Let’s face it… Packing light is NOT easy. At least not at first.
So if you don’t have to change your packing style, you’re probably not going to put the extra thought and energy into the process.
Not until something big happens.
Up until then, the extra struggle here and there won’t register. The needing an extra hand to get a suitcase out of a taxi’s trunk won’t make you think twice. The needing to find an elevator to get up a flight of stairs will be a standard part of travel. And then…
And then there’s that moment I call the tipping point. It’s a moment of so much stress and/or expense that it makes you want to change it all- to go from over-packer to an extreme minimalist. It’s also the moment that makes you realize the extent of those “normal luggage dramas” leading up to that point.
- For Julie, that moment came when the cost of an extra suitcase was calculated by weight (not by item) for a whopping extra cost of $450 CAD!
- For Jennifer, carrying around a heavy backpack for months caused her to develop sciatica- a very painful lesson in packing light.
- For Laura, barely being able to lift her 80L backpack while traveling Australia convinced her to buy a 40L backpack for any future trip.
- For me, arriving at my destination without my checked bag finding me for another couple days was the tipping point to going carry-on only, no matter the restriction.
For most people, making the change in packing style only happens after having a terrible luggage experience (aka the tipping point). But my goal with Her Packing List is to help you to not ever reach that moment of extreme luggage stress or expense. That’s why we share these stories on HPL and all the tips for packing smaller and lighter.
Here are some of the moments that inspired other Her Packing List readers to pack light:
My bag didn’t make the trip
It’s when my bag didn’t make the trip with me and decided to stay back and still not want to join me two days later. The airlines weren’t even apologetic. Having to carry a change of clothes in a grocery bag to my friend’s place was my tipping point. Been a backpacker since. One pair of sneakers, low maintenance clothes and the right amount of toiletries. That’s it. And my camera. Never leave home without it.
I do believe I have aced backpacking now. The envy of my girlfriends who can’t do with one pair of shoes. LOL!
I had too many shoes
My tipping point was when I, and my sister, took a trip together to Ireland. We used mass transit, walked, and were rained on every day. I thought a wheeled suitcase was enough–but pulling a heavy suitcase in the rain, over cobblestones, and then hauling same suitcase up or down flights of stairs–I realized my 26″ suitcase was too much. Some of our clothes never dried! I had too many shoes.
Now, everything can be washed in the bathroom overnight: no jeans, no heavy cotton sweaters, no heavy suitcase. My sister and I compete for packing ideas.
I use a carry on now and love to keep cutting the weight.
We might as well have taken the kitchen sink
I definitely had a tipping point. In 2012, my family vacationed in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We took three huge suitcases (two of which could easily have been packed to over 50 pounds), a carry on sized bag, and four backpacks. We paid way too much to check luggage and struggled to get it all in and out of our rooms. And then, one of the case’s rolling wheels broke, so we had to carry that one for the second half of the trip.
We rented a mid-sized SUV and could barely fit our stuff in the back. Not fun. We also ended up using about 1/3 of what we brought. After that trip, I realized that I had become the classic “what if” type of packer: What if it rains? What if we lose a suitcase? What if the HRM the Queen is in town and we have to have appropriate clothing? We might as well have taken the kitchen sink, just in case.
When I returned home, I immediately started researching packing light and was amazed at how much information was out there! So much great advice and packing tips to be had. I read blogs, watched videos, and scanned books in bookstores. I was obsessed. Now, we don’t even own larger suitcases; all four of us have our own carry on bag, and that’s it. We carry a backpack or small bag as our personal item only if needed. We are pros at packing light.
Travel life is now a pleasure, barring any airline snafus, mainly due to the ease of traveling without bulky suitcases and too many “just in case” items. Thanks to your site and others for helping me to see the “light.”
My husband’s main bag did not arrive until the second cruise
We just got home from back-to-back 10 day Caribbean cruises. My husband’s main bag did not arrive until the second cruise. Princess gave him a tux to wear formal nights – couldn’t fit him for dress shoes, but his runners are black and no one noticed. In his carry-on, he had a pair of pants, a swimsuit, 2 shorts, 2 golf shirts, 2 t-shirts, sandals, and underwear. Princess did his laundry a couple of times in the 10 days. The only thing he had to buy was after shave balm. I didn’t even notice that he wore the same pieces of clothing several times.
Amazing how little we need compared to how much we pack.
I kept a list during my trip of all the items I brought and didn’t use
My minimalist travel tipping point came in 2016, when I visited my future home in Papua New Guinea for the first time. We arranged to bring some cargo (new shoes, outdoors equipment, and spices that were unavailable in-country) for our teammates already living there. In addition, we brought gear for hiking, exploring, and working in an office – enough, we thought, for one month of living in the tropics. On that trip, I realized a few important things that have reshaped our packing strategy for the upcoming move!
