How to pack light to travel light

Kathmandu ambassadors Alesha and Jarryd are professional photographers, writers and founders of adventure travel blog NOMADasaurus. They’ve been exploring the world together since 2008, searching for culture and adventure in off-the-beaten-path destinations.

When you can list your residential address as the airport and have raced through Tokyo Station too many times to count, packing light can save a trip. Ever been on the London Tube at peak hour? You don’t want to be weighed down with a bag as big as a baby elephant.

After more than a decade on the road, we’ve managed to get packing light down to an art form. Here are some of our best tips for how to travel light with the right gear.

How to pack light 101: your bag choice

When you’re shopping for a pack or bag to take travelling, it’s easy to get caught up with the idea that you’ll need the biggest one possible to fit all your stuff. But if you buy yourself a 70L backpack, you are going to throw extra things in there because you have the room.

Always go for the smallest bag you genuinely need. Even if you’re travelling for months at a time in varying climates, you really shouldn’t need much more than a 38L carry-on bag. It all comes down to knowing what to pack so that you can pack light, which we’ll talk about it in the next section.

Having a smaller bag is also so much more convenient than a giant suitcase or backpack. You’ll be lighter on your feet, helping you to dash through LAX for that last-minute flight. Smaller bags fit in overhead compartments on planes or at your feet in buses, and will save you time and money in the long run.

Ever gotten off a plane and known that you don’t have to wait for your luggage to arrive down the baggage carousel? That is a feeling as sweet as Manuka honey.

Woman hiking with blue backpackWoman hiking with blue backpack

You’re not moving house

You do not need to take every piece of clothing you own with you. As a general rule of thumb for travelling light, lay out everything you think you need for your trip, then halve it.

The trick with packing light is to only bring a very small selection of clothes that can be used for multiple purposes. Pants that can be turned into shorts, hiking boots that look smart and are lightweight and shirts that look good both on the trail and in the bars are essential.

Remember, you can buy just about anything you’d ever need while you’re on the road. Don’t stress about leaving something behind. It’s better to buy one thing you forgot while you’re travelling than have five just-in-case items that you lug around everywhere and never use.

Do as the merino do

Now that you’ve narrowed down your packing list to only include a handful of clothes, it’s time to invest in the absolute best quality material for travelling – merino wool.

Merino wool clothing is durable, lightweight, quick-drying, a great regulator for body temperature and doesn’t hold body odour. For those who want to travel light, these features are invaluable.

Being quick-drying means you can take just a couple of pairs of t-shirts, socks and underwear in your bag, handwash them in the evenings, hang them in your hotel room and wear them the next day. You can spend all day walking around a city and still go out for dinner in the same clothes that night, not being concerned that you smell. And because they breathe as well as keeping you warm, you’ll be comfortable in all climates.

Corespun merino wool clothing isn’t the cheapest stuff on the market, but you only need a few items and they’ll last.

Pack light with the right bag...

Keep your toiletries in check

Bring only basic toiletry supplies in travel-size quantities and look for items that are 2-in-1, such as moisturising sunscreen and shampoo & conditioner. If you do happen to run out, you can always buy more along the way.

Embrace the elements by layering up

Whether you’re trekking in Nepal or walking the streets of New York City, the secret to dealing with any kind of weather is to wear layers.

Unless you’re summiting Mount Vinson, you can leave the bulky down jacket and instead pack lighter by bringing a series of outfits that complement each other to keep you warm when the temperature drops.

Starting with a merino base layer, throw on a t-shirt, lightweight fleece, softshell jacket and finally a windbreaker, and you’ll be ready for just about anything. As you start to warm up, you only need to take off one layer to maintain a comfortable body heat.

Using layers is essential when you spend any time outdoors on your travels and also helps to ensure everything in your pack has a purpose.

Travel light with packing cubes

Save space and organise your belongings with clever packing solutions. If you put all your socks and underwear in one cell and dirty items in another, for example, getting ready and packing up each day will help you to travel light and stress-free!

Pack reusable items

Packing light and easing your burden on your travels often comes down to how reusable your gear is. The concept of leaving no footprint when we travel is increasingly important as tourism numbers increase internationally. Luckily, making a sustainable packing list is pretty easy by including just a few simple items.

The first thing you should bring with you is a reusable BPA-free drink bottle. This way you can fill up out of taps or from water fountains as you explore places instead of buying plastic water bottles everywhere. If you’re in a country where you can’t drink the tap water, most hotels will have huge jugs of filtered water you can use, or travel with a SteriPEN.

Another good item to pack is a titanium cutlery set or spork. This way you won’t need to use plastic cutlery at takeaway restaurants or on planes. And despite the misconception, you can definitely take this spork with you on a flight.

If you like to drink with a straw, pick up a metal or bamboo one instead of using single-use. And a reusable coffee cup is worth its weight in gold, as well as being great for the environment.

Woman wearing blue backpack walking down a European city streetWoman wearing blue backpack walking down a European city street