How to pack light – Yes, you can do it. Yes, even YOU.

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I'm a reformed over-packer. I can recall many many trips where I schlepped two checked bags plus a packed-to-the-gills carry-on PLUS a purse through the airport. Being a very frequent traveler has forced me to hone my packing skills and drastically pare down. Carting around a bunch of heavy, unwieldy bags when you're traveling is stressful. Packing light has definitely required a different comfort level and a different relationship with possessions but it's simplified travel and given me back a lot of time. 

How to pack light – Yes, you can do it. Yes, even YOU.


1. Get the right suitcase

I am a big fan of carry on only travel. It's taken me awhile to find my sweet spot and I think finding a great suitcase is what finally did it for me. This suitcase from Amazon is very similar to the one I've been using for the last (almost!) two years:

American Tourister has a great line of hard sided carry on luggage – a lot of it is Disney and Star Wars themed and who doesn't like that?

2. Commit to not checking bags when flying

Most airlines charge for checked bags. Southwest remains the exception. Most other carriers charge between $30-$60 per bag unless you've built up status with that airline. I fly Delta a lot and have achieved Platinum Medallion Status. I get free checked bags on Delta, which I sometimes take advantage of but I still prefer to carry on. 

By the way, if you're checking bags and are worried about weight, invest in a travel scale. And, make sure you know the weight limit per bag. This varies by airline. 

My American Tourister bag is easy to maneuver through the airport and fits in the trunk of even the smallest car. It also fits perfectly into the overhead space on airplanes. Getting the right bag and packing as if I'm going carry on only (even if I sometimes check) has helped me pack light.

2. Use Packing Cubes

If you're unaccustomed to packing light, try packing cubes. They're great for keeping your clothes organized and especially great if you're sharing a suitcase with someone else. I usually use one small packing cube for my lingerie and another for shirts and accessories. I don't normally use packing cubes for larger items such as jeans or shoes but you can do whatever works for you.

An added bonus of packing cubes when you're traveling with a family is that they help with hotel room organization…just make sure everyone has their own color of packing cube. 

How to pack light|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

3. Small size toiletries Are where its at

I'm semi high maintenance. My bathroom cabinet contains a bevy of hair and skin products. While I don't wear much makeup, I'm a serial lipstick addict.

I pare way down when I travel, especially if I'm flying. I don't like to check bags so in order to successfully manage carry on only, all my toiletries and cosmetics have to be the small sizes.

I'm also usually willing to do without a product while I'm traveling. I might love my four-step nighttime skincare ritual when I'm at home but I can do without it when I'm traveling. If you really have to have the things you use at home, invest in some travel sized bottles and put your regular products into them. I have this set:

If you have any sort of beauty subscription box – in the past I've subscribed to both Ipsy and Birchbox – and their sample cosmetics are awesome for travel. The travel/trial size section at Walmart or your local drugstore also has some handy small-size products. I regularly snag deoderdant, sunscreen, and dry shampoo. 

4. Pack the clothes you need

You might be thinking DUH. But hear me out on this one. Look at your itinerary. Even if you have a loosey goosey trip planned, you probably have some idea of what you'll be doing each day and what kind of clothes you need to wear. Pack those clothes. Only those clothes. 

It's not that difficult. 

And, if the words “just in case” cross your mind while you're packing, then keep reading. This next one's for you.

How to pack light|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

5. Forget about “just in case.”

I'm going to pack this extra pair of shoes just in case we go dancing. What are the odds there will be dancing? Better than 70 percent? OK, maybe. If you're going to a national park to hike you think there will be a random dance party that warrants your Jimmy Choos? No.

I'm going to pack an extra dress just in case I feel like I need some more choices. No. No, you don't. 

I'm gonna pack a turtleneck sweater because the Bahamas could get a freak snowstorm in July. So much no.  

Pack for what you know you're going to do. If something with your trip goes off script, you'll adapt. Don't carry around extra stuff for the “just in cases” that probably won't happen. 

Also, this is another reason to pack versatile clothes. I have a black sleeveless knit dress works as a bathing suit cover up and evening wear.  

6. Wear your bulky items

Wear your coats, jackets and boots on the plane. Hiking or snow boots aren't always fun to wear on the plane but they give you lots of space in your bag. 

How to pack light|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

7. Pick clothes that do Double duty 

A scarf or sweater that doubles as an airline blanket.

A kimono that works as a bathing suit cover up and an evening wrap.

