I'm speaking from personal experience when I tell you that overpacking is the easiest way to stop yourself from enjoying your trip. With an overstuffed backpack that you can barely stand upright when wearing it you'll be dragging yourself from hostel to hostel and wishing you were anywhere but traveling.
The key to making your travels as easy as possible, then, is to pack light! Here's how to do it.
How to Pack Less
Your first step it to lay out every single item you think you need to take on your trip. Next, put half of it away. Force yourself to be ruthless! Try this test: put small items in the pockets of clothes you're wearing -- would you still want that stuff if you had to carry it on your body?
Another helpful way to cut down on what you're bringing with you is to do a trial pack. When I filled my backpack with everything I wanted to take with me and went for a walk with it on, I came home and immediately found it far easier to cut down on what I was carrying.
Remember, you'll be able to buy practically everything you want to take with you while you're out there, so if you miss anything too much, you should be able to replace it while you're traveling without much hassle.
Packing Space Tips
There are plenty of ways to keep your backpack free that don't involve throwing out most of the things you want to put in it. Something as simple as stuffing your shoes with your socks and underwear can free up a surprising amount of room in your backpack!
Roll your clothes
- Roll clothing you don't want to wrinkle in your bag. I'm also a big fan of using packing cubes or vacuum-sealed space-saving bags to keep my bag organized and save on space.
Keep toiletries tiny
- Buy sample size toothpaste tubes and deodorant to save on space and weight.
- Stash small hotel soaps for travel use, and then carry them in a small ziploc bag to stop them from getting all over your clothes.
- Pick up a solid shampoo and conditioner bar from LUSH -- they last for months and take up so little space in your backpack!
Further reading: How to Save Space With Toiletries When Traveling
Pack the Right Bag
To truly travel light, ensure you have the perfect bag or backpack with tons of compartments so you can get your camera, clothes, guidebooks, and all necessities in one bag, preferably carry-on size so you needn't wait at airports for a checked bag -- it's easier to sling on buses and trains, too. If you need a bigger backpack for a long trip, either use your backpack's zip off day pack as a carry on, if it has one, or buy a daypack, both for the plane and for walking the streets at your destination.
Bags sized for carry-on will also fit in most hostel lockers, so you'll be able to lock up all of your valuables when you head out exploring, rather than just the more expensive items.
Tip: Current carry on bag size: keep it at or under 22x9x15, or check your airline's regulations before you book your ticket if you're concerned. Sizes do vary from airline to airline.
Leave a Little Room
Lastly, leave some space in your bag for souvenirs. My souvenirs are often items of clothing, like a Guatemalan shirt or a Mexican poncho, so you don't need to worry too much about space for those. When it comes to clothing, you can just wear it on the flight home if you can't fit it in your backpack!
If you'd rather something else to remember your travel destination by, make sure you have a little space in your backpack, so that you won't have to regret having to leave it behind.
More Packing and Backpack Resources
- How to Avoid Lost Luggage, and What to Do if it Happens
- 5 Simple Hacks for Packing Light
- Travel Accessories You Really Don't Need to Pack
- The Perfect Packing List for Students
- How to Pack for Airport Security
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.