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Downsizing Stories: Life After Overpacking

downsizing stories packing light

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If you’re thinking about downsizing your backpack, just do it. Your back will thank you.

Caroline Eubanks

Most of us who travel carry-on only have a luggage downsizing story. We didn’t just magically know how to pack light, or even that we should be packing light.

But over time our mindset changed, and we realized that carrying a heavy bag around wasn’t worth the effort. We made changes, packed fewer things, switched to smaller lightweight backpacks and suitcases, and we are happier travelers for it.

Take a look at some of these luggage downsizing success stories to see just how much packing light can change the way you travel. 

Why Caroline downsized her beloved backpack

Caroline wearing her 65L Kelty backpack (left) that she eventually replaced with the 36L Osprey (right).
Caroline wearing her 65L Kelty backpack (left) that she eventually replaced with the 36L Osprey (right).


When Caroline set off for her working holiday in Australia, she packed her Kelty Arch 65L backpack to the brim. She packed all sorts of things she never used, including a year’s worth of toothpaste.

Later she remembered that Australia has stores too. She could purchase things there instead of bringing an overpacked backpack and weighing herself down with unnecessary items.


Eventually, the bag became too much of a burden. Things got lost at the bottom, it didn’t fit in some hostel lockers, and it was causing her back pain.

Caroline made the decision to replace her lovely purple 65L backpack with a more practical 36L Osprey Sirrus Hiking Backpack.

How downsizing her luggage was a great decision for Ali

REI Trail 40L backpack - downsize your luggage
Ali with her REI Trail 40 backpack


Ali is a worrier by nature. This used to bleed over into her packing style and caused her to pack all sorts of things just in case at the last minute. But she never did need those extra items, and the big bag was just weighing her down.

She finally decided to try traveling with less.


Ali cut back on the amount of clothing she packed because you can do laundry in other places (some hotels even offer a laundry service), and no one cares if you wear the same shirt or even outfit 2 or 3 times. She started limiting her liquids like shampoo and body wash to 3.4 ounces (100ml) to comply with carry-on allowances and avoid checking luggage.

She also used past experience to determine which items could be left out of her backpack, and eventually, she went from a suitcase that she could actually fit inside of to a REI Trail 40L backpack.

Why Georgina is glad she travels with 40L

Why I Travel with Just 40L
Georgina and her Eurohike 40L backpack.


Georgina remembered traveling in Sydney with a huge 70L backpack. It was heavy and unwieldy, and it magnified her stress as she tried to find the right bus stop.

She also remembered desperately throwing it to the ground and sitting on it when she got frustrated.


Now she travels with just 9 kilograms in a 40L backpack. She’s much calmer when she’s orienting herself with a new city because she isn’t weighed down by a heavy bag. She can also walk around for long periods of time without getting worn out or sore from her overpacked backpack.

Less stuff equals less stress for Georgina.

Laura’s before and after downsizing story

Laura Bronner and her 80L backpack suited up - downsize your luggage
Laura before: in desperate need of some luggage downsizing


Laura packed up her 80L backpack several times for long trips, and each time she felt weighed down by her heavy luggage (overpacking sucks). Once at the airport, she was told that her overpacked backpack weighed 19 kilograms or almost 42 pounds! As she dealt with back pain from lugging this weight around, she started digging through to find the problem.

She found shoes, clothes, different outfits, and even camping gear she hadn’t used in months. She was also carrying around a small library of books because she hadn’t switched to an e-reader or tablet yet. Finally, she admitted to herself that she needed to make some changes.


Laura downsized to a backpack half the size (40L!) to limit what she could pack. She was more practical about the amount of toiletries she needed and chose travel-sized toiletries instead of full-sized options. Laura also thought through her clothing choices better.

She knew she could restock on the road and replace any items that wore out. Winter clothes she no longer needed could be left behind, t-shirts could be purchased in warmer climates, and underwear could be washed and re-worn.

>>Read more of Laura’s story of being a chronic overpacker and how she recovered and now travels with a 40L backpack.

Marissa’s evolution of downsizing to a 30L backpack

marissa downsizing luggage story


Marissa used to pack bags big enough for a family of four to travel with, and she suffered many travel inconveniences because of it – including not being able to handle the beast on her own. This fact alone is one of the reasons we generally recommend downsizing luggage while you travel.


Marissa’s downsizing didn’t happen overnight; it was truly an evolution. Through many trials and errors, she finally decided that 30L backpack travel was for her.

Rowena’s family downsized to 25L each

The family's small bags ready for departure.
The family’s small bags ready for departure.


If the thought of traveling and managing your own luggage sounds daunting, then imagine what it’s like to have to worry about your children and their luggage as well. That’s a pretty good reason to downsize, right?


Rowena thought so as well, and to help make her family travels a less stressful and worrisome experience, the family of 4 has gone carry-on only on several international trips. In fact, each person in the family travels with less than 25L in luggage each!

Rachel went prepared and not paranoid

rachel downsizing before after
Rachel downsized her main backpack from 60L to 30L.


When Rachel went away for several months the year before, she hated the amount of luggage she brought. When waiting for her luggage at the baggage carousel, she secretly hoped hers had gone missing!


