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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Pro Tips for Packing Light

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Pro Tips for Packing Light. Woman squeezes overstuffed suitcase closed. DreamMaker Destinations logo appears in lower right.

"Packing light” has become the new travel mantra. No one wants to pay baggage fees or deal with the hassle of checking and claiming bags. Lost luggage? No, thank you. None of us wants to be red-faced with embarrassment as we struggle with fitting our bag into the overhead compartment only to have the flight attendant finally carry it off to the cargo hold. How do some people travel for one or even two weeks with only a 22" by 13" by 9" bag? These pro tips for packing light will have you zipping around the airport, with your carry-on wheeling happily behind you, the next time you take wing.

The Challenges of Packing Light (for Women)

Couple struggling to fit clothing into luggage.

Men have it easy. Two pairs of pants, several sport shirts or polo shirts, one long-sleeved dress shirt, shorts and sandals if the destination is warm, maybe a bathing suit, some underwear, and they are set. Even toiletries are easy. They don't have to contend with makeup, skincare regimens, specialty hair products, or styling equipment. They pack a three-in-one men's wash, maybe some aftershave, and they're good to go.

It’s not as easy for women, but it is possible to pack light without looking like a refugee from a college dorm. Before ever pulling out your little suitcase, it is important to remember two things. First, accept that at some point you will wish you had that pretty sweater that looked so nice when you went out with friends several weeks ago. Forget it—no need to take up precious space for a once-worn item. Second, when the trip is over, no one is going to remember how many times you wore those pants, or even what they looked like. Unless you are on assignment for the New York Times fashion section, no one really cares. Brutal, but true.

Pro Tips for Packing Light

Woman holds blue capris above open suitcase sitting on bed next to other clothing.

Everyone who travels a lot has their own process. There is no one right way, but there are a few general rules that many travelers follow, including me.

1. Think About Where You're Going & What You Will Be Doing

First, I start thinking about what to take before I start packing. Sometimes I just stare at the closet while brushing my teeth. I think about what the weather will be and what I’ve planned to do. After all, packing for a Caribbean vacation is different than packing for a week in Europe. And you certainly don't want to waste precious luggage space by filling it with things you couldn't possibly need.

2. Color Coordinate...Everything

I pick one main color. Everything else that goes into the bag coordinates with that color.

For Europe, that almost always means black, with white shirts, colorful scarves and a red shirt or sweater to brighten it up. It’s amazing how many outfits are possible with a basic black skirt (or two—one knee length for daytime sightseeing and another longer for evening), a couple of black pants, and a black jacket. Treat yourself to a beautiful Italian or French scarf and you are dressed for any occasion. Or add some funky wild beads or strands of fake pearls.

For the Caribbean or South Pacific, it is probably blue. Nice travel jeans, light blue cotton or denim skirt, a pretty dress or two for the evening. Thin blouses or crinkly tops pack well, are great for hot and humid weather, and take up very little room. Avoid T-shirts. They are heavy, do not dry quickly, and look sloppy in humid climates.

3. Take a Practical Approach to Your Shoe Selection

Think carefully about shoes. For warm destinations, I take a pair of comfortable walking sandals, a pair of dressier sandals, and a pair of water shoes, if beaches are part of the trip. For Europe, I am partial to a sturdy Mary Jane style of walking shoe with good insoles for the day and simple pumps for evening. Whatever style works for you, the daytime shoes must be comfortable and sturdy enough to stand up to hours of abuse. This is not the place to skimp.

4. Dress in Layers

Think layers, especially when traveling between climates. That doesn’t have to mean multiple bulky sweaters. For me, it is silk camisoles and turtlenecks as my first layer, and then wool pullovers. Or lightweight, warm, and wonderfully soft cashmere. And always a scarf, which can be extra insulation for the neck if cold, an accessory for a bad hair day, or a head cushion on a long flight.

My all-time favorite travel accessories are vests. Print or solid, they pull an outfit together and can add that extra layer of warmth while still looking fashionable. I love my print vests. Add one to the basic black pants, white or colored shirts or turtleneck, black jacket, and the look is polished. Try it over a long-tailed shirt with stretchy travel jeans and look hip. A wool knit vest can give the extra warmth needed without the bulk of a big sweater. Experiment and see which layers work best for you and your tastes.

5. Be Creative with Outerwear

Choose your coat or jacket carefully. For European touring, that usually means my black trench coat with a zip-in/zip-out lining. For adventure travel, I rely on my favorite 3-in-1 jacket, which consist of a water-resistant shell and a detachable lining that doubles as a fleece jacket. Layered up, it's heavy enough to keep me warm on the coldest of adventures.

A recent option to streamline packing is the new convertible jackets. They have enough pockets to qualify as another carry-on. You can carry documents, electronic devices, a notebook, money, and odds and ends in each of its 20-30 pockets. When the jacket is too warm, just zip off the sleeves and wear it as a vest. But beware—I once spent a half an hour trying to find the pocket with my credit card!

6. Save Space Anywhere You Can

Leave everything home that will be available at your hotel. That includes a hair dryer and some toiletries. Pour those "must have" lotions into little containers. (I get a few empty sample containers from the makeup counter and fill them with my own stuff.) Pack a few single use packets of detergent for washing out underwear or quick-dry shirts. Remember, you will only need to rely on the contents of your luggage for a week or two, and unless you're hiking into the wilderness (which is a topic for another blog), you can always replenish necessities during your trip.

Packing Light & Fitting It All In

Packing Light. Suitcase is neatly packed and ready to go.

Once I’ve got an idea of my wardrobe, I lay everything out on the bed before packing. I look at my itinerary and eliminate all the “maybe” items. When it’s down to basics, I start packing.

Some people are folders, others are rollers. I do both. Socks and other small items get stuffed into the shoes or little corners. Knits and soft items get rolled and form the bottom layer. Blouses or shirts are folded and usually end up in the top mesh top pocket of my suitcase. Contact travel information, including a card with the address of my local destination, goes in an outside pocket, along with some reading material. My liquids baggie is handy for TSA inspection.

Then I remove the cat, and throw in a sticky roll to remove the inevitable cat hair on my black skirt, and I’m ready to go.


Are you ready to pack your little bag and head out on an adventure? Dream Maker Destinations is here to help you plan the vacation of your dreams. We will work with you to create a travel experience that will last a lifetime. Contact us today!

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