12 travel hacks to travel light

I’m always harping on about how important it is to travel light. Travelling light gives you extra freedom and flexibility that you just don’t have with heavy luggage. You can move quickly through airports and train stations and it’s so much easier to take public transport with a small bag. You’ll save money by not having to check your bags in on a plane and you can keep your luggage close when you’re on trains and buses. You’re also less likely to lose things when you travel light because it’s easier to keep track of your belongings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about travelling light recently because I’ll soon be travelling with a baby and I’m pretty sure that travelling light + baby is pretty much impossible. I might not be able to pack light for the baby but I’ll definitely be able to pack light for me so the travelling light challenge is about to get extreme!

I could go on all day about the benefits of travelling light but I’ll leave it at that and start sharing my top tips for travelling light.

Travel Hacks for travelling light

#1. Use a small, lightweight case

The oldest trick in the book and possibly the simplest way to pack light: Use a small suitcase or backpack so you can’t possibly fit too much in it. Don’t be tempted to get a case that’s slightly too big because you will fill that space with unnecessary crap.

For more inspiration and proof of the benefits of travelling with a small bag, check out this post by Chris over at Backpacker Banter: My 25L Backpack Challenge. Yep, he travelled for 3 weeks around Thailand with nothing but a 25L backpack!

It’s often worth investing in a good quality but lightweight case. The cheap light weight cases are often poor quality and break quickly. Something like the John Lewis Monaco is perfect as it has a hard shell, it’s really light and doesn’t come with a crazy expensive price tag.

 

#2. Pack 2 pairs of shoes and no more

Shoes can often be the bulkiest items in our bags so never travel with more than 2 pairs. Wear your bulkiest pair on the plane and an easy to carry pair in your bag.

You can’t beat a light pair of Converse for the day and an easy kitten heel for the evenings.

Read more: What shoes should I take travelling?

 

#3. 1 pair of trousers/jeans

Jeans or trousers are another bulky item to travel with so never travel with more than one pair and you should always wear these on the plane.

I usually opt for cotton Leigh jeans from Topshop. They’re soft and comfortable but they’re easy to dress up for the evenings too. I have them in a few different colours but black is the best for travel because they’ll match everything and no one really notices them, so you can get away with wearing the same jeans for days (don’t judge).

 

#4. Minimise toiletries

If you’re staying in a hotel you can guarantee you’ll be provided with shampoo and shower gel so leave these at home. This means that most guys can get away with nothing more than a travel sized deodorant and toothpaste.

Most ladies will find it a little more difficult because there are some toiletries you just can’t leave home without.

Look out for hardworking products that do a few different jobs. Baby oil is great for removing waterproof mascara and is also really moisturising. Opt for 2-in-1 products like BB creams that have SPF (I really like Clinique CC cream) and stock up on sample sachets of products that come free in magazines. Always wax rather than shaving so you don’t need to take a razor. Leave the bulky hair dryer at home and take a couple of head scarves if you have crazy, curly hair like me.

 

#5. Take an iPad/tablet

Cut down on tickets, books, magazines, a laptop, games, notepads, music, maps and travel guides and simply pack a tablet. My hand luggage used to be chocker with all sorts of entertainment options but now I just have my iPad and it’s made travelling so much easier.

If you’re looking for a budget alternative to an iPad, take a look at my review of the Acer Iconia A1 because I think it’s the perfect budget tablet for travelling.

Consider buying a portable charger if you’re planning on taking long journeys. I have one that isn’t much bigger than a lipstick but it will charge my iPad for about 5 hours. It’s a good backup for emergencies too – like if you’ve got your hotel confirmation email stored on your iPad and the battery has died!

Acer Iconia A1 Review | The Travel Hack

#6. Pack simple clothes and lots of accessories

If you look at my Travel Style board on Pinterest you’ll see that I’m a bit obsessed with jeans and white t-shirts. It’s such a simple, easy style and so easy to pull off while you’re travelling. I’m really tempted to pack a bag full of white t-shirts next time I go away.

Team your jeans with flip flops, Converse, winter boots or heels. Then team your t-shirt with a blazer, a cardigan, a sweet jumper or a big scarf and you’ve got outfits for any situation without having to pack too much. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

 

#7. Pack ‘hard working’ clothing

No, you’re not sending your clothes to work, you’re looking out for clothes that have more than one use.

