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going somewhere nice? packing light rules

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packing up for the roadI am the queen of packing light. On my last trip - to Washington DC - I took one 25 litre bag. That’s a single small carry on. And that’s all.

There are many advantages to packing light. It means that you can use public transport, rather than taking a cab. Almost by default you can’t buy too much stuff whilst you’re away as you have only got so much room to pack it in. You won’t cause yourself permanent damage by hefting suitcases about. It’s a lot easier to be a budget traveller if you’re travelling light.

Of all the people I know, I am by far the lightest packer. I’ve pretty much got it down to a fine art. Stuff that I need to take travelling falls into several groups.


Not the most important, but certainly taking up the most room, clothes are the things I start off thinking about. Naturally, what you take depends on the destination that you’re travelling to.

In general, I take enough clothes to not need to wash anything for at least 5 days. If I’m going away for a week, I take 7 days worth clothes. Much longer than that, and I anticipate doing laundry.

I don’t have any special fancy clothes for travelling, just regular jeans, t-shirts, 1 or 2 fleeces, socks and underwear. Since I usually stay in hostels, I add in decent pyjamas and flip flops (for the showers). If it’s going to be hot, I usually take a skirt. For shoes, in winter it’ll be Dr Martens, in summer, it’ll be trainers. Other things that come in handy are hats, sarongs, sunglasses and scarfs - depends on your destination.

For a business trip, I take the bare minimum. I’m usually only away for a couple of nights, so need one or two changes of clothes, and maybe a pair of jeans for the evening. I only need the shoes/boots that I travelled in.

toiletries etc

Shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, shaving oil, toothpaste, all in flight friendly containers and then in a zip-up bag. Plus a razor, toothbrush, spare hairband and hairbrush. I have a medium sized trek towel if I’m going to be in hostels. Business trip, identical. All of this lives permanently together, so I’m not hunting round if I need to travel at short notice.

If I want to take make-up it’ll go in the zip-up bag. If needed I’d add in sunscreen and insect repellent, although that would probably stop me just having carry on luggage - the inconvenience is better than skin cancer. The only medicine I take with me is generic ibuprofen, but I also have plasters, and the special blister plasters.


  • A tiny maglite torch - off the beaten track, it can get awfully dark
  • bottle opener keyring - handy for drinking cheap beers
  • silk sleepsheet - for hostels, bought in New Zealand and well worth the money
  • additional drawstring bag that folds up very small - great for a daysack
  • a notebook and pen - I keep a journal sometimes, note down any relevant embassy numbers, and it just comes in handy
  • mp3 player - flights / coach / train journeys get boring, mine can also be used as a memory stick
  • book(s) - usually a guidebook and at least one reading book, also for boredom purposes
  • small combination lock - for locking things in hostels
  • alarm clock or mobile phone - generally, I don’t want to wake up late and miss the plane/train/whatever


Passport, travel insurance, EHIC card (EU only), cash, credit card, debit card, driving licence as required. If I’m going abroad I’ll take all of the above. In the UK, probably just cash, driving licence and cards.

And that’s all folks. You can find more resources on packing light at this great site. Anything you think that I should take that I’ve missed off the list?

Image by billaday

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35 comments for “going somewhere nice? packing light rules”

  1. I pack like a sherpa of doom…One credo…don’t forget anything! I think that it is a reaction to forgetting stuff all of the time. Also dressing in suits everyday bulks up the bags.

    I AM the horrible American with the giant bag that is so big it has its own weather system :)

    Posted by RacerX | February 4, 2008, 5:54 pm
  2. Great list, thanks! I have slowly whittled down the packing over the years. I’ve got a new 38L bag that I think will be my travel pack (unless I have to carry gear) for non-business travel.

    Posted by deepali | February 4, 2008, 7:21 pm
  3. I agree- less stuff = less money/hassle. We sometimes get pounced on by security for carrying so little (I get a week’s worth of stuff, including pharma, into a daypack).
    If I’m going through the trauma of checked baggage, my swiss army knife is essential, otherwise I buy a knife (and sometimes a spoon) when I get to wherever I’m going so I can make my own baguettes.
    Now- packing for festivals is another matter. I can & do fill a whole car with my stuff, sadly.

    Posted by Pippin | February 4, 2008, 7:28 pm
  4. I am a little worse than RacerX. Though a veteran of travel, I still lug along ahuge bag and a carry on.