First, I realized we only owned duffel luggage. Between my husband and I, we had no bags with wheels or handles. That meant we were lugging four 50-pound bags and two overstuffed carry on backpacks through three international airports (including customs and immigration) with relatively short turnovers. At the end of a (literally) back-breaking 33 hours of air travel, we were forced to pay overweight fees for two of our bags which were not honored in the baggage agreement for our airlines. The worst part? I kept a list during my trip of all the items I brought and didn’t use, and it almost added up to the contents of one of those 50-pounders.
Second, I realized that carry-on bags are extremely finicky and important. To travel to our destination, it was recommended that we keep all important electronics on our person. That included laptops, tablets, and cameras, and all of their chargers! We were also bringing some items for our organization’s work that we didn’t want to have lost, damaged, or stolen, so those went in the carry-ons. After that, we had almost no room for what we considered essential: a change of clothes (I needed to be dressed conservatively when we landed), water, neck pillows, a journal and important documents, some snacks, toiletries etc. And yet, I tried to stuff them all in anyways. That was fine until my second security checkpoint, when the agent pulled out everything in my backpack because I had forgotten to remove my computer. Nothing fit back the same after that, and I was left to juggle loose items for the next few flights.
In addition, when we boarded the long-haul Pacific crossing flight, I realized my carry-on backpack wouldn’t fit below my seat, and would take up all of my precious little leg room. So, my dilemma: keep the bag and have my snacks, documents, and entertainment handy, or put the backpack up in the overhead bins and have to drag it out later in the flight? Next time, I think I will throw a good number of my carry-on “essentials” into my checked bags, pack looser and lighter, and keep a second, smaller bag packed inside with items I need during the flight.
I was always worried about my items
This post reminded me of how I felt when traveling solo in Spain, summer 2016! I had not discovered the magic of carry on only travels! I had a checked bag and a carry on suitcase AND my handbag. For most of the trip I was going to be staying at a friend’s place, so it was okay to leave the stuff there, safely, and just head into the city with a handbag. I also stayed at convents which house pilgrims in private rooms, so no need for locks. I thought I was doing great!
But then I had a difficult time getting TO places with two bags and needing help loading the checked bag into a taxi. The worst part was on my return trip (even after discarding many items back at my friend’s place) when I took the high speed train to cross the country and had to be at the station for several hours waiting for my next train. It was quite difficult to go into the restroom (that I had to pay to enter) and fit all my luggage in as well. I was always worried about my items! Even trying to buy lunch was such a hassle because I had to tote around both suitcases AND try to carry my food. I needed more arms!
When I was boarding the train, they had signs that said each passenger was limited to ONE suitcase. I didn’t know what to do as these were both bags I needed! Thankfully I was able to board with both, but I had to find space to stow the bag. Only the very top shelf was available! So I had to lift the heavy bag up there (and I did it on my own), but I was just thinking that there’s got to be a better way!
Finally, my return flight was moved up by TWO HOURS so I had taken the only morning bus from Avila to Madrid and had to RUSH to check in on time and check my bag. Well… one of those luggage scales would have come in handy prior to meticulously packing up my checked bag. It was OVER the weight limit! Praise God that the attendant was so kind because I embarrassingly opened my bag at the counter and removed several items and over-stuffed my hand bag (since my carry on suitcase was also too full) and the big bag was still too heavy. He was kind enough to let it go through without charging me extra!
When I arrived at home, my checked bag did NOT. So I had to come back to the airport later for it.
Needless to say, on my next trip I have vowed to pack carry-on only. Even though this one is a group pilgrimage so I won’t be going solo… one, I am an “experienced traveler” and I want to show it, and two, I am done with all of the embarrassment of too many bags!
Yes I am proud of the experience because I was able to overcome. It has also given me the confidence to know what not to do which is encouraging me now as I am preparing for a pilgrimage. By the way, this is a 12 day trip and people are STILL looking at me crazy for doing carry on only! That’s why I keep coming to YOU- this wonderful HPL community. Thanks!
I have packed light ever since
I am 60 now, but when I was 20, my Aunt lived in Rome, Italy. My mom and dad sent me to visit her for a month. My mom taught me how to pack for the trip. She told me that packing for a week or a month was the same, since for a month you would be washing clothes, but for a week trip, probably not. I have packed light ever since.
The weight and bulk of my luggage was too much
I really started re-evaluating how I was packing when I was in Europe in the summer of 2016 for just over a month. I was travelling with a very heavy 65L backpack as well as a 12L messenger bag – both completely stuffed – and a small canvas tote. Throughout my trip I ended up picking up a handful of souvenirs, and having trouble even just repacking my initial items into my bag. By the end of the trip, managing my luggage made me dread every day that I was changing cities. The worst day was when I was walking from a train station in Paris to the apartment I was staying at, and ended up needing to stop and get a cab because the weight and bulk of my luggage was too much.