Think things like sarongs and scarves which can be used as towels, blankets and wraps. You also can’t go wrong with black leggings. They’re easy to wash and dry and go with virtually everything. I recommend River Island’s leggings. They’re a bit more expensive than your average H&M or Primark ones but they last much longer, keep their shape and come in different leg lengths.

It can be harder to pack light in colder climates. I love UNIQLO’s range of Ultra Light Down coats because they pack up into a tiny bag (similar to a cag in a bag) but they’re really, really warm!

Uniqlo ultra light down jacket

#8. Use packing cubes

I LOVE packing cubes. Not only do they keep your bag organised but they help make the most of your space and stop you overpacking. I tend to travel with four packing cubes. One for tops, one for bottoms, one for underwear and one for evening clothes. Once each packing cube is full you can’t possibly squish anything else in so you’re forced into packing light whether you like it or not.

Top Tip: I find the rectangular packing cubes like these are much easier to use rather than the stuff sacks.

 

#9. Wash your clothes while you’re away

No matter where in the world you’re travelling, it doesn’t need to be expensive to get your clothes washed.

Fancy hotels in certain cities will charge a fortune to wash your clothes so look out for laundrettes or, cheaper still, wash your clothes in your hotel bathroom. I usually soak my clothes in the sink and rinse them out while I’m showering. Laundrettes and apartments with washing machines will become your best friend if you’re travelling for a few weeks or more.

If you’re travelling in a developing country it costs next to nothing to get your clothes washed but be aware that if you’re paying £0.50 for a load of washing, you don’t want to be giving them your expensive designer clothes.

 

#10. Remember: you can buy everything out there!

No matter where you’re travelling, you’ll always be able to find the necessities. You might not find your favourite brand of shampoo but you will find something very similar.

If you’re going somewhere where you think you’ll need specialist equipment, wait until you get there to buy it. You’re not the first traveller to visit and you won’t be the last so you can guarantee you’ll find local shops selling everything you need.

When I travelled to Borneo I climbed Mount Kinabalu. I’d spent the past 18 months in Australia and didn’t have a single item of warm clothing or a decent pair of shoes. I was panicking but when I arrived to Kota Kinabalu I realised I wasn’t alone and the city was filled with hiking shops thanks to all the travellers who pass through and pick up the necessary hiking items.

 

#11. Don’t use lots of small purses and pouches

(This doesn’t apply for packing cubes – I mean really small pouches for tiny things)
The first time I went backpacking I was super organised and had a separate little pouch for everything. A pouch for medicine, one for toiletries, one for souvenirs. Yes, my bag was organised for about the first 5 days (out of about 450 days!) but I had lots of unused space in my bag. Socks and toiletries are the perfect items to squeeze in your bag and fill up the gaps. Lots of pouches lead to lots of gaps and lots of wasted space.

 

#12. Use a bag or case that opens fully

I don’t recommend using a top-loading backpack. This means smaller items slip to the bottom and are forgotten. Use a bag that opens all the way and you have access to everything. You don’t need to be quite as organised and this reduces the needed for all those little purses and pouches.

Do you have any more travel hacks to help you pack light?

You can find even more packing tips over here.

36 Responses

  1. Penny

    Great tips, I think I learned the shoe one around the same time I realised that killing my feet on holiday was a bad idea hehe. Practical definitely trumps style when you want to do a lot of walking.

    Not sure if it’s a tip or not, but when I travel I have my Macbook Air and phone, and Bloke has his iPad and phone too – however we charge all our devices off of the MacAir’s usb ports. Saves a bit of space on plugs/adapters 🙂

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      That’s a really good idea. Another one I’ve been told (but haven’t checked myself) is that a lot of hotel TVs have USB ports you can charge your devices from.

      Reply
      • Penny

        Yes, I’ve seen people suggest that too but I never remember to actually look either. Besides, I know my luck – the time I don’t take the charger is the time there isn’t one, grr!

  2. Kellie

    Thanks for the tip on the Uniqlo Down Jacket, I’ve been looking at them for a while but purchased one after reading this. I even got a kids in the sale. Yay for being small!

    Reply
  3. Marie @ Marie Away

    I’m a recent packing-cube convert. I used to find my pack would become just a huge messy ball of clothes all rolled together, but now I actually feel like an organized person!

    When it comes to shoes, I always take three pairs: sandals, comfortable flats that can be dressed up or worn casually in the city, and hiking shoes. I feel like that’s the minimum for me.

    Some of these I definitely have to remind myself of often. Great post!

    Reply
  4. Barry @ Moneywehave.com

    Packing cubes are probably the biggest thing that has changed the way I pack. They’re just so convenient.

