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How To Pack Light Every Time (and why you should break the rules)

How To Pack Light

It’s no secret I love packing light ;) But I also know that packing light can seem like a really difficult thing, but I promise it’s actually quite simple… and refreshing. So how to pack light? For me, these 6 steps are all I use to pack light every time. They aren’t rules but a way of approaching packing light to make it work for you. I’ve definitely broken a few of the infamous ‘packing light rules’ and I think you should too…

How To Pack Light Every Time (and why you should break the rules)

STEP 1: Use 20 Clothing Items As A Guide

I think this is the single most important thing that can help you pack light. After packing carry-on only a few times, I thought, I wonder how much stuff I’m actually packing? I wanted a guide for myself to make it easier. So I counted how many clothing items I had and Chris had, and each time it was around 20 pieces (not including underwear or shoes), give or take a few. I like knowing an overall number, it’s a great guide and it’s also not too restrictive to seasons or type of clothing. For example, if I want to pack more dresses if I’m going to an island I can, and if I’m going to a colder environment I might want to pack a few pairs of jeans I can do that too.

Step 2: Be Intentional

Be intentional with what you want to wear on your trip. In other words don’t just pack you entire wardrobe, but select a few items that go together, keep it simple. Be realistic and logical, why do you need 6 months worth of clothing for one week?

Step 3: Know Your Destination

Packing Light for Summer

Pretty obvious, but your destination will change what you pack, but not as much as you think.

Summer is probably the easiest season to pack for, and will include light clothing and accessories like sunglasses, hats and swimwear etc. I wouldn’t pack a towel unless you have a super light one. We either use one from the hotel or buy a cheap towel at the destination. I still remember packing a huge towel that I loved from home for our trip to Malaysia, and I just didn’t have any room for it at the end, it literally took up a third of my bag, so I had to let it go.

In colder destinations, it’s all about the layering and not packing too many bulky items. Instead of packing 3 huge coats, just stick to one coat and layer.

We are currently travelling all year carry-on only, and we purposefully wanted to experience warm weather for most of the year, but there have been moments when it’s been pretty cold and there are more to come. We are going to buy a warmer coat/jacket before we get into the colder period, and maybe a beanie, but as long as we stick to one, we should be able to just carry these on the plane. But basically we have been able to keep the same core basics throughout the year, with a little bit of shopping and replacing items, and adapt this to work with different climates.

Another thing to keep in mind is if you are visiting religious sites that require certain clothing and make sure you have something respectful.

Knowing your destination isn’t just about weather and culture, but what you can buy there too. This comes in handy with toiletries and clothing especially.

Step 4: Go Easy On The Shoes

Shoes are to packing light what chocolate is to healthy eating – still important in moderation but overdo it and you’ve got no chance. I try not to pack anymore than 4 pairs of shoes, and if I pack 4, some of them need to be pretty light. This is what I have at the moment:


Perfect for long days of exploring or hikes. I love my nike free-runs as they are super light and pack pretty flat. The more I travel the more I love finding a good walk to explore, take in the scenery and get some exercise.

Ballet Flats

A comfortable pair of ballet flats are great for walking and exploring, and look nicer than joggers. I was on a mission to find the prefect pair of ballet flats, that looked nice and were comfortable so I could still explore in nice shoes. Those ballet flats are Sam Edelman. The moment I saw that cushiony soul… I knew. These shoes can take you from day to night too.

Flat Sandals

Nice flat sandals are great for day or night, especially in warmer destinations. I use these to replace the heels I use to pack. Of course if I was going somewhere where I thought I might need heels, I’d reassess. But so far I’ve found a nice pair of sandals you can still wear out at night.

Thongs (Flip-flops)

I always pack my thongs when I go to beach destinations, there’s just nothing better to wear to the beach, and they are light and don’t take up much space to pack. But if the beach wasn’t a huge part of your holiday, you can always get away without them too.

So depending where I’m going, I may be able to leave one of these at home, but most of the time I pack these 4 types of shoes and they cover all of my needs and fit in carry-on. I’m also wanting to add a pair of Ked’s (light sneakers) to the mix, depending where I am going I could switch these with one of the above. One of the main things I have learnt is not only to minimise shoes but to select the right shoes, both stylish and comfortable.

Step 5: Simplify Toiletries

Packing Toiletries

Carry-on only means you can only pack one small bag of toiletries less than 100ml each. This was one of the things I thought would be an obstacle when I first started packing light. But did you know how long 100ml of shampoo or moisturiser or cleanser actually lasts? Usually way longer than your holiday.

First, I simplify my toiletries. If I use a mask once a week at home I’m pretty sure I can go without it on a holiday. I get down to basics. Then I think about what I can easily buy there and I don’t bother packing it. For the things I still need to pack, I’ll either decant them into smaller bottles or buy travel size items or try to use up any samples I’ve had laying around.

As I mentioned, often you don’t need 100ml of everything. So if you are decanting, don’t just put your moisturiser in 100ml bottles, that may last you 6 months at home. Use smaller bottles or containers and only pack what you need.

I usually bring my moisturiser and cleanser in decanted bottles. I then buy my shampoo and conditioner at my destination. I often pack a decanted or travel size hair treatment. Or better yet, find a product that’s multi-use (I’m currently using Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse for my body moisturiser and ends of my hair to replace two products), I’ve heard coconut oil is great for skin and hair.

How To Pack Light + Why You Should Break The Rules

Pack A Book

Although this might seem like rules to packing light, it’s definitely not, it’s more a framework that might help you simplify it all. Actually, there are so many ‘rules’ to packing light that I often break, because packing light isn’t a science, it’s an art ;) And art can be personal and creative. It’s simply just about enhancing your holiday.

So here are some of the rules I break when packing light and travelling…

I pack jeans. As a matter of fact at the moment I have two of them ;) Jeans may be a slightly heavier item, but they can take you from day to night, I like jeans, and you don’t really need to wash them. And they fit really nicely into those dips in hard case luggage. Perfect!

I always pack a physical book. I love reading and reading to me just isn’t the same if I can’t smell the book and turn a page. It may take up a tiny bit more of space, but I still manage to pack carry-on only and pack a book.

Just because you pack carry-on only or pack light doesn’t mean you can’t buy anything. I must admit, I don’t usually buy any souvenirs as I got to a point where they were just accumulating and I had no use for them. But I do like buying unique things that really stand out to me every now and again, and I sometimes leave space to buy some clothes. Yep, that’s right, you can pack carry-on only and still have some space in your suitcase! And if there’s something you really want that can’t fit, there are so many options… mail it home which we’ve done before or if you need to check in your bag on the way home, then at least you still reaped the benefits of carry-on for 90% of your holiday and your’e probably still packing light.

Packing light is all about the freedom ;)

Would you pack light or carry-on only? What are your tips or struggles?

2 thoughts on “How To Pack Light Every Time (and why you should break the rules)”

  1. I think packing light is a lot about figuring out what stuff that really makes a difference to your experience when you travel. Like the book you bring because the reading experience is important to you. (I agree with that one by the way :-)

    Another tip I’d like to share is to refrain from the items you plan to pack because “they would be handy to have if…”. Those ifs seldom occur, and if they do you can usually find what you need at the destination. These days you can find the essentials for living at almost every location, but you might have to switch brand ;-)

    1. Hi Katrin, couldn’t agree more! Most essential items are readily available in most places, and sometimes switching brands is part of the fun… this year in particular I’ve discovered some great French products that I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Thanks for the great tips :)

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