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Ten Tricks for Packing Light

Ten Tricks for Packing Light

It blows my mind how often I see tourists reduced to begging help off burly-looking guys to get their bags overhead on a train or up a staircase because their luggage is so heavy, they can’t even lift it. Don’t be that tourist; instead be a traveler who is light on their fit and able to shift gears at a moment’s notice without worrying about a giant suitcase. 

Packing light equals freedom for the backpacker; everything you need for three weeks or three months of travel can fit in one carry-on size bag (9 x 22 x 14), I promise. An ounce in the morning feels like a pound at night, and once you travel light, you will never, ever go back to the days of a heavy suitcase with too much stuff. You don’t need it, and the feeling of carrying everything you need to survive on your back is exhilarating. The feeling of dragging a cumbersome bag over cobblestone streets in Greece or on top of desert sand in the American southwest? Not so much. 

How do you pack light? As a girl who lived out of one backpack for six months in New Zealand, here are some tricks to fit your life onto your back.


  1. Use a smaller bag. Duh. Buy one if you have to, because using a larger bag than necessary is not smart. If your bag is carry-on size, it will be impossible for you NOT to pack light. I am a huge fan of the backpack as opposed to the rolling suitcase; I like to have my hands free and often walk on surfaces where wheels don’t roll. Don’t forget that many hostels have laundry facilities and you can also wash out undies and socks in the sink.
  2. Don’t pack items you can easily buy overseas, like a huge stash of snacks or a giant tube of toothpaste. Take small bottles of toiletries, and when you run out you can enjoy the experience of shopping for and trying Italian shampoo or Greek shaving cream.
  3. Color coordinate all of your outfits. Everything should match everything and this way you can stretch your supplies.
  4. Plan ahead. Pack at the last minute and you will set yourself up to bring things you don’t need and forget the things that you do. Set out everything ahead of time, and cull, cull, cull. If you don’t think you will wear or use something more than three times, don’t bring it.
  5. Don’t pack jeans. They are heavy and take forever to dry if you are line-drying laundry or get them wet in a rainstorm. I wear jeans at home, but when I travel I opt for lightweight fabrics, especially in the summer.
  6. Leave some room in your bag for souvenirs you pick up along the way. I love buying clothes in other countries so I usually pack just a couple tops and pick up more as I travel. Functional souvenirs are much better than some junky crap that sits on a shelf anyway.
  7. Roll clothes to help prevent wrinkles and/or use packing cubes or compression bags to minimize bulk. I use one bag for toiletries, one for socks and underwear, and one for miscellaneous stuff like my iPod charger and first-aid kit.
  8. Don’t pack camping gear unless you are going to camp.
  9. Choose shoes wisely. Always wear your heaviest, bulkiest pair on the plane. Flip-flops are a must for manky showers, and then depending on your destination, you might want a pair of hiking sandals or heels for the ladies.
  10. When you pack, don’t think about what you might need, but rather what you can do without. For example, if you are traveling in fall and think you might need a coat but probably not, leave it at home. Worst-case scenario is that you have to buy an emergency coat and come home with a parka from Parma, but that is still better than lugging around a heavy coat for two weeks that you 

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