I once flew from London to San Francisco for five days with just a small backpack. Earlier this year, my husband and I went to Spain for a week with one hand luggage sized suitcase each, and recently spent a long weekend in Rome with one case between us. I pride myself on being able to pack as little as possible into as small a bag as possible whenever I travel, and nowadays I only ever take hand luggage with me.
You might be wondering why anyone would want to take so few things on holiday with them, but it has many advantages:
- No checked baggage fees (although some low-cost airlines still make you pay for carry-on luggage)
- No waiting at the baggage reclaim belt after a long flight when you just want to get out of the airport and to your destination
- Not having to worry about the airline losing your suitcase (this has actually happened to me twice, and while I did eventually get my belongings back, I now always avoid taking checked luggage and this is one of the main reasons why)
- No dragging around a heavy case if you can't check into your hotel room until 3pm
- Less stuff to lose/have stolen
- Fewer clothes to unpack and wash when you get back home.
Even if you don't want to take just hand luggage or feel like that's an impossible task, these ten tips will help you minimise the amount of stuff you pack in any bag you decide to take.
(Let me just say, if you're going skiing for a month or something, sorry but I can't help ya. You're going to need to take a lot of warm, bulky clothes or you might freeze to death and I don't really want that on my conscience. Also if you have children you're going to have a bit more of a challenge and, since I don't have kids, I'm not going to try and offer you any advice.)
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1. Plan ahead
Don't leave your packing until the night before and then panic and grab anything and everything you can fit into your case. Write a list of everything you're going to need (and you never need as much as you think you will) at least a week before departure - this will give you time to go and buy anything you don't already have.
Only take the necessities. Be realistic: you don't need six pairs of shoes for five days. Avoid taking any 'just in case' items - these are usually things you can buy at your destination anyway if you end up needing them. Check the weather before you go and only pack appropriate clothing. If it's going to be hot and sunny the whole time you're away you don't need to bring thick jumpers and coats.
When it comes to electronics, I don't generally take a laptop or tablet as I can use my phone to take photos, read books, listen to podcasts, send emails, check social media and pretty much anything else I need to do. I don't do any work while I'm away so I don't need a computer taking up space in my luggage.
2. Buy a light suitcase
Some airlines have weight restrictions even on hand luggage (usually between 7-10kg), and you don't need the actual case to be using up most of your allowance. Look for an ultra-light suitcase so you can pack more things into it before reaching the weight limit. You can also buy inexpensive luggage scales which are really handy for checking how heavy your bags are before you leave home. It means you won't end up being made to take things out and leave them at the airport or pay a fee for the extra weight.
3. Take an extra bag
You're allowed to bring a small suitcase and a 'personal item' (handbag/laptop bag/small backpack) on board. The weight allowance for the personal item is usually around 3kg. You can put the suitcase in the overhead locker on the plane and keep the bag under the seat in front of you. Pack essentials like your passport, boarding passes, money and phone (and maybe a book and earphones) in the bag for easy access. This is also useful in the event that the airline insists you check your suitcase in, even if it's appropriate hand luggage size and weight (which has also happened to me because the plane was very busy and there wasn't enough room for everyone's bags) and you're only left with your small bag for the flight.
4. Have a clear-out
Speaking of bags, empty out your handbag and purse/wallet before you go. You don't need to take 32 old screwed up receipts and your Tesco Clubcard with you. You don't even need to take much cash in your own currency if you're going to a place with different money; maybe enough for a taxi and a coffee at the airport but you can use a credit or debit card for pretty much everything. You can also get your foreign currency put onto a travel money card if you don't want to carry cash at all, although it's a good idea to take a little bit for emergencies or in case somewhere doesn't accept cards.
5. Wear the heaviest items
Pack your lighter clothes and shoes in your luggage and wear anything big and bulky for the journey. You can always take it off on the plane if you get uncomfortable or too hot, but it's a great way of taking more things without actually packing them.
6. Don't take anything already provided
Check what the hotel/AirBnB already has and what you'll need to take with you. Most hotels provide a hairdryer, towels and basic toiletries such as soap and shampoo. I have a travel hairdryer which I take whenever I know one won't be provided - it's a lot smaller and lighter than a traditional hairdryer but it does the job. You'll probably need to bring your own adaptors for any electricals or electronics you take if the country you're visiting has different electricity outlets.
If you want to take your own toiletries, buy some travel size bottles and decant your products into those. If you're just taking hand luggage you can only take 100ml (3.4 oz) sized bottles anyway. Pack them at the top of your hand luggage in a clear plastic bag because you'll need to take them out when going through airport security. And only take makeup you wear daily or know you will wear to glam up on a night out - nothing 'just in case'.
7. Pack a capsule wardrobe
Take clothes that you can mix and match and dress up or down. This is where planning ahead comes in. Shoes take up a lot of space so try to take just a couple of pairs that go with anything. I always wear trainers to travel as they're usually the heaviest (and most comfortable) and pack a more formal pair of flats in my case. Flip flops are also a great option because they take up hardly any space or weight. Keep your shoes in a plastic bag in your case so they don't get your clothes dirty.
8. Roll, don't fold
Folding your clothes the traditional way and stacking them on top of each other wastes so. much. room. Learn how to roll them (there are tutorials for this on YouTube) and you'll save loads of space and therefore be able to fit more in. You could also invest in some packing cubes to help you maximise space and organise your belongings.
Pack the heaviest items (such as shoes and in my case, hair straighteners) at the bottom of your suitcase near the wheels so, when you stand it upright, the weight doesn't squash all the clothes and crease them. It's also easier to pull a suitcase with most of the weight at the bottom rather than the top.
9. Periods can be a pain
Sanitary products can take up a lot of space. If you know that you're going to be due while you're away, either switch to a menstrual cup beforehand (which is better for the environment anyway and saves you money in the long run, but takes a little getting used to) or just take enough tampons/pads for the first day or two and buy some while you're away. Unless you're in the desert, they're not exactly hard to find as they're something people will always need.
10. Do one final check before you leave
Once your suitcase is packed and ready, go through it one more time and be honest with yourself. Take out anything you packed telling yourself you'll need it but probably won't. If you still have space, resist the urge to fill it up. I think most people worry that they're going to forget to bring something that they end up needing. But really, what's the worst that's going to happen? The world won't end. Buy a new one when you get to your destination or go without for a few days.
Finally, accept that you probably won't have room for souvenirs. Learn to value experiences over material things. Have a great time while you're away, live in the moment and take lots of pictures to remember the trip by. Spend your money on day trips, amazing food and making memories, not on tat you won't even look at when you get back home.
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