Now I generally travel with a 48L pack that isn’t stuffed to the max, and I have a packing list I use for each trip, based on the packing lists on HPL – it stops me from worrying that I’m going to forget something. I haven’t ever missed the extra stuff I had brought with me, and it’s a relief to have less to carry with me everywhere. Whenever I overpack now for a work trip or quick weekend trip, I think critically about why I had packed that all, and am slowly but surely learning to pack less and to pack better.
I had about 8 flights within the trip
My “tipping point” moment came when planning a 2-week whirlwind trip to Asia. I had about 8 flights within the trip and when I started thinking about all the time I would spend at baggage claim, plus risking a loss of luggage each time, I resolved to carry-on only. Now I only check a bag about 10% of the time, and that’s usually just when I am hauling special sports or camping equipment.
It was so heavy
I made a trip to Vancouver for a week with a small rolling carry-on suitcase and a backpack for my work related books and papers. I was fine until I ended up at a transit station where I had to climb two flights of stairs up and two flights down carrying that luggage. It was so heavy and my knees aren’t great at the best of times. I was planning a trip to France later that year so I learned from the Vancouver experience and made sure the same carry on suitcase was much lighter. I did it by paring down my wardrobe to just a few versatile fast drying basics in red, white, and black that all went together. It made all the difference.
Her clothes took up most of the bag
My parents separated when I was 6 and lived in separate states, so I started flying at age 8 with my sister (she was 10). We shared a hard-sided suitcase (this was in the late 1960s so very little choice). My sister was a fashion lover from birth, so I became obsessed with packing light as her clothes took up most of the bag (truly obsessed- one trip I fit everything in a paper lunch bag, of course I was 10 and it was summer). Then we moved even further away and had to have layovers. O’Hare airport, no problem. But the brand-new Dallas-Ft Worth airport – every time our luggage was delayed and finally sent via bus to my Dad’s town 2 – 3 days later. At first I started carrying some basics with me on the plane, then eventually used a duffle bag for everything. And that began my lifelong preference for carry-on only.
I would have tossed it and the contents
My tipping point was my month long trip to Italy last Spring. I borrowed a 25″ suitcase and filled it to the brim, including books (yikes), with never a thought of weight other than the limit for flying. Of course… no elevators, on and off trains, up cobblestone streets. If it wasn’t a borrowed suitcase, I would have tossed it and the contents and bought something small.
Then I learned about packing light. I just got back from 10 days in Thailand with a 21″ suitcase and room to spare. It was so light I smiled every time I picked it up. I’m SOLD!
I took a suitcase so big it had to live in the bathroom
My tipping point occurred early, as a 16 year old going to Italy with my high school band and choir. We went for 10 days and I took a suitcase so big it had to live in the bathroom. Well the shower overflowed from 6 girls using the place and everything in my luggage got wet since the bag was on its side. I had to borrow a sweater and dress to go visit the Vatican. I was also assigned (as a choir member with no instrument) to carry a bass drum the whole trip. After that, I vowed to carry as lightly as possible and have only taken a carry-on ever since, except once. The next time I used that huge suitcase, I lived out of it for 3 months in Washington DC.
It took almost a month to recover
My tipping point came when I moved back from Argentina after studying there for a year. I had gone fairly minimalist when I had moved there but I had accumulated quite a bit that I didn’t want to leave behind. Struggling through the Buenos Aires and Miami airports with two duffel bags, two carry ons, and a pillowcase, all together weighing more than I weighed at the time, I swore I would never check baggage like this again. It took almost a month to recover from dragging that luggage with me. Since then, I’ve only checked a bag once and it was a carry on size with full size toiletries. I’ve gone what I like to call “cozy minimalist” and made sure that each trip I only bring what I truly need.
I did it in a day pack and never looked back
It was a weekend trip in Guatemala that changed everything. I wanted one bag for a weekend hiking trip; I did it in a day pack and never looked back. I keep trying to use my motto as the packing light criteria: pack only what I love among all the things that I really like or work the best for travel, and nothing else — which for me is about 4 items right now. Then there’s room to buy a few things were we travel. Best!
Not much space was left for my own clothing
My tipping point moment happened when flying with my little girl (just the two of us) and hand luggage only (one trolley and a backpack. With a very small toddler you need your hands for entertainment and keeping her close. So even though I was allowed more luggage, I didn’t want to carry more bags). Knowing that her two favorite stuffed animals and 3 other toys would fill up almost half the carry-on, and with lunch and drinks, spare kiddy clothes and diapers for during the flight filling up almost the rest, not much space was left for my own clothing.
Have your own tipping point moment to share? Leave us a comment below!