Traveling & Packing Light
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Complete Guide To Traveling Anywhere With Only A Carry On Bag Or Less
Hey! Welcome to this ridiculously in-depth guide about how to pack a suitcase!
I’m James Eagleman, a full-time traveler. Overpacking is by far the most common travel mistake I see. Here I will be providing you with your briefing on packing light and traveling light.
“The time has come to lay that baggage down and leave behind all the struggling and striving.” ― Sue Augustine
For some this guide may be a simple refresher course, for others, it will provide some useful hints and tips, and for a few, it might just be a life-changer.
This guide is descriptive, not prescriptive – I realize it’s not for everyone. You can take or leave any of the advice you read here. This is just my story of how I live my life.
I divided the guide into chapters, and each section has a list of actionable steps to help you travel light.
I hope you enjoy it.
James Eagleman, 2022
It’s when we travel lightest that we most become ourselves. Underneath all your possessions you find your true self.
Nobody likes carrying heavy bags, paying checking fees, and worrying about airlines losing luggage. It’s a drag…
But we are addicted to Stuff.
And the airlines know we’re hooked. Baggage checking fees are a tax on our attachment to possessions. They’re a penalty for lack of fore-planning and imagination. Airlines lure us in with cheap flights then hit us with “extras” at every opportunity.
It’s when we travel lightest that we most become ourselves. Underneath all your possessions you find your true self. – James Eagleman
But you won’t hear me complaining…
As a species, we’re able to travel more easily now than ever before.
The early humans took the best part of 100,000 years to travel out of Africa and populate the globe. They journeyed across Asia to North America and finally down to the southern tip of South America. 4000 generations of mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons lived and died their way westwards. Our family took a long journey, right?
Today you can fly direct from South Africa to Brazil in less than 10 hours. And all the while watching Netflix and moaning about your lack of legroom.
From this perspective, modern travel is miraculous. It ought to be thrilling… do you want to risk spoiling your awesome adventure by packing too heavy?
If your answer is no, then you’re going to need to learn to pack and travel light my friend.
5 Steps To Becoming A Lightweight Traveler
1. Awaken The Adventurer Within
The process of becoming a light traveler starts long before you pack a bag. It starts within yourself, with approaching travel in a spirit of adventure.
I don’t care if you are going on a dull business trip for the 100th time. If you’re flying through the sky at 550 miles per hour, there is something magical happening. Never forget that.
Light travelers don’t pack for every eventuality because that’s impossible. And finding yourself far from home without “that thing you left behind” is part of the adventure.
Embrace “what’s the worst that could happen?” thinking. Lay down your fears and feel the freedom that follows. Trust me everything will be okay, even if you run out of clean underwear.
2. (Tomorrow May Rain So) Follow The Sun
Traveling light is a whole lot easier in warmer weather. The more pleasant the climate, the fewer clothes you will need to protect you from the climate.
If you can avoid going to cold and wet places you won’t need to pack bulky sweaters, jackets, and boots. If you do go to wintry climates, make sure you wear your heavy boots and jacket on the plane.
Before you think about packing research the climate of your destinations. Think about what you’ll do there and the altitude you’ll be at. I like using timeanddate.com to research climate and they have a fantastic sunrise and sunset calculator.
3. Accept the Costs
There can be costs to traveling light. I don’t deny it, but there can be savings too.
The costs are worth it and it balances out. The things you buy can be more expensive but you own fewer things. And anyway like Tyler Durden said:
“The things you own end up owning you.” – Chuck Palahniuk
Carry less stuff and get your freedom back.
4. Think Like A Traveler Not A Tourist
Is there a difference? I think so.
Travelers think differently than tourists and packing heavy is a rookie mistake.
Tourists with huge bags are easy to spot and vulnerable to scams and thieves. You can be a target right from the moment you land. Unscrupulous taxi drivers often take visitors on an expensive detour.
And of course, you need that taxi because your bags are too huge for public transport!
With large luggage, you are less nimble and less able to escape sketchy situations.
5. Trade Things For Experiences
Light travelers carry fewer things. But they have more experiences.
For example, when was the last time you walked from the airport to your hotel?
It’s only about 7 km from Malta International Airport to the center of Valletta. That’s about a 90-minute walk and it’s a pleasant journey especially as you get closer to Valletta center. Of course, if it’s too hot you’d be better to take a taxi but by traveling light your options open up.
In fact, many airports are less than 2 hours walk to the center.
