pack light

How to Easily Pack Light For a Trip

Have you ever spent hours and hours packing for a trip? Have you ever packed tons of stuff you never actually ended up using on your trip? Don’t worry, I can relate. I would always intend to pack light, but as soon as I started packing, I wouldn’t know what to leave behind.

I would start to doubt my decisions and start adding more and more things to my suitcase “just in case.”

Sometimes it would be that I would worry about having enough wardrobe options based on the weather or activities on our trip. Sometimes I would start adding additional items for my kids to help them stay occupied.

Whatever it was, I would add and add and add until I had so much stuff I didn’t know how it was all going to fit in my luggage. I would either have to pack more bags than I intended, or I would spend even more time trying to pare-down so everything would fit.

Such a waste of time and money!

How to Pack Light For a Trip with Minimalist Packing

Over time, I made some changes to the way I pack and learned the best way to pack light for travel. My minimalist lifestyle has definitely made this easier and less overwhelming.

But more than that, I’ve learned what is essential for any trip, and what I need to leave behind. Now that I know this, it takes the guesswork out of packing and I use a packing checklist for every trip.

Packing light doesn’t sacrifice comfort or style. However, it requires a little extra thought and planning. Let me show you how to easily pack light for your next trip.

If you are in the process of planning an upcoming trip, might I suggest you check out my traveling like a minimalist post? My post gives you practical packing and travel planning tips to help you be intentional with your time and space, without causing exhaustion and overwhelm.

It even includes a workbook to help you plan your ideal vacation so that you have time for what’s most important to you while leaving time for rest and relaxation.

FREE 3-page travel planning workbook! Use this workbook to plan your next trip or vacation. List everything you must-see, must-do, and must-eat on your next trip. Check them off when they are booked or purchased, and record the date and time of each adventure! Intentional Travel Planning ~Practigal Blog

When I go on a trip now, no matter how long, I do my best to pack everything I need in my carry-on. Why? Because it’s so much easier to travel without lugging around luggage!

I now fit everything I need into my carry-on, besides the items I want with me on the plane. I keep a book, laptop, headphones, phone, and notebook in my personal item (which is just a large purse).

You Have To Pack Smart

If you are wondering how it’s possible to pack for longer trips in just a carry-on, you’re not alone. Here is the key to minimalist packing: you have to pack smart. Start with a travel packing list to see what you’re going to need.

There is no room for non-essentials. You have to consider bringing only what you know for a fact you will use. Also, take into consideration what you could buy when you get there.

On our most recent trip, we didn’t pack sunscreen. This was partly because we didn’t know how much we would need, and partially because we knew we could easily and inexpensively purchase some there.

I also left my hairdryer at home after confirming with my stepmom that I could use hers. The same thing applies to items provided by your hotel.

Another part of packing smart is packing neatly. Put shoes in a bag so they don’t get clothes dirty. Place all liquids in a sealed plastic bag to avoid spills wreaking havoc on your suitcase.

Also, you will get more out of your suitcase’s space if you fold clothing nicely or roll them up tightly. A poorly packed suitcase simply holds less.

You Have To Pack Only The Essentials

The second key to minimalist packing is to only pack essentials.

You may be wondering what is considered essential for your trip. But first, it’s easier if begin by mentioning what you should definitely consider leaving behind. You should probably leave the following items at home:

  • Anything you are unsure you will use
  • Any consumable items (food or toiletries) that you can easily AND inexpensively purchase on your trip
  • Clothing that doesn’t fit the weather
  • Clothing that doesn’t match the activities you planned
  • Clothing that doesn’t coordinate with at least 3 other pieces
  • Duplicates (i.e. multiple eye shadow colors, multiple sneakers, multiple jackets)

So, what are the essentials? In many ways, the essentials are the opposite of my non-essential list above. But here, I will be a little more specific. Here are what I see as essentials:

Essential Personal Care Items

Although we need personal care items, you have to ask when will we need them. Can you get them when you arrive?

Toiletries are bulky and take up extra space. Using ziploc bags or a toiletry bag can aid in organization and space-saving.

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush or comb
  • Soap or body wash, facial cleanser
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair product
  • Razor
  • Makeup (select one neutral look)
  • Sunscreen
  • Prescription meds

Essential Clothing Items

Consider packing clothes in compression bags or small bags like packing folders or packing cubes to keep the size of your items minimal.

