How to Pack Light (And Why!)

We’ve bounced around the globe and back and one thing is for sure: traveling with a big ol’ bag is an absolute nightmare. If you can get everything you need in a carry-on and personal item, it will make your trip at least 9 times easier, guarantees. Here is everything we know about how to pack light, and just as importantly, why to pack light!

The ‘HOW’ of Packing Light

Pack the Necessities

Have you ever gotten home from a vacation and, while you’re unpacking, you realize you didn’t use half of the things you brought. “Yeah, but what if I HAD wanted to use them??” or “What if it had snowed 6 inches??” You were going to Florida, honey…

In order to pack light, you’re going to have to make one or two (or 31) tough decisions. Let’s start making them.

Clothes

By FAR what is going to end up taking up the most space in your luggage. Julie has on multiple occasions been literally jumping up and down on her carry-on trying to smash it closed so she could zip it up. Why? Because she packed half of her already-bloated wardrobe.

When you’re deciding what to pack, you have to start out by reading (and trusting…) a weather forecast for your destination. If you’re going to Cancun, you probably won’t need a rain jacket. Seattle on the other hand? Maybe pack two…

With your clothes, we use a concept called utility. When packing for a vacation, the utility of each piece of clothing is really how valuable that article of clothing is for your outfits and how many different weather situations it can be used for.

Confused yet? We certainly are. Let’s get unstuck.

Picture you are taking a trip to New York City in Fall. In NYC you are going to want to go all out on your wardrobe, but do you really have to bring your whole closet? No. Let’s put things in a utility perspective. Here’s what you had planned on bringing:

  • Puffy Winter Jacket
  • Warm Boots
  • Other Boots
  • Walking Shoes
  • Vest
  • A Couple Pairs of Jeans
  • A Couple Pairs of Leggings
  • Tops
  • Warm Tops
  • Light Jacket
  • And on and on and on

For us, we would ditch the puffy winter jacket, the other boots, one pair of jeans, and one pair of leggings. Why? Because these take up SO much space and are easily replaced! They have low utility.

Jewelry, Jewelry, Jewelry: You think we’re going to tell you to leave jewelry at home, don’t you… Nope! Jewelry is SO easy to bring along and can make you EXCITED about your outfits! Pack some jewelry in a small case, and bring it along so that you have options to dress-up or dress-down your wardrobe. When it comes to packing, jewelry is easier than loading up clothes, so bring it along.

We replace the puffy winter jacket with a warm top combined with the light jacket. If you absolutely need the big jacket, just wear it to the airport and stuff it in the overhead compartment once you board.



 

Photography Equipment

 

We absolutely LOVE photography, and sharing pictures! These are the cameras we use on all of our adventures. The drone and GoPro help us get cool new perspectives (underwater, in the air, wide angle) and the Rebel we use on a day-to-day basis for most of our shots!

 

Full disclosure these are affiliate links. If you click them and buy the products we get a little bit of money, which helps us keep providing content to you for free!

Click to See our Travel Gear Recommendations

 



 

We always wear the warm boots or walking shoes to the airport also, because shoes are always so clunky and difficult to pack. If you get some easy-to-pack shoes, then bring them along, but otherwise best to limit your shoe selection to two or three.

Are one pair of jeans and one pair of tights really not enough? Is everyone you see on Friday night going to be with you on Saturday afternoon? Probably not… Bring one of each and find other ways to make your outfit stand out.

Another Big Tip: Pack neutral colors. Maybe not the best idea to bring your bright red shoes Dorothy, unless they go with a few different outfits. The more neutral colors you bring, the more versatile your wardrobe will be, and the better you’ll be able to pack lightly!

We know you can get creative with your vacation wardrobe. Count the days you’ll be gone. Just make sure you have that many outfits that are different-enough that you’ll be happy!

Electronics

We pack a lot of electronics. Drone, camera, Kindle, Headphones, computer, chargers for everything, the list goes on.

See if you can consolidate whenever possible. For instance, our drone and Kindle have the same charger, so we can get away with one! Also, it helps that we have the smallest drone DJI sells and the Kindle is a great space saver.

Really with electronics, we feel that they are more important than wardrobe, so we make space. But you have to pack them as efficiently as possible. Roll the chargers up really small, make your laptop accessible for airport security, and you’ll be good to go!

Toiletries & Accessories

This category is really everything else you’ll need once you get to your destination. Name of the game here is REMOVE ANYTHING YOU WON’T NEED! Julie has a toiletry bag with only the bare necessities.

No sunscreen on non-beach vacations. No hair curler for a hiking trip. And for face wash, lotion, shampoo, mouthwash, etc: Do you really need the whole package? Maybe you can find a smaller one to keep space manageable! For more tips on this, see our Pack Hacks post:

https://ruhlsoftheroad.com/11-secret-pack-hacks-you-will-love/

Snacks

We don’t travel without a few snacks. Key word: few. We don’t bring a pantry-full to feed the whole plane. Just a little sustenance if we ever need a hold-over.



 

Travel Accessories

 

Here are our best recommendations for travel accessories to complete any trip! We are ALWAYS looking for great deals and shopping on a budget. We swear by these accessories!

Click to See our Travel Gear Recommendations

 



 

The reason is because Zach basically refuses to buy anything in an airport or on a plane. $15 for what costs $6 outside the airport? No thanks… Folks, admit it, the airport knows they can charge you more, so they do!

We usually get a small bag of beef jerky, a few granola bars, some nuts, and maybe something sweet like a chocolate bar. All of that is usually small enough to fit in the smallest pocket of a backpack, and it is enough to feed us for quite a while!

