10 Tips for Traveling Light
Published 2017 on All Altitudes travel and outdoor adventure gear website.
Whether you’re packing for a quick holiday getaway or a long-term trip across various climates, packing light for more than a couple of days can be a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.
You can get everything you need into just one bag. Okay you might also need that one personal item on longer trips, but either way, these tips should help make sure you’re packing smart, and packing light for your next trip.
INVEST IN A GOOD BACKPACK I’ve always preferred a backpack over a rolling suitcase for several reasons—they’re easy to put on and just kind of forget about, not to mention they’re essential for tackling unpaved roads and staircases. You’re also likely to pack less when you’re carrying something on your back for extended periods of time.
A few years ago I finally invested in a 45L backpack fitted to my 5’2” frame, and it’s become a hardly-noticeable extension of my body on long-term trips and through-hikes. It can be packed down for a weekend getaway, or expand to carry everything I need for long-term travel. Double bonus: it’s also sturdy enough to be thrown in the bottom of planes and buses, and has served as a makeshift seat while waiting for buses and trains.
PACK EARLY, THEN TAKE AWAY THE UNNECESSARY Lay everything out that you think you’ll need a couple days before your trip. Then come back and give everything the “do I really need this?” test, removing anything you’re taking “just in case.” Also take out any bulky items you know you’ll only use once and/or could easily rent (I’m looking at you, snowboarding pants). If you’re not going to use it on a regular basis, take it out.
PACK PIECES THAT SERVE MORE THAN ONE PURPOSE Simple, versatile clothing is key to packing light. Like a plain tank dress that can be worn while out exploring a city, on the beach, lounging around after a shower, or even dressed up for a night out. Also a sarong can be picked up on the road as a souvenir, and can be used as a bathing suit cover, a beach towel, a pillow, a blanket on a cold bus, a head scarf, etc., and can be tied to the outside of the pack for transport.
A dry sack is another great item that comes in handy a few different ways. Add an extra layer of waterproof protection by packing your electronics in it inside your bag. Then you can use it for separating important items in your day bag, packing a lunch, or even using it as a purse that snaps onto your gear or hangs from your wrist.
LAYER, LAYER, LAYER While we’re on the subject of versatility, pack multifunctional pieces you can layer for varying climates instead of weighing down your bag with several pairs of bulky items. My go-to’s include a breathable base layer (such as lined leggings that can also be worn solo as pants, pajamas, or for workouts), and a thin waterproof layer (which can also be worn solo in warm, buggy climates). Then I only need one pair of everyday pants that I can wear on their own, or layered up in cold weather.
I also pack a few moisture-wicking base layer tops (tank top, short sleeve, and long sleeve) to wear underneath almost everything, and sometimes on their own. It helps cut down on how often I need to wash my bulkier layers, and they’re easy enough to wash at the end of the day and dry overnight.
Another part of layering up your clothes means color-coordinating so you can mix and match. Pretty easy to do when you stick to solid colors and simple pieces, as opposed to wild patterns and trendy statement pieces that can clash.
Also whenever you can, wear your heavy gear (hiking boots, jackets) and pack your lighter stuff (sandals). Just be mindful not to layer on too much, or you could end up sweating through all the layers and needing to do a load of laundry early.
INVEST IN MOISTURE-WICKING CLOTHING This is one of the best travel tips I’ve actually adapted to everyday life because I’m kind of a sweaty beast. Moisture-wicking clothing (lightweight, breathable activewear that absorbs moisture and dries quickly) is super easy to wash out in the sink and hang to dry in just a couple of hours. Plus it’s great in humid weather, feels super comfortable to wear, and is incredibly easy to layer.
Aside from a couple pairs of dri-fit socks, pack a pair or two of Merino wool socks for hiking. Merino wool isn’t exactly moisture-wicking, but it does pull moisture away from your feet, keeping them incredibly dry while hiking (seriously I’ve stepped in streams only to feel completely dry seconds later). And they’re super easy to wash and dry at the end of the day.
WASH CLOTHES ON THE GO Nobody wants to do laundry, especially while on the road. But when you wash your clothes as you wear them (in the sink or when you take a shower), you can pack less and you’ll always have clean clothes ready to go—rather than waiting to do a load and having to find a laundromat. It only takes a couple of extra minutes, and is totally worth it.
Some people pack plastic bags & powdered detergent, but I wash mine with whatever soap I can find—hand soap, shampoo, dish soap, whatever. It gets the job done well enough to wear those items multiple times until I do a proper load.
USE PACKING BAGS Another tip that sounds excessive in theory, yet somehow works (and keeps your OCD in check if you’re like me). Rather than sticking your underwear and socks in all the nooks and crannies of your clothes, pack them in small, plastic, waterproof travel bags or cubes (I prefer clear so I can see what’s in them). You can stuff a lot of unmentionables into these thin bags, and by keeping them organized, you’re not constantly packing and unpacking the rest of your stuff to find them. I use a spare one for all of my smaller electronics (backup batteries, chargers, memory cards, etc.). Total game-changer.
PACK A DAYPACK Packing a spare bag sounds counterintuitive when it comes to packing light. But a small daypack like the NatureHike 15L Waterproof Packable Daypack comes in handy when you need a quick grab bag for a day hike, or when you need to load up on a few extra items for a long bus ride or specific destination. It keeps you from constantly repacking and reorganizing your bigger bags, so it’s easier to keep your stuff tidy and compact so you don’t load up on unnecessary junk.
When you’re not using it, just fold it up and clip it on your backpack with a carabiner (which also comes in handy quite often).
SIMPLIFY YOUR MAKEUP/TOILETRY BAG Ditch toiletries that aren’t necessities. Don’t load up on “just in case” items you can easily buy on the road. Also if you’re a woman, traveling is the perfect time to embrace your bare-faced natural beauty. Pare your makeup bag down to multi-functional items such as baby powder (for absorbing sweat, preventing chafing, and as oil-absorbing face powder), Vaseline (chapstick, moisturizer), and tinted lip balm (lipstick, blush).
LIMIT YOUR ELECTRONICS Between phones, cameras, lenses, laptops, tablets, chargers, battery packs, hard drives, etc., your gear bag can fill up quickly. Before every trip think about what you actually need—do you really need a DSLR and a GoPro or will your phone camera suffice on this trip? Can you download that book on your phone rather than carrying the 300-page hardcover?
Limit your gear + toiletries + entertainment + important items (wallet, passport, keys) to one personal item that will fit under the seat on a plane, or that you can carry comfortably at all times because this bag should never leave your side. Something like this Camera Shoulder Bag can double as a carry-all personal item and camera bag while you’re out exploring.
Everyone is different when it comes to packing needs and levels of comfort while traveling. So while not all of these tips will work for you, hopefully at least a few will help you lighten your load so you can travel a little more freely. For me, there’s something incredibly satisfying in knowing that everything I have on me is there for a reason. It helps me to focus less on lugging my gear from point A to point B and more on enjoying the journey.