Packing Light – Having Fewer Things for Happier Travels

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my travels, it’s that you don’t need as much as you think you do. The key is knowing what to bring and how to pack it. 

Packing light is traveling with only what is necessary and packing as efficiently as possible. Packing light is ideal for backpacking adventures, international travel, and most travel excursions. 

There’s nothing like the excitement that builds before going on a grand adventure. While your mind fantasizes about the wonders to see, there are practical things to keep in mind, like how to pack lightly and efficiently. 

What Is Packing Light?

Packing light is a term used when people prepare to travel, whether for a one-week vacation or a three-month adventure around the globe. It describes how they plan to pack and what they bring. 

Packing light focuses on bringing as little as possible and only what is necessary. There are a few different ways to accomplish this best, but your flexibility is an essential element. 

A Minimalist Suitcase - Packing Light - Gone Minimal
A Minimalist Suitcase

I’ll be the first to admit packing light isn’t always my preferred mode of action. Why? I love options. I don’t want to feel limited in what I can wear and how I want to look. I’ve learned to get over this by focusing on what’s most important. What will I cherish more; what I remember wearing or the experience I had? However, I know how great it feels to get dressed up for a nice night out or for an Instagram-worthy picture.

For this reason, I always try to include space for at least one nice outfit, depending on the type of adventure I’m about to embark on. The exception to this is if I’m going camping or backpacking in the wilderness. Nature doesn’t care what you look like, and neither should you. 

Packing light focuses on bringing as little as possible, only what is essential and necessary.

Need an excuse to plan your next adventure? A recent study, published by ResearchGate, shows that traveling could benefit our physical, mental, and emotional health.

A survey, published by the National Library of Medicine, backed up this claim by stating, “Travel had a positive effect on the perceived health status of the traveler. The positive effects of travel seemed to outweigh the impact of health problems.” What better reason to travel than for your entire well-being? 

A Simple Map - Packing Light - Gone Minimal
A Simple Map

Benefits of Packing Light

If you’re planning on traveling internationally and going to multiple places, packing light will make your trip much more manageable. Packing light is also best for outdoor trips, such as backpacking and camping. Here are the key benefits of packing light: 

  1. Less weight to carry – Whether you’re running through the airport to catch your next flight or traverse a steep mountain slope, you’ll be thankful for your light pack. 
  2. You don’t have to worry about missing luggage – I highly recommend traveling with just a carry-on if you’re able. This helps you keep track of all your belongings, and you don’t have to hear the dreaded news that your luggage is missing. 
  3. It makes international travel easier – If you’re traveling to multiple places in a continent, such as Europe, you’ll most likely be traveling via bus or train. Having to drag along heavy and bulky luggage can make international travel much more difficult. In some scenarios, the train or passenger bus might not have room for your large bags, which would be a major bummer. 
  4. It helps you appreciate the simple things – When traveling light, you’ll probably need to hand wash your week-worths of clothes and wear outfits multiple times in a row. I believe this teaches us to be more adaptable and versatile, which builds character for everyday life. 
  5. It’s cheaper and will help save you money – With just a carry-on, you won’t have the extra fees of a checked bag. 
  6. You can keep your items safe because they’ll always be on you – If you’re staying at a hostel, for example, their lockers probably won’t be large enough to store a suitcase, making it at risk of being stolen. 

How to Pack Light for Travel

Many travelers have learned the art of packing light, and through their experience, items and tips have been created to help their fellow travelers. These include amazing packing cubes and first-hand recommendations to set you up for success. 

By packing light, you’ll free yourself from the burden of excess belongings and experience the joy of a more streamlined and liberated travel experience. Focus on essentials, versatility, and practicality when packing, and you’ll find that traveling light not only simplifies your journey but also enriches it with memorable moments and meaningful experiences.

A Minimalist Packing Cube - Packing Light - Gone Minimal
A Minimalist Packing Cube

Packing Cubes

One of the best ways to save on space and keep your pack organized is to use a packing cube. I recommend using Ultralight Packing Cubes or Compression Packing Cubes for packing light. 

Packing cubes are helpful because they naturally compress your clothes into smaller containers. One backpack or luggage compartment can pack multiple cubes, keeping your items organized and helping you pack everything you need. 

Set aside the items you know you’ll need and that you’ll definitely wear, and leave everything else behind.

Ultralight packing cubes will be ideal for packing light as they weigh less than other packing cubes. Compression packing cubes would be suitable if you’re taking an extended trip and need to fit more items into your pack. Compression packing cubes compress your clothes more than other packing cubes, creating more space. 

