Pack lightly

I received the following comment/request from Shirley via email last week.

I would like to comment on your trip and carry on luggage only. Do you think you could tell us just how you managed this especially for six weeks and I presume different climates?

Surely you had a jacket and jumper which are very bulky and how many pairs of shoes which also take up a lot of space. I have never commented be fore but do enjoy reading your messages and they do help me, so thank you. Regards Shirley…

Of course packing for travel will vary depending on when, where and how one travels. My husband and I usually travel to other modernised countries which makes packing easy. For two reasons, because we don’t have to sleep rough and there is nearly always a laundry service of some sort nearby. This means we don’t have to carry sleeping gear and we only need to pack enough to get us by for about five days. Of course that will vary due to the seasons.

The bonus is that if the weather is cold one can get more days out of the same clothes, where as if it is hot one needs to change more often due to sweating. Therefore in the winter month, even though the clothes are bulkier you potentially need fewer of them.

If we travel in warm climate I take something like this…

  • about 5 short sleeve tops (combo of t-shirts and lightweight travel blouses)
  • usually capri pants x 2 maybe 3
  • maybe also a pair of shorts
  • and wear 1 long, lightweight, comfortable pair of travel pants for the flights
  • 1 light jacket
  • 1 light summer dress
  • my Keen shoes that are a Mary-Jane style (open enough to be cool while closed enough to be practical in all situations). Yes that is the only shoes I take, or should I say wear
  • 7 pair of underpants
  • 2 bras
  • 1 set of pyjamas
  • 2 pair of light socks
  • Perhaps my swimmers
  • For toiletries we share deodorant (solid), *shampoo, toothpaste, *sunscreen and a brush. I take a little make-up (very little) and a very small perfume atomiser. We also take any prescription medications, pain meds and a very small first aid kit. We also pack cotton buds (Qtips) and a very small sewing kit. All of this fits into one toiletries bag that hangs from a hook.
  • *means we acquire them on arrival. We do not carry them on the long haul flight.

For cooler/combination weather…

  • 2 t-shirts, 3 long sleeve t-shirts
  • 1 pair of capris, 2 long pants and a pair of tights. Maybe also a pair of track pants if expecting enough cold weather)
  • 1 light jacket and one lightweight quilted jacket (the puffy type that is very warm but packs down to nothing and weighs very little).
  • 1 lightweight fleece sweater.
  • I wear ankle high lightweight and very comfortable boots and may bring sandals in my carry on if we are likely to encounter warmer weather.
  • 7 pair of underpants
  • 2 bras
  • Maybe a scarf. (I took a cotton scarf on my last trip and used it as a sarong skirt in Hawaii and never actually worn it as a scarf in Seattle as I intended.
  • 1 set of pyjamas
  • 3 pair of thicker socks
  • The same toiletries as mentioned above.

We have only been on one trip that required extra cold weather clothing (London at Christmas). Packing wasn’t that different to the combo weather. We took warmer coats but worn them on to the plane so they weren’t included in the baggage allowance. In the winter months clothes can easily be layered for extra warmth.

You will have noticed the word lightweight used a lot when it comes my list of clothing. These clothes are often a little more expensive to buy but well worth the cost. We generally get these at sale prices because we are usually coming out of the season we are traveling to so they are end of season sell-offs. One of the best features about these clothes is that they wash out easily, and once rung out by rolling them up in a towel, they dry very quickly. They usually have very handy pockets as well. And in case you are wondering ~ yes we use them even when not travelling.

We also always take a lightweight bag for carrying the laundry to the laundromat. A microfibre cloth for various reasons that usually lives in the day bag. And a lightweight fold up shopping bag that also resides in the lightweight day bag. I carry the day bag and my husband carries the camera bag.

You may be wondering about technology. When we travel together my husband takes his iPad but I just use my smart phone. On shorter trips, say to visit family, I will take by laptop.

