How to Pack Light

You finally booked that backpacking trip to Europe you’ve been dreaming about for years. Congratulations!

But now the real adventure begins: How do you prepare? What do you need to bring?

Packing light, especially on a trip where you plan on moving around frequently, is essential. It doesn’t happen by chance. Packing light is a skill and requires purposeful planning.

With a light pack you can squeeze in to a bus taking you to that next village in Switzerland. You can adjust your plans and take advantage of the unexpected opportunity to camp in the Alps.

You can embrace the true adventure of travel.


There are a few key truths to packing light that need to be acknowledged before going any further:

  • Traveling isn’t ultimately about you; it’s about experiencing the world around you
  • Your stuff expands to fit the size of your pack (or suitcase or duffel bag)
  • Versatility is king. The more potential uses an item has, the more likely it belongs in your pack

With these things in mind, a few key strategies for packing light emerge:

First, make a commitment to not think too much about yourself while traveling.

Do you want to come back from this trip with awesome stories and a better person? You’ll need to keep your eyes and ears open.

Ask good questions.

Eat things you normally wouldn’t.

Take time to learn about the culture(s) you visit.

Make new friends.

You only live once!

Second, buy the smallest bag you can.

Limit your ability to overpack by only using a bag that will fit in the overhead bin of a normal airplane. If your pack comfortably fits in an overhead bin, you can squeeze everything you want in it and still be in good shape for adventuring.

Lastly, recognize that when you are on the move functionality is everything.

While it’s certainly okay to prepare for special occasions (e.g. if you plan on a fancy dinner in Rome, bring a nice dress), remember that you are unlikely to need your favorite high heels on an average day of adventure seeking.

You can wear the same pair of jeans for several days in a row. Shirts and sweaters can be layered to create different looks. Get creative!

Getting Started

As you start preparing, think about the trip you are taking:

  • Will you have a “home base” (e.g. a hotel) or will you be carrying everything with you?
    • If you are moving from place to place, packing light is even more essential. Pull out everything you think you need, then set a goal of eliminating 25% of it.
  • Can you purchase things you might need?
    • If you are visiting a fairly developed country, chances are that you can purchase anything you forget or need unexpectedly.
  • What tours, outings or activities do you have pre-booked?
    • If you are planning to hit the beach, make sure you have your swimsuit. Maybe your hotel will provide a towel. Sunscreen can definitely be purchased there.
    • Planning to visit many museums? For the most part, any type of clothing is acceptable. Do your research, but there is likely no need to bring anything special. Remember, you are there to learn.
  • What sights are most important for you to see?
    • Want to see Machu Picchu? You may need some sturdy shoes and warm clothing, since you’ll likely be doing some hiking and it can get colder in the mountains
    • Visiting a big city? You likely can take public transportation anywhere you need to, so leave the hiking boots at home.

The Final Word

Traveling is all about embracing adventure and seeking out new experiences.

It’s natural to be tempted to try and prepare for anything. The struggle with overpacking is normal. But with careful planning and some key commitments you can overcome them.

Hopefully you now see the value in packing light and have some key strategies to help you do so.

Whether you are fully convinced of it now or not, you’ll be grateful to have done the work when you are chasing after your train in Berlin!

Adventure onwards!