Mastering the Art of Packing Light

Learn 6 essential tips for paring down and packing smart, just in time for your next trip.

This post comes from our blog intern, Natalie.

Whether you’re skipping town for a European getaway, or jetting off for a weekend on the coast, mastering the art of packing light can and will change your life. I was once notorious for packing my entire closet into a suitcase, as though each garment was invisibly glued to me. There was a certain anxiety attached to trip preparation, prompting my desire to pack every single thing should there be some reason I would want/need it. After one too many stints of forcing my suitcase’s zipper around its bulging circumference, I decided it was time to change.

It took time to combat the nagging desire that was “bring an extra pair of jeans or t-shirt,” but ultimately I found solutions. Below I’ve shared some of my favorite tips to make the entire experience of travel prep more effortless. There is something to be said about bringing only what you truly need…


Plan ahead. The importance of preparation is highly underrated, yet it can make all the difference in starting your experience on the right foot. Begin by making a list of every thing you anticipate needing. Look at a calendar or itinerary and go day by day, writing down what you intend to wear. Do this a few days in advance so you can schedule any last-minute purchases or wash cycles. I like to keep things very organized, differentiating the items that are absolutely essential from those that could be left behind.

Lay it out, trim it down. If planning isn’t your thing, or a last-minute adventure leaves you in a time-crunch, this tip is for you. Lay out every thing you need — don’t hold back at this point. Organize items by clothing category, creating piles of pants, shirts, and so on. Once you’ve finished, take away away half of everything. Sounds daunting, but this is a tried-and-true method. Sort through each stack, keeping half and putting half back. As you determine what makes the cut, keep in mind the pieces’ thickness, weight and tendency to wrinkle. The best pieces are light, wrinkle-free, and won’t take up a lot of space. Shoes can be tricky and occupy precious space, so make sure to only pick all-0ccasion pairs. My go-to’s are heeled boots to dress up or down, athletic sneakers to explore with ease, and simple pair of slip-on sandals for versatility.

Choose a color palette. This is a method I’ve recently adopted, and it has made all the difference. Pick a color palette for you trip, and stick to it. This makes mixing and matching outfits effortless, and can extend the use and versatility of your garments significantly. Depending on the itinerary, I often keep my color palette neutral, sticking to darker colors, white and denim. This allows me to bring along a few statement pieces and accessories to incorporate, allowing for both style and function.

Roll it up. Once you know what you are going to bring, and you’ve parted ways with all unnecessary items, it’s time to pack it all away. Tightly rolling clothing, rather than folding, is a simple way to fit more into a smaller space. If done with care, it can also reduce unnecessary wrinkling. When packing your suitcase, place heavier items on bottom, and lighter on top. This will make rolling a suitcase easier, and serves as yet another trick to maximizing space.

Wear it. If you are bringing a heavy jacket, boots, or any other bulky items that will take up unnecessary space, consider wearing them on the plane. Not only can a jacket double as a pillow for longer flights, but it will free up room for that second dress that you’re dying to bring.

Do Laundry. Many avid travelers swear by one tip to lighten their load — do laundry. If your trip is longer than one week, still pack for seven days. Finding a laundromat is much simpler than lugging around a suitcase bursting at the seams. Plus, you’ll want to leave room in your suitcase for mementos of your adventures…


+ What are your tips for packing light? Let me know in the comments!

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5 years ago
Mandie Fae
5 years ago

I will never forget my trip to Tokyo with my sister. We stayed in a few hostels and halfway through the trip we had a private room the size of a small closet to share. We planned to do laundry at this location and we then found out they did not have a dryer, nor a hanging space to dry things. SO we borrowed some rope from the front desk and ran the rope across the room at all angles to serve as a drying rack! We played cards & slept under them and it was like have a fort made of all our colorful clothing! :)

5 years ago

Awesome post ! Very helpful

5 years ago

Good tips but I couldn’t imagine trying to pack for my wife, life is a bit simpler for me.

5 years ago

Uh, where is that lovely bag from?

5 years ago

This is so helpful! I packed super light every time I visit Colorado. I managed to pack pretty light with one carry-on to Tokyo/Kyoto as well. But I still end up packing a few extra things I didn’t even wear on the trip! Next time I will know better. Also, I can totally relate to Mandie Fae’s comment about Japanese laundry mat dryers. I found a few with them but they took super long so I gave up and took all my wet clothes back to the hotel to hang them out. The hostel I stayed at luckily had a drying rack outside and a balcony for my room.

5 years ago

Thank you for this lovely article. I have traveled extensively in my life but never mastered the simple rule of coordination. I used to pack by outfit appropriate for the occasion. This last trip I used your tip and brought white, army color, and black for my colors. I also made sure everything mixed and matched. I only brought one neutral sweater but it went with everything. It was so nice to pick clothes out of my bag (one carry on) based on what I was doing and the weather rather than by the outfit. I was able to wear some things more than once but in a different way. I hand washed as necessary and hung in front of the AC fan to dry overnight.

I will pack with your very useful, practical methods from now on. The only other recommendation I have is to use packing cubes. They are a lifesaver on long or weekend trips.

5 years ago

Where is that bag from?

5 years ago

Awesome. Those shoes!!!?? Where from… please?

5 years ago

Great article. I want everything in the photo :)

5 years ago

I like to put outfits, tees and underwear in vacuum bags. It’s so easy to keep organized.

5 years ago

Is the overnighter made by Pendleton?

5 years ago

That bag looks like a Manos Zapotecas. Nice post. Reading from a 10 day trip where I’m packed in a modest sized backpack. These were many of the things I did.

5 years ago

Great tips…thanks so much! And, I love your tote bag….where did you get it? Great colors. :)

4 years ago

What a wonderful blog you have. Pack the essentials: undergarments, shoes, a set or two of regular clothes, entertainment, medication and, for longer flights, basic toiletries. Some people fly as if they may never see their luggage again – and that has some merit. Keep in your carry-on the minimum of what you need to survive should you lose your luggage.