  • Undergarments
  • Pajamas
  • Tops/shirts (i.e. tank, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt, blouse)
  • Layers (i.e. cardigan, sweatshirt, jacket, coat)
  • Bottoms (i.e. pants, jeans, leggings, skirt, shorts)
  • Swimwear (ie bathing suit, sarong, flip flops)
  • Purse or bag
  • Footwear (i.e. sneakers, sandals, flats, heels, boots)

Other possible essentials (depending on weather and activities planned): dress, swimsuit, sunglasses, accessories

Other Essential Items

  • Travel documents and ID
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Phone, charger, earbuds

Essential and Versatile Clothing

When it comes to clothing items, you need to pack only the essentials. And, you need to select mix-and-match pieces that can be used to create multiple outfits. For me, this part is easy now because I have a capsule wardrobe.

A capsule wardrobe is a smaller, pared-down wardrobe of only items you absolutely love and are versatile. Ideally, a capsule would also only include items that are timeless and of high quality.

Dressing from a capsule wardrobe saves you so much time picking out outfits, so much money on your clothing budget, and so much space in your closet! If you are interested in creating your first capsule wardrobe, you need to get my e-book.

My capsule wardrobe e-book walks you through the process of creating a capsule wardrobe, including decluttering your closet, defining your style, shopping your closet and stores for the pieces you need, and putting together a multitude of outfits.

Become an insider today to get my free 16-page ebook: How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe That Works For You! ~Practigal Blog, free printables, printable, download

Packing Light With Versatile Clothing

Having a capsule wardrobe makes it easy to pack light. When you have a capsule wardrobe, you simply select pieces that fit the weather of the place you are visiting and work for the types of activities you are going to do.

It’s easy to pack light because you already know that the pieces you select will work well together. If you don’t have a capsule wardrobe, you will need to essentially create one (even if just for your trip) in order to pack light.

This just means you need to choose pieces from your wardrobe that work well for the weather and activities at the place you are visiting, as well as are versatile so that you can mix and match to make many outfits.

If you stick to mostly neutral clothing with a couple pops of color, you will be golden. For example, you could select pieces that are black, gray, and white for the basics.

To make things interesting, add in one or two accent colors so that pieces can be mixed and matched. I use blush and olive for accents in my capsule.

Note: every piece you pack doesn’t need to go with every other piece. I recommend that any item you pack should coordinate with at least three other pieces for optimal versatility.

Mix and Match Clothes Ideas for a 10-Day Trip

When I go on a 10-day trip, I bring only the essential clothing pieces I mentioned above. I ensure that everything I bring makes sense with my destination’s weather and the activities I have planned.

Take a look at what I brought on my last 10-day trip for some mix and match clothes ideas:

With these pieces, I was able to come up with 10+ outfits! Here are 10 of the possible outfits:

Need Help Putting Together Outfits?

Let Cladwell Do The Work For You

So, I’ve found an awesome app that helps you put together numerous outfits with what you have! It’s called Cladwell, and it’s exclusively for iOS devices. You need to check it out.

It is so quick and simple to set up. In a matter of a couple of minutes, I was set up with an account and could see all of the clothing options with my capsule. From there, the app instantly puts together a myriad of outfits for you.

Don’t know what to wear?

Simply open the Cladwell app and it has 3 outfit suggestions for you each day FROM YOUR CLOSET, which you can edit to your liking! And, if you let the app know your location, it will even suggest outfits based on the current weather.


What Else Can Cladwell Do For You?

Even more, I can easily see which pieces in my capsule are just not working since it tracks how many times I’ve worn each article of clothing. So at the end of a season, I know exactly what to get rid of (and possibly replace with something I love more or is more versatile).

The Cladwell app has been a game-changer for me. On the days when I still feel stuck and don’t know what to wear, Cladwell makes it easy for me to get new outfit inspiration so that I NEVER get bored dressing from a smaller capsule wardrobe. 

The Cladwell app also helps you easily organize your clothes into separate capsules, such as warm and cold weather capsules and/or work and home capsules.

And if you need help creating a capsule, Cladwell has you covered with numerous resources to help you clean out your closet, discover your best colors, and more!

