I’ve shared so many holiday packing lists over the years but the question I’m always asked about is how I manage to pack light for long holidays.
It’s easy to pack light for a 2-3 day holiday, but what do you do when you’re away for 2-3 weeks! Or even 2-3 months? How on earth do you manage that when you’ve got so much stuff?
I’m here to reassure you that it’s absolutely possible to pack light for a long holiday.
Now that I’m converted onto the joys of packing light I would NEVER travel with a large suitcase again. It’s just such a faff. Large, heavy suitcases are expensive to travel with, they’re awkward, everything takes longer, you’re restricted, you can’t take the stairs, you can’t easily hop on a bus, it’s overwhelming to have so much stuff and it just creates more life admin before and after your holiday.
Packing light is simple and liberating and once you’re converted you’ll never go back. I promise!
So here are my tips to travel light for long holidays – yes, even if you have 3-4 weeks worth of stuff with you!
- Do your laundry while you’re there – try Laundryheap, Uber for Laundry
The simplest yet most effective way to pack light for a long holiday is simply to take fewer clothes. I know, I’m a genius.
But this is easier said than done when you’re travelling for a few weeks when, at the very least, you’re going to want clean underwear everyday.
My first tip would be to try and stay in apartments with a washing machine but if this isn’t possible then take a look at Laundryheap. It’s a new service so it isn’t everywhere just yet but it’s set to grow.
Laundryheap is like Uber but for laundry, providing on-demand laundry services. Users schedule a pickup for their laundry, and they get washed and delivered back to them within 24 hours.
This could be a great solution to avoid extremely expensive hotel laundry fees and I’m really excited to see how this company grows because I think it’s a great concept!
- Create a simple, capsule wardrobe
If you’re worried about wearing the same clothes for weeks on end then I recommend creating a simple capsule wardrobe with items that all go together. Start with a neutral colour palette such as denim, whites and blacks and you’ll find everything will just go together easily! You’re also going to look stylish with a simple, classic twist.
If you want to learn more about capsule wardrobes, minimalism and simplifying your life then I recommend taking a look at Jessica Rose William’s website. She has an eBook about capsule wardrobes which would be a great place to start!
If you’re finding it hard to get the hang on a capsule wardrobe then go onto Pinterest or Instagram and search for things like ‘capsule wardrobe’ or ‘minimal style’ and you’ll get lots of inspiration.
- Buy your toiletries when you arrive
If you’re travelling for a few weeks then it’s likely you’ll get through a whole bottle of shampoo or sun cream while you’re away, so just buy it when you arrive.
If you’re backpacking or moving location frequently then consider solid toiletries as they take up less space and they’re generally easier and there’s less chance of mess. Lush have a fantastic selection of solid toiletries.
The only things I don’t 100% get on with are solid toothpastes and solid sunscreens.
- Remember your destination will have everything you need
One of the main reasons most of us overpack for holidays is because we sneak in so many ‘just in case’ items. These are things we probably won’t ever need but we stuff them into our cases just in case.
If you’re finding it hard to leave all of your ‘just in case’ items at home, remind yourself that your destination will have everything you need and you’ll be able to buy it when you arrive.
You won’t be the first tourist to visit this place and, if people live there, they’ll sell everything anyway. It’s very unlikely you’re going to need a swiss army knife or a spare pair of shoe laces or every type of medication ever made! You probably won’t need that extra jumper or those extra shoes or that extra handbag.
Leave it all at home and reassure yourself that if you REALLY need it, you can just buy it when you’re there. And I’d bet you’ll never feel the need to buy it anyway!
And here’s a controversial tip but it’s very unlikely you’re going to need a huge medical bag. I usually just take some paracetamol and I don’t take anything else as I can just buy it when I arrive.
- Keep it simple with coats and shoes
Coats and shoes are usually the bulkiest items in our luggage so keep it simple and try to take just one coat or jacket and one to two pairs of shoes. You can then wear your coat and chunkiest shoes on the plane so you’ve just got one small pair of shoes in your luggage.
