How to Pack Light and Cull Your Travel Packing

It is the end of another enjoyable holiday, of which the only part I don’t really enjoy is re-packing my suitcase to travel back home.  As I empty the hotel wardrobe packing each item into my luggage, I note how many shirts, shoes and accessories I haven’t even worn.  Oh, how I wish I had packed lighter.  Learning how to pack light is an art and takes time.

As each trip passes, I get a little smarter at this whole packing lighter thing, but I’m still not quite there yet.  So this much I do know on how to pack light for a holiday or vacation.

How to pack light for travel

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7 Travel Tips on How to Pack Lighter

Things have changed since I first travelling as a backpacker 20 years ago.  No longer am a singleton, but now a mum with a husband and commitments at home.  I don’t travel for extended periods anymore, we as a family can only afford (financially and time-wise) to take one or two holidays per year.

However, I found these seven ways to help determine how much I should pack for a holiday or vacation and thereby help me to pack less in my luggage.

The Size of The Luggage

Basically the bigger your suitcase the more you will put into it.  Many years ago I gleefully bought a really huge suitcase thinking now I can take all sorts of clothing.  Well, you know what?  I never wore all that clothing, plus the luggage was so big what if it was filled it weighed more than the Occupational Health and Safety standard of 32 kg, meaning that one the airline staff would not pick it up and the excess luggage fees.

So to start you on your way with packing lighter choose a smaller piece of luggage.

TOP TRIP TIP:  To help lighten your travel bag further choose a lightweight piece of luggage.  Like these ones.


Time Away

As the length of my travel time has altered I have noticed that how much I pack is reflected by how long I travel.  This does not mean the longer I travel the more I pack in my suitcase.  Actually, it is quite the opposite.

When I backpacked for six months around Europe I only took enough clothes for three days.  I hand washed daily.  I never saw the same people for more than a few days so what did it matter that the same T-shirt came out every three days.  The added bonus – fewer items packed to carry on my back.

These days I tend to take two-week holiday breaks.  I don’t have two weeks worth clothes but I do have about a week’s worth.  So I pack for a week and do a wash at the laundrette mid holiday.  These holidays are all about having a break from life and that includes the housework, so I’m not interested in daily hand washing.

TOP TRIP TIP: Pack according to your length of travel.  Grab one of these nifty handwashing tools so you can pack fewer clothes.


Type of holiday/travel

As you can start to see the type of holiday you have planned will affect what you pack in your luggage.

When backpacking you may only want a minimal amount of things to carry.  Possibly are doing more adventurous activities and on the go daily.  Compared to a resort holiday or cruise where you are likely to be relaxing throughout the day with the occasional sightseeing day, then need a selection of different items to wear for the evenings.

TOP TRIP TIP: Choose items of clothing to match your planned activities day and night.

Travel Wardrobe

Even though you may want a different outfit for each day, the trick is to condense that amount of clothing, shoes and accessories into one suitcase.  The answer is learning to mix and match your travel wardrobe.

Instead of dresses choose skirts/pants and tops.  Look at skirts with several colours, then plain coloured tops and scarves.  Or the other way around – plain skirts/pants with colourful tops.  Choose one pair of dress shoes that will go with all outfits.  Using a scarf can eliminate the need for jewellery or just take one or two necklaces to jazz up your plain tops.

If you are really trying to save space/weight in your travel bag consider reversible jackets, skirts, scarves/pashminas and pants that zip off at the knees to become shorts (just remember to zip the bottom half back on for the wash so it all fades at the same rate).

TOP TRIP TIP: Mix and match your travel wardrobe.

Share Items

Now you will need more than just clothes when you pack for your holiday.  There are things like the medical first aid kit and toiletries.  Many of these items you can share with your travel companions.

You will only need one basic first aid kit for the entire travelling party plus personal medications.  Then start to look at sharing toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, insect repellent and sunscreen.

TOP TRIP TIP: Only pack one item of anything you can share with your travel companion

Travel size toiletries

Other toiletry items may be for just you, like your skincare range.  Some skin care companies make travel size options or you can create your own by purchasing empty travel size containers located in the toiletry aisle of the supermarket.

Of course, consider how long you are travelling for or how often you will use that product during your holiday.  For example, if you need to wash your hair daily for two weeks perhaps purchasing the smaller size shampoo bottle against the bulky money-saving version is the way to lighten your travel bag.

TOP TRIP TIP: Buy travel size items or create your own to add to your toiletries kit.

Check What is Supplied by Your Accommodation

One final thing to check before you pack your travel bag – look at what your accommodation provides.  Most holiday accommodations provide hair dryers, shower gel, and moisturiser (OK I admit it’s possibly not the best quality) but hey we’re trying to lighten your travel bag 🙂

Lastly, don’t forget that they do have shops at your destination so you can always buy when you get there.

TOP TRIP TIP: Leave any items that you accommodation supplies at home.

Look I still make mistakes and pack items I don’t wear or use throughout my trip.  But it’s a learning thing – it always will be.  Life circumstances are ever evolving, continually changing, as such the editing and culling of your travel packing list will forever alter as you try to lighten the load.

If you are looking for the ultimate packing checklist Go HERE.  You can even download your own copy 🙂

Get you Ultimate Packing List HERE

Do you have any travel tips to pack lighter?

How to pack light for travel and lighten your travel packing

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Toddlers On Tour

Hi, I'm a Perth born and bred travel tips blogger/writer with 20+ years experience in airlines, hospitality and tourism. I love sharing my travel lessons learned to help you plan for travel with my travel tips for trips. Please follow along to receive all my travel planning tips and destination inspirations.