Forgive me if I have forgotten anything on these lists, I did my best to keep them as accurate as memory would allow. If when all the essentials are packed there is still room and weight allowance for some extra stuff I may add a thing or two for convenience. However it is never convenient to carry a heavy backpack so I am very selective.

The photos below are from a trip in the last couple of years. I am not sure where to but it was obviously a short trip with warm to cool combo weather (Perhaps Spring or Autumn in Melbourne). I can tell because of the small amount and variety of clothing. Picture no.1 is of my travel outfit. 2 & 3 are my lightweight jacket that folds into its own pocket. 4 is my pile of clothes. 5 is my clothes with the backpack that has travelled with me on every trip for the last, at least, 12 years. 6 are the packing cubes that keep everything organised in my backpack. 7 is my day bag. 8 is what were our laundry vacuum bags,  a microfibre cloth and small ziplock bag. And last but not least are my Keen Mary-Jane shoes that have traipsed many a mile with me.


Today’s Mini Mission

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • Mini Mission ~ Thursday 21Dec2017 Declutter your fridge of out of date items or by using up as much as possible before adding more. With the holiday season here you will likely need every inch of spare space.
  • Mini Mission ~ Wednesday 20Dec2017 Declutter by recycling some items. That mound ofused takeout containers, old newspapers and magazines, paperwork that needs shredding, glass jars you set aside in case you have a use for […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. These are really useful tips for travelling light. I always take too much stuff, but will follow these guidelines next time! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Idgy of the North

    Hi Colleen, Thank you for your packing list. We are light travellers, too. We just came back from 8 day trip to a developing country (Cuba). We left a place that was -20 (Celsius) with snow to a place that was +28. We usually pack 4 days of clothing plus a lightweight merino long sleeve and compact travel blanket (Cocoon) for the plane. All tops must go with all bottoms for versatility and layering. We do allow for one extra pair of shoes or sandals if they are wanted. We also use lightweight fabrics to make drying easier and lighter luggage.

    We each get a backpack that is carryon sized (19L for each kid, 28L for me and 35L for spouse) and often have room left over. We use trip advisor ahead of the trip to find out what we can/cannot get at our destination. For Cuba, toiletries are very difficult to find so we brought our own (repackaged into travel sized containers or a solid version). We also brought 10 smaller bottles of sunblock for the tropical sun. We do laundry in the sink if there are no facilities. We gave away the extra soap, toothpaste, .laundry supplies and OTC medication to the locals before our return.

    • Some great extra advice there Idgy… . I must look into solid shampoo as that would be one less liquid to deal with. We generally don’t go anywhere where we can’t buy it though so it doesn’t really matter to us. We do use solid deodorant because let’s face it we don’t want to go a day without that in a hot place. Like you we often leave the toiletries we don’t use behind especially if the last stay is a hostel.

      • Idgy of the North

        Recently converted to solid shampoos…love it. Lush has some (with SLS). We use JR. Liggetts. Solid do not work great in hard water unless they have SLS. Great that you leave behind extras…really lightens the load and helps others.

  3. Now that’s the way to pack. I just wish I could have convinced Mom to do this back when we traveled more. I would take a back pack and she would take a huge suitcase. 🙂

    • Yes Deb, convincing others can be a real challenge. But hey if others are prepared to lug their stuff all over the place then I am happy to sit back and be amused by them. Until it affects me of course.

  4. Colleen, as much as I am for light packing, I am honestly envious at this moment as I am wearing more than is shown in the pictures in one day – actually at the same time – and will have to do so for the next months. (one thing I don’t particularly like about winter…)
    It’s been a few years since I’ve travelled by plane, I’m usually going by train – either with a small backpack, or, if some extra items are needed (like sleeping bags, birthday cakes or whatever bulky thing there might be) with a little suitcase which would probably still go as carry-on-luggage on a plane. In winter, my boyfriend and I go with a small bagpack each and that little suitcase shared amongst us: warm sweaters for tall men do take up quite some room – and in wet winter weather in the countryside you also need shoes to change for when one pair gets soaked.

