7 Must Know Packing Tips to Pack Light & Pack Right

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When you’re traveling it’s a great time to dabble in simplifying your life and try out your own version of minimalism. These 7 tips to pack light and pack right are a great start!

I just got back from a wonderful 2 week working vacation in Maine. My husband and I have been going to Maine in the fall just about every year for the past 15 years. Most of those years we have stayed at the same cottage on the shore. It’s a pretty “no frills” kind of place, but the ocean views are so gorgeous and we just love it there.

But I’m not writing today to tell you how lucky I am to be able to take this annual trip. (Although I truly hope each of you are able to get away to a place you love every year to renew and recharge – even if you do have to work during some of it.) I’m writing to say – Hooray! After 15 years of coming to the same place, I finally got the packing right!! lol

How’s your packing been working out?

I don’t know if you have the same problem with packing that I’ve had over the years, but there have been so many times I didn’t get the packing right. I take clothes for weather that’s warmer or colder than what I’ll actually be experiencing, or clothes that are too dressy or not dressy enough. Or, I do the “girl scout be prepared” kind of thing and I try to cover all the contingencies and just end up taking way too much.

Now, it’s tough to figure out the weather, especially when so many areas are having warmer than normal or colder than normal temps. But this year I got it right. I used everything I had and it all worked together. So I thought I’d share this “win” with you and give you my 7 top tips for packing simple and smart.

BONUS! At the bottom of this post I’ve got a link to 2 terrific packing lists (one for cold weather and one for warm) to make sure you pack light and pack right!

This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. That means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission. Don’t worry though. It won’t cost you a penny more! You can read my affiliate disclosure here. 

1) Pack for what you will actually do:

To try to pack light and pack right, this year I got super realistic about what we actually do when we are in Maine not what we might do. In the past, I’d always take a dressy outfit for going out to dinner. But in reality, when we are at the cottage we rarely go out to dinner. We usually end up out for lunch and none of the places we go for lunch requires more than jeans and a sweater. So, wrinkle-free packable tops that can be layered with a flannel shirt or a sweater and a few pairs of jeans along with yoga pants and a warm sweater for hanging around the cottage are what’s required. And… what I actually wear.

small pink floral suitcase with pastel clothing and a pair of light blue flowered shoes and a pair of sunglasses

2) Make sure that every single thing in your suitcase goes with everything else.

Seriously, no matter how cute they are you don’t want to take one pair of brown pants that only goes with one of the shirts you packed.

3) Limit yourself to a carry-on size bag.

This is especially important if you are flying. If you’re traveling by car you may have more leeway, but it’s a good tip in either case. Note, what they sell in stores as “carry-on” size might not actually be something that will fit in the overhead bin. For most airlines carry-on size is 9 X 14 X 21.5. Some European budget carriers may have smaller restrictions than that. So you might want to check with your airline.

Then, if you have a luggage scale use it and limit yourself to about 16 pounds of weight. Why? Well, consider you might have to heft this suitcase up into that overhead bin and hold it up there for awhile while jockeying around other baggage so that it will fit. Even if you can lift more than this, it’s likely you may end up adding some things during your trip. Who doesn’t like a souvenir?!  Plus, you’ll probably have your personal item (handbag, computer case or whatever) hanging from you as well. Trust me – the less weight you have in that carry-on sized bag the better. Don’t have a luggage scale? Get one. They aren’t expensive and you’ll use them for years.  This one is super easy to use and has 5-star reviews at Amazon. If you’re on a super tight budget, for under $10 you can get this manual luggage scale from Samsonite and not even have to worry about batteries running out.

Woman with small backpack rolling a carry-on bag

What about wheels?

Wheeled carry-ons are great and I usually favor them because then potentially the only lifting I need to do is up into the overhead compartment. But the wheels and handle on the carry-on bag add weight to the luggage. They also take up space that could be used for an extra pair of pants or another couple of tops. So that’s just something to consider when you are picking out your next bag.

If your back is in good shape and up to carrying a backpack with 16 pounds in it you might seriously consider going that route, especially with the good looking options that “convert” to a regular looking suitcase. This Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack is really top notch and is one you should consider. The backpack straps can easily be hidden away so that it looks like a “regular” carry-on. It’s only 3 pounds, comes in 15 different colors and even comes with 3 packing cubes designed to fit it perfectly. There’s a great video on the page that even shows you how to most efficiently pack this bag so you’ll want to check that out for sure!