I always check the map and the street view and consider walking from the airport to the center. I can do that because my bag isn’t heavy.
And speaking of bags…
When you travel light your carry-on bag is your best friend.
Checking bags slows you down, puts your valuables at risk, and costs you time and money. Carry-on only is the way to go. You’ll save money and keep your valuables safe. It’s a no-brainer.
“It seemed like there was definitely a relationship between how much stuff a person carried and the amount of fun that they were having. The more stuff, the less fun.” – Tom Bihn Bag Designer & Maker
You can check a detailed list of airline carry-on size restrictions here. To prepare yourself for international travel get a carry on bag no greater than:
21 inches (53.5 cm), width of 14 inches (35.5 cm) and depth of 8 inches (20.3 cm)
Bags of this size and under will permit carry-on travel on most airlines.
Keep an eye on weight restrictions too. But if you follow this guide you won’t ever need to worry about going above carry-on weight limits.
7 Steps To Carry On Enlightenment
1. Remember the 1st Law of Minimalist Travel
The amount of crap you pack expands to fit the available space in your bag.
Or to put it another way. If you have a big bag… you will end up filling it with a lot of crap.
“The amount of crap you pack expands to fit the available space in your bag” – James Eagleman
Just because a bag has a certain capacity, it doesn’t mean that you need to fill that capacity.
2. See Through The Illusion
We overfill our bags because we are too attached to our things.
You don’t need so many things but you are under the illusion that you need them.
You don’t need them.
This post is all about seeing through the illusion and showing you the road to a lighter life.
To beat your overpacking habit you first have to recognize that you have a problem ))
3. Acknowledge The Possibility of Traveling With Carry-On Only
You can break free from overpacking.
Accept that while it might not be easy it is possible. Many people travel the world with all their possessions in only a single carry-on bag. How do they do it? If they can do it so can you. You just need to figure out how.
4. Follow the One Bag Path
The road to carry on enlightenment is through the cunning use of a smaller bag.
If you dive in and buy a smaller carry-on bag and you will just need to make it work.
“Ahh but what about all my stuff!!” I hear you cry.
Don’t worry. By the time you’ve read this guide will have mastered the art of traveling and packing light. Chapters 3-5 deal with packing, not-packing, and planning.
But before that, you must…
5. Choose The Right Bag
The weight of your bag is important!
Rolling luggage is great if you are doing it home-taxi-airplane-taxi-hotel style. Walking longer distances away from the smooth floors of airport lobbies is rarely fun.
The best travel backpacks are lighter and more secure than rolling suitcases. Some ultralight travelers even go without a bag altogether.
If you choose a backpack don’t choose a top-loading backpack. Your travel bag or suitcase should open completely to allow access to everything.
Make sure you can easily identify your bag. Even though you are traveling carry-on it could be stolen or switched. In-flight theft is a thing.
6. If the shoe doesn’t fit… wear it!
When you keep your bag small you will need to wear your heavy items.
Wear your big jacket when boarding. Wear anything heavy when boarding. In fact, if you are serious you could buy a travel jacket that has lots of pockets to carry items. Scottvesttravel jackets are ideal for this sort of thing. Remember. Wearing is not carrying.
7. The personal item
I tend to not use the personal item allowance because not all airlines have the same guidelines. I don’t need the extra allowance and who wants to carry two bags anyway?
Don’t rely on the personal item allowance to carry more stuff. You can get into trouble with airlines that have less generous allowances.
The 80/20 Rule
You might be familiar with the Pareto Principle also known as the 80—20 rule. If not, it roughly goes like this — for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
So for example… 80% of the profits come from 20% of the customers
Or… 80% of the crops come from 20% of the seeds sown.
There are hundreds of examples. The Pareto Principle is a rule of thumb it’s not supposed to be exact. I think the 80/20 rule applies to packing too — 20% of what you pack meets 80% of your needs.
As light travelers, we try to only pack the 20% of things to meet most of our needs. This means our haul can be up to 80% lighter. Wheyhey!
To meet the rest of our needs we improvise like Macgyver on a weekend in Paris.
Yes, you don’t have 7 pairs of underwear labeled Sunday through to Saturday…
But you did pack your travel soap and a universal sink plug.
How To Pack Only The 20%
1. Use A Packing List
The internet is full of packing list templates for many different types of adventures.
2. Assemble a Travel Clothes Wardrobe
In this section, I’m going to talk a lot about clothes, because clothes take up the most space. So this is where you can make the biggest improvements to your packing method.