Find the Right Bag(s)

Finding the right bag is an essential piece of the packing puzzle. Our strategy is to always go with a two-bagger: one backpack and one rolling suitcase (carry-on size).

The backpack we rock is this North Coyote cooler backpack, but really any backpack will do! The larger the better, but make sure it is small enough to fit under an airplane seat. We love this one because it has an extremely large central pocket that fits any number of things, and it has a cooler pocket we use for picnics in our destination.


As for the rolling suitcase, any one of these will do fine. We recommend to get an affordable hard-sided case that fits in an overhead bin. Our unofficial rule is that we can only bring as many clothes as we can fit in our suitcase. Zach’s rule is half a suitcase, because he has to pack the electronics in the other half 😁.

When packing your clothes, you have to roll your clothes. Have you never learned this trick? Time to learn now! It is an ENORMOUS space saver, and will allow you to maybe pack another top or two…

Rolling clothes is best done on a flat surface, the bed will work best. Essentially, you are going to take each piece of clothing, laying them out flat on the bed. Fold over once or twice the long way, then roll the article of clothing up as tightly as you can, like a sleeping bag or air mattress.

Pack each rolled item as tightly as possible into your luggage, making sure that nothing expands after you pack it. You’ll be able to fit SO MUCH MORE using this strategy!

Lay Everything Out Before Packing

Lastly, one final tip before we get into the ‘why’ of packing light. Lay out everything before packing it away. Why? 2 reasons.

Number 1, you’ll be able to make sure you have everything. There is not much worse than getting to your destination realizing you forgot a charger or your toiletries bag, both of which has happened to us.



 

Clothing We Love

 

You need clothes to travel. Heck, maybe you don’t. We don’t judge. If you want to hop around the world in your birthday suit then go right ahead! But if you want to cover up, here are a few of our favorite clothing items we love, and we think you’ll love too!

Click to See More Recommendations

 



 

Number 2, your last chance to put things away that you don’t need! Or maybe you can start packing things in order of importance, so that once you have a full bag, you’ll know that you won’t get to bring anything that isn’t already packed. Laying everything out beforehand will help you figure this out!

The ‘WHY’ of Packing Light

No Lost Luggage

Our very first vacation together was to San Diego, and Julie packed HEAVY. As in a giant-purple-suitcase-stuffed-to-the-brim. She checked the bag, and you can guess what happened… The bag did not make its way to San Diego.

What happened? Julie was balling her eyes out throwing a temper tantrum in the San Diego airport, and Zach realized maybe he shouldn’t date this psycho… Well, that’s only partially true, but you get the picture.

Here’s what it comes down to. Would you rather pack lightly and guarantee your bag makes it, or pack heavily and risk not getting your bag? For us, it’s a no brainer. Carry-ons for the win!

Easy Airport Experience

Have you ever met someone who liked standing in line? If you have, might be time to report that sociopath to the authorities… If not, then congratulations, you’ve chosen your friends wisely.

What is any airport full of? Lines… Lines at the airline desk. Lines at security. Lines at boarding. Lines to deplane. Lines at baggage claim. Everywhere you go, lines, lines, lines. I’ve got a prescription for your line addiction: packing light

We literally can not remember the last time we had to wait in line at the airline desk before security or at the baggage claim line. Matter of fact, it was probably that San Diego slugfest…

When you pack light in a carry-on and a personal item, you can roll straight to security, bypassing any line to check bags or get boarding passes. It honestly feels exhilarating passing a line, knowing that if you made some bad packing choices you’d be in that very line. Added benefit: you don’t have to worry about your bag being over the 50 pound limit. If you’ve ever dealt with that, you know how fun it is…

What’s more? Because your bags are smaller and lighter, you won’t be running over other people’s ankles trying to pull that flatbed truck you call a suitcase behind you. And you’ll get to cruise straight from the plane to the car/train, not like those saps stuck waiting at the baggage claim line.

No Baggage Fees

Maybe the number one reason for why to pack light! Airlines can absolutely GOUGE you on baggage fees, so it is best to avoid this expense whenever possible.



 

Book Recommendations

 

We love to read, especially on a trip! We get our books on a Kindle so we can bring multiple books anywhere. Reading is a great way to relax and unwind while also getting caught up in a great story. We love everything from novels to self-help, business books to memoirs. Here are our favorites!

Click to See All Our Book Recommendations

 



 

Use that money for something better, like a new top to wear on your vacation, a souvenir to bring home, or our personal favorite… save it as a deposit for your next vacation! If you do that, then packing light literally translates to being able to take more vacations! Seems like a win-win to us.

More secrets on cost-cutting while traveling:

7 Proven Secrets to Book Cheap Travel

Less is More!

This is just as true in life as it is while packing for a vacation. Sometimes, the less you have, the happier you are.

Have you ever purged your closet and felt like a weight was lifted off your shoulders? Or cleaned out your garage and felt like you could run a marathon?

These things are real! Cleaning out your closet has a positive impact on your mental health, and it is a great way to live your life. I’m not saying packing light is the key to happiness, but I can guarantee it sure won’t hurt!

There you have it, everything we know about how to pack light – and why! Use the picture below to pin this article and save it for later.

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Our Travel eBook!

 

We wrote an travel eBook with you in mind, and have given you EVERYTHING we know about how to maximize your ability to travel the world! The book has 3 parts:

  • How to get INCREDIBLE Travel Deals
  • Budgeting Your Life to Travel
  • How to Get Away From Work

 

50% of the proceeds from the sale of our eBook is going to a cause that we care about: funding a trip for a family in need! We are putting $5 from every eBook purchase towards a trip for a family who isn’t be able to take a trip.

 

Do you know of a family in need who could use a trip?? Let us know!

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