If you want wheels, look for something sturdy yet lightweight. This FILA Rolling Duffle Carry-On might be right for you. It weighs in at right about 5 pounds (as opposed to the 8-10 pounds of many wheeled bags) and comes in four colors. Be a little careful, however, if you decide on this bag. It’s got great outside pockets that make your stuff easy to access, but if you fill them too much you might end up over the size limit for a carry-on for the airline you’re flying. Just sayin! 🙂

If you want the best of both worlds and want to be able to wear your carry-on as a backpack or wheel it along with you, you might want to try something like this Gonex Rolling Backpack. The amazing part about this bag is that even with the wheels and the handle, etc. it still only weighs in at about 5 pounds.

In a hurry and just want to grab the 2 packing lists so you can pack light and pack right? Click here to go straight to our freebies page.

4) Pack Light and Pack Right Rule: “Pack for the best scenario, not the worst.”

I’m a huge fan of Rick Steves and his tips for traveling in Europe and that’s one of the things I’ve heard him say time and again. What does that mean? You don’t have to pack things for every possible emergency. You don’t need to be the “girl scout” and have every base covered. Take the basics and you’ll most likely be able to buy anything you need wherever you’re traveling. When my husband and I leave the house for a trip we always check to be sure we have 5 things:

  • glasses
  • meds
  • phone & charger
  • laptop &charger (if you aren’t going on a working vacation then by all means – leave this one behind!)
  • wallet with ID & credit cards

If we have those 5 things then everything else we can easily buy on the road if we need it.

I’ve packed for 2 week long trips in a carry-on. If we’re going by car I let myself get a little sloppy with my packing and expand some. (I mean hey, the room is there, why not throw in that extra coat and pair of shoes and my yoga mat!) But if I’m traveling by plane, I’m only taking a carry-on and “day pack” type personal item. It may seem severe to some of you who’ve never packed that way. But those of you who’ve done it know how awesome it is to not have to deal with (and pay for) checked baggage. To be able to navigate through cities, into cabs, onto trains and wherever you need to go not feeling like a pack horse is awesome!

Tote type purse with scarf, black shoes, sun glasses and lipstick to help you pack light and pack right

5) You’ll need fewer shoes than you think.

I always want to take more shoes than I need. If it’s a warm destination then a pair of sandals and a pair of walking/workout type shoes may be all you need. Do you really need “dress shoes”? If you do, fine. Pick lightweight ones that go with all your possible dressy outfits and cap it at 3 pairs of shoes max. You’ll be wearing one so will only need to fit 2 pairs in your luggage. Definitely wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane. They’re likely more comfortable anyway.

6) Pack to layer.

Going somewhere in chilly weather? You only really need one bulky sweater (and maybe one thinner one). Just be sure to have enough soft long sleeved-tee-shirts to go underneath. They’re easy to wash (even in your hotel sink if need be) and take up way less room than 2 extra sweaters or sweatshirts. Try a long-sleeved undershirt from Cuddl Duds.

And if you prefer 100% silk for layering then try a Terramar Women’s Thermasilk Pointelle shirt. They take up almost NO room in your carry-on. Just be aware that they are fairly see through so not really a good choice for your only layer:

colorful scarves are great to help you pack light and pack right!

7) Add Accessories to easily change up your look.

Small things that can change the look of your outfit are helpful when your wardrobe is so limited. A couple of good scarves can do wonders!

I have a red and black patterned pashmina that pretty much saved my life in Russia in November. Of course, I wore it around my neck when I was outside wearing my black coat. (It actually helped brighten up a lot of the pictures we had since Moscow in November is pretty grey and sunless. So choose scarf colors with photos in mind.)  I also used it as a blanket to cover up with on the plane, as a scarf for on my head one bitterly cold night in Moscow crossing Chistye Prudy Park and also as a wrap to dress up an outfit at the conference we were attending. Scarves are so versatile and with just a little bit of space in your carry on (or none if you wear it on the plane) you can freshen up any outfit!

Now, what will you actually pack?

The exact items you pack will, of course, vary based on where you’re going and if the weather is warm or cold. If the weather’s warm you have the advantage of being able to pack clothes that take up almost no room at all compared to clothes for colder situations. On the other hand, warm weather likely means more perspiration. That might mean you’ll need to either wash things out more or pack more items because you’ll only want to wear a t-shirt one time before it needs to be washed.

Try out a few of these 7 pack light and pack right tips and see if they help you pack smarter. If you enjoyed this article, please give it a share on Pinterest or Facebook.

And don’t forget to grab your 2 FREE packing lists to help you pack light and pack right, one for warm weather and one for cold weather, so you can pack light and pack right! Just click here to get access to the lists!

Want some ideas of fun and free things to do at great destinations?

Check out 15 Fun & Free things to do in Las Vegas! 15 Fun and Free things to do in Chicago!  15 Fun & Free things to do in New Orleans! and 40 Fun & Free things to do in New York!

P.S. If you’d like an easy to follow plan to help you begin to simplify your life, check out The Seven Days of Simplicity.

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