The Art of Traveling Light

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. And I try not to judge, but some travelers…holy shit. When I see people with two ginormous (and heavy) wheeled suitcases, an under-seat carry-on, a backpack, an overstuffed shopping tote, and a purse, I think, “WHY?” Why do people make things so hard for themselves? And inevitably (or inadvertently) take it out on everyone around them? How can they possibly be in the moment or enjoy anything that way? (#ProTip: They can’t and don’t.)

Packing light is probably in my DNA given how innate it is for me and my aversion to purses. (More on this momentarily.) I’m not a minimalist, but I am efficient, so I generally only carry mission-essential things. Star Wars Band-Aids, for instance.

For reals though, I do practice what I’m about to preach, so if you think it’s impossible to pack everything you need for a ten-day trip to Europe in a 16.5″ suitcase and a 17.5″ backpack, prepare to be impressed! (And yay, the list includes creature comforts, not just survival items.)


I’m 5’5″ and weigh 119 lbs, so as with all things, size matters. (Anyone who says otherwise is lying.) For purposes of packing light, if you’re a curvy babe, a dude who wears a size 12 shoe, or going somewhere layers are required, spiacente, but your list will be longer and you may need to upsize to an 18″ bag.

For me, a big part of traveling light is not checking my bag. (Especially in Europe.) Carrying on is quicker and I have access to all of my stuff that way. It also allows me the flexibility to give up my seat on overbooked flights that ask for volunteers. I like travel vouchers. I also like clean undies.

Not checking a bag when flying to, or within, Europe means meeting international carrier size limits, which are smaller than US airlines ones. For example, EasyJet’s maximum cabin size is 50 x 40 x 20 cm, or 19.5″ x 15.75″ x 8″…with wheels and handles. That means a standard 20″ US “carry-on” will end up in the belly every time AND cost you between 60–100 € at the airport.

Most EU airlines have the same standards, and “personal items” are not a thing. That means one carry-on item = ONE bag, backpack, tote, etc. 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 seats…they include two cabin items. Oh, and priority boarding. 🙂


My excess baggage aversion stems from a prime directive to create order. My. world must. be. organized. It also comes from watching my mother lug ginormous purses full of crap like stale gum and used Kleenex everywhere she went. (But hey, they always matched her shoes! And her eyeshadow, but we’ll save that one for another blog.)

Since I rarely carry a purse, I sometimes stash my 7″x 4″ Baggallini crossbody phone wallet thingie in a tote or reusable shopping bag when I’m out running errands. It’s not fashion-forward, but it’s functional, and nowhere ever will you find me packing around 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. After verifying whether or not Mercury was in retrograde (nope), I realized that what they had in common was traveling with WAY more shit than they could possibly need. (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. All of those things 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 allows you to be present and enjoy the journey, as opposed to stressing about how you’re going to hoist your crap onto the train from the platform. (Never mind figuring out where to stash it for the ride!)


Mia Toro’s Leggero Softside Spinner Under-Seat Companion Bag.

I gotta be honest: Mia Toro as a brand is meh. The “Butterflies” hard-side 20 and 28-inch spinners I wanted to love have both been hard fails for different reasons. Plus, the number of Better Business Bureau complaints about their customer service warrant concerns.

The sleek, contemporary Leggero is the exception, and exceptional. It’s one of my favorite suitcases ever, and I’ve owned a bunch. I use it for business and personal travel, and taken it EVERYWHERE…on planes, trains, buses, taxis, and ferries, in rain, shine, and fog.

At 16.5 x 14.5 x 9 inches, it’s international airline carry-on compliant, yet holds everything I need it to. Including my laptop, thanks to the padded internal sleeve. The lightweight ripstop it’s made of is durable, forgiving AF, and easy to clean. Plus, it has gel-grip handles on the top and side, and only weighs 5.7 lbs/2.6 kg…light enough to maneuver on steep stairs or across a sea of cobblestones without eliciting the “F” word. 🙂


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)
  • Light pink bra
  • Black bra1
  • Black socks (6 pairs)
  • Pink + black day undies (8 pairs)
  • Black night undies (8 pairs)
  • Wedge sandals (Black)
  • Black leather slip-on sneakers1
  • Suede ankle booties (black)


Long insulated rain jacket1, lightweight down jacket1, cashmere scarf, hat1, and gloves

First Aid Kit

(in a 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
  • Electrolyte Tablets
  • Ibuprofen
  • Rolled Gauze
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Scissors
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • After Bite Wipes
  • Insect Repellent Wipes
  • Acetaminophen
  • Aspirin
  • Anti-Diarrheal
  • Antihistamine
  • Antacid


I’m mostly grateful to Canada for Justin Trudeau and The Dead South, but Herschel Supply Co. is on my “things that make life better” list. Or rather, the durable, functional, modern-classic-minimalist, perfect-vibe-for-world-travel backpacks they make are.

