The Art of Traveling Light

The introvert musings and hilariously true life adventures of a pragmatic optimist and professional writer.

The Art of Traveling Light

Packing Light small suitcase and backpack

Packing Light small suitcase and backpack Packing Light small suitcase packed efficiently


I get that the “traveling light and packing smart” struggle is real. Really, I do. So I try not to judge, but some travelers…holy shit. I always think, “WHY?” Why do people make things so hard for themselves? And take it out on everyone around them? How can they possibly be in the moment or enjoying anything if they’re stressing about their two ginormous (and heavy) wheeled suitcases plus an under-seat carry-on, backpack, beyond-capacity tote…and a purse? (#ProTip: They can’t.)

Packing light is probably in my DNA given how innate it is for me and my aversion to purses. I finally own a couple, but I hated them as a kid, and for a lot of my adulting years, except for my kids, anything that didn’t fit in my pocket or wallet stayed home. I’m not a minimalist, but I’m efficient, so I generally only carry things essential to my mission when I do use a purse. (FYI, Star Wars Band-Aids are essential! And while we’re talking purses, I’ll ask my guy to watch my suitcase, but hold my purse…WTF, ladies?) The point to the purse lead-in is that I absolutely practice what I’m about to preach, so if you think it’s impossible to pack everything for a ten-day trip to Europe in a 16.5″ x 14.5″ x 9″ suitcase and a 17.5″ x 11.75″ x 6″ backpack, prepare to be impressed. And because I’m not a hardcore minimalist, the list includes creature comforts, not just survival items.

Disclaimer: I’m 5’5″, weigh 119 pounds, and wear a size 0, so as with all things, size matters when it comes to packing light. If you’re an extra curvy babe, a dude who wears a size 12 shoe, or you’re heading somewhere cold that requires more and/or thicker layers, spiacente, but your list will probably require some editing or you may need to upsize to an 18″ bag.

On that note, a big part of traveling light for me is not checking my bag, especially for Europe. It’s quicker and I have access to all of my stuff that way, but also, a flight that needs volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for travel vouchers (translation: free plane tickets) will frequently take off with your checked bag still on it not, so what you have in your carry-on is it until your replacement flight. I like clean undies. Back to not checking a bag when flying to Europe, that means meeting international carrier size limits, not US ones. On EasyJet, the maximum cabin size is 50 x 40 x 20 cm, or 19.5″ x 15.75″ x 8″…with wheels and handles. So, a 20″ “carry-on” in the US will end up in the belly, every time AND cost between 60–100 € at the airport, which is where you’ll be when you discover that your bag is too big. Most EU airlines have the same standards, and they don’t do the “personal item” thing, so one carry-on item means ONE. If you’re wondering how I travel with an itty bitty suitcase AND a backpack, the answer is not dodging gate agents, it’s selecting premium or upgraded seats…they include two cabin items and priority boarding after first class. 🙂


My excess baggage aversion stems from a prime directive to create order since my world must be organized, but also comes from watching my mother haul a ridiculously giant fucking purse full of crap she didn’t need everywhere. That she did so in nineteen different colors and didn’t dump the excess junk when she switched bags perplexed me further. So…I don’t carry one. When I run errands that require a tote, I stash my 7″x 4″ Baggallini crossbody phone wallet thingie in one, but nowhere ever will you find me packing used Kleenex…gross. (P.S. For more on these and my other quirks, go here.)


On a solo trip to Italy recently, madre di Dio! I encountered hordes of cranky people who were from everywhere and going everywhere. Between arguing with their spouses, yelling at their kids, and berating ticket agents for things that weren’t their fault, they made everyone in the vicinity cringe. At first, I thought maybe Mercury was in retrograde (nada). Then I realized that the one thing they all had in common was traveling with WAY more shit than they could have possibly needed, regardless of where they were going. Traveling light is a game-changer that carries over into other areas of life, so I intend to be the Marie Kondo of packing smart and inspiring people to get out there and see the world with more presence and less stuff. Because #goals.


Travel innately involves things you have zero control over, like weather, flight delays, and stupid people. They happen, and you have no control over any of them, but you DO have control over what you take with you…and how you pack it.

