RFID, Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Light

traveling lightWhen you are preparing for a lengthy vacation, it can be tempting to pack a lot of stuff to take with you. There are so many reasons for this impulse, from needing to pack a range of different clothing options to suit different climates to toting around gifts or souvenirs for the whole family, all the way to wanting to bring a few things “just in case” you need them. At the end of the day, though, all of the “just in case” items and contingency outfits for warm, cold, dry, rainy, and mild temperatures are more likely to fill up your suitcase and weigh you down than anything else.

This traveling light guide will help you pack the right items for your next trip so it will be less frustrating, more comfortable and rewarding.

Why Some People “Pack Heavy”

luggageSometimes, you might have the space to “pack heavy.” If you are heading out on an extensive road trip, there could well be plenty of space in the trunk of your car to pack multiple suitcases of clothes and other items. Musical instruments, golf clubs, books, and electronics can seem like travel essentials too, so you toss those in the trunk as well. And don’t forget to leave space for your family, friends, or other passengers to put their stuff! Before you know it, your car is jam-packed, and you’re wondering what happened to all of that space you were talking about earlier.

If you are traveling internationally on an airplane—or even domestically, but are getting to your destination via airfare rather than car—you are inherently a bit more limited in what you can bring. Typically, an airline will allow you to have three bags: one piece of luggage to check, one to place in the airplane’s overhead bins, and one to tuck underneath your seat. These rules tend to be similar whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, so you should still check with your airline to make sure you are planning appropriately.

Still, even with just a checked bag, a carry on, and a personal item, it’s all too easy to pack heavy. Modern luggage is massive, to the point where a lot of so-called “carry on bags” don’t even fit into overhead bins (though we’ve all dealt with someone on an airplane who tried for five minutes to make their bag fit). The personal bags that most people tuck under their seats can be sizable backpacks jammed to the brim with electronics, books, and extra clothes. As for the bags that people actually check instead of trying to bring onboard, they’re usually so big that there isn’t even a possibility that they could fit into the overhead bin; needless to say, that’s a pretty large bag.

Add the fact that most airlines will let you pay to check an extra bag, and it’s not difficult to see how even airline passengers can “pack heavy.” What most veteran travelers would tell you, though, is that life is much easier and more enjoyable when you learn not to bring your entire bedroom on vacation. In fact, perhaps the most common boast of frequent travelers is that, over time, they learned to “pack light”—and are much happier for that fact!

The Benefits of Packing Light

 Why do veteran travelers insist on packing light? And why can cutting down on your packing list also result in a more enjoyable vacation? There are so many benefits to traveling light that we could easily fill up this whole article listing them and probably still not run out of compelling reasons. However, here are a few advantages that almost everyone will appreciate.