    • Hi Sanna, I am glad I don’t live in the sort of climate that requires that many layers to stay warm. Even Seattle, on a snowy day, wasn’t that cold. Mind you we lived in a heated home and moved from one heated environment to another unless doing outdoor activities that kept up pretty warm with the exertion. With modern technology, and so long as you don’t mind wearing synthetics , clothing can be quite warm yet still lightweight. The soaked shoes can be a problem. Luckily so far the only time I have experienced that on vacation was in Japan recently. It was only my sandals that go soaked so I still had my boots and the sandals dried out quickly.

      I am envious of you too Sanna. I only wish I could travel to another country by train. Everywhere is a sea or air voyage from here even out most southern state.

  5. Well shared Colleen. I have watched how airline stewards pack on YouTube . They pack a lot into their carry on bag and always look so smart. Part of the trick of packing so light is how to pack your clothes . Rolling up clothes like a Swiss roll makes them smaller and easier to pack tightly. Conventional packing of laying everything flat is not very efficient, having done this before, I always needed the biggest suitcase. Now I can use the smallest suitcase.
    The concept of washing clothes whilst traveling seems unheard of to some people who pack an outfit for everyday they are away.
    I think your secret Colleen , is having ‘everyday ‘ clothes that are excellent for traveling.

    • Interesting you should mention rolling clothes. I have tried that and didn’t like it. I have my packing cubes and am a dab hand at folding things up just to the right size. I can get at least 10kg into my bag without expanding it and cinching the side straps up tight. I’m pretty sure I could easily double Jetstar’s weight allowance with it like this and no one would ever think to ask me to weigh it because it looks half empty. I sometimes wonder why it even as an expansion. I sure wouldn’t want it on my back if it was jam packed full.
      I have to agree that everyday clothes that are excellent for travelling makes for easy choice, easy packing and a decluttered closet as well.

  6. Thanks for this post Colleen, I am always interested in travel packing tips. I shall have to look into the packing cubes – I have never tried them. I have tried the method of rolling clothes but I can’t say that I noticed it made a significant difference in saving space. Maybe it helps to keep clothes from getting so crumpled, and it is easier to pull out one thing without getting everything else into a mess. I shall also have to look out for the solid shampoo mentioned above, I hadn’t heard about that.

  7. Thank you for these packing tips Colleen. Don’t you feel the need for shower shoes (flip-flops)?

    Also do you take anything to read on the plane? And what about travel guides and other information about the destination? And what about snacks for long trips? These are the kinds of things that fill my carry-on backpack.

    • Hi Michele, I could have sure used a pair of “shower shoes” while on vacation in Tokyo recently. We had a day where a typhoon came through and went out sightseeing regardless. I chose to wear my sandals rather than my boot as they would dry more quickly. I and my shoes survived the experience.
      Now, if your were referring to whether I feel the need to wear flip-flops in unfamiliar showers to bathe, then no. I have never contracted any dreaded diseases from lack of flip-flops and aren’t expecting that will change.

  8. Gosh I love a good packing story. I swear by the Lush solid shampoo bars, no mess or spills there. I wish there was something similar for toothpaste. Packing cubes combined with rolling are really the secret to getting lots of clothes in a small space, and the less clothes the better. I try and take a spare pair of shoes like some ballet flats which take up hardly any room (and stuff clothes in them too), more to give my feet a change so they don’t get sore.

    My other favourite tip is to by some new t-shirts or clothes if you can, as they look neater and cleaner and survive the harsher more repetitive wash cycle. I’ve also taken some older pieces that you can throw/give away when you leave, especially if you are moving across climates like cold to warm.

    I took the advice of a friend when travelling in Paris recently and severely overpacked ‘nice’ clothes. Ended up in my jeans the whole time, just like all the other Parisians and regretted lugging a heavy bag around. Never again!

    It is harder for the blokes though, their clothes are just bigger. At least you don’t have to worry about ‘what will I wear’ when you only have two or three choices.

