My secret to packing light

After a few years of travelling I’ve finally realised that you can pack light AND pack stylishly.

The first thing I have to remind myself is that no one looks stylish when they’re hot, sweaty and stressed from heaving heavy luggage. It’s all about breezing through the airport, not being weighed down and having a capsule wardrobe that is simple and stylish.

I’m travelling to the USA for three weeks (whoop, 3 weeks in the U. S of A, Baby!) and packing light for this trip has been tough.

I begin in super stylish Miami and I’ll also be among the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas.

But then I’ll also be doing lots of walking and I’ll be camping for 10 nights. I’ve got loads of different temperatures and activities to take into account too.

It sounds almost impossible to pack light! We’ll be moving from place to place on a daily basis so packing a tonne of stuff would be impractical and annoying so I’ve been forced to pack as light as possible.

So how do you pack light for a three-week trip where you need to be glamorous AND practical AND pack for different temperatures? Oh, and pack a sleeping bag and basic camping gear. I mentioned I’m camping for 10 whole nights right!?

Here’s my secret to packing light…

How to pack light

Keep your trousers/pants/shorts to a minimum.

I pack one pair of black skinny jeans and a pair of denim cut-offs and that’s it for the bottom half.

Yes, that’s it.

1x jeans

1x shorts

Nothing else for day-time clothing.

I know it’s pretty gross. Please don’t judge.

If I can get away with it, I don’t even wash the shorts or jeans. Yep, that’s right. I just sponge them off if I drop some food on them. I may need to pay a couple of dollars to get them washed half way through my trip but it saves me the hassle of carrying the extra pairs.

I’m a fan of Leigh jeans from Topshop. From afar they look like jeans but they’re actually super soft cotton so they’re as comfortable and flexible as leggings.

I make my own cuts off when my favourite jeans eventually become so battered that I can’t be seen out in public in them.

The cut-offs I’m taking with me to the USA actually came from the super stylish Jai from Savoir There. I inherited them when she moved to Canada but she’s much taller than me so I chopped the legs off and now they’re perfect. Thanks Jai!

ASOS is great for small, cheap tops that will fold up really small and they’re almost disposable if they get wrecked. Look out for ASOS promo codes like these here and you can get up to 50% off.

One of my favourite things about being a girl when it comes to packing is that our tops fold up so small. I’m not saying go out and buy skimpy belly tops but when I compare the size of my t-shirts to my boyfriends, mine fold-up pretty small. If I wear these black trousers on the plane then all of these tops would easily fit in my hand luggage.

I keep my tops plain mostly so they don’t look dated in years to come. This may be my one and only chance to visit the Grand Canyon so I want those photos blown up and plastered over my living room walls. I don’t want to look back on those photos in 2-3 years and cringe at my fashion disasters.

Having plain tops also means that nothing clashes and you can mix and match outfits.


How to pack light

To stop my outfits being boring I then add a heap of accessories. These accessories are small and lightweight and fit into all the nooks and crannies of my suitcase so don’t take up any extra space.

I also like shopping for accessories while I’m travelling so I love to explore local markets and pick up souvenirs.

Shoes and keeping warm

Add a cashmere cardi and a slouchy beany for cool evenings and airconditioned vehicles and you’re good to go. I always wear these on the plane to save space in my luggage.

How to pack light

I only ever wear Haviana flip flops or comfy running shoes during the day. They’re both light and durable and, most importantly, easy to pack. I never bother with walking shoes because they’re not worth the extra weight and bulk. If you don’t have any problems with your back/feet/legs then trainers are always fine. I hiked up Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Malaysia) in trainers and I’m still not sure why people insist on wearing hiking boots for simple walks?

Dressing up

how to pack light

There will only be a handful of opportunities to dress up on my trip so I’m definitely going to be taking them.

I’m a firm believer that every woman should travel with at least one black maxi dress. No matter what your age or size, a long black, cotton dress will always look good and be appropriate for pretty much any occasion.

I’ll also be taking two bright and pretty dresses and two skirts that can be worn with the plain tops mentioned above.

I know these items are taking up a lot of space in my bag but it’s worth it. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a grubby backpacker on a night out.

Pack like a pro

Packing cubesI’m using stuff sacs for the first time during this trip and they’re amazing. Why haven’t I used these before!? I have these three pod sacs from Millets plus a 7L stuff sac. I’m using the smallest for underwear, one for tops, one for dresses and one for power chords and gadgets. They’re really handy to ensure you don’t over-pack because you physically can’t get any more in them. They also save space in your bag and keep everything neat and organised.


Travel wash bag

This may not be the prettiest wash bag in the world but it’s perfect for keeping your toiletries, medication, accessories and make-up neat and organised. It folds up into a compact cube and has a leakproof compartment to avoid any spillages. This is great for saving space and the small compartments mean you can’t overpack.

Some people like to pack 2-in-1 products to save space but I’m not a fan because they’re never as good. I prefer to put my favourite products into tiny pots and use them sparingly while I’m away. I never use half as much shampoo/moisturiser/make-up as I think I do, especially if you use good quality products.

Simple packing list

  • 1 x shorts
  • 10 x tops
  • 2 x dresses for evenings
  • 1 x comfortable shoes
  • 1 x flip flops
  • Underwear
  • Toiletries

Wear on the plane

  • Dark jeans
  • Hat, scarf and sunnies
  • Jacket
  • Warm top
  • ‘Going out shoes’

My packing list for Trek America has become a little more complicated because I wanted to take some nice camping gear. I’ll be sharing my camping packing essentials soon!

Do you have any other tips for packing light for a long trip?

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a full time blogger and has travelled around the world in search of the best holidays. Monica lives in Wales with her growing family and now also blogs about travelling with young children!