It can take a long time to assemble a travel clothes wardrobe. But you don’t need to do it all at once. If you start to think about travel when doing your regular clothes shopping it can pay off over time.
Good travel clothes should be quick drying. This allows you to wash it overnight and wear it again the next day. Doing some handwashing while traveling is one of the best ways to reduce your weight.
Try to choose neutral colors for your travel clothes. This way you can mix and match to create more outfits that work together.
Use layers. It’s better to have more pieces of clothes for the same weight. For example, the t-shirt, shirt, and light sweater combo is better than a heavy sweater. It gives you more options.
Versatility. Items of clothing that can perform double duties are a great idea. For example, shorts that also double as swimming shorts.
Trilogy theory. 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of underwear. 2 pairs of pants and 1 pair of shorts.
Bendy Bras. Sources tell me that bras without underwires can be rolled up.
Downsize your underwear. This tip might not be everyone but some people are big pants people and some people wear skimpy thongs. Skimpy things are the correct packing light choice if not always the correct fashion choice.
3. Invest In Wool
Wool. Wool has been engineered by nature for keeping sheep clean and warm. It’s durable, has a great insulation to weight ratio, and doesn’t wrinkle or get stinky. Wool and Prince make some awesome travel shirts for guys made from superfine merino wool.
Woolen clothes are more expensive than cotton, but they save you money in the long run.
If you buy wool clothing, you don’t need a lot of clothes. You can carry your entire wardrobe on your back.
Wool clothes are expensive, but they never stink even after weeks of wear. You can just hand wash them when you feel like it. And they dry quickly. You can hand wash a shirt, put it right on immediately and it will be completely dry within about 15 minutes.
I’m not talking sweaters either. You can buy woolen shirts and suits that look like business attire but behave differently.
Superfine merino wool is not itchy. It’s more comfortable to wear than cotton. It has fantastic wicking properties. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and hot when it’s cool.
By all means. If you want to spend your life pulling a wardrobe behind you or running a laundrette, then go right ahead. I buy wool.
3. Choose Travel Shoes Wisely
More specifics about wool and travel clothes in Chapter 3
4. Travel Gear
Travel Computing. Take a tablet rather than a laptop. I work while traveling and I found that the best travel laptop in my case was a Microsoft Surface Pro. It has the power of a laptop but the size and weight of a large tablet. Avoid the inferior keyword cover and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
Pack a Foldable Day Pack. Unless you’ve gone ultra-light your travel bag will probably be too big to use once you are at your destination.
Compact umbrella or waterproof poncho. If I am in hot climates I find a heavy jacket unnecessary. I like to walk in the rain and an umbrella or waterproof poncho helps with this.
Sunglasses. Need I say more? Sunnies are essential for trips to bright sunny places. But don’t worry you can wear them on your head and they don’t take up any of your carry-on allowance.
Travel coffee maker. I’ve written elsewhere how travelinglight.com runs on rich black coffee. I make sure to find room in my backpack for a travel coffee maker.
Sleep mask. A sleep mask can really help for sleeping on the plane, jetlag or sleeping in unfamiliar rooms. It’s an essential piece of kit for your travel and lightweight too!
Earplugs. Like a sleep mask earplugs help for sleeping during travel and in strange places. Gram for gram one of the best items you can pack in your carry on.
First aid kit. This one depends on where you are traveling to and what you will be doing. A first aid kit can be a handy thing to pack if you are going to be doing a lot of hikng
A Lightweight Travel Adapter. You want to be able to charge those gadgets. Typically a travel adapter is quite chunky but this one is nice and small and light.
Money belt or neck wallet. RFID blocking wallet. Passport wallet.
Keep your cash and cards in different places. Keep emergency cash.
5. Travel Laundry
Doing laundry on the road is an essential part of traveling light. If you are used to doing all your laundry with a washing machine it might seem like washing clothes on the road will be a hassle.
Yes it is annoying but so is lugging around a heavy bag packed full of clothes.
In reality, to hand wash a few items will only take a few minutes and the benefits are huge.
Pack a travel sink plug. This will help because not all hotels have sink plugs.
You could also pack some travel detergent like Dr. Beckmann Travel Wash though I often just wash my clothes with shampoo.
A clothesline can help to dry things and it doesn’t take up much room.
