How to Pack Lightly for Every Trip

CC BY 2.0. Anne Worner

No one likes baggage. Don't let heavy, awkward suitcases hamper your travel adventures.

I learned an important packing lesson a year ago. I found myself alone in Jerusalem on a dark, cold, rainy December night, struggling to find my hostel inside the walls of the Old City. My phone had suddenly run out of data (not that GPS worked in those twisting, winding alleyways), my paper map was missing, and there were very few street names in sight. All I could see was the Via Dolorosa, an apt description for my mental state at that moment.

These problems paled in comparison to the enormous suitcase I hauled, together with a heavy purse and laptop case. The suitcase was packed with 5 pairs of shoes, far too many clothes, a hair straightener, and gifts of olive oil and full bottles of shampoo and skin care products I'd been given by generous hosts. The combination of atrocious weight, tiny wheels, and no backpack straps made it very difficult to maneuver.

I approached the Damascus Gate and looked in horror at the descending steps. Sure enough, the next half-hour was spent hauling that ridiculous suitcase over wet cobblestones, up and down infinite staircases, and through throngs of people who must have thought I was crazy. Finally, I collapsed in my hostel room, feeling like an utter fool. Never again would I make that mistake.

Damascus Gate

© K Martinko -- Approaching the Damascus Gate, when I've never wanted a backpack so badly!

Packing light makes sense for so many reasons. It saves money, now that many airlines charge exorbitant fees to check bags. It saves time waiting in baggage check lines and drop halls. You'll never have to hunt down a missing bag. Best of all, you'll be able to move easily, whether it's walking between terminals, using an airport bathroom, or taking public transit to your destination, instead of forking out for a taxi.

But how does one go about packing lightly? Such a seemingly simple assignment can feel horribly intimidating to many people, myself included. This is why I was instantly hooked by a new video from Oneika Raymond, called "One Bag and You're Out." Raymond says she's been to 100 countries and always takes a single bag, whether she's traveling for one week or three months. It's the same combination of belongings every time. Why?

"[Because], for every hotel with a luggage cart and paved street, there's a town on a mountaintop on the Italian coast with 150 stairs. Try rolling that bag then."

Sadly, I know exactly what she's talking about. So what's her secret?

1) Follow some general rules: Pick a color palette for the trip that's a mix of patterns and solids with a few bright pieces to mix it up. If something is not neutral or does not fit into the palette, don't take it.

2) Here's her definitive packing list for women, based on a 7-day schedule: 1 tank top, 1 sleeveless top, 2 scarves, 2 dresses, 1 sleepshirt, 1 pair shorts, 1 button-up shirt, 2 light jackets, 1 skirt, 7 undies, 2 t-shirts, 2 bras, 1 pair leggings, 3 shoes (one should be flip-flops, one cute, one athletic). Limit accessories to headbands, scarves, and a beach sarong instead of towel, if needed.

You could also take advice from Miss Minimalist, who never takes extra shoes other than the ones she's wearing:

"For a 2-day trip, I don’t pack a change of clothes; for 3 days, it depends on the itinerary; for 4-5 days, one change. This system might not be for everyone, but it works for me. (I have no problem doing laundry in the hotel sink if necessary.)"

3) Learn some packing tips: Roll, don't fold. Take only must-have toiletries. Transfer eye shadow to a few cotton swaps. Put earrings in a pill box. Don't take shampoo, soap, or lotion that you'll get in a hotel. Put lightly-used products, such as hair oil, into a contact lens case.

4) Remember that, unless you're in Antarctica, you can buy stuff while you're there -- and it's likely to be comparable or cheaper than the USA, especially if you go to an open-air market. Minus that baggage checking fee, you might end up ahead financially.

Are you a light packer or do you struggle to pare down that suitcase every time?