When you’re traveling, aside from diseases, injury, and losing your passport, there is nothing worse than having too much stuff. I’ve been there, and come close to nearly throwing my bag in a river just to unburden myself of it.
With less stuff, you have more freedom. You don’t have to carry it, you don’t have to pay baggage fees, and you can just hop on local transportation at your destination instead of hauling your bag to a cab and paying more than you need to just to get to your hotel before you collapse in exhaustion.
Traveling light isn’t just for experienced travelers. You really don’t need much! Here are some of the best tips to get you started on your ultralight journey.
1. Leave those full-sized toiletries at home
You will not be gone long enough to use an entire bottle of shampoo. And if you are, just buy more at your destination. Not bringing along full-sized bottles translates to less weight to carry (liquids are heavy!), plus you automatically don’t have to check a bag!
2. Bring only 2-3 pairs of shoes
Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of room in your bag. Are you really going to wear 7 different pairs? While pairing down may seem like a sacrifice, traveling light means not only lightening your load, but also your mind: if you only have 2-3 shoes that go with everything, you no longer have to worry about multiple shoes and which outfits they go with. Instead, just bring:
1) Comfortable walking shoes: whether sneakers or something nicer (which I would recommend for Europe) is up to you. Just make sure they are comfortable shoes that you’ve worn a lot before. I love my Merrell Pace Gloves as they are barefoot shoes, black, comfy, and fold up super tiny. And I’ve climbed mountains in them, no problem. For men, my husband loves his Converse Street Hiker shoes – they are hiking boots that look like regular shoes!
2) Nice shoes: for optimum comfort and packability, choose flats. I don’t currently have any (yet), but I’ve heard great things about Tieks.
3) Shower/beach shoes: if you’re staying in a hostel, you’ll want flip flops for the shower. For the beach, it’s a good idea to wear sandals to avoid burning your feet on the hot sand/stepping on rocks/contracting foot parasites (found on many tropical beaches!).
If you’re super nifty, you can get one sandal that does both beach and dress up – like the Crocs Sexi Flips, which are nice-looking and comfortable and waterproof flip flops. I also love my Xero Shoes Z-Trek sandals, which are barefoot, waterproof sandals that look like Chacos sandals.
3. Bring clothes that can be used for multiple activities
For example: Yoga leggings. They can be used for yoga, other workouts, hiking, worn as pants, warn under a skirt/dress for cold or modesty situations, and can be warn under pants as an extra layer.
Sarongs and Turkish towels: can be used as a beach cover-up, scarf, blanket, extra layer, towel, skirt, and bag in a pinch. If you’re going to a tropical destination, you can easily find great sarongs!
4. Wash your clothes while you’re out
Then you have to bring less over all! It’s super easy to wash things like underwear in the sink at night. No need for fancy laundry detergent, just use soap and scrub the item against itself. Most pairs will be dry by morning unless it’s really cold or humid!
5. Buy things there
As much as you will prepare for your trip, you can’t predict everything. So, instead of trying so hard and bringing everything for every possible situation, just buy things there. If it’s something you need, chances are they will have it there. Take bug spray – unless you are going to the middle of nowhere where there literally are no stores, if it’s a bug-infested area, they will sell bug spray.
6. Pack simple clothes and spice them up with lightweight accessories
The crazier and more memorable a piece is, the less frequently you will be able to wear it without it becoming noticeable in your photos or to your travel mates. Instead, bring simple pieces (plain t-shirts, button-up shirts – the classics!) that can be dressed up or down using lightweight accessories like scarves and (inexpensive!) jewelry. For example, a black t-shirt is just that when hiking, but add a gold scarf, some earrings, and a skirt and you’ve got a dinner outfit. I wore the outfit in the photo for multiple activities during the day and added the scarf and skirt (instead of just wearing leggings) to take it from everyday/hiking outfit to dinner-ready outfit.
If you’re an avid reader, save your luggage some weight and bring along a Kindle instead of paperbacks. It will save a ton of weight and trees!
8. Bring a small bag
Arguably the ultimate traveling light hack.
If you only have, say, 25 liters of bag to fill (a day backpack), then you can only bring 25 liters of stuff. Easy peasy. You can do it. The alternative is bringing a 60 liter backpack that you have to check when flying and only using 1/3 (20 liters!) of the contents.
9. Pack one pair of pants. Maybe two.
Make sure they are something you can do all activities in – walking, going out to eat, hiking, etc. My favorite pair is the Prana Halle pants in Coal (gray) since they look nice, stretch well, have functional pockets, dry fast, and shed water. If you need another bottom, bring leggings, as they are very versatile (see #3!).
10. Packing cubes are your friend
Along with bringing a small bag, you can only bring the amount of stuff that fits in the packing cubes that fit in your bag. So, if you can fit only 2 packing cubes in your bag, you can only fill those! Your back will thank you.
If you are going to Norway in the depths of winter, then maybe you need a gigantic coat to keep you warm. For all other more typical travel activities, a good set of layers will do. Layers mean you can adjust your outfit if the weather changes, and pack multiple shirts (multiple outfits when it’s not cold!) instead of one big coat.
Here are some examples:
If it’s really hot: tank top
It just got cooler: add a t-shirt
A bit cooler: add a button-up
Okay it’s getting a bit chilly: add a sweater/cardigan
Brrr! (50 degrees F/ 10 degrees C and below): add a lightweight down jacket
Okay, now it’s raining AND cold: add a lightweight rain jacket.
And mix and match – perhaps you’re going to Hawaii, where it’s hot AND it rains. Likely the warmest layer you’ll need is a long-sleeved shirt. Pair that with a lightweight rain jacket and you’re good to go.
12. Merino wool
If you’d like to really pair down, bring merino wool layers. Unlike regular wool, merino isn’t scratchy – it’s quite soft. And it dries super fast, is climate-adaptive (keeps you cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cold!), and resists odors like a champ. Which means that if you bring a merino wool t-shirt in a non-memorable color like black, gray, or dark blue, you can wear that shirt for about a week straight in multiple temperatures (hot to reasonably cool, like 50 degrees F/ 10 degrees C if you’re moving around) and it won’t smell. You might smell, but the shirt won’t. I’ve even heard of people wearing the same shirt for months, but obviously you don’t need to do that. When it finally reaches the point where it needs washing, it will dry quickly – just hang up to dry. Don’t put merino in the dryer – it can shrink slightly, but more importantly, the wool is delicate and zippers crashing into it in the dryer can cause holes to form. Be nice to it (it’s expensive, after all) and it will serve your travels beautifully.
And there you have it! As you gain more experience in the art of traveling light, you’ll be able to add even more hacks to your personal list!