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The Art of Packing Light for a Trip

Packing Light | The Early Airway

Packing light. The mantra for the new age of travel. Long ago, world travelers took with them steamer trunk after steamer trunk full of clothes and mementos from home on their extended journeys. Lady Anne Blunt spent decades traveling the Sahara in search of pure Arabian blood to add to her stock, complete with chandeliers and china sets.

No more. Today’s traveler is veering towards the “less is more” concept where experiences mean more than possessions. Travel guru Rick Steves has long been a proponent of packing light and his carry-on size rucksack one of the travel industry’s best selling packs for more than two decades. His motto is “On your trip you’ll meet two kinds of travelers: those who pack light and those who wish they did.” Truer words were never spoken.

Think back to your last holiday. Remember seeing passengers struggle with oversized bags and multiple carry-ons. Sore backs and cranky tempers prevail. Then consider the alternative. Imagine breezing to the counter with your lightweight bag. Standing in line at security is no longer a, very literal, pain in the neck. You board the plane and easily fit your carry-on into the overhead or under the seat in front of you.

With the calm picture in your head, the next question becomes HOW? How exactly do you pack for holiday with less? Full-time traveler James Turner does it with a 26litre backpack. Journalist Rolf Potts famously traveled the world with NO luggage at all for 6 weeks. He explored 12 countries on five continents without one single bag in his “no baggage challenge”.

Okay, it’s time to say it’s ok to want to at least bring ONE bag on your trip. Back to the question of how to par down and spend your time researching your destination rather than stressing over what to pack. Here are five tips from the experts on packing light.


1. Packing Light Starts With a Test Run

You will walk with your bag more than you think. To start off, limit yourself to 20lbs which is typically a 9”X 21” X 14” carry on size. Trust us, you can do it. Now lay out and pack everything you think you may need. Once you are packed actually take your bag and spend an hour wandering around your hometown. The goal of this exercise is not to punish you, but rather to show you just how much effort is required to have an over packed bag. It is not so much about traveling light, but about a traveling lifestyle which promotes serendipity.


2. Justify Your Choices

A common myth of travelers is that they need to be prepared for any situation. The honest truth is that you can get nearly anything you might need anywhere in the world. Certainly, if you are heading to the Sahara for an extended camel safari, you may want to make sure you have enough toothpaste. For pretty much any more traditional trip, believe us, other countries DO have toothpaste! Ask yourself the all-important question “how often will I use this”? Not will you use it, but how often.


3. Choose Multi-Purpose Items

Full-time traveler Clayton’s number one tip is that 20% of your items should cover 80% of situations. To simplify this focus on mixing and matching of clothes, taking only items in two complimentary colors for example. When looking at your compiled items, if you find yourself asking “but what do I do if….?” Or “this might come in handy if…” leave it out. Experienced travelers are all too familiar with returning home to unpack and realize there were items in the bottom of their bag that were never used. Do not make this mistake.


4. Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are a life changer. The important thing to know, which type is best for you. There are the basic packing cubes which are excellent for simply categorizing and organizing like items. To further decrease your space, go for compression bags, those packing cubes where you compress the air out of them, dramatically decreasing the space required for your items.


5. Bring Very Little

Here it is, the crux of it all. To travel with next to nothing, you must simply bring very little. Look back on the previous tips. All focus on simplifying, justifying, and asking yourself do you actually really NEED the item in question. The odds are, you don’t. There is no need for three kinds of moisturizer, six lipsticks, and an entire bag of jewelry. Think simple, not in the bland way, but in the manner of a chic French woman who is capable of totally changing her look with the addition of a scarf and an updo. Think elegant.



The tips here are just a start for packing light. Experienced travelers have taken trip after trip to truly develop a list that works for them. The true pro Rick Steves packs exactly the same for summer and winter travel with the addition of a lightweight jacket to layer to his existing wardrobe.

Male travelers have an easy go. Whether catching a private jet charter or standing in line at customs, men can generally get away with casual pants and a lightweight, read easily hand washable, button up shirt.

Ladies tend to pack more, wanting to change up her look day to day. Be warned, keep it simple. Remember the addition of a scarf or different pair of earrings completely changes the tone of an outfit.

Traveling with less is a mindset. It is a desire to stroll calmly down endless terminals, to not wait for baggage, to lose the shoulder and neck pain of hauling overweight bags. Traveling with less involves planning and control, but in the end is worth not having those two extra shirts in your bag.

One additional bonus of packing light is that you can buy souvenirs at your destination and have room in your bag to transport your treats home! Never again worry about how to bring home that artwork or Venetian vase. All in all, the benefits of traveling light are many. This is the year to make your life easier.