If you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors then look for those coats that have a fleece interior jacket with a detachable waterproof jacket on the outside. This is a simple and practical way to take two coats!
When it comes to shoes, I like to take a pair of comfortable yet stylish trainers that I can wear for walking, hiking, running, shopping and general day-to-day activities. Something like the On trainers are gorgeous or Veja ones are simple and stylish if you won’t be running. And then a nice pair of flat sandals which can also be worn in the day but can be dressed up for evenings too. Then all you’re putting in your luggage is a pair of sandals.
- Pack lightweight fabrics and wear bulky items on the plane
Search your wardrobe for all of your lightweight, thin items. This includes lightweight underwear too – skimpy thongs don’t take up much space!
For me, it’s things like cotton t-shirts, silk skirts, lightweight dresses and leggings.
Make these clothing swaps and you’ll save so much space:
- Swap jogging bottoms for leggings
- Swap jeans for skirts (and tights if it’s cold)
- Swap thick woollen jumpers for thinner sweaters or cashmere
- Swap all your winter layers for one warm coat
- Swap your granny pants for thongs
- Swap flannel PJs for a thin nightie
Then on the plane I’ll always wear my jeans, heavy boots, chunky jumpers and a big coat!
Lightweight midi skirts like these fold away into the smallest thing!
- Use compressible packing cubes
One you’ve got all of your clothes sorted then I highly recommend using a compressible packing cube! The Travel Hack Packing Cube is amazing. It’s currently out of stock but it will be back in June.
You fill it up and then there’s an additional zip to squeeze all of your clothes together, removing any air and saving so much space.
Do remember to roll your clothes rather than folding because they can end up a little crumpled.
- Make a list for all your non-clothing items
If you’re packing light for a long holiday then I’m sure you’ve already come to terms with the fact that you can’t take many clothes with you and you’ve probably already got a simple, stylish capsule wardrobe.
But something many people find difficult is packing all the other little bits and bobs and keeping them to a minimum.
Here’s everything else I take:
- Basic makeup
- Comb (not a hairbrush)
- Hair straighteners
- Plug adaptor
- Make-up remover
- Apple charging cable
- Small cross body handbag
- Get a good phone
I have an iPhone 13 which I love and I feel the camera on it is so good I don’t need to take a bulky DSLR.
I love having a good phone with a reliable battery life because it means I don’t need to take any paperback books, magazines, games or documents. I can use it to watch movies, listen to music, podcasts and audiobooks too.
- Don’t take a wash bag
Oooh this is a controversial one but this is a great way to pack light. A wash bag can take up so much extra space and you really don’t need one.
If you’ve decanted any toiletries you need into tiny bottles then you can just squeeze these tiny bottles and tubes into the spaces in your bag. (Make sure you’ve got good quality bottles so they don’t spill!)
Even better – don’t take any liquids at all and buy them when you arrive or use the hotel toiletries.
Then things like a comb or a toothbrush can just be squeezed in between your other items.
If you’re travelling with just hand luggage then you’ll need to put any liquids into a small, clear bag to get it through security.
Holiday packing FAQs
Is it possible to pack light for a long trip with just hand luggage?
Absolutely! You definitely can use just hand luggage for a long trip but you’re definitely going to need to wash your clothes while you’re away.
Personally, I’ve never had much success with washing my clothes in hotel sinks and drying them in hotel rooms. My clothes never end up very clean and they often have a damp smell that lingers!
I’d recommend checking out Laundryheap or using a laundry while you’re away.
My second tip if you want to just use hand luggage is to get the biggest bag you’re allowed. You’re often allowed a much bigger bag than you think so get the biggest hand luggage bag possible and fill it to the brim!
Check out Cabin Max for some great options. Their bags are designed to be as big as they possibly can without being oversized, so you’ll get as much in your bag as you can!