If you have an upcoming trip, you can actually save the clothes you are packing in a separate category. That way, you can easily see the outfits that can be made with just those items!

I highly encourage you to use Cladwell before your next vacation.

Final Thoughts

Every little bit of space helps when you’re packing light. Forget the “just in case” items and maximize your space by filling every nook and cranny.

Get your packing lists to the bare essentials and stay organized. Pack important documents and travel documents in your carry-on or purse so you don’t have to worry about lost luggage. Keep your luggage light enough to carry everything you need without feeling weighed down.

You can fit everything you need for a 10-day trip in a carry-on with the right packing techniques. Pack smart by bringing only the essentials, including clothing that can be mixed and matched.

Do this, and you will be able to pack light. You will be able to pack for a 10-day trip (or longer!) with only a carry-on and personal item!

Do you find it difficult to pack light? If so, did you find this post helpful? Let me know in the comments!














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  1. Omg, that first part of this article – I felt like you got into my brain and wrote about me hahaha! So yes – thank you for this in-depth guidlines on how to pack! I will definitely use it!

    1. LOL, Monika! I’m sure many women can relate. 😉 And you are so welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful.

    1. Thanks, Ivie! I know what you mean. Having a list helps, and so does not waiting until the last minute!

  2. I cannot seem to pack lightly to save my life! Question: how do you get away with wearing the same shirt twice without washing? Usually when I’m traveling, I’m more active than usual and sweating up a storm, so by the end of the day, I can’t imagine wanting to wear that shirt again… Ideas??

    1. Hi, Laura! Thanks for the question. I guess you’ll have to do laundry? Most hotels and even some campgrounds have laundry facilities. Otherwise, dress in layers so that you can take off outer layers when you get too hot.

    1. Thanks, Ann Catherine! I would love to try backpacking. Let me know how it goes!

    1. I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Thanks for taking the time to comment. 😊

  3. I used to be hopeless when it came to packing light. I’m getting much better. There’s some good tips here, I’ll put these into practise for my trip to NY this weekend. Thanks

    1. Sometimes these things just take time…live and learn, right? You are so welcome. I hope you have a wonderful trip to NY!

  4. Listen! I started packing light after a really embarrassing situation occurred because of packing heavy. I have never gone back! We went to our wedding and honeymoon in Paris with one carryon each! We had wedding dress/suit, wedding shoes, everything! And! It was in early spring so it was still nippy and we had bulkyish clothes. I love it!

    1. La Shell, that’s amazing! That’s such amazing proof that it is totally possible. Thanks for sharing that!

  5. Hello Sheila,

    great tips. Uh, that can be real problem, because I always have a small bag and I lot of stuffs.
    It’s always difficult for me to decide which things are a priority 🙂

    Thank you

  6. Packing light is the best way to travel! I cant manage carrying and worrying about a huge backpack all over the world! I love my trekking day pack which holds around 7-8kgs and can fit on board with me in carry one. I have also upgraded my laptop from 15 to 13 in size so that it is lighter to carry and also fits easily in my day bag. Great advice on your blog especially the minimalist approach to travel!

    1. That’s perfect! I’ve never backpacked before, but that works too. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cherie!

  7. Very helpful! To me the fabric of clothes I bring matters too. Lightweight, quick to hang dry without wrinkling and a bar of laundry soap which won’t count as liquid. Upcoming 8 day trip to Stockholm and I’m bringing only a carry on. I found plastic hangers that fold up and can wash items in hotel. Light travel is so liberating!

    1. Thanks, Cat! Those are some great tips, too. Thanks for sharing! I agree…it’s SO freeing to travel light!

  8. I nix the shampoo, conditioner and soap because almost all hotels will have those. It’s a different story if you’re on your own camping or staying in youth hostels. I do pack facial wash. I also try to keep to two pairs of shoes if possible. Using a neutral wardrobe helps with that. And always wear the bulkiest items on the plane if you’re flying like the boots and the sweater. You’ll be glad you had the sweater on the plane.

    1. Great tips, Robin! Thanks for sharing with us. I do some of the same things…and I ALWAYS wear my bulkiest pieces and wear layers on the plane. If you get hot, you can always take them off, but I’m usually cold!

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