    I am a little ashamed of this as very often a colleague will come along nonchalantly carrying just a backpack.

    I suppose this is one of my negatives.

    Posted by fathersez | February 4, 2008, 7:36 pm
  5. That sounds right to me. A few years ago I was definitely a huge packer, but I think I’ve really toned it down. For Christmas, for instance, I think I only took two bags–one small overnight bag with the clothes and a backpack with books and the like.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | February 4, 2008, 8:12 pm
  6. @RacerX and fathersez:
    I can honestly say that as I’ve travelled with less and less stuff, I haven’t missed any of the things that I no longer take. Part of that, to me, is accepting the life that I live, rather than the slightly more glamorous one that I sometimes wish I did. I do not need 3 pairs of shoes on holiday, because I am not going anywhere that someone would care that I wore the same shoes yesterday.

    @Mrs. Micah:
    One of the reasons that I pack less now, is that when I went travelling a few years ago, I fell backwards trying to climb into the airport bus in Bangkok - I ended up like a turtle on my back with all the Thai women politely giggling at me. Only funny if it happens to someone else :) .

    Posted by plonkee | February 4, 2008, 8:27 pm
  7. I usually go with the carry-on as well (unless I’m doing transatlantic with things for the family or myself as it may be). Sure beats losing the luggage due to airline screw-ups.

    One tip: I carried a minimag for the longest time until I discovered photon-lights. I keep one attached to the zipper of my jacket and another in my keychain. They are much smaller, lighter, and brighter than the minimag.

    Posted by Early Retirement Extreme | February 5, 2008, 3:58 am
  8. Wow, I’m seriously impressed at how lightly you traveled to DC!

    Posted by Chief Family Officer | February 5, 2008, 4:28 am
  9. @Early Retirement Extreme:
    I’ll look into photon lights - I’m hoping to go somewhere exotic in the Autumn where a good torch will probably come in handy.

    It’s all down to practice, and the fact that I don’t like to carry heavy things.

    Posted by plonkee | February 5, 2008, 9:12 am
  10. I fully agree with packing light. Before my son was born, my husband and I each used a carry-on for all of our travel. Spain, Hawaii, even a 3-week trip to China! Being the paranoid person that I am, I would have about the same list you do, except I might add a few items like 1st aid ointment, cough drops (good for dry mouth/dry air problems), extra contact lenses, glasses, an emergency laundry kit and vitamins (we never get sick while traveling if we take vitamins).

    Packing light has changed since our little one was born. That said, we still keep it as respectable as possible. Unless we’re traveling home from Ireland for Christmas. The gifts and chocolate really weigh us down ;-)

    Posted by MetaMommy | February 7, 2008, 9:37 pm
  11. its very inportant to pack lite, but if you go for hike its sometimes more difficult

    Posted by Maggie | October 1, 2008, 5:06 pm
  12. I always pack light on the gadgets and over pack on the clothes razor, toothbrush, comb, shamppo, soap, prefume, cell phone and laptop, always seem to over pack on cloths since I might decide to change 2-3 times a day depending on what I do I normally only change once so the other 2-3 changes of clothes per day is where I really over pack but I guess better safe and sorry

    Posted by Bottle Opener | October 16, 2008, 2:02 am
  13. That’s a pretty good list you have there. I pack very similarly when traveling on planes. If I’m going on a road trip I pack a bit more (I bring my laptop and allllll my photo equipment).
    Typically I pack 2-3 pairs of pants (jeans, dark blues and blacks - as they hide the dirt easier than whites and tans) and 7 shirts. I generally travel 5-10 days at a time so 7 seems appropriate to me. If I’m gone 5 days it gives me back up shirts for when I spill something or if it’s raining and I get drenched. If I am gone 10 days I have to wash a few shirts along the way but that’s it. Pretty simple.

    Posted by autumn grace | January 21, 2009, 6:28 pm
  14. Nice tips! Pretty funny when you could think about bottle opener for cheap beer. Cool ideas.

    Posted by Ronny | February 23, 2009, 10:51 am
  15. The best way to go is light! If you need additional stuff, you can always pick it up in your travels. Look for a backpack sale to add extra carrying room for stuff that you pick up.

    Posted by Dave | July 2, 2009, 3:32 am
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    Posted by Pinoy | January 18, 2010, 9:13 pm
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  18. These are some great tips the one about the bottle opener is the best.

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