Use These 12 Travel Hacks for Packing Light and Right
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full advertising policy: How we make money.
INSIDER SECRET: Consider purchasing a travel jacket or vest that safely holds important items like passports and money and comes with features like a built-in eyemask and an inflatable neck pillow.
We’ve all ended up at our destination with too much stuff — or too little. If your least favorite part of traveling is packing your suitcase, following these tips will ensure you’re able to take everything you need without overpacking. Packing right and light is key for a successful business trip, family vacation or weekend escape.
Useful Packing Tips for Traveling Light
1. Use an App
Packing apps are especially useful for people who love to make lists. Using an app will help you pack just the right amount, especially if your trip is complicated, like a business trip where you also plan on going to the gym and hitting the beach. There are many packing apps out there but my personal favorite is PackPoint.
With PackPoint, you start by narrowing things down, providing your sex, travel destination, a description of the trip (business or leisure) and your length of stay. Further filtering gets even more specific — Is your trip is abroad? Are you headed to the beach or going camping? Will you have access to laundry facilities? Are you traveling with an infant or kids?
The app then curates a packing list just for you (taking weather data into consideration), which you can modify by changing quantities or deleting from or adding onto your list. You can also electronically check the items you’ve packed off your list, making it easy to see what you still need to add to your suitcase. Earplugs, phone charger, dental floss, Q-tips, camera tripod, sunglasses, a belt? Packing Point will remind you but also keep you from bringing too much.
The app is free, but paying an extra $2.99 gives you the premium version, which allows you to create customizable filters for your trip and integrate with other travel apps like TripIt. PackPoint is available for Android and iOS.
2. Don’t Pay for a Checked Bag
Not paying extra for that checked bag during the booking process is an easy way to ensure you’ll automatically pack less. When you know you don’t have a lot of space, you’ll be a lot more careful to bring only what you really need. You can always add a checked bag to your flight booking later if you feel you really can’t live without one. Check out this guide to the best credit cards to avoid checked bag fees.
3. Share a Suitcase
If you’re traveling with a partner, share one checked bag instead of each bringing your own. You can take turns rolling/carrying it and combine forces on things like shampoo, hairdryer, toothpaste or anything for common use. Knowing you’re only limited to half a suitcase helps you pack less — you don’t want to be the person that brings more than their allotted share.
4. Wear the Right Travel Clothes
If you really want to travel light, consider purchasing a special travel jacket or vest.
The Baubax travel jacket comes with a built-in eyemask and an inflatable neck pillow, as well as other useful items like a pen/stylus, bottle opener and travel blanket. Having these items actually on you means you won’t have to pack them.
Another popular travel vest/jacket is the ScotteVest. It has special device pockets (even special small ones for your ear buds so they don’t get lost) and sleeves that zip off. Like the Baubax, this allows you to pack less and carry more on your body. Having both a vest and jacket in one also saves you from packing an extra article of clothing or two.
5. Roll and Fold
It seems that no one can really agree on folding vs. rolling. I myself go back and forth. But when you really want to conserve space (and avoid wrinkled clothing), rolling seems to be the winner, especially for shirts, denim, skirts, shorts, dresses and lightweight scarves. However, when it comes to bulky items like sweaters, trousers or jackets, folding may be a better bet.
6. Try Packing Cubes
I never understood the allure of packing cubes until I tested them. Sometimes, the simple act of organizing your items into sections allows you to take a good look at exactly how many items you’re bringing. With cubes you don’t take too much of any one item. Plus, they can help compress items, as well as organize space better if you’re traveling with a backpack.
7. Use Compression Bags
Compression bags are ideal if you’re visiting a colder destination. You can put bulkier items like coats or sweaters inside the clear bags, then vacuum or roll the air out, shrinking your items down. However, using these can have an unintended effect — you may end up packing more rather than less since you have more space. It can also lead to an overweight bag, so beware.
If you do use the bags, don’t use the extra space you’ve won as an opportunity to add more. Instead, leave it open and enjoy your lightweight bag. And make sure you have a way to compress the bag for your return trip. Packing a vacuum will negate all the work you’ve done to travel light.
8. Bring Your Kindle
We all love the feel of a real book, but when you’re traveling, you’ll save a lot of space and weight by taking along an e-book instead. I have a ritual of downloading several new books the day before I travel to make sure I have plenty of content for my trip.
9. Take a Backpack
Using a backpack is the most humbling way to pack lighter. I often overstuff mine to the brim and then realize later as I heave it onto my back that I can barely lift it. I re-assess and usually end up taking about a third of the items out.
Packing a backpack really ensures that you only pack what you can carry, helping you to weed out items you really don’t need. No cute jacket or stylish pair of sandals is worth excessive back pain.
10. Go Light on Shoes
Plan to wear your heaviest shoes when traveling and make sure your shoes are multi-occasion. Try to pack pairs which can double up — like those comfortable flat sandals you can walk around in during the day but dress up with a fancier outfit in the evening. Shoes are some of the largest and heaviest items to pack, so pick carefully and only take the ones you’re sure you’ll wear.
11. Use Travel-Size Containers
Even if you are checking a bag, buying a small set of travel-size bottles and using them to carry your favorite liquids is better than lugging the full sizes on board. Just test them out before traveling to make sure they don’t leak. Items like solid shampoo and conditioner bars can also help you save on both space and weight.
12. Always Bring a Scarf
Scarves can do so much more than just warm your neck. They can be travel blankets, beach towels, picnic blankets, sarongs, belts, capes, privacy curtains, head wraps. You can even carry items in them if you don’t have a bag. Bring one, even if it’s not scarf season. Then you won’t have to pack a beach towel, picnic blanket or sarong.What tips and tricks do you use to pack lighter and better? Share in the comments section below. For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)