  • April 7, 2014

    Hiya Monica

    I always ask myself the same question. The more stuff you do during one trip, as in camping, hiking and stay at a boutique hotel at the end of your stay and eat at hot new Restaurants … the more complicated it gets. I get better and better at packing light.

    I recently saw these guys and got really jealous, as you can imagine 😉

    Cheers Dorothée

  • April 7, 2014

    I think going to a warm climate helps to keep the weight down so this sounds like a good trip to take advantage and pack some great things rather than heavy woolies.

    Thanks for the voucher code tips and the stuff sacs, they look interesting.

    Have a great trip.

  • April 7, 2014

    Pretty much the same as yours! I operate on one each of jeans, shorts, skirt & dress, and then pad the rest out with a few tops. My plane outfit always revolves around a dress, leggings & a hoodie that for a place like USA in May (my next trip) will double as my daytime ‘jacket’. Comfort on a flight is essential! I roll up a pair of black skinnies/jeggings so that they’re barely noticeable in my backpack. And I always always always pack a spare tshirt & one or two pairs of spare knickers in my hand luggage because I just know that the one time I don’t will be the time that I’m waiting 3 days for my luggage to arrive after me!

  • April 7, 2014

    Those pod sacs look amazing!! Also, I totally agree with you on the pants – I don’t usually take multiple pairs with me. Solidarity in grossness, sister. 😉

    I’m a pretty light packer, but I need to work on that because sometimes I pack TOO light and then don’t have everything I need.

  • April 7, 2014

    Ooh, this is perfectly timed as I’m planning on doing two weeks Hong Kong and Malaysia with just hand luggage (saves on Air Asia hold fees) I’m a big advocate of rolling clothes too as it normally is more compact that way. Whether it is or not I’m not sure but I usually manage to cram more stuff in!

  • April 7, 2014

    I feel ashamed. On my last trip to the USA I took one 3/4 full suitcase and 2 empties. And I still didn’t wear everything I took, and not counting with what I bought. For the maldives, I packed uber light – only 5 evening outfits for 12 nights. Didn’t wear half of them…. I will learn. But I am getting better

  • April 8, 2014

    great tips! it’s something we’re still working at, but we’ve gotten soo much better over the years. we also recommend picking clothes that are all in one fairly neutral color palette, if possible, and then adding color with accessories. thank GOD for scarves.

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    April 8, 2014
  • April 9, 2014

    LOVE it. agree with shoes and accessory choices. i don’t typically travel with many shoes but loads of accessories! oooo and if you can believe i’m getting sooo much better at packing too!

  • April 10, 2014

    You’ll get no judgement from me on the lack of clothes washing. As long as it looks and smells relatively clean, I’ll keep wearing it. I also like to spice up outfits with different bold accessories. I feel like you could wear the same outfit two days in a row but if you switch up the accessories, no one will really notice- or at least they’re too nice to say anything. I hope you enjoy your three weeks in the U S of A!

  • April 10, 2014

    Great tips Monica, I’m definitely getting better at packing light but probably need a bit more practice! 🙂

  • Mary Anne
    April 10, 2014

    OK.. I am an overpacker. I am gonna go with your suggestions for my next trip. I will get back to you if it worked or not. 🙂

  • Mo
    April 10, 2014

    You must be so excited!! I mean, I’M excited for you so I can’t imagine how you feel! Lol. I hope you have a great time! I saw you’d be going to the Grand Canyon and Havasu! If you pass through Phoenix or Tucson at anytime you should meet with us AZ Bloggers out here! 😉

  • April 14, 2014

    Hi Monica! Love this post. I, like you, love stylish, yet comfortable traveling outfits. It’s important to feel yourself, but not overwhelmed with 10 pairs of shoes, out of which you’ll only wear 2.

  • Hamish Healys
    April 16, 2014

    Jeans in the States? You can never go wrong with jeans. They’re your go-anywhere wear that’s not out of style. And shorts? If you’ve got great legs, flaunt them, you’d still look stylish in them. And because they don’t demand frequent washing, they’d be the right things to pack when you travel. Agreed!

  • July 9, 2014

    How have you not found pods? We use cube-its …. two for each person (only one each for the two babies aged 2 and 4 so actuallynot so small any more)We bought them in Ikea and they are colour coded so each person has a different colour. INGENIUS! Changed my life actually! LOL! No more pulling everything out your bag. Locate the correct colour and out it comes. The children give me back the cube-it zipped shout and back in it goes…

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    September 13, 2014
  • Maria Dalva
    January 13, 2015

    I found your blog today and I read many posts! I loved many of the tips!
    Nice to know that you use havaianas flip flops – I’m brazilian 🙂
    Congrats on your pregnancy!

  • Joy
    March 13, 2015

    I’m impressed you only bring one pair of pants! I don’t have a problem with re-wearing, but I’d nervous to not have a backup pair in case something happens. I’ll try it on my next trip!

  • Stine
    April 12, 2015

    Wow i’m impressed????????. I am definitely an overpacker. Every time I travel, even though I am only going on to be away one weekend my suitcase is almost exploding???? i have to get some black leggings though????

    Thanks for the tips, they’ll come in handy????

  • June 14, 2015
  • Courtney Atkinson
    April 19, 2016

    Finally a *real* packing challenge! And congrats on your big win!
    I’m also doing 3 and a bit weeks in the USA: stylish (but practical) NYC, smart business conference and glitz (and heat!) in Vegas, rain in Vancouver & Seattle, outdoor adventure in Oregon, and who-knows-what in San Francisco. I actually don’t even know where to begin, but it has to fit into a carry-on! Anything you took that you could have done without, and anything you wished you’d taken? Do they really get dressed up in Vegas?Any extra tips beyond the general “packing light” stuff? Thanks!


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