  • There’s less to keep track of: Whether you’re dashing through an airport to make your connecting flight or packing up your stuff 15 minutes before you’re due to check out of your hotel, having less stuff means it’s easier for you to keep track of everything. In turn, you’re less likely to forget a bag at gate check or leave your favorite sweater in a hotel room in London. Traveling is rarely seamless or stress-free, but there’s a better chance that it earns those adjectives when you don’t have to worry constantly that you forget something.
  • The actual act of traveling will be a lot more comfortable: If you’re driving yourself to your destination, you probably won’t spend much time with a heavy backpack on your back or having to tote two huge pieces of luggage behind you. However, if you’re navigating an airport, waiting for a train, or looking for a taxi, you are going to have to do it all while weighed down by who-knows-how-many pounds of stuff. Packing lighter will help you avoid a sore back, sore feet, and all of the extra fatigue that comes with carrying a lot of weight for a long period of time. If you’re planning on doing any backpacking or even a lot of walking around a city to reach your destination, these benefits are even more pronounced.
  • You won’t stand out so much: It’s sad to say that some people at airports, on train platforms, or out on city sidewalks are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. There might not be a single easier way to say, “Hey, I’m an unsuspecting tourist!” than by bringing your entire wardrobe on vacation with you. Trimming your load down to just one or two bags will help you blend in a lot better.
  • You can take the stairs: Picture this scenario: you’re on the 20th floor of a hotel, and when you check in, the elevators are out of order. You’re going to have to climb the stairs to get to your room. Do you really want to tote two huge pieces of luggage and a backpack or purse? The answer, of course, is no. To be fair, you probably won’t encounter a scenario where all of the elevators in a very large, very tall hotel are out of order. However, you could end up in a five or six story hotel with no elevators to speak of, and with a lot of luggage, five floors can still feel like 20.
  • You can get away without checking a bag: Deserved or not, airlines have a ghastly reputation when it comes to making sure passengers’ luggage shows up at the right destination. In fact, this horrid reputation is probably the biggest motivator for packing light, and the biggest reason that most people start doing it in the first place. By completely eliminating the biggest piece of luggage from your packing list, you can focus instead on getting everything in your carry on and your personal bag. Not only will you skip the worries about the airline losing your luggage, but you’ll also be able to arrive at the airport later (checking a bag takes a few extra minutes, especially at peak hours) and get out of the airport more quickly after your plane lands (you don’t have to go to baggage claim). In other words, if you’re relying on friends or family to drop you off or pick you up at the airport, skipping the extra bag will save them time, too.
  • You won’t have to let your luggage out of your sight: The other huge benefit to skipping the bag check process is that you probably won’t have to let your bags out of your sight during your trip. (Technically, your bag is out of sight when it’s packed in an airplane’s overhead bin, but you still know exactly where it is.) When you have to let your luggage out of sight for any reason, the chances of it getting lost, stolen, or broken skyrocket. How can you be sure that the baggage claim guys aren’t just tossing your bag around like it’s a sack of potatoes? If you have to part with your bags when you get on a train or bus, how can you be certain you’ll ever see them again? Even when dealing with the baggage claim, there’s a non-zero chance that another passenger will just grab your bag and walk off with it before you see it.
  • You’ll save money: As mentioned previously, many airlines will allow you to check one bag for free—at least United States-based airlines will. In Europe, for instance, it’s not as common for airlines to offer a complimentary bag check. So if you’re traveling to Paris for the first leg of your journey, enjoying a few days there, and then jetting off to Spain for the second leg, there’s a chance that you will have to pay a fee to check your bag on that European flight. Usually, these fees won’t be too excessive, but they can still throw off your trip budget and will still cost you more money than you would have spent if you have packed lighter.

As we said before, the list of reasons to pack lightly goes on and on (and on and on) to the end of time. For purposes of brevity, we’ll stop here, but suffice to say that cutting back on your packing list can and will help you avoid many of the major pitfalls of traveling. Particularly if you are getting on an airplane at any point in your travels, the arguments for packing light are relevant, applicable, and smart.

How to Pack Light: 10 Tips to Get You Started

Now that we’ve shed some light on why packing light is a smart thing to do, let’s turn our attention to the tougher part of the equation: actually learning how to pack light.

Again, there are more tips for packing light that we can cover in a limited amount of space. Veteran adventurers and globetrotters have been extolling the virtues of traveling light for years and years, and it’s not tough to track down some of their (many) tips online. However, here are the 10 pieces of advice we believe are most important for travelers to follow when packing for their next trip.

1) Limit yourself

limit yourselfIn a way, you are always limited in what you can take on a trip with you. You are beholden to the size of your car or the airline’s rules about how many bags you can take with you. Still, it’s all too easy to ignore those limitations. If you run out of space in the trunk of your car, for instance, there’s always the backseat. And if you’re flying and can’t cram all of your stuff into your carry on, personal item, and checked bag, you can always just pay the fee to check an extra bag.

Don’t let yourself have these philosophies about traveling and packing. Instead, set your own limitations about how much you can pack. Tell yourself that you are only going to take a carry on and a personal bag and then use those space limitations to determine what you pack. For the vast majority of trips, limiting yourself to two bags will still leave plenty of space for you to fit everything you really need. Some veteran world travelers might even tell you to cut it down to just your carry on, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s fine to have a backpack, purse, or laptop bag where you can stow everything you might want or need to access when you’re on the plane.

2) Pick the right carry on

carry onDon’t be the person on the airplane who tries to jam an overlarge carry on bag into an overhead bin. Just don’t. Instead, when you’re shopping for luggage, make sure you are looking at a bag that can actually qualify as a carry on. According to the United Airlines website, the maximum dimensions for a carry on are nine inches (height) x 14 inches (width) x 22 inches (length). Look at the product specs for your carry on and see if they match these numbers—or, perhaps better yet, are smaller. If you are looking at a larger bag, you aren’t really looking at a carry on at all. Actually checking the measurements helps you abide by both the airline’s rules and your own space limitation commitments.