26 Responses to “How to Pack Light and Cull Your Travel Packing

  • Now that I’d be doing laundry for an entire family, I definitely try to pack at least 5 days worth of clothes. On our last trip, I thought I’d done a good job of mixing and matching combos, but I still ended up with 1 unworn outfit by the time we returned home. My son is off in cold Washington DC right now. I really wanted him to pack light, but the requirement of bringing dress shoes, dress clothes + casual clothes and then 2 coats (layered because 1 Texas-worthy coat isn’t warm enough for DC) caused him to bring a bigger bag than desired.

    • I’m completely put off by doing hand washing for the whole family as well Michele, that’s why I too bring enough clothes for about a week. But trying to pack light for cold climates is a real struggle.

  • Great tips. I always try to mix and match my clothes and my kids stuff but inevitably pack too many clothes. I always think ‘one more spare outfit can’t hurt’. Something I find frustrating is when hotels or resorts don’t tell you everything that will be in your room. I’m forever packing my hair dryer for no reason 🙄 Thanks for adding your top tips to #MondayEscapes

    • It’s pretty rare that a hair dryer isn’t included in any type of accommodation these days, Claire. But if I didn’t see it listed on the room amenities then I would assume there was no hairdryer. Frustrating because every little thing you add into your luggage adds to the over weight and airlines are now so strict with their luggage allowances.

  • Great tips. I LOVE packing light, but unfortunately I am married to someone who seems to need to take everything but the kitchen sink, and then we still manage to forget something important! 😀 #mondayescapes

  • I pack at least 5 days worth of clothes and always pack enough under ware for everyday, i don’t fancy hand washing knickers. I rarely take toiletries, can buy at destination or just use hotel items while I’m there. Most of my travel is to visit family and friends as I live in Dubai, with occasional weekend break with hubby, so most of my suitcase is usually full of gifts. #MondayEscapes

    • I loath handwashing too Suzanne and some hotels offer some exceptional quality in toiletries – I’ve even snuck some home in my suitcase.

  • Who unpacks into hotel wardrobes? – I never do.

    • Haha Lyn, I never use to unpack – I was never anywhere long enough. But now my travel style has altered and we base ourselves for a week or two in one place. So I unpack and hang any items that may crease.

  • Some good tips! I am a chronic over-packer, especially when it comes to medicine. I know pretty much everything I need will be available anywhere, but the barrier to GETTING it in a foreign country is enough for me to bring extra Imodium 😉

    • I like to pack the basic medications as well Amy. But just one box (or just a sheet from the packet) each of paracetamol, band aids, Imodium and Stemetil. I like to have just enough handy to start with and then I can always locate a chemist if it’s bad.

  • I must say travelling with hand bagging only is great in the heat in summer, however for a cold destination I don’t think I could do it, one pair of boots would fill my case! Love your suggestions #MondayEscapes

    • Packing for cold climates is always a bit more of a struggle to that suitcase light. However, the principles are much the same, one pair of boots (obviously you won’t need the strappy sandals 😉 ), one jacket and mix and match the layers.

  • As I am just trying to thing through my packing list for two months in Asia, I must say this article has been timed perfectly. For some reason I don’t want to take many clothes at all, and leaving towels, shower gels and shampoos home too-only taking them in travel size. I don’t think I’ve ever been travelling this light as I am planning this time.

    • Just remember Kreete, if you are travelling for two months you will need more than just a travel size version of shampoos. Asia is hot and humid, you may want to wash your hair daily. You may also want a sarong (handy for by the pool and when visiting temples, good walking sandals/all terrain shoes and lots of insect repellant – which you will use every evening.
      If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

  • I only ever really mess up packing when I travel in my own car. I always think, “Hey, there’s plenty of room in the back” and before I know it the back end is full to the ceiling. Thanks for linking in this week at #wkendtravelinspiration!

    • The illusion that you have more space and therefore can pack more can be a trap. I think the trick might be to set out all the items you need for your trip, then pack and remember not to add anymore even if there is more space. Good luck with the next road trip, Jim.

  • These are some great tips – I used to be a chronic overpacker (“but…I MIGHT need these strappy sandals in the Netherlands in December…”). Thankfully, I’ve got very good at minimising what I take – I recently went on a trip with friends for a weekend, who were all amazed that all I had was a small backpack! #wkendtravelinspiration

    • Well done on the culling Milly. Did your friends ask you for advice as to how they too could pack lighter? Or were you wishing you had packed those strappy sandals?

  • I had light packing down – then baby arrived and changed EVERYTHIG #wkdtravelinspiration

    • Trying to pack light with kids is always a challenge Leona. When my son was a baby I would pack nappies, formula and snacks for the duration of the holiday. Whilst this meant that on the outward bound journey my suitcase was full on the way home it was much lighter as those items were no longer in my suitcase. As for the toys I try to find multi-purpose things like sticker books with a story or Duplo cars that can be just a car game or add in a few more blocks for building.

  • I take minimal amounts – plain trousers and tops so mix and match. Always two pairs of sandals in summer after one broke a few years ago and left me in flip flops! I take solid shampoo etc bought from Lush in the UK – a really great way to take toiletries if not available in hotels. #theweeklypostcard

    • I’ve just checked out the Lush website Tracy. What a great idea – shampoo bars saving space and the chance of leakage.

  • I follow pretty much these tips in order to pack light. The more I travel, the less I take. Yes, I only take one week’s worth of clothes and do laundry if necessary. It is a good idea to avoid carrying paper (magazines and books) since they weight a lot and buying souvenirs at the end of the trip. #wkendtravelinspiration

    • I’m still a sucker for the paper mags and books Ruth. But I know that if I purchased the electronic versions this would save me so much space and weight.

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