To dry clothes fast roll them up in a towel and stand on them. I often hand wash a polo shirt, roll it in a towel, stamp on it and put it straight on slightly damp.
After about 30 mins it will be fully dry just from your body heat.
Leave It Behind
11 Steps To Becoming A Zen Carry On Master
1. Use A Not-Packing List
Here are some things that you might have thought about taking but probably don’t need. Do yourself a favor and leave them at home.
2. Know Your Restricted Items
Bottles can’t be more than 100ml. All your 100ml bottles need to fit in a single sealable one liter plastic bag. Nothing sharp. No scissors.
3. The Post Landing Repack
Use airport lockers. In short stays I sometimes take an airport locker and dump things that I know I won’t need.If I’m not working I pack my computer and some clothes into an airport locker.
4. Don’t Pack “What If” Items
“What if” rarely happens and when it does you will deal with it.
5. Use Local Shops
There are few wildernesses left on the planet. Most places sell toothpaste and toilet roll.
6. Air dry your way to freedom
Use a tiny microfiber towel. Buy a large towel locally and leave it behind when you leave.
7. Burn Your Books
Books are heavy. Don’t carry books.
If you are a serious reader take a kindle or even better buy audiobook editions and listen to your books
I like to take walks to explore a new area while listening to audiobooks.
I sometimes use this cable to listen to an audiobook on my phone and music on my ipod shuffle at the same time.
Download the kindle app to your phone or laptop.
Take photographs of sections of guidebooks. Apps like evernote allow you to concert photos of books to searchable text.
8. Make Your Children Carry Your Stuff Like Tiny Slaves
Okay… maybe not YOUR STUFF but at least get them to carry some of their own stuff. If you are traveling with kids get them to carry something. Don’t make your kids the luggage, teach them to help.
9. Screw The Duct Tape
Not for the kids mouths…If you’ve seen The Martian you’ll know that simple duct tape can save your ass if you get stuck on mars. Are you going to mars?
If yes then sure take it. But if you are staying on earth then you probably don’t need it.
Duct tape can be used to make quick repairs to shoes, clothes, make rope and If your shows are so f*cked they’re held together with ductape I’m sorry but it’s time to go buy some new shoes.
10. Forget the Frisbee
Some travel bloggers recommend packing a frisbee since it’s a great way to break the ice and meet new people. Frisbes also make a half-decent cutting board, plate or fan. And with the right technique you could use one to kill an assailant in a pinch.
Sorry Frisbee! You are great n’all but that still doesn’t earn you place in my carry on! It’s not you. It’s me! I travel light!
It’s not that I think frisbees are a bad idea. I like the idea of tossing a frisbee in the park as a way to break the ice. I just don’t think you need to pack one and lug it around with you. Just buy one locally or a bat and ball or whatever.
11. Anything where “there’s an app for that”
If “there’s an app for that” then it probably shouldn’t be in your carry-on bag. Not so long ago electronic devices were huge.
Now our magical smart phones can replaces so many devices.
Unless you are a serious photography leave the DSLR behind your phone takes awesome photos now.
Now that you know what to take…
And you know what not to take…
It’s time to go deep.
Mankind has long pondered the big philosophical ideas. What is the meaning of life? Who am I? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is true happiness? How do I pack a suitcase?
“How do I pack a suitcase” remains one of the most discussed ideas online.
As if there wasn’t enough written about it here are my tips of putting your stuff into your bag.
7 Packing Origami Ideas To Organize Your Load Out Of Existence
1. Compress Your Clothes.
There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to clothes compression. My fear with compression is that it just allows you to fit more stuff that you don’t need in your bag. Anyway, here they come, use them wisely.
Roll your clothes. This is a classic travel tip smart granddads were doing this in the seventies.
Packing cubes. The pro travelers favorite. Compression packing cubes can gain you an extra few inches worth of space.
Zip lock bags. The cheapos packing cube.
Vacuum compression bags. These can suck all the air out that sweater and get reduce the size of it but it won’t do anything to help with your weight. In fact, the danger is you will simply pack more vacuum-packed sweaters that previously.
Rubber bands. Yes just regular rubber bands. It might not be very sophisticated but rubber bands are a simple, lightweight method to compress items in your carry-on.
Stuff sacks. A sack that you stuff things into. Can be very helpful with dirty clothes.
Garment folders. These can help with delicate items where you want to avoid creasing. They probably will have a flat iron where you are going though.
2. Use The Inside Of Your Shoes
You can put all sort of things inside your shoes not only feet!