    My biggest issue these days is my camera. I love to shoot with my DSLR but they take up a lot of room. I recently traveled with a smaller Sony camera and it was so much easier, I’m just not sure if I want to give up on my DSLR quiet yet.

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      I’m exactly the same, Barry. I have a love hate relationship with my DSLR. I hate lugging it around when I travel but when I get home I’m always so pleased I did because the photos are so much better. I also have a smaller Sony which is a good compromise, especially for evenings when I don’t want a bulky camera in restaurants and bars.

      Reply
  5. Alana - Paper Planes

    Reminding yourself you can buy things wherever you go is huge – I feel like a lot of people buy so much before a trip trying to stock on on things and it’s not necessary at all.

    Reply
  6. Cathy (MummyTravels)

    I definitely need to investigate packing cubes, as otherwise the thing I want always seems to be buried somewhere. I’ll admit I’m pretty rubbish at packing light – until I had a baby and I was forced to streamline in order to fit all her things in. I finally think I’ve got the knack 🙂

    Reply
  7. Elle Croft

    All great tips! I’d also add (for girls) to pack a lipstick to go from day to night in one simple move! A red lipstick makes (almost) any outfit look totally glam and it takes up no room at all.

    Reply
  8. EASY TRAVELER

    I love to travel too! What I don’t like doing is working carrying bags!
    Over the last three years have really researched and developed a strategy for Packing Light.
    I have some little mottos that sum it up:
    Ounces become pounds become work become problems.
    Wear One Pack One. The total amount of clothes that you need to go ANYWHERE!
    If you use it at home everyday, you’ll use it there everyday. DO NOT take anything else!
    More than ten pounds is too much.

    If I didn’t need so many Medicines I would just carry all of it in my pockets! I take a Gossamer Gear Rukus backpack. Eleven ounces. Thirty Liters. Perfect!
    I love my Nokia 1520. Besides being a phone it is also an E-Book reader and a 20 megapixel camera! It takes some yummy photos! The charger and cord weigh almost four ounces. The flashlight feature is good too. So many things in an eight ounce phone!
    The inspiration for my pack light passion was Venice, Italy! DO NOT GO TO VENICE WITH TOO MUCH BAGGAGE! Venice is pedestrian. It has Bridges. With steps. A lot of steps.
    Thanks for the ideas and keep them coming!

    Reply
  9. Kathryn Burrington

    I’m hopeless at packing light especially when I’m not quite sure what the weather will be doing. As I get older I’m finding it harder to lug a heavy suitcase around, especially up and down the stairs on the underground travelling to and from the airport. I’m always so pleased when someone offers to help and sprints up the stairs with my case for me. Would be better if I could just learn to pack lighter though!

    Reply
    • TheTravelHack

      It’s so tough to pack light when you don’t know what the weather will be like. You feel like you need to take everything ‘just in case’!
      And I feel your pain with the underground and a heavy case!

      Reply
  10. Melanie

    This is such a great post! It is so fun finding new travel blogs! I actually have one too– but yours is really inspiring!!!
    Melanie @ meandmr.com

    Reply
  11. Kathryn

    My travel packing tip is to pack your bag and then carry it around the street and up and down stairs for about half hour. Then go home and you’ll find yourself a lot less emotionally invested in your stuff 🙂

    Wearing your bulkiest shoes on the plane can backfire if your feet swell. You can be sneaky and once your bag is tagged as carry on, replace them with more comfy ones. I usually take my shoes off on the plane and pack disposal slippers. I used to wear bare feet but then thought about how guys have trouble hitting the target in toilet at the best of times, let alone when there is turbulence!

    Reply
    • Anise

      That’s hilarious. I’m traveling India for 25 days and bringing a 30 litre bag. I’ll take your tip of carrying my bag around for an hour! Then I’ll probably re-pack it and take a few things out

      Reply
  12. Teddy

    #5 – Ngl, I bought a tablet a few years ago specifically for traveling to get rid of taking an mp3 player, three books, and laptop. So worth it!

    #7 – That Chameleon Maxi is brilliant! Not a fan of their current colour selections, though… time for a trip to the fabric shop! I’m addicted to short, light sundresses when traveling – easy to wear alone or under a jacket, or tuck the bottom into a simple skirt or loose pants and instant cute top!

    #10 – Great advice, and one that took me YEARS to learn… I’ve got my traveling luggage down to one duffel and one large purse for trips abroad up to three weeks, but always looking for ways to cut it down further!

