The Beauty of Packing Light

20080523 - Luggage

I’m sitting at the airport right now, waiting to catch a flight back home. Some of the flights out of this little mountain town have been cancelled today, including my own, due to weather. Fortunately we were able to book a flight with another airline before we make our connecting flight in Denver. Flying over the pointy tops of the Rocky Mountains in a little prop plane doing corkscrew turns reminds me that I’m glad “get life insurance” has been checked off my to-do list this year. But instead of thinking about that, let’s talk about packing for a trip.

If I had to check a big suitcase for the flight, there is no way it would have made it home with me after all of these flight changes today. I love traveling with less luggage. It is so much easier. I don’t ever have to look out of the window from the plane to watch someone throw my bag onto a trailer, or wait next to the baggage claim hoping my suitcase appears.  

Whenever I go on a trip, I pack all of my stuff in a tote bag and one weekend carry-on bag. These are the bags I take whether the trip is for two days or two weeks. One Bag and Rick Steves both have really helpful packing guides.

My favorite packing tips that I use to pack light:

  • Don’t pack more than one extra pair of shoes. Have a good pair of shoes that you would feel comfortable wearing every day.
  • Keep a small bag of travel-sized toiletries stored in your suitcase to save packing time before the trip. After the trip, refill the bottles so they’re ready for next time. The current airline rules say that carry-on liquids should be in bottles 3 ounces or smaller, and all of the bottles should fit in one quart-sized zip-top plastic bag.
  • Bring clothes you can layer, and avoid bulky clothes. Pack fine-knit sweaters instead of chunky ones.
  • Bring clothes that coordinate, so that you don’t need to pack extra clothes or shoes to match.
  • Bring fewer shirts and pants, but pack extra socks and underclothes.
  • Unless you’re leaving civilization, know that you can buy Tylenol or toothpaste or anything else if you need to.
  • Bring paperback books instead of hardbacks, and if you bring a travel guide, think about tearing out the sections you need instead of packing the whole book.

What I haven’t learned yet is how to travel light with small kids. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Related Post:  Before the Trip Checklist

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Travelling light w/ kiddos is tough. I was always the bag “pack mule” and would always get checked out by security. (Hubby lugged kiddos and car seats.)

    The thing that helped us most when we had one in diapers was to call my in-laws (that’s where we always fly to) and have them buy diapers and borrow a booster seat for sitting at the table. We shipped stuff home on occasion too.

  2. techzen says:

    Your blog is really wonderful. Blessed to have such a loving family. :-)

  3. Gorgeous shot, as ALWAYS, Rachel. I am always inspired by your vision.

    I’d love to know – what shoes do you travel with?

  4. smallnotebook says:

    Oh avlor, those security checks are not fun. One time we got held up in security because we didn’t have much luggage, and they wanted to know where our bags were if we had been traveling for two weeks. I guess there’s no way around it.

    Thanks techzen for the compliment!

    Megan, you would laugh to see me taking pictures of my luggage while we waited at the airport. We had a lot of free time. The shoes that I always wear and travel with are Cole Haan. I bought my pair more than two years ago. We were going to Europe for two weeks during the winter and I was pregnant, so I needed good walking shoes. They were $100 and the most expensive shoes I have ever bought, but I still wear them so often that they’re probably the best value too. You can see them in this photo. For some trips I only bring those, but on other trips I pack some dressy sandals too.

  5. Great list! My number one tip for traveling light with kids is to either rent a place with laundry facilities, pay to have clothes laundered at the hotel, or find a laundromat. otherwise you end up with SO MANY clothes! Also they never play with all the toys you bring. Plan on buying some at your destination… it makes for a fun souvenier!

  6. Hello there! Found you by linking on someone’s blog. ? Lovely blog, and awesome pics! You are a great photographer. What camera do you use? My daughter and I were discussing–if you have a custom-made blog (read: one that costs), are the pics a better quality than, say, blogspot’s? We noticed that our pics are not as sharp as on custom-made blogs. Are we correct? I’m bookmarking your site–lots of good stuff! Thank you!

  7. smallnotebook says:

    Doing laundry is a great tip! That’s what we do if we’re going for longer than a week. I bring some liquid laundry detergent in a travel-sized shampoo bottle.

    Emmie, thanks for the note about my photos. I’ll email you with some ideas that you can try too.

  8. Hi Rachel,

    Travelling light with small kids can certainly be done. You just have to understand that you will have to do washing as you travel. We did all ours in our hotel room sinks, and took a suction/clip-on pegless washing line with us. In a wide assortment of rooms there was always somewhere and some way of attaching it.

    It is important to make sure you include at least one special toy for each kid – whether it be a cuddly, a soft toy or a game. One proviso: it has to be small and light! Several times we have also been given soft toys on our travel – on airlines and where we stayed.

    And you have to be ruthless with all the “stuff” they give you in the children’s packs on international airlines. If you do multiple legs (like we do travelling anywhere from Australia!) you’ll likely end up with multiple packs. Sometimes its easiest just to say “no thank you” after being offered the first one.

    We enjoy travelling light with our kids. I’d encourage you to give it a try.


    Enjoying Travel with Kids´s last blog post..Travels with your kitchen scales

  9. Rhiannon says:

    One solution I found that has been SO helpful is to have a small medicine bottle of the various kinds of OTC med I might need on a trip- I make sure all of them are different colors or have the names written on pills so I don’t get them confused. It has saved me so much trouble to have this bottle! I can open my little bottle and know that if I have a migraine, I’m covered. If I need a sleeping pill, I’m good to go. If I need a Benedryl, I won’t need to make an emergency run in the middle of the night to a drug store.

  10. Don’t tear out the pages in my travel guide, please :)

    I normally photocopy them or, when I can find the information I need on-line, I try to save them to my smartphone. Then I don’t have to take anything extra. Maybe a good tip for the traveling techies.

    Luc J´s last post…Travel Light – Titan Razor with Shaving Cream Inside Handle