Pack your underwear inside your shoes.
These travel adapters fit snugly inside my walking shoes.
Roll your socks into little balls and squeeze them in there.
That half-eaten cheese sandwich from the airplane… that could fit inside your shoe!
The possibilities are endless! You get the idea ))
3. Pack It On Your Person
You can fill your jacket pockets with items. You can put things in your pockets.
I mainly use this method for heavy items like hiking boots or jackets.
4. Distribute Your Weight
If you have a rolling suitcase put the heavier things at the bottom. This will stop your case from being top-heavy and tipping over.
If you have a backpack put the heaviest items in the center closest to your back. This with put more of the weight onto your hips.
5. Pack It In The Post
Travel caching. Before putting your things into your bag. Fold them nice and neat and put them into a cardboard box. Write the name of the hotel you are staying at on the cardboard box. Take the cardboard box to your local post office and ask them to send the box to the hotel you are staying at.
Note. Contact your hotel to check they will accept the package. I have found airbnb hosts can sometimes also accommodate.
Be sure to keep your most valuable valuables in your possession. Don’t mail that Rolex to the Airbnb guy.
Memories Are Your Best Souvenirs
Is it possible to pack too light?
For physical possessions, I suggest making do with as few things as you can comfortably manage without. It’s not that complicated really. If you use it…. you need it. If you don’t use it… you don’t need it.
But I believe there are some things that are always worth carrying.
The things in this chapter are very lightweight but perhaps the most important.
Carry as much of them as you can manage!
5 Things That Are Worth Carrying
Why do we travel? Just to get from A to B?
From your first baby steps to your last steps — life is made up of all the little moments.
All life is a journey of some type. Even if you are just on a boring business trip or some other travel that you can’t be bothered with. The dullest trip is always part of a bigger journey. The journey from your first day at school to graduation. The trip from first date to marriage. From new start to becoming the boss.
From your first baby steps to your last steps — life is made up of all the little moments.
Even on the most mundane trip, there is the possibility that a special moment in your life will happen.
Be ready for it. You will want to pick up that moment and carry it with you forever.
Pack it in your heart and take it with you.
2. Peace of Mind
Did you know that the animals with the most predators sleep the least?
They’ve got the most to worry about right?
Our waking minds exist to worry and help us avoid danger.
Consciousness itself is a kind of threat detection system, to help us avoid predators and stay safe.
And when we travel to unusual places we feel more fear than usual. Anxiety can grow and spoil our experience of travel.
It doesn’t help that the news makes the world seem like such a dangerous place with terrorists waiting around every corner.
But here’s the thing… most of the things we worry about NEVER HAPPEN!
Take this nugget of wisdom. Pack it carefully somewhere where you won’t forget it. And carry it with you always.
3. A Friendly Smile
A smile is our species way of telling people that we don’t want any trouble and we are no threat.
If you don’t smile. People can be intimidated and scared of you. It’s just human nature.
It can really ruin a good trip if people are threatened and wary of you. They become defensive and closed.
People say that Queen Elizebeth thinks the whole world smells like fresh paint… because everywhere she goes has been freshly painted.
If you walk around with a scowl, you’ll find a world full of surly defensive people. The world has been painted black because King Grumpypants is coming.
Pack your smile with you. For the best travel adventures wear it every day to show the world that you come in peace. And wherever you go the people there will smile back at you!
4. Small Talk
I’m an introvert and social situations can be stressful and tiring for me.
It’s easy for me to shrink into my shell and spend too much alone time because this is where I am most comfortable.
This might seem like a strange choice to mention for people whose small talk comes naturally and easily.
For me, it’s hard work. Small talk is something I need to carry with me and remember to use.
Why is it necessary?
Because travel can be isolating. You can be away from friends and family and normal social contact.
And social contact is essential to human health and happiness.
All introverts need to remember to pack their small talk so they can make social connections while traveling.
Because social connections lead to…
Travel is a great way to invite interesting experiences into your life.
And shared experiences bring people together and can end up in life-long friendships.
As I get older I find I make more acquaintances and fewer friends.
If you do meet a friend on the road make sure you take that friendship with you. Pack it on in your bag and don’t forget it.
Real solid friendships are a rare thing.
Thanks for reading our guide to traveling light and packing light. I hope this book has given you some ideas and helped you with your travel plans!
Now it would make me most happy if you take the core message with you and leave the rest of this post behind!