Packing & Planning Guides

How to Pack Light for a Big Trip Abroad

The phrase “packing light” is relative. If you usually travel with a giant suitcase with two decently sized carry-ons, your version of packing light may not be the same as mine. For our 25-day trip to Europe, I only brought one large backpack and a small daypack and I am so excited to be doing the same thing for our 18-day trip to Southeast Asia.

You’re probably reading this thinking, “She’s crazy. I could NEVER do that!” Think again! As a former chronic over-packer, I never wanted to worry about not having enough options especially if the weather was unpredictable. Planning for every scenario was crucial! But after experiencing Europe twice with a giant suitcase, I was determined to never do that to myself again.

What’s holding you back from packing light?

Planning was the number one thing holding me back from packing light. I didn’t think I needed to spend time planning out what I was bringing. I would just throw everything I thought I might need in a bag and hoped it was below 50 lbs.

My first attempt at packing light for a month of traveling was more successful than I ever thought it would be. I found that I could have packed even less and I still would have been fine. This time, I feel more confident and I’m excited to share with you my method for packing.

Packing light may seem impossible, but the first time you accomplish this you'll never look back | #travel #packing #howtopacklight #packinglight #backpacking

How to Pack Light for a Big Trip Abroad

Step 1—Write down each planned activity with clothing requirements

Before I begin to gather everything I want to bring, I write down what I will be doing as well as a general idea of what attire I’ll need to wear for each activity. This is always my first step when I start to pack, whether it’s for a weekend or a month. Here are our main activities in Asia and the clothing requirements as an example:

  • Exploring temples in all countries: Shoulders and knees must be covered at all times; Shoes must be removed at some temples
  • Day trip to a floating village in Siem Reap: Must dress conservatively; expect to get dirty
  • A day at the elephant sanctuary: Bathing suit; wear clothes that can get dirty and sport sandals meant for trekking/water
  • Hiking Mount Batur: Temperature can be in the 4’40s must wear layers; tennis shoes with good traction
  • Snorkeling: Bathing suit (wearing a wetsuit over it); sport sandals; Quick dry clothes

Even though I planned the whole trip and know exactly what I’ll be doing, listing everything out helps me to remember the little things. For instance, I won’t need socks at all except for hiking Mount Batur. I can’t forget those socks! Also, I really wasn’t planning on bringing shorts since I must dress conservatively throughout our time there. However, when we go snorkeling, having some quick-dry running shorts will be so nice.

The bags we used to pack light
My pack (red) Eric’s pack (gray)

Step 2—Choose pieces with a dual purpose

Next, I think about what pieces I can bring that will have a dual purpose. Those running shorts I’m bringing for snorkeling can double as sleep shorts. Since they are quick-dry, I can wear them when we go to the elephant sanctuary and just wash them to get the mud out. Right there, my one super light, space-saving shorts have 3 purposes. I can do this with many of the things I’m bringing. You absolutely do not need an outfit for each day.

The items I brought to Europe packing light
Everything I brought to Europe

Step 3—Lay everything out and test pack

My final prep for packing is to lay out everything I want to bring starting with essentials and work my way out to things that would be nice to have. Once everything is laid out, I do a test pack. This is extremely important because it will show how much space I might or might not have left open for things I’ll buy during the trip. It also gives me an idea of how heavy the pack will be. One thing I didn’t think about for our Europe trip was just how many stairs we would be climbing with our packs on (spoiler: it was A LOT).


I do all of this prep at least a week ahead of my trip (usually earlier than that). Why so early? Well, I’m one of those people who remembers important things when I’m in the middle of doing something totally unrelated.

Driving to work: “OH! I totally forgot about that one dress I wanted to bring.”

Cooking dinner: “Oh yeah! I can’t forget my Kindle…and the charger.” *runs to put Kindle and charger in bag*

In the shower: “What did I do with those international plug adapters?!”

I know myself. I know I’m forgetful. So I plan ahead for this forgetfulness so I’m not panicking with these thoughts on the way to the airport only to remember something mid-flight.

The bag I used to pack light
Only a large backpack and a daypack

Quick Tips for Packing Light

  • Use packing cubes—They will make your life so much easier. Trust me, the first time you travel with them you will fall in love.
  • Have a designated “packing space”—Find a space in your home and designate it your “packing space”. When you remember something or buy something you will need for your trip, put it in your packing space. Once it’s time to pack, everything will be in the same place and you won’t have to hunt for that selfie stick you bought 3 months ago.
  • Write things down—I’m a visual person. So it’s all well and good to think about everything, but for me writing down each item that I’m bringing along with its purpose for the trip helps me to see how many things I think I need that I really don’t. It’s a great way to eliminate items if you’re trying to make space in your bag.
  • Ask yourself, “Can I buy it abroad?”—Believe it or not, people use shampoo and conditioner in other parts of the world (along with lots of other toiletry items). One thing I loved doing in Europe was going to different pharmacies to purchase toiletries. I found interesting (and amazing) soaps and other items to use while I was there so I didn’t have to worry about liquid limits on the way over. I always bring enough to get me by for about 5 days and then I go search for new and interesting things!

Have you attempted to pack light yet? If not, make it a goal for your next trip! You won’t regret it.



P.S. If you’re looking for some great travel products for your upcoming trip, check out my Travel Favorites post.

Now that our Asia trip is complete, check out the full travel diary!

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3 thoughts on “How to Pack Light for a Big Trip Abroad”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about how you plan and pack for a trip. I too always write down what I will need to wear each day. I don’t have a space for packing, but I do lay everything out on our bed several days before we leave and I use and love packing cubes. On this last trip, my suitcase didn’t arrive until 4 days after we did. Luckily I had a shirt and pants in my carry on, but I did learn from that, that I could get along with far fewer clothes than I thought I could.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Packing cubes have got to be the best thing I’ve ever stumbled upon. It’s amazing how much they help with packing!

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