More to lug with you everywhere you go = more stress. That and reduced mobility means your brain is overstimulated and diverted. Packing light makes it so you can focus on enjoying your trip instead of worrying about how you’re going to hoist your crap onto a train from the platform…and where the hell to stash it all for the ride once you do.


Mia Toro’s Leggero Softside 13″ Spinner Under-Seater Companion Bag is magic. I also have the M by Mia Toro Butterflies Hardside 20″ Spinner Carry-On and 24″ Spinner, but I use the Leggero for both business and personal travel because it’s international airline carry-on compliant and holds what I need. It’s actually 16.5″ x 14.5″ x 9″, so something got lost in translation, but it only weighs 5.7 lbs. (2.6 kg), so it’s light too. Oh, and I’m not being paid for promoting anything, but if anyone from Mia Toro is reading this, ciao bella! Other reasons to heart the Leggero (according to the tag) include:

  • Contemporary sleek Italian design made of durable Lightweight Ripstop
  • Front pockets for small items + padded internal sleeve to keep laptop secure
  • Glide-Tech 360° multi-directional wheels provide smooth, stable motion
  • Flex-Pack design expands 2” to add 25% more packing space
  • Ergonomic gel-grip handles on top and side + lightweight telescoping trolley
  • Large self-mending coil zippers with signature Mia Toro zipper puller


Clothing + Shoes

  • Purple Legging Jeans
  • Dark Wash Skinny Jeans
  • Medium Wash Boyfriend Jeans1
  • Pajama Bottoms (2)
  • Black Dress Pants
  • Black Sweater Dress
  • Blue Knit Dress
  • Black Tights (2)
  • Long-Sleeved Black Shirts (3)
  • Black Sweaters1 (3)
  • Cotton Camisoles1 (3 Black)
  • Cotton Tanks (3 Black)
  • Pink Cotton Tanks (2)
  • Pink Bra
  • Black Bra1
  • 6 Pairs Black Socks
  • Pink + Black Day Undies (8)
  • Black Night Undies (8)
  • Travel Socks1
  • Wedge Sandals (Black)
  • Black Leather Slip-Ons1
  • Suede Ankle Booties (Black)

Outerwear: Long Insulated Rain Jacket1, Light Down Jacket1, Cashmere Hat1, Gloves1, Sunglasses (+ hard case)

First Aid Kit (in 5.5″ x 4.125″ x 1.375″ X-Large Hinged Box):

  • Band-Aids
  • GlacierGel™ Blister Pads
  • Gauze Pads
  • Pre-Cut Moleskin (22/Sheet)
  • Butterfly Strips
  • Self-Adhesive Tape
  • Cushioned First Aid Tape
  • Clear First Aid Tape
  • Antibacterial Ointment
  • Burn Cream
  • Sea Salt
  • Electrolyte Tablets
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rolled Gauze
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • After Bite Wipes
  • Insect Repellent Wipes
  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Anti-Diarrheal
  • Antihistamine
  • Antacid


Canada’s Herschel Supply Co. makes durable and functional backpacks, bags, and accessories with a modern, classic, minimalist vibe, which makes them appropriate for world travel. The “Pop Quiz” is 17.5″H x 11.75″W x 6″D, has padded straps, a waterproof front zipper, two side pockets (I keep my passport in the zip one), a fleece-lined pocket for sunglasses, fleece-padded internal electronic sleeves, and tons of pockets for things you need to keep accessible on long flights. I don’t sleep on planes, so the ability to find stuff in the dark by feel is essential.