When traveling, I favor plain, unadorned clothing. Black tee shirt dresses. A couple of neutral colored tee shirts. One pair of jeans. You can change the look of your clothes with different jewelry or a scarf if you need to. 

Another how to pack light hack I like is packing dark colored prints. These are great if you have kids that spill things on you because nothing shows and you can probably wear it again. 

8. Get a little dirty

Does the thought of wearing something twice (or more) without laundering make you clutch your pearls? This might not be for you. Depending on your planned activities, how active you're going to be and, let's be real, how much you sweat, maybe you can wear that shirt twice in one trip.

Don't get me wrong, I like good personal hygiene as much as the next girl but if it means a more room in my bag, you betcha I'm willing to Febreze it or put my shirt on the hotel balcony to let it air out. 

And, one pair of jeans. You can survive for a week on one pair of jeans. 

9. Don't pack more than five days worth of clothes

If you're traveling for more than five days, figure out what your laundry options are. Most higher end hotels offer laundry service and most mid-range or budget hotels have self-service washer/dryers. You can also pack a small plastic bag of detergent and do laundry in your sink or rinse out your socks and underwear in the shower. Most of the time, it's clean enough. 

How to pack light|Ripped Jeans and Bifocals

10. You don't need all those shoes

Shoes are the bulkiest, heaviest things you can pack so limit yourself to a couple of pairs, depending on your planned activities. If you are dressing up, a pair of black or nude heels (pick one) go with everything. If your trip is more casual, you can get away with a pair of sneakers and maybe a pair of sandals. Even if you're going out to dinner, a dress paired with some cute sneakers can work. 

I try to pack two pairs of shoes, max. Sometimes I sneak a third pair in but I really try not to. These are the shoes I most often travel in:

They can be worn in the water (although they take a bit to dry) and for light hikes. I've worn them with dresses/rompers before and while they're not super cute, they pass. People probably aren't going to be looking at your feet, anyway.

My most recent find is these JBU Mary Janes:

They're sort of similar to the Teva sandals (but cuter) but they're not as sturdy. 

But seriously…you don't need all those shoes. Look at what you're going to be doing and find something that works with everything. If you travel often, it's probably worth it to invest in a pair of travel shoes you can live with.

11. Know what your hotel offers

I always look online to see what kind of amenities are offered where I'm staying. I want to know if there's a laundry room, what the coffee situation is, and what kind of toiletries come with the room. This impacts what I pack. I like my familiar brand of body lotion but if a hotel provides lotion, I can make do with that for a few days. 

I'm not above calling and asking about what kind of toiletries are standard stock and what's available if you forget something. Most hotels offer some kind of courtesy kit if you forget your toothbrush or razor. It probably won't be the greatest quality but for a few days, do you really care?

12. Buy it there

I usually buy things like sunscreen, insect repellent, and snacks once I get where I'm going. If you're driving, you can obviously pack more stuff, but if you're flying and want to conserve space, full size products and food take up lots of precious space. Unless I'm going super remote or to a foreign country, I rely on being able to find a Walmart, a CVS or something similar that can get me the things I need. 

When I was traveling with my son before he was potty trained, I used to pack only enough diapers/pullups to get me through the first day. Sometimes I Googled stores within walking distance of my hotel to make sure I knew where to go to get essentials. 

13. Clean out your purse and/or wallet

My wallet contains two forms of ID, my insurance card, my debit card, my credit card, my other credit card, my Costco card, the credit card that goes with the Costco card, my business credit card, my loyalty card for the place where I get my nails done and a couple of business cards from people I met at this event I went to last week.

My purse isn't much better. I have several Chapsticks, loose change, mints, nail file, an extra charging cable. 

You get the idea. 

You probably don't need to cart all this stuff on a trip, now do you? Especially all those credit cards. I take identification, one credit card and insurance info. It lightens my load and if something happens, I don't have a bazillion things to call and cancel.

14. the best hack for how to pack light? Hide your purse

I have a small crossbody bag I've had for about 12 years. It holds my wallet, my phone, and a few extras. It's pretty much my everyday purse but it's so perfect for traveling. Most airlines allow you a carry on and a personal item. Since I don't check my bags, I carry on my suitcase and a backpack with my camera/computer equipment. I like when my husband comes places with me because he can schlep more of my camera stuff. But, I still like to have a purse for running around wherever I'm going. I make sure I leave room in my backpack for my purse, and I stuff it in there before I board the plane. 

This purse is similar to the one I have:


I hope this is helpful for anyone who wants to learn how to pack light. I'd love to hear what your questions are was well as what YOUR tips are for how to pack light. 

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