    I also have a Kindle for books and a spare book or two that are in my ‘read and throw away pile’ so they don’t return. Travelling can be a great way to declutter – leave the house with a bag of stuff and leave it all behind!

    • With you all the way here Alison. I found it especially interesting that you didn’t feel the need to dress up more in Paris. I also don’t see travel as a fashion show and choose not to care what other people think of what I am wearing. That being said I think my choices are not only serviceable and comfortable but also flattering on me and that is all I care about.

    • I haven’t done much travelling lately but find packing light an interesting topic. I’m going to get some Lush shampoo bars as soon as possible – which leads me on to toothpaste or rather tooth powder which I think was a precursor to paste. Eucryl is the brand of the powder, I’ve just Googled it to refresh my memory, though a powder is potentially messy on a trip but I remember a cinnamon flavoured ‘bar’ or ‘cake’ in a little round tin and you dab a wetted toothbrush onto it – anyway, 10 or so minutes on the internet have not resulted in me finding this product which I think I used in the late 1970s when I was having a ‘natural’ phase, the first of many. I have just found a blog (My plastic free life) which mentions Lush Toothy Tabs so maybe Lush comes up trumps again.

      • Hi Fiona, I am keen to try a Lush shampoo bar myself although I am not sure whether there is any advantage to tooth powder. I used to use mineral powder foundation but, as you said, it was messy. When I go to Lush I will check out their Toothy Tabs just our of curiosity though. I now use Mac foundation which covers well so I only need to carry very little of it. I can mix it with moisturiser or sunscreen and still get a nice coverage.

  9. Ooo, I love this topic! I am a real convert to packing light! About seven years ago I went to Europe for 17 days with a gigantic suitcase, and carry on, and purse. It was such a hassle going from bus to hotel and bus to hotel with that huge thing almost every day.
    I learned my lesson and for a 13 day trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark this year I packed everything I needed in a smaller than average rolling carryon. “Lightweight” was they key but none of my clothes were specialty travel clothes. I just dressed in layers depending on the weather. In May/June we had snow, rain and a couple hot sunny days. I had lots of tops with me (at least 6 t-shirts), 3 thin cardigans, a few long sleeve shirts. I had only 3 pair of pants total, two were easily washed in the hotel room. I also had 3 pairs of shoes, mostly the low ballet style but with good cushioning. The two I didn’t wear packed very flat. I had an experience once where my husband only wore one pair of shoes for an overseas trip. We had to buy him a pair of boots on the fly in a very expensive urban shopping district in just a couple of hours that we had. $200 was the best we could do, ouch, that hurt at the time. I also forgot to bring a pair of shoes for hiking in Scotland, it was summer and I only brought sandals. Everyone had to schlep to a mall and wait while I tried on shoes and once again paid way too much. Since then we always take at least two pair of shoes each total on trips in case something happens to one pair. Buying shoes in a foreign city/country can take a lot of time and usually cost more than you would pay at home.
    Also, we brought on our Scandinavia trip some clothes that were about to go in the donate bag. Instead, we got one last wear out of them and left them behind in our hotel rooms. This made our suitcases lighter and gave us just a little extra space for a practical souvenir or two.

    • Hi Claire, it certainly sounds like you learned from experience. Well done you.
      The shoe issue has been mention a few time today. It has been my experience so far after four trips through Europe, two trips to the UK, two to America, one trip to New Zealand and one to Japan that two pair of shoes is the maximum I have ever needed. And for at least sox of those trips I only had one pair. I work on the principal that, on vacation, I need never go out in sever weather. And have never been in a position where I couldn’t get out of the weather should the need arise. I dare say that I will take more precaution when visiting Europe next year during the winter. However even then two pair of shoes – one for everyday and one for snowy conditions ~ will still be enough. Let me add to that the I choose the shoes I do take/wear very wisely and have three styles the have never let me down. They weren’t cheap mind you but I sure have got my money’s worth out of them all.