Pack Light, Travel Fast

Over the past two years, I’ve been practicing traveling light. I take only what I need and enjoy the benefits. I haven’t lost my luggage; I get on and off planes, trains and buses with breakneck speed. It’s a lovely way to travel. The key is getting things right for you. It’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach, but fundamentals will help you get where you can be successful at packing light.

There are some key pieces that will help you become a light packer:

  • Your backpack
  • How to pack items in said backpack
  • What to pack
  • Approaches for handling life on the go


A major piece of packing light is using a backpack instead of a suitcase. Backpacks let you carry your luggage, move more quickly, and it’s easier to navigate. Roller luggage has trouble on stairs. They fall over. Some don’t fit in overhead bins or under the seats in front of you.

For most of my trips, I use GoRuck’s GR2 (I also have a GR1, which I use on shorter trips). These bags are higher end, but you don’t need something like that. It’s important that it fit your needs, whichever bag you choose. I like these bags because they are nearly indestructible and basically waterproof. I’ve been in downpours and nothing got wet inside, including my laptop. They’re brilliant bags.

The key is to get a size that you can comfortably carry fully packed. If it’s too heavy or bulky, you’re less likely to use the bag and your hopes of traveling light will be dashed. Also it’s useful if it can fit in an airplane’s overhead compartment or even better, under your seat. If it can fit under your seat, you will never have to check the bag. Smaller planes have limited overhead storage and you might have to check the bag.

Compression Sacs

With a small bag, you need a way to compress the items you put in there. The easiest to do is with your clothes. I use compression sacs from Eagle Creek. Eagle Creek is a great resource for travel tips and gear.

Washing Clothes

Along with compressing your clothes, a useful tip is to take half the amount of clothes you normally would take. Take several types of clothes that can be mixed and matched. For women, shawls are useful. They can be used as a skirt or a shoulder wrap when it gets cold. For me, I find it useful to have pants where the legs zip off into shorts. Some of these look pretty good.

When you take fewer clothes, you might need to wash them if your stip is longer. I take detergent strips with me so that I can wash my clothes in the sink. They don’t suds up a lot but they keep my clothes clean. When I wash my clothes, I generally follow Matt Browner Hamlin’s tips.

Take Only What You Need

Need can be subjective. As you start down this path, understand that it’s a process and you’ll refine it over time. When I started this process, I noted the items I actually used. The items I didn’t use were left behind the next time. Keeping a note of what you use helps me keep the “I might use it” urge under control.

Kits for Grab and Go

Another tip that helps me out is keeping a bag for the stuff I take on all the trips. This helps me pack faster, and it’s a step I don’t have to think about. This includes things like travel size toiletries, electronic cords and other odds and ends. At the end of the trip, I refill any of the used toiletries so I’m ready to go for the next time.

Mail Stuff

I don’t buy a lot of stuff when I travel, but I know some people do. When I went to New Zealand a few years ago, I did buy some things. Since I was traveling for a month, I didn’t want to trek around with all these things. So I mailed them home. It’s a great way to travel light but also not skimp on the souvenirs. When you get home, you have a nice present that reminds you of your trip. If you’re buying something for someone else, it can be a nice treat for them to get a package from your destination. If it’s an international trip, I like seeing the stamps that get put on the package.


It’s important to not get too attached to your process. If something isn’t working, change it up. You won’t get it right the first time. Start with what you’re most comfortable with and refine it from there. I used to take more things than I do now. Also, it’s not really a competition to take as little as possible. Take what you’re comfortable with and refine it as necessary. Typically I pack 2 days worth of clothes, but sometimes I want to take more. That’s ok.

At the end of the day, it’s important to figure out what works for you and go from there.