HSC’s 22L “Harrison” pack is a compact 17.5 by 11.75 by 5.6 inches that are ideally configured for the way my brain works. Its padded shoulder straps, waterproof zippers, side pockets, fleece-lined sunglass compartment, and fleece-padded laptop and tablet sleeves are also nice. Because I rarely sleep on planes though (FML), what makes me giddy are the assorted smaller pockets that keep my stuff accessible on long flights. Finding things in the dark by feel is molto importante in my efforts to avoid being the asshole with the light on when everyone else IS sleeping. Or trying to.


  • 13″ MacBook Air
  • iPhone
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Passport w/case
  • Driver’s license
  • Credit card(s)
  • Cash ($ + €)
  • Travel keys2
  • A book I’m willing to lose
  • Slipper socks


(in a clear Sephora zip case)

  • Spiral notebook
  • Zebra F-402 + highlighter pens
  • Blow-up travel pillow
  • Face mask
  • Sleep mask
  • Headphones
  • Gum
  • Kind bars (2)
  • Chargers + adapter
  • Eyeglasses
  • Lip balm
  • 3 oz. Shampoo
  • 3 oz. Conditioner
  • 3 oz. Body lotion
  • Travel Deodorant
  • 2 oz. Cleanser
  • .25 oz. Eye Cream


(in a Sephora “Weekender” case)

  • .25 oz. Eye Drops
  • .5 oz Moisturizer
  • .5 oz. Toothpaste
  • 2 oz. Contact Solution
  • 1 oz. Rubbing Alcohol
  • .20 oz Perfume
  • Eyeshadow primer
  • Foundation
  • Setting powder
  • Blush
  • Bronzer
  • Dark lipstick
  • Light lipstick
  • Lipgloss
  • Lip balm
  • Lip liner pencil
  • Eyeshadow palette
  • Eyeliner pencil
  • Liquid eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Sharpener
  • Eyelash curler
  • 8 full-sized makeup brushes
  • Brush cleaner wipes
  • Face wipes
  • Blotting papers
  • Toothbrush
  • Contact lenses w/case
  • Hairbrush
  • Dry shampoo
  • Folding silicone cup
  • Starbucks Via coffee packets
  • Cotton rounds
  • Cotton swabs
  • Dog poo bags for trash
  • Sea salt
  • Hair elastics
  • Mini Makeup Eraser

Medications + Supplements

In case it needs saying, research any prescriptions way ahead of your departure date to verify whether they’re legal/available in your destination country. The best sources are usually official Ministry of Health or Ministry of Travel websites. (“But I didn’t know!” rarely cuts it in the big, wide world if you’re over the age of 5 and break the law.)

Controlled (but Legal) Prescription Medications

require registration with the government in many countries, most of whom have a fairly straightforward process for doing so. The UAE Ministry of Health’s “Permit to Import Medicines for Personal Use” is a good example, and there’s an online version…bonus! Countries that do this aren’t dicks, they’re trying to discourage abuse, counterfeiting, and smuggling, which is reasonable. So follow the rules and register sooner rather than later to reduce complications.

If Your Medications are Prohibited or Illegal

Don’t fucking take them with you. The risk of foreign jail time for doing so is very real in places like Thailand, Nigeria, Zambia, Japan, and the UAE, and confiscation is a given. Unless you can skip your meds for a few day or you have a sadistic sense of fun, choose an alternate destination. (If your medications are banned but essential to life, you may still be able to get permission in a handful of countries, but it’s a long shot at best.)

Prescription Bottles Waste an Annoying Amount of Space

Most are less than half full, but the cubic inches they hog in a suitcase adds up fast, especially for people who take a veritable pharmacy of prescriptions. Three-month refills complicate things even further since it’s ridiculously unwise to take an entire bottle of medication on a two-week trip. (I pack the number of days I plan to be gone + 4.)

So my dilemma was A) storing prescription drugs in unmarked containers is dumb (and dangerous), and B) even if I could remember to get duplicate bottles from the pharmacist, that wastes plastic that can’t always be recycled.

Then I had a shower epiphany one morning and realized that in most countries, I could use a pill organizer and take the pharmacy info sheets with me instead (light bulb!). They have exactly the same information as the label, plus a physical description of the drug. 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 to German airport security, it does kinda look like a shiv, and they had a sense of humor about it.)


I’m all about classy comfort, which denim + black does beautifully. My travel ‘uniform’ is medium wash Lucky Brand boyfriend jeans, a black cotton cami, lightweight black Italian wool pullover sweater, bra/undies, black cotton socks, Via Spiga black leather sneakers, and minimal jewelry: diamond stud earrings, a diamond pendant necklace, and a medical bracelet. Packing light = I leave the rest at home. I wear my lightweight down jacket on flights all year, and bring an insulated rain jacket for colder months/wetter climes, along with a cashmere beanie and gloves.

Pro Tip: The Hot Librarian Look is Always in Style

Cabin humidity on most planes is only 12%, so I fly in my glasses instead of contacts. I still have to use moisturizing drops sometimes, but it’s WAY more comfortable. I learned the hard way that I have a propensity toward forgetting to pack my contacts when they’re not stuck to my eyeballs though. So now I just put them in with my sunglasses when I do my final run-through the night before my flight. It works.



1I wear these on day #1 flights and subsequent travel days. Unless I spill on myself. (Which I do.) 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 #italy #italia #girlswhotravel #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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