    Reply
  13. Abbi Morrison

    Awesome post! I think packing cubes have changed my life when I travel. When I first went travelling, I took an 75L backpack, and it weighed a ton (17kg) Everything was just thrown in there, with no order. I took massive sized bottles of shampoos and everything (as if I couldn’t get any in South Korea!). Nowaways I travel with a little weekend bag or a small backpack (35L) which weighs no more than 10kg. This can often get on as hand baggage, meaning I have no queues to wait in when I get off the fly. I just walk on through.

    Reply
  14. Bobbie Bowers

    I have a pair of Frye Phillip harness boots that go with me everywhere. They are so sturdy, stylish, and comfortable. I really do not need another pair of footwear. I always wear black/grey/white so my packing is quite easy. Eileen Fisher also makes a skirted legging that is pretty much perfect for travel.

    Reply
  15. Trisha

    Re: being able to purchase everything @destination…My advice: Take the time online to find a store that stocks brands w/which you are familiar. We went to Rome a couple of years ago, our 1st trip to another country. I tried to pack lightly w/a travel-size deodorant & ran out. We found a pharmacy but I could not find a familiar brand & ended up w/1 that NEVER DRIED! I ended up using hubby’s.

    Reply
  16. Kris

    Having travelled for the past fifty years and made many packing errors, like the first time I went on a six week job to Germany with two suitcases I couldn’t lift. I have since pared down my gear to one ultra lightweight wheeled carry-on bag. I can now go away for six weeks without a problem. I wash my clothes when away, and buy any toiletries I need when there. I travel a lot in the winter so need warm clothing, No. 7 is sage advice. Two or three long sleeved t-shirts are ideal they can be worn under thin sweaters or shirts as insulation or if it turns warm with just a fleece. A black fleece is essential, they are warm and lightweight. Wear as much as you can on the plane, I don’t mean everything you have just a t-shirt, shirt, fleece and warm coat if you are wintering away. Carry a small folding bag and take off the coat if where you are going has a high daytime temperature, some places have high daytime temperatures and are cold in the evenings. Airlines worry about how many bags you are carrying onto the plane, they don’t care how many bags you carry off the plane. These days I travel with , a husband, grandson, cat and dog. We all have largish handbags, or laptop bags plus wheeled carry-on bags. The dogs lead and cats stuff are in the cat carrier. I can buy cat and dog bowls as they aren’t fussy what they eat out of as long as they eat. I wear a lot of black a few scarves enhance and change an outfit.

    Reply
  17. Prianka | Map Halves

    These are some great tips – especially the idea that you can always buy anything you really need on the go. Whenever I am heading out the door, I do a last check to make sure I have my passport and wallet and anything else that I have forgotten will never be too big of a hurdle. For us girls, I would recommend taking a pair of leggings instead of (or as well as) trousers. It can be an extra layer for warmth/modesty and takes up next to no space in your bag.

    Reply
  18. Shandos

    I tried using packing cubes once, but wasn’t a convert. Maybe I’ll try it again, as everyone raves about them and I get annoyed how after a few days of travelling my small bag turns into a tangle.

    I already follow most of the rest of these and love how I’ve just travelled with a 36L soft shoulder bag for the last few trips. Next up will be seeing if it’s enough for a 6 month trip through Asia!

    Reply
  19. Jennifer Champney

    These are so helpful tips! I’m preparing for a short move and I’m currently trying to pack all I need , but packing light has always been a problem for me. Your tips and advises seem to work perfectly for me, so I’m keeping them on mind while preparing my move. Thank you for sharing all this great info!

    Reply
  20. Harsh Vardhan

    One of my friends jokes that if I could, I would travel with only a Ziploc bag. It’s true, I love to travel light. I feel mildly defeated every time I have to check a bag or lug around an embarrassingly large carry-on. But these tips have lighten my load. I’ll surely read them before traveling next time.

    Reply
  21. Top UK Travel Blog for June | Trips100

    […] 12 Travel Hacks to Travel Light has been a really popular one for a while now. It went a bit crazy on Pinterest and still gets thousands of repins. Packing posts always do really well and I’m often told that people find my blog and become long-term readers because of a packing post they stumbled across. […]

    Reply
  22. Becky

    Toiletries are often odd shaped and take up a lot of room. Instead of regular shampoo and soap I use shampoo bars. There are so many to pick from these days, and many of them double as good body soaps as well.
    They’re so easy to pack and I don’t have to wonder if I’ll like what the hotel has.

    Reply

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