With our gear in Gavirate, Italy, getting ready for a train trip to Venice

We started on this trip in April on the Seattle to Reykjavik flight with just carry on baggage. For various reasons, we now check one bag on most flights. However, if needed, we could go back to just carry on baggage.

Packing light is a frame of mind, and it can be a challenge. Here are a few reasons why it is easy for me to pack light:

  • I’m a minimalist at heart, as is my husband. I just feel lighter with less things.
  • I don’t wear makeup, so the toiletries bag is small.
  • I don’t wear jewelry or accessories.
  • I am most comfortable in jeans or shorts, and a t-shirt! I’ve never been much of a clothes person.
  • I don’t do anything with my hair beyond shampoo and conditioner. Oh, and a brush. No drying, no styling.

I think these reasons make it easier to pack light. However, even if you’re the opposite of me, for example, you love clothes, you wear makeup, you style your hair every day, you like to dress a bit more formally, I think you can still travel light for a long trip and only have carry on luggage.

Here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

  • Get compression stuff sacks, like this one from REI or another travel store. They really help to smush things down (yes, that is an official travel-light packing term). I tend to put all kinds of things in there, and some things end up wrinkled, but you can certainly use them for undies, socks, pj’s, sweats, etc. If it gets compressed, it gets wrinkled, so you’ve been warned!
  • Think about getting a bag or pack with internal compression straps. Darren’s pack from REI has great internal straps to compress things down.
  • Make sure your clothes mix and match. Remember Garanimals? Make sure you can match up all your tags. Don’t bring the Giraffe top if your bottoms are all Leopards and Zebras!
  • As much as possible, get lightweight clothing that dries quickly. Ex Officio and REI make great quick dry travel undies, tops and pants. Try not to bring things that are 100% cotton. They tend to be heavier, take up more room in your pack, and they don’t dry very quickly. Go for a poly/cotton blend.
Shopping at the REI in Seattle in early April just before leaving

Shopping at the REI in Seattle in early April just before leaving

If you’re serious about only taking carry on luggage, find your bag(s) first. Check the requirements of the airlines you’ll be traveling on. Some of the discount airlines in Europe have smaller dimensions for carry on bags. Be sure to know what these are. Buy your bag well in advance of your trip. I suggest you do this at least several weeks, if not a month or more, before your trip. Now go through your clothes and make stacks of everything you think you want to take. Set aside one set of clothes that you’ll be wearing on the plane. Don’t forget shoes. Now pack all of the clothes and shoes in your bag(s). Does it all fit? Great! Now gather all of the other things you’ll take: toiletries, electronics, books, journals, etc. Add those to your bag(s). Do they fit? Great! You’re ready to go. Relax. If things don’t fit, you’ve got to pare down. Leave something home. Find something lighter. Replace a heavy t-shirt with a light one. Please, please put the Giraffe top back in the closet. It just doesn’t go with Leopard pants! 🙂 This is the hard part, the paring down. We packed our bags multiple times, starting a couple of months before the trip. If you’re serious about traveling light, it takes time, and energy, and planning and a bit of letting go. It is possible!

So, what’s in my bag? Here’s my list:

  • Short sleeve shirts (7)*
  • Tank tops (3)*
  • Shorts (2)*
  • Jeans (2)
  • Khaki pants
  • Skirt
  • Sun dress*
  • Bathing suit
  • Sarong
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Long sleeve sweater
  • Undies
  • Socks
  • Bras
  • Lightweight sweat pants (2)
  • Waterproof jacket that compresses into its own bag
  • Light fleece jacket
  • Lightweight winter coat
  • Winter scarf, gloves and knit cap
  • Sandals
  • New Balance walking shoes

*I bought two tank tops, a sun dress and a pair of shorts in Italy as I wasn’t ready for the warm weather! I bought one short sleeved shirt in Prague.

A note about my shoes: because of the brace that I wear for foot drop, which I wear almost all the time when I have shoes on, I have to have a shoe that fits over the brace and is also very lightweight. New Balance laced walking shoes, that are a wide width and are a 1/2 size larger, are some of the only shoes that work. I wear these shoes about 95% of the time. So I really don’t have a choice for shoes. I wear the sandals when I’m at the water, or it is too hot. But I can’t walk very far in the sandals.

You can tell from my list that I have packed for a variety of seasons. Because we left from Seattle in early April and our first stop was Iceland, the jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves were absolutely necessary. I have been trying to ditch these items ever since, and Darren patiently insists that I keep them. It is he, after all, who carries and wheels our luggage around, so they have stayed. We are traveling in fairly mild climates now, so I don’t anticipate needing any more cold weather gear.

Our luggage consists of:

  • Darren’s expandable backpack with compression straps
  • Darren’s messenger bag
  • My backpack with wheels
  • My purse

We often also carry a small nylon tote bag with food in it for the flight. If we’re traveling by train or not flying, this bag will likely be stuffed full of food that we weren’t willing to leave behind in the last kitchen. (Note the large white back in the first picture at the top of this post. We’re headed by train from Gavirate to Venice, so took a bunch of food along.) If we’re flying, the bag is nearly empty with just two or three plastic disposable containers of food.


Ready to leave Venice for a flight to Prague. The green bag on the table has our food containers in it.

Other things we pack:

  • Passports!
  • Electronics – laptop, iPad, iPod/phone plus chargers and earbuds
  • USB external drive for laptop backup
  • Adapter/converter for charging things in other countries
  • Journal
  • Small notepad
  • Pens
  • Pencil
  • Video camera
  • Digital camera
  • Two USB flash drives (these are useful for carrying electronic copies of important papers, as well as for using to transfer things to another computer for printing)
  • Sushi mat
  • Medications – both prescription and OTC things that might be hard to find (things like Tylenol and Ibuprofen are almost everywhere, although the name might be different. It will be helpful to use the pharmaceutical name when asking for something, for instance ask for acetaminophen rather than Tylenol, or pseudoephedrine rather than Sudafed. By the way, Sudafed hasn’t been as easy to find in some countries. Do some research before you leave if there are OTC meds that you know you’ll need.)
  • Sonicare toothbrushes and charger
  • Toiletry bags with the usual: toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, shaving cream, etc
  • Deck of cards
  • Cosmic wimpout
  • Blow up globe*
  • REI quick dry towel (used as tablecloth or to sit on at beach, but worthless as a towel)
  • Small packs of Kleenex
  • Briar Patch Co-op bamboo utensil set

*The blow up globe was a King’s Day present for me in Amsterdam. 🙂 It is handy to have when you’re planning the next stage of a trip! 🙂

When we left Seattle, all of my clothes and gear fit in my own bag and purse. Partly this was because it was cold, and I was wearing my fleece and jacket. In the warmer weather now, and after buying a few more things but not getting rid of anything, some of my clothes go in to Darren’s expandable pack. But we’re still making everything fit.

Packing light is both a science and an art. Can you do it for your next trip? Absolutely! Let me know how it goes.

Note: Just wanted to add that I’m not sponsored by REI, I just love their travel gear. 🙂