  • 15″ MacBook Pro
  • iPhone
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Passport w/case
  • Driver’s License
  • Credit Card(s)
  • Cash ($ + €)
  • Travel Keys2
  • Book
  • Travel Journal
  • Pen(s)
  • Blow-up Travel Pillow
  • Sleep Mask
  • Headphones
  • Gum
  • Kind Bars (2)
  • Chargers
  • Glasses Case
  • Lip balm
  • Misc. Fix-It Kit
  • LIQUIDS (in clear Sephora case)
  • 3 oz. Shampoo
  • 3 oz. Conditioner
  • 3 oz. Body lotion
  • Travel Deodorant
  • 2 oz. Cleanser
  • .25 oz. Eye Cream
  • .25 oz. Eye Drops
  • .5 oz Moisturizer
  • .5 oz. Toothpaste
  • 2 oz. Contact Solution
  • 1 oz. Rubbing Alcohol
  • .20 oz Perfume
  • Lip Balm
  • COSMETICS + TOILETRIES (in Sephora “Weekender” case)
  • Makeup Primer
  • Eyeshadow Primer
  • Liquid foundation
  • Setting Powder
  • Eyeshadow
  • Blush
  • Bronzer
  • Dark Lipstick
  • Light Lipstick
  • Lipgloss
  • Lip Balm
  • Lip Liner Pencil
  • Eyeliner Pencil
  • Liquid Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Sharpener
  • Eyelash Curler
  • 8 Makeup Brushes + Wipes
  • Face Wipes
  • Blotting Papers
  • Toothbrush
  • Contact Lenses
  • Hairbrush
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Folding Cup
  • Coffee Packets
  • Cotton Rounds
  • Dog Poop Bags
  • Q-Tips
  • Sea Salt
  • Polish Remover Wipes
  • Hair Elastics
  • Mini Makeup Eraser

Medications + Supplements

First of all, research any prescriptions you take well in advance of your departure date. Next, verify whether they’re legal in your destination country. Usually, the best official sources are Ministry of Health or Ministry of Travel websites. (“I didn’t know” won’t cut it anywhere in the world if you’re over the age of 5 and you break the law.)

Controlled (but legal) prescription medications typically have to be registered with the government. Thankfully, most have a fairly straightforward process in place. The UAE’s “Ministry of Health’s Import of Personal Medication” is a good example, and it’s an online application…bonus. Most countries aren’t trying to be dicks, they just want to discourage abuse, counterfeiting, and smuggling, which is reasonable. Just follow the rules and register ASAP to reduce complications.

What annoyed me about traveling with meds was the amount of space the pharmacy bottles took up, and I only have a couple of prescriptions. It’s unwise to take ALL of your medication with you (I pack 12 days worth for a 10-day trip). What to do with the extra was a dilemma. Storing prescription drugs in unmarked containers is dumb and I could never remember to get a duplicate (empty) bottle from the pharmacist. One morning, I had a shower epiphany: I could use a pill organizer case and take the pharmacy info sheets with me. They have the same info as the label and a physical description of the drug, and in the 12 years I’ve traveled internationally with meds this way, the only thing I’ve ever been questioned about was my Tongue Sweeper. (To be fair, it does kinda look like a shiv.)

If your medications are banned, you may be able to get permission from your destination country’s government if they’re essential to life.

If your medications are illegal, don’t fucking take them with you. The risk of confiscation and/or foreign jail cell time is real in places like the UAE, Thailand, Nigeria, Zambia, and Japan. Unless you have a sadistic sense of fun, if skipping a few days would put you in peril, choose an alternate destination for your vacay.


I’m all about classy comfort, which denim + black does beautifully. My travel ‘uniform’ is medium wash Lucky Brand boyfriend jeans, a black cotton camisole, lightweight black Italian wool sweater, bra/undies, black cotton socks, Via Spiga black leather slip-on sneakers, and minimal jewelry: diamond stud earrings, a diamond pendant necklace, and a medical bracelet. Packing light means wearing one set and leaving the rest at home. I wear my lightweight down jacket on flights all year, and bring an insulated rain jacket for colder months/wetter climates, along with a cashmere beanie and gloves. (Pro tip: I pack my contacts with my sunglasses to make sure I don’t forget them.) Cabin humidity on most flights is only 12%. That means unhappy contact lenses. I aim for the hot librarian look instead. It works.



1 I wear these on day #1 flights and subsequent travel days. (Unless I spill on myself.) 2Never take your real keys with you…make an essentials-only travel set. Trust me on this.

That concludes The Art of Packing Light. Don’t be shy about submitting questions and/or comments. Oh, and take 19 seconds to subscribe to my blog + follow me on Instagram, per favore! Grazie.

#packinglight #miatoro #herschel #viaspiga #justgo #travel #thecontainerstore #thebethiverse #intjfemale #trending


One Response

  1. Glick David says:

    Wow! You are thorough. Thanks for the details and lists. Very helpful!

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