How I Learned the Secrets of Traveling Light (& Saving Money in the Process)

My son and I took a 4 day trip to New York City this past December. Want to know how much luggage we brought with us?

The backpack my son uses for school. That’s it. Total.

So no baggage fees for us. We didn’t even have to worry about whether or not there would be space for our luggage in the overhead bin.

I’ve always been a fan of traveling light. Dragging a suitcase a couple of miles along a cobblestone road convinced me of the value of that, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned just how little really IS necessary on most trips.

That’s when we took a trip to Italy, and the airline lost our luggage. We didn’t see our clothes again for 2 months. I figured if we could handle 10 days in Italy with a couple of replacement outfits each, shorter trips would be a piece of cake after that.

So what are the secrets of traveling light?

1. When packing, start with the bare minimum. These should be items you would replace immediately if your luggage were lost. A comb, your toothbrush, medication, and enough underwear and socks (either for the entire trip, or 3-4 days worth if you’re willing to wash them during the trip.)

2. Add things like travel-sized toothpaste and contact solution next. (You may want to skip packing those entirely in favor of buying or borrowing them at your destination instead. Sometimes that’s just easier with all the airport security.)

3. Figure out what you’ll be doing for certain at your destination. Don’t pack things that you “might” need; pack only what you will need instead. Choose ONE of each of the type of clothing you’ll be certain to wear. (Such as a pair of jeans, a shirt, a skirt, dress pants.) If it’s a long trip, add a second item of the type of clothing you’ll wear the most. (Such as a second shirt.)

4. Lay out a complete outfit — ideally one that goes with the heaviest pair of shoes you’d like to bring. Don’t pack this. Wear it on the plane instead. This complete outfit + the combination of items you packed above will give you many, many outfits if you mix and match.

5. Roll up the clothing and pack it tightly in the smallest piece of baggage it will fit in. If you must have a second pair of shoes, add those. (You’ll be wearing the first pair.)

6. But resist adding other things that you might need “just in case”. If it turns out that you really do need them, go to the store and buy them when you get there. Chances are that will never happen.

That’s it. Traveling light is more about willpower than anything else. Just say no to excess baggage (and excess fees.) Your arms (and wallet) will thank you.


  • I’m so glad that my husband and I aren’t the only ones. :-)

    When we went on our honeymoon, my in-laws asked where the rest of our luggage was since we only had one roll-on carry-on bag. We explained that the little bag was our luggage and their jaws dropped.

    Our secret is jeans and rolling the clothes up tightly before packing too. One or two pairs of jeans each and two or three shirts each could last us 8 days without washing. For our cruise, I also packed one pretty dress, an extra pair of nice slacks, and two books. We both added bathing suits and sunscreen. That’s why we had the small carry-on and a backpack.

    Yay for packing light!

  • Very glad I’m not the only one too! I actually just wrote about this recently as well:

    I totally agree about wearing your “heaviest” outfit on the plane. I know it’s kind of a pain, but I always wear my sneakers (they take up so much room in the bag) and pants of some kind.

    I had that same reaction as Budgeting in the Fun Stuff above when I went to visit my friend in London for 6 days and just had one rolly-carry-on bag. She was amazed!

  • Jackie, Perfect timing!!! We have about 5 trips coming up during the next 7 weeks, most business & 1 pleasure. And I need these tips. Just one question. Don’t you need more than 1 top? Keep up the awesome posts! Best, Barb

    • Sure, but there are already at least two tops if you use the tips. (One packed, plus the one you’re wearing on the plane.) But I pack two if it’ll be a longer trip, so that gives 3.

  • Thanks for this informative blog. The biggest mistake(money wise) people do is that they buy fufull-sized packs of toothpaste, shaving foam, food items, etc. and disposes them after the travel. Buying mini packs or travel packs would help you in optimum utilization and savings.

  • Excellent post. I travel about 10 times each year and it gets hard to take a suitcase everywhere. The toughest part is knowing that if the airline were to lose my luggage that I would have nothing else and the business trip would then be a waste.