Her next big trip was moving to Costa Rica for half a year, and she vowed to make improvements to her packing. Instead of a 60L overpacked backpack for her main luggage, she downsized to just 30L – which is literally cutting her luggage in half!

The secret to her downsizing was coming prepared and not packing for the paranoia. You don’t need a raincoat if it’s not the rainy season, you don’t need boots in the middle of summer and you don’t need a million pairs of pants. 

Mary and her husband packed into one 36L backpack

blending luggage with a partner
Mary went through the process of blending luggage with her partner into one 36L backpack.


Mary had always been an overpacker, but when she got married, the problem got worse. Not only was she stuffing her luggage to the brim, but she was also using space in her husband’s luggage for extras.

A month-long trip to England the year before had been the kicker. There was too much luggage juggling and drama getting around by train.


Mary knew her habits needed to change, so she went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum for a trip to New Orleans. She and her husband packed into one 36L backpack!

Emily downsized from two full-sized bags to one 42L backpack

Downsizing to a 42L backpack for 2-week trips
Emily’s backpack compared to the two full-sized bags she used to pack.


Emily used to pack more outfits for a week and a half than someone would need for a whole semester abroad. She found that half the items she had packed weren’t useful, carrying so much luggage around made her back sore, and she was always super sweaty and uncomfortable.

Not only that, but all her luggage slowed her down. She used up all her energy trying to deal with her stuff and it made her lag behind everyone else.


After a trip to India and one to Italy, Emily realized that being a “just in case” packer didn’t suit her. The most important thing she did to be able to fit everything into a 42L backpack was downsizing her clothes. She learned how to pack a capsule wardrobe, takes more time planning and enjoying the process of getting ready, and only buys the necessities.

Tired of Your Overpacked Backpack?

Packing light is totally possible.

If these ‘before’ stories sound very similar to your experiences but you can’t imagine ever downsizing your luggage as much as the ‘after’ parts, Her Packing List is here to help!

Take a look at the HPL Packing Method to learn how to pack so confidently light you could travel for a week in a personal-item-sized bag. A proven 4-week program from Brooke Schoenman, founder of Her Packing List.

It’s totally possible to become a downsizing packing success story!

Tips to help you downsize your luggage

The following posts offer helpful advice to help you reduce the weight and amount of stuff you pack, switch to a smaller backpack or suitcase, and enjoy the freedom that finally packing light gives you.

Have you downsized your luggage? We want to hear it! Email us to pitch a post!

downsizing luggage inspiration

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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Travel Resources

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Reader Interactions


  1. Kamilla says

    Packing carry-on only does really make travelling easier and much more enjoyable 🙂 Last summer I went for a 2-week vacation in Vietnam with only 5 kilos in my backpack. Believe me or not, I still had some items there, that I never used. This summer, I’m going to travel in Thailand for about a month. This time I won’t pack epilator, camera, nice little bag and clothing that can’t mix and match with other items.
    I’ve grown up in the culture of chronic overpackers (I’m from Kazakhstan), most of us pack like moving to a new place forever. But the decision to switch from a big suitcase (20 kilos) to carry-on backpack was quite easy to make after reading the stories and tips here. Thanks to HPL community 😉

  2. Stephanie Be says

    Downsizing and streamlining is a fantastic traveling tool- it helps simplify and enhance the experience! Love this post.

  3. Svenja says

    I’ve managed to downsize my luggage to carry-on pretty well, at least on the way to my destination. Shopping abroad keeps being my downfall, especially as I love wearable souvenirs, so I still check a bag on the way home, which is not a big deal as my husband is still not a carry-on convert 😉

  4. Kalina says

    I travel to Ukraine several times a year for work in the Humanitarian field. When I’m there I’m travelling on overnight trains in small compartments. Sometimes, depending on the time of year, knowing what to pack is hard (half cold and half warm forecast!) This last time that was the case and I packed a good assortment and my suitcase was so heavy I could not manage it. Add a large wheeled carry on and I was in trouble. I have a goal next time to pack only a wheeled carry on and then a small 20L backpack. This website is invaluable….I discovered compression packing cubes on here! I’ve ordered a set and anticipate being able to get more into a smaller space! I’ve also decided to make do with 3-4 outfits ONLY. And the toiletries….oh dear. I’m high maintenance but am going to try some multi use beauty products. Thanks for all the tips!

  5. Gigib88 says

    I’ve been a major over packer! My whole life my parents would pack a lot of clothes for a two month trip and we would buy clothes there so we each had a suitcase our size. As an adult I went from always packing a checked back to a carry-on only suitcase but now I’m feeling like I’m still packing way too much. Now my mission is to pack everything I need in a 25 Liter backpack. That includes food because I have a lot of foods I cannot eat.

  6. Lily says

    Usually we would each pack a 20″ suitcase or so (not the largest ) but then we would carefully pack so that we could fit as much as we could into them. Yes, for a two or three week trip. For several years we never seemed to remember just how much we would buy and wear there. Now, I just pack what I think is least available there and what I really like to wear, which is not all that much. Thanks for the tips!

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