Should you pack a first aid kid?
In my honest opinion, I don’t think most people need a first aid kit, especially if you’re trying to pack light.
You’ve either got a minor injury, in which case you won’t need anything, or you’ve got a major injury and you’ll need to see a medical professional.
If you’re the kind of person who suffers with headaches or aches and pains then you might want to take paracetamol and ibuprofen but other than that I never take anything.
Do I need to take waterproof bags?
No, not really.
Why would you have wet stuff and why wouldn’t you dry it before packing it into your bag?
It’s really unlikely you’re going to get your jumper wet and then want to pack it into your bag, right?
Just make sure you plan ahead. Don’t go for a swim immediately before you leave your hotel because you’ll then have wet swimwear.
You might want a dry bag for water sports but, realistically, most of our phones are waterproof now anyway so it doesn’t really matter if it gets wet and what else can’t be dried?
How do you protect your valuables when you travel?
If you’re travelling for a long period of time then it’s likely you’re going to have more valuables than you might for a quick trip. Maybe you’ve got a laptop or iPad or a camera?
My first piece of advice is to try to keep any valuables to an absolute minimum. The more stuff you have, the more you have to lose. If all you need to worry about is your phone then you’re less likely to let it out of your site.
The valuables I tend to travel with are my phone, passport and credit card.
Here are some things I do to protect my valuables:
- I only take 2 credit/debit cards (I use a Starling Card for travel and have my regular AmEx card as a backup) I don’t take a bulky purse, just those two cards and I keep them in the inside pocket of my handbag – along with my passport.
- I use a small, crossbody handbag for everyday use
- I always place my phone back in my bag when I’m not using it
- When I travel with my iPad I put it in the laptop pocket in my backpack. This is the back of the bag so no one can get to it while I’m wearing the bag.
Should I take a water bottle?
Yes. I ALWAYS travel with a water bottle. I drink a lot of water and I really resent paying for water and wasting single-use plastic bottles.
A water bottle will:
- Encourage you to drink more water
- Make you feel healthier and more energised
- Save you money
- Save the environment with less plastic waste
Even if you’re travelling somewhere where you shouldn’t drink the tap water (which is actually surprisingly few places btw) then you’ll probably still be able to fill up your water bottle from big bottles.
How many pairs of underwear should you take?
I get the dilemma here. You’re trying to pack light but you still want clean underwear everyday and you don’t want to be washing your knickers in the sink every evening.
My advice is to take skimpy underwear. I know this is easier for women than men!
But 20 skimpy little thongs will barely take up any space in your bag – probably about the same amount of space as 5 chunky belly warmer pants! Go for the skimpy ones!
How do you pack light when you’re going somewhere with cold weather?
There are four things you need if you’re travelling somewhere cold and want to pack light:
- A super dooper warm snuggly coat (SuperDry have some nice options!)
- Fleece lined tights you can wear beneath trousers
- Thermal top
- Cosy boots
As long as you have these four things (which you’ll probably wear on the plane) then everything else can be virtually the same. As long as your base layer is warm then you can wear anything on top.
How do you pack light and look good?
This is going to be a matter of personal opinion but I always think people look good when they’re happy and comfortable.
I think the girl wearing a simple pair of Levi’s jeans, some cute sandals and a white t-shirt can look just as good as the girl wearing a fussy outfit. If not better! I love simple style
I think that relaxed, casual, easy-going vibe looks just as good.
You don’t need multiple outfits for every activity. Just wear what looks and feels good. And then wear it again!
Check out tags like ‘#MinimalistFashion’ on Instagram for inspiration.
Where can I find a packing list to pack light?
In your head!
The only person who can create the perfect packing list to help you pack light is you.
Packing lists are so personal so you’re always better off creating your own.
It might help to split your packing list up with headers such as:
- Day clothes
- Evening clothes
- Active clothes
- Underwear and nightwear
- Hair and makeup