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How to Pack Smaller (When Luggage Weight Doesn’t Matter)

How to Pack Smaller

Traveling carry-on only and reducing what we pack are big goals here at Her Packing List. You don’t need nearly as much as you think you do, and most things can be purchased overseas. Plus it’s so much easier to get around if you aren’t carrying a lot of stuff.

Reducing the weight you’re carrying is helpful (and recommended), but sometimes, on some trips, the weight might not be the issue.

Maybe you just want to cram as much stuff as possible into a smaller suitcase.

Some airlines don’t weigh carry-on luggage, and sometimes you’re traveling by train or bus or car.

So how do you pack less and pack smaller when you’re not worried about weight restrictions? Here are our tips.

Packing less

This tip is obviously a no-brainer. If you want to pack smaller, simply take less stuff! Unfortunately, it’s often easier said than done.

Be honest with yourself: Do you really need a shirt or a new outfit for each day of your trip? There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same thing a few times before washing it. And on long trips, you’ll have to do laundry anyway.

>> Check out our guide for hand-washing clothing on the road, and tips for drying clothes without a dryer.

Pack multiple use items. Instead of packing a shower towel, beach towel, and a cover-up, pack a sarong or a Turkish travel towel. A shirt that only goes with one pair of pants isn’t worth packing. Most, if not all, of your tops should go with your bottoms.

Get practical with your shoes. Your shoes should work with most of what you’re packing. For most trips, you need comfortable walking shoes, flip flops for the beach or hostel showers, and a nicer pair of shoes if you want to dress up.

>> Check out all of our travel shoes posts.

Pare down the toiletries. Figure out how long your bath products actually last and pack the smallest amount possible. Most people don’t need 100ml (3.4 oz) of shampoo for a one week trip. For long trips, remember there are stores where you’re going, and you can buy more shampoo or soap or toothpaste along the way. Keep your liquids to a minimum in order to comply with security regulations, and consider switching to solid alternatives.

>> Try investing in a good dry shampoo so you can wash your hair less and bring less shampoo.

minimal toiletries
Take only what you need. Use tiny travel bottles (like the Nalgene ones above) to help with that.

Using compression

A great way to make sure your stuff takes up less space, without actually packing less, is to use compression bags. They suck the air out, condensing the contents into a smaller space. You can get a similar effect using ziplock bags, but they aren’t as durable and won’t last long.

Organize your clothes into these helpful bags, and you’ll have more room in your luggage than before. They come in different sizes, and some have compartments so you can organize your clothes. It’s important to look at the differences to decide which is best for you.

Compression bags allow you to pack more into a smaller space, but it also means more weight. If you’re flying on an airline with a weight restriction, this could be a problem, so these are best used when weight is not an issue.

>>Read our comparison of four top compression bags here.

how to pack smaller
Using compression bags is a great way to pack the same amount of stuff into a smaller space.

Downsizing luggage to only what you need

Just as you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do, you also don’t need as big of a backpack or suitcase as you think you do. If you’re looking to reduce what you pack, downsize your luggage as well. We tend to fill up the space available, no matter how big it is, so it’s best to limit yourself to something small.

Research the airlines you plan on flying so you know what sizes they allow for carry-on luggage. In most cases you can take a 22 inch suitcase or a 40 liter backpack as carry-on, but always verify ahead of time. If you’ve been traveling with something bigger than this, try downsizing to one of these options. Already traveling with a 22 inch suitcase or 40L backpack? Challenge yourself to travel with something even smaller.

how to pack smaller
Downsize your luggage to a 40L backpack or 22 inch suitcase…or smaller!

Investing in technical fabrics

Not all fabrics function the same. Spending a little extra on clothing made of technical fabric can go a long way to packing smaller. And technical clothing is no longer unattractive or exclusively outdoorsy. Some companies now make technical clothing that looks pretty and can be worn in casual settings or dressed up for a nice night out.

These items often save you space because they pack up smaller than normal fabrics. You’ll be able to stay warm without packing that bulky sweater. Or swap out your jeans for lightweight pants that are just as comfortable and stylish.

Clothing made of technical fabric has other benefits as well. Often they are quick-drying, resist odors, offer more protection from the elements, wick water, wrinkle less, and some can even protect you from insects.

technical layers
Left: Bulky winter sweater with a single purpose. Right: Layered technical clothing that can be mixed and matched to serve multiple purposes.

Layers

Dressing in layers is another great way to pack less, pack smaller, and get more. These layers will keep you warm while taking up less space, plus they will offer you more options since you can wear each layer individually in warmer weather.

Instead of packing a heavy sweater for colder weather, layer a camisole and a long-sleeved shirt with a light cardigan. Pack leggings that can be worn on their own in warmer weather or underneath your jeans in cold weather.

Layer colorful accent pieces with basics. By packing a few fun tank tops or short-sleeved shirts and one basic cardigan or blazer, you’ll have several outfits by simply changing out one piece. You can also dress up or down by using neutral basics along with other clothing.

how to pack smaller
Layers work well for all temperatures: Wool long sleeve base layer, flannel tunic, fleece hoodie, water resistant windbreaker.

Wear your bulkiest items

On transportation days, you can save space in your luggage by wearing your bulkiest items. This might be a little tough in hot locations, but in most cases it can make fitting everything in a little easier.

If your trip requires heavy boots, wear them on the plane. Otherwise they will take up too much room in your luggage. Wear or carry your jacket instead of stuffing it into your bag. Sometimes I’ll even put a few small things into the pockets of my jacket.

Depending on the current temperature, you could even wear a few layers of clothing. Wear a base-layer tank top or short-sleeved shirt with a cardigan and your scarf. It’s also helpful to wear your jeans since they also take up a lot of room. Just don’t be like this guy.

While you’re not really taking less with you, by wearing a few extra things on the plane you’re allowing yourself to travel with slightly smaller luggage.

What are your tips for packing smaller?

How to Pack Smaller

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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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Sher says

    YES!!! I so agree with this. I always fall for the bulky sweater though 🙁 They look cute but they take up so much space. Sometimes even 4 separate layers take up less room in my bags, but i can’t bear to leave them behind! I don’t know how some of my friends can fit another 3 pairs of shoes when they travel 😮

  2. Jenn says

    Baby shampoo is also a good option. Gentle and designed for hair and body, so no need to carry shampoo/gel/conditioner.

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