3) Roll your clothes

rolled clothes“Packing light” doesn’t necessarily mean your bags are going to be lightweight. On the contrary, your goal should be to fill your carry on bag as densely as you possibly can—to the point where it becomes legitimately heavy. The best way to achieve this goal is usually to roll your clothes. Neatly folded clothes might look nice in a suitcase, but they will often leave little pockets of air or bits of space unused. You need to use that space to get the most out of packing light, so start rolling your clothes to make it happen. Rolled up shirts and pants take up less space than their folded counterparts and are easier to jam or shove into odd segments of open space. Think of your suitcase as a game of Tetris: rolling your clothes up gives you smaller “blocks,” which are easy to stack and manipulate into a compact shape.

4) Remember that you don’t have to pack an outfit for every day of your trip

don't pack toomuchFor shorter trips, there can actually be a benefit to looking ahead and say “I’m going to wear x shirt and y pair of pants” on this day. Planning outfits can be a good way to avoid excess packing because you only bring stuff that you know you are going to wear. If you are going on a longer trip, though, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to (or, more accurately, that you can’t) plan an outfit for every day. Instead, pack clothes that can be easily mixed and matched to make different outfits. Choose a few shirts, a few pairs of pants (or shorts, depending on where you are going), and surround them with a few pairs of underwear and socks. If you are leaving for more than a week, you are going to have to find a way to do laundry anyway, so there’s no sense wasting all of your space on extra changes of clothes.

5) Don’t pack the just-in-case items

beach ballIf you’re going to a chilly locale, you can and should bring a sweatshirt or coat to layer and stay warm. If you are going to Los Angeles in the summertime, though, play the odds and expect warm weather. Don’t waste space on a sweatshirt or a jacket “just in case.” If California does experience a freak cold front or rainstorm while you’re there, you can always walk into a store and buy a sweatshirt or raincoat. This statement is even true if you are traveling in a foreign country! (Yes, they do have clothing stores overseas.) Having to buy a contingency sweatshirt probably won’t break the bank for your traveling budget, but it will preserve a lot of space in your luggage.

6) Wear your bigger or heavier items on the airplane

winter jacketThere are limits to this particular tip, obviously, but you can win back a lot of space by sacrificing a bit of your comfort to wear your heavier or warmer clothes when you board your plane. For instance, if you are bringing a sweatshirt, wear it to the airport instead of packing it in a bag. You can take it off and leave it on your lap while you’re on the plane, but you still avoid having to pack it in your already-full suitcase. For the same reason, it’s smarter to wear a pair of jeans on the plane than a pair of shorts or to wear your running shoes or hiking boots on the plane and pack your flip-flops.

7) Leave your winter coat at home

winter jacket noThis tip isn’t universal. There are some destinations where you’ll need that winter coat! However, if it’s winter where you live but you’re jetting off to some warmer destination, take your winter coat off in the car or leave it at home. The only time you will need your coat on your trip will be the walks between your car and the airport. For the rest of the trip, your coat will be bulky, unwieldy dead weight. There’s no easier way to destroy all your hard work with packing light than to tote along with clothes that you don’t need. Just get someone to drop you off at the airport and skip the wintry walk altogether.

8) Don’t pack a whole trip’s worth of toiletries

toiletriesLeaving aside that airport security policies actually make it difficult to pack an entire trip’s worth of toiletries these days, trying to do so is also a good way to waste space in your bag. Instead, just pack enough stuff to get you started: one disposable razor, one toothbrush, a small travel-sized stick of deodorant, limited shaving cream and toothpaste, and no soap or shampoo. Hotels typically leave samples of shampoo, soap, and conditioner in the room, and will be happy to provide complimentary toiletries at the front desk if you need anything else. Take advantage of these complimentary items. Even if the hotel doesn’t have what you need, or if you aren’t staying at a hotel, you still won’t have trouble finding a convenience store that carries what you need. Trimming toiletries probably won’t save you a ton of space, but can be a minor conserver nevertheless.

9) Pick one electronic device; don’t bring all of them

iphone6Your phone fits snugly into your pocket and doesn’t apply here. Even if you are traveling internationally and don’t want to pay serious roaming charges, your phone can still use Wi-Fi at the hotel for browsing the internet or sending messages to friends and family back home. If you are traveling domestically, it goes without saying that you are going to want your phone—whether to look up the best restaurants in New Orleans, post pictures of your Malibu vacation on Facebook, or call your relative Boston and let them know that your flight landed early.