To get the full idea on packing cubes, including how to use them and which style would be best for your travels, check out this helpful video: 

Packing Light Tips 

Here are the most helpful packing light tips for your upcoming travels: 

  1. Only bring enough clothes for seven days – This is the ultimate packing light tip to follow if you plan to travel with only a carry-on bag. I understand this tip is challenging, especially if you’re planning a three-month adventure. The key is to wear clothes multiple times (if you can) before washing and bring clothing that pairs well with numerous other items. 
  2. Wash your clothes – It’s helpful to bring a soap bar to wash your clothes by hand. You might not always have access to a washer and dryer, and it will help you save money by not having to use the laundry mat. 
  3. Lay out all the clothes you want to bring – This tip will help you decide what clothing items are the best to take and what things will serve double-duty. Set aside the items you know you’ll need and that you’ll definitely wear, and leave everything else behind. 
  4. Roll your clothes instead of folding them – Rolling your clothes creates more space in your pack and helps maintain organization. 
  5. Only bring a small amount of the essential toiletries – Unless you’re planning to travel to no-man’s-land, most places will carry the toiletries you need so that you can purchase them at your destination. 
  6. Use packing cubes – These will help you save space and stay organized. 
  7. Make a packing checklist – This will help you know what items are essential to bring. Plus, it will ensure you don’t forget anything! 
  8. Follow the 1-2-3-4-5-6 rule – This will include one hat, two pairs of shoes, three pairs of pants, four tops,  five pairs of socks, and six pairs of underwear. I found this great tip through REI
  9. Layer warm clothes – If you’re traveling somewhere cold, wear as many layers as possible and your heavy winter coat on the plane. Wearing layers as you travel will help you save space in your pack, as wooly sweaters and puffy jackets take up a lot of space! Plus, you can always strip a few layers off once you’re settled on the plane. 
  10. Leave your hair dryer, curling iron, and makeup bag at home – Bringing these items takes up unnecessary space, and most hotels, Airbnb’s, and some hotels have blow dryers you can use. You can still bring makeup, but condense it and bring as little as possible. 

This list can be greatly extended, and if you’re interested in learning more packing light tips, I recommend checking out youtube to watch some videos. Many travelers have perfected their packing and can share valuable information on how you can too. 

A Simple Travel Case - Packing Light - Gone Minimal
A Simple Travel Case

Related Insights

Is it better to travel light?

Yes, traveling light makes things a lot easier and less stressful. It frees up time and physical and mental space so one can be more engaged in the wonderful traveling moments. It also frees one to move about, which is a key enjoyment when traveling. 

Is it better to fold or roll clothes when packing?

It’s better to roll clothes as they take up less space than folded clothes. This helps with traveling light while sometimes making clothing less wrinkled when they’re unrolled and worn. So, it can be a travel win-win. 

What do you need for traveling?

The essentials — tops, bottoms, socks, underwear, shoes, necessary electronics, passport (if traveling internationally), a small day-pack (for storing your wallet and laptop when you go out), and necessary toiletries (such as a toothbrush, flossers, small hairbrush, and deodorant). 

The Must-have and Overly-packed Items That Real People Bring When Traveling

I understand that not everyone is in the habit of packing light, so I reached out to my friends and family for more insight into their packing habits. I first asked what items they MUST include (aside from essentials like toiletries and personal-needs items) in their pack and what things they always pack but never end up needing. Here’s a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how people pack for traveling.

Must-have Traveling Items
25% of people polled said their journal must be included in their pack
25% of people polled said their necklace must be included in their pack
25% of people polled said their camera must be included in their pack
25% of people polled said their headphones must be included in their pack
25% of people polled said their books must be included in their pack
Overly-packed Traveling Items
25% of people polled said they  bring too many tops when traveling
25% of people polled said they bring too much underwear when traveling
25% of people polled said they bring too many pairs of pants when traveling
25% of people polled said they bring books they don’t need when traveling
25% of people polled said they bring too many clothes for “just in case”  when traveling
The Must-have and Overly-packed Traveling Items

Other Resources:

Final Thoughts

If you’re an avid traveler or planning to be, packing light is an essential skill that will greatly help you in your adventures. It will benefit your travel expenses and the weight you carry and help keep you focused on what’s most important in life. So what would you rather have, a heavy suitcase full of items you don’t need and probably won’t use? Or, a light pack with your essentials that you can keep safe on your side (that will also save you time and money)? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide! 

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