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How to Pack Light: Minimalist Travel

Updated September 2, 2019 . AmFam Team

Whether you’re planning a backpacking trip around Europe or a two-day business trip to Austin, learning how to pack light can save you time, space and money. Check out these carry-on only packing tips from American Family Insurance.

When you travel, it’s natural to try and maintain your usual level of comfort so you can best enjoy yourself. Sometimes this can mean packing way too much stuff, costing you extra in baggage fees and leaving no room for souvenirs. So how can you pack light for a trip? Keeping your belongings limited to a carry-on might seem impossible, but we’ve got the carry-on only packing tips, tricks and know-how to help you pack light for your next vacation.

The Basics of Minimalist Travel

Traveling light starts with a well-organized plan of attack. What do you absolutely need to bring with you, and what’s just nice to have on the trip? When it comes to actually putting things into your suitcase there are tons of space-saving techniques you can use to keep your carry-on light.

Before you start packing, make sure you know the airline’s restrictions on carry-ons. You may only be allowed one carry-on item, which means no purses or camera bags can serve as secondary storage. If this is the case, wearing a jacket or coat with lots of pockets can help you carry the little things without cluttering up your carry-on.

Keep Clothing Simple

We’ve all been there — packing a ton of clothing options for a trip and wearing the same thing multiple times anyway. Clothing can take up a lot of space in a suitcase or backpack, so minimize their bulk by being selective with what you pack. When packing clothes, first assess your destination’s climate. For warmer climates, you can more easily pack lightly, but be sure you can find places to do laundry on your journey. For colder climates or if where you’re going varies, wear a thick coat on the plane, and pack one fleece sweater and a couple of undershirts to layer against the cold. If it warms up, you can remove layers and still be comfortable.

Bringing two pairs of shoes? Wear the bulkier pair and store your flip-flops or others in your carry-on.

Aside from climate, you should also pay attention to social conventions in your travel destination. Some countries require women to wear skirts or cover their hair, so be sure to pack culturally appropriate wear.

Packing Tetris Techniques

Expert organizer and Netflix star Marie Kondo showed us all how to more efficiently pack our dresser drawers, so take those tips and apply them to your suitcase. Rolling shirts, folding things thinly and packing them horizontally instead of stacking them vertically can save you a lot of space. You can also roll your underthings into the few pairs of socks you take along.

Save space using packing cubes and compression bags. They’ll help keep things organized and give you a better idea of how much space your carry-on really has.

Consider Needs vs. Wants

Toothbrush? Check. Deodorant? Check. Smokey eyeshadow palette? Maybe leave that one behind. Hair-care hardware like curling wands and blow dryers also take up a ton of space that could tip your carry-on’s weight over the limit. You may have to sacrifice some of your daily luxuries, but packing only what you need — not what you want — will save you a lot of space and weight.

Remember Airline Restrictions for Carry-ons

If you’re going to be staying in a hotel, you can rely on their toiletries for most of your hygiene needs, like shampoo, conditioner and soap, but if you’re going to be on the road or in and out of hostels, you’ll need to get creative, especially if you don’t want to be buying stuff you’ll have to carry around. Here are a few things you can pack in a carry-on that are approved by the TSA:

  • Unopened bar soap and shampoo
  • Baby wipes
  • Empty reusable water bottle
  • Solid deodorant
  • Unopened disposable or electric razors

You can still pack liquid soaps, shampoos and conditioners, but only in amounts less than 3.4 oz. or 100ml. Check the TSA’s website (Opens in a new tab) if you’re unsure of what’s allowed in a carry-on. If you absolutely need something when you get to your destination, pick up a small travel-size or disposable version of it so you don’t have to toss it out before getting on the plane home. 

Don’t Forget Your Identity

If you’re going abroad, one of the most important things you’ll need is your passport, along with copies of other important documents, like your birth certificate and visa application confirmation. Make sure to store these in a safe, water-proof container within your carry-on.

Look for Laundry Options

Steam or dry cleaning services might be available at your hotel, and there’s almost certainly a laundry room or laundromat nearby in any major city you stay in. You may have to get creative if you’re staying in a more remote location, but there’s almost always a way to clean your clothes wherever you go.

Take Your Insurance Along for the Trip

Worried about your things while you’re on vacation? Your homeowners or renters insurance provides personal property insurance coverage that helps to protect the value of your belongings, whether you’re at home or at the ski lodge. Connect with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to learn more about how your insurance can travel with you and help protect what matters most.

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