Beyond the phone, though, it’s a good idea to bring only one electronic device. You don’t need your tablet, your e-reader, your laptop, and your Apple Watch. Bring the device that is going to get the most use on your trip. If you like to read books on the airplane, the e-reader or tablet is probably the right choice; if you want to work on your novel manuscript while you’re in the air, your laptop is the obvious go-to (though a tablet with a good detachable keyboard is worth considering); if you want to use the internet a lot in your hotel room, either the laptop or the tablet will do, but you don’t need both. Not only do electronic devices take up space, but they also have charges that also take up space. Choosing your most essential device will save some extra space in your personal bag for overflow belongings from your carry on.

10) Lay out everything you’re thinking of taking before you start packing your bag

lay-out-clothesDon’t start your packing process by packing. This sentence might sound nonsensical or contradictory, but it actually makes perfect sense if you take a minute or two to think about it. When you just start tossing clothes or other stuff into your bag, you don’t take the time to consider each item carefully. It’s only at the end when you’re running out of space that you second-guess the things you packed at the very bottom. As a result, you might have to unpack your bag completely, take out all of the non-essentials, and then re-pack the bag. By not carefully considering every single item before you start packing, the process could easily end up taking twice as long.

Our solution to this problem is to start out your packing process by laying out everything you could possibly want to take with you. Choose an open bit of floor space and spread out everything that’s a candidate for getting packed: long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, coats, pants, shorts, underwear, pairs of socks, different pairs of shoes, dressier outfits for nights out, bathing suits, toiletries, electronics, books, chargers, travel games, cold weather accessories like hats, gloves, and scarves, headphones, snacks, etc. Anything that may or may not end up in your suitcase needs to be a part of this process.

Now, start picking up the essentials and putting them in your bag. Consider each item individually and ask yourself “Can I live without this?” Usually, by working through your stuff from most essential to least essential, you’ll come to the end of your packing process with a bag full of everything you need and a floor full of all the stuff that is inessential. Sure, it might be nice to bring your bulky and expensive camera, but realizing that you can live without it if you run out of space is a vital part of learning how to pack light.

Don’t Forget Your Passport or Wallet When Traveling Light!

travel neck walletWhen you’re thinking very intensely about the stuff that does or does not earn the right to go in your suitcase, it can be easy to forget the stuff that you are just going to carry on your person. Most of us are so attached to our smartphones that you probably won’t have to worry about forgetting that. However, it’s important to remember that some of the most important items on your packing list—your passport, your airline tickets, and your wallet—are not going in your suitcase. Leave yourself a note on the nightstand or kitchen counter to remind yourself not to walk out without these essentials.

You also need to remember to safeguard these items. Some thieves or con artists will be interested in your luggage, but many are probably most interested in your wallet, your cash, and your credit card information. If you are traveling in a foreign or entirely unfamiliar area, you might consider putting your passport, cash, driver’s license, and airline tickets in a money pouch or money belt rather than putting them in your bag or stowing them in your back pocket. When your most important possessions are stored under your clothes and against your person, they are much harder to steal.

A Note on RFID

rfid credit cardAs for your credit cards, consider investing in an RFID-protected wallet prior to your next trip. There’s a growing breed of high-tech thieves who can use what is called radio frequency identification to steal your credit card information remotely. Many modern credit cards store their payment information on microchips that are activated by payment terminals. Certain “electronic pickpockets” now have RFID sensors that can activate these chips and hoodwink them into sending your credit card number, code, and expiration date directly to a thief.

Luckily, there are now types of wallets that are designed with materials that actually block RFID signals. These specialized materials make it impossible for signals to penetrate your wallet and activate your credit card’s chip. As a result, if you are using an RFID wallet, it will be much more difficult for a thief to snag your card information without you immediately knowing about it. e-Holster currently carries two variations of the RFID-protected wallet: one is a travel money belt and the other is a travel neck wallet. With RFID protection, you can travel with fewer worries weighing on your mind—a different type of “traveling light,” but something that is no less important to the ultimate enjoyment of your vacation.


For some of us, “traveling light” is easier than it is for others. For instance, someone who isn’t at all concerned with fashion is probably going to have an easier time narrowing down their clothing option than someone who always wants to be the picture of style. However, by following the tips laid out above and keeping your thoughts focused on the many clear benefits of traveling light, you too can learn to be smarter and more conscientious with your pre-trip packing. In any case, we wish you the best of luck and hope that you enjoy every minute of your next trip!