.

Rather than throwing all of your favorite tops and bottoms into a bag at random, consider your trip itinerary and develop a color scheme to determine which items you bring.


For example, over Christmas, I was gone for 11 days. I chose a color scheme of burgundy, black, gray, and Millenium pink. My packing list included blue jeans, black, burgundy, and pink pants, and several sweaters in black, gray, burgundy, and pink. By mixing and matching my tops and bottoms, I had a full 11-day wardrobe without packing 11 individual outfits or wearing an outfit twice. This also allowed me to minimize my jewelry, shoes, and accessories.


So what about you? Beach vacation? Think whites and bright-colored solids. Fall road trip? Embrace the color pallet of the leaves! Pastel colors are also an excellent choice for almost any time of year because they're so easy to mix-and-match.


Whatever your trip or color preference, pick 3-5 colors that coordinate well and develop a vacation wardrobe that utilizes versatile items from that color scheme. Feel free to throw in prints if you can match them to a solid counterpart, as well. Don't forget to review your items as multiple outfits to ensure that you have enough of specific colors and unpatterned options.


Once you've picked out your garments, hone in on a few accessories that match each potential outfit well, and you'll have a killer vacay wardrobe.


5. Limit Yourself to One Week of Clothing

Doing laundry away from home is okay.


Now that you have your color-coordinated outfits planned, stop. How many potential outfits do you have from these items, and how many individual pieces are you packing? If you have ten pairs of pants and 14 different shirts, you need to downsize, no matter how long your trip is.


Because it's okay to do laundry while you're away! If you tend to face overweight baggage fees, wouldn't it be better to pay a couple of dollars for laundry instead? Or save yourself from lugging eight extra pounds around the airport and your hotel?


So rather than pack 2 weeks' worth of clothes for a 2-week trip, cut your items down to half. If you've packed versatile clothing, you can still have 14 different outfits, but you only need a few bottoms and shirts to make it happen.


I (and many other frequent travelers) recommend planning to wear each pair of pants 2x in a week and throwing in up to 8 coordinating shirts, depending on the potential weather and when you'll be able to do laundry.


6. Know that 3 Pairs of Shoes is Enough

Choose shoes that are comfortable and versatile.

Guys always seem to effortlessly cruise through a vacation with a pair of tennis shoes and flipflops, but I know the urge can be strong for us girls to pack shoes for every outfit. And if you are a guy who has 5 favorite pairs of tennis shoes or Sperrys, this rule is for you, too.


Whatever your vacation plans, if you pack smart, you should only need three pairs of shoes for your trip. The Style Safari has a wonderful in-depth tutorial on the "Three Shoe Rule" for women that I really enjoyed, and you can check it out here if you like.


As a general rule, you want one pair of nice, adaptable tennis shoes that you could use for working out or as your comfortable walking shoe, one fancy pair of shoes if you're planning a night out, and then one versatile casual shoe (flip flops for the beach or boots for winter, etc.).


If possible, wear your heaviest shoes to the airport to cut down on your suitcase weight. And remember, the 3 Shoe Rule works best if 1) you've planned outfits with a color scheme and 2) your shoes are neutral enough to switch between outfits. Keep both points in mind as you plan your wardrobe!


7. Roll Your Clothes

It keeps clothes compact and organized.

If you haven't tried rolling your clothes to save space, it's time to give it a go. It may be the key to fitting into that smaller suitcase! Rolling your clothes is the most compact method of packing and often prevents wrinkling except in certain fabrics. Keep in mind that thicker items like jeans won't roll quite as well, but most shirts, socks, etc. do very well at rolling up small without wrinkling.


Rolling your clothes also has the added benefit of organization because you can keep similar items in a nice row and see more of your clothing choices at once. Win-win!


8. Invest in Travel Cubes or Compression Bags

Cubes offer organization and limit overpacking, while compression bags provide room for more items.

Two more excellent space-saving alternatives are travel cubes and compression bags! You can effortlessly get an inexpensive set of either from Amazon or many other online stores.


Travel cubes usually come in a set of 4-7 bags of varying sizes, and for small suitcases, they're definitely the way to go. They're great for keeping your items organized and fairly unwrinkled, as well as committing you to bring only as much as they hold. Plus, they're versatile enough to fit into your suitcase or carry-on many ways. Play around with them and see which option fits all your necessities the best.


If you're struggling with bulky clothing, consider compression bags instead. These vacuum-seal bags either have a one-way valve to suck out the air or utilize a rolling technique to squeeze it all out before you seal the bag. Either way, they remove all the excess air from sweaters, coats, etc. and bring those towering piles down to a couple of inches. In a pinch, you can also use gallon-sized freezer bags to compress sweaters, socks, or underwear!


The main setback with these is that compression bags tend to wrinkle your clothes as the air compresses. Also, keep in mind that a smaller pile doesn't mean less weight! If you have a suitcase full of compressed clothing, be sure to double-check your luggage weight before heading to the airport.


9. Reduce Your Toiletry Sizes

Less is more when it comes to liquids in your bag.

Planning what toiletries to take can get really tricky for long trips. How much of each item do you need? Will you even use it during the time that you're gone? What if it weighs a lot? What happens if you run out? Aah!


Rather than overthink (and overpack), remember that you can easily find all your necessary toiletries almost anywhere in the world. Worst case scenario: if you run out of shampoo and toothpaste in Spain, Costa Rica, China, etc., they still have drug stores. And most hotels offer complimentary toiletries that you can use in a pinch for free.


But the smartest thing to do is just reduce your toiletries from the start.


If you and a travel buddy or spouse can share something, do it! Daniel and I often share shampoo, conditioner, contact solution, toothpaste, body wash, and face wash on our trips, cutting some of the heaviest toiletries in half.


I also highly recommend getting a "convenience kit" for short trips or really tight packing situations. These TSA approved kits include a wide selection of personal hygiene items that can go in your carry-on and usually only measure about 7"x5".


Or just make your own travel kit. I have several TSA-approved bottles that I can fill and label if I want to downsize a large body wash, shampoo, or even my make-up remover. I use these for road trips just as much as flights. You can find these at Wal-Mart for just a couple of bucks, along with plenty of travel-sized items.


10. Wear Your Largest or Heaviest Items While Traveling

You can save space, weight, or both.

Whether you're bustling through the airport or taking a road trip, give your bag some leeway by wearing your heaviest shoes or your big fluffy coat. Unless you plan to sprint at some point, you won't notice your heavy shoes, and you might appreciate having your jacket or sweater on the chilly plane.


Just think it through and determine which initial outfit will allow you to meet your light-packing goal the best.

Thanks for stopping by the Mandala Traveler for these 10 light-packing tips! If you have questions, please post them below, and if you enjoyed this article, don't forget to like and share it with the buttons below!


If you want to join the Mandala Traveler community for weekly tips and trips, you can sign up at the top of the page.


Happy travels!

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