Travelling with only a few possessions for prolonged periods of time has permanently changed my outlook on what it is to live (and travel) in a largely materialistic world. I’ve discovered that actually, you really don’t need many things to live happily and comfortably.

Though one of the smaller, and more practical lessons I’ve learnt from traversing the world with everything strapped to my back, is how, and what, I actually pack to begin with.

Packing the right items and arranging them efficiently is the key to an organised, stress-free and comfortable trip.

Of course I am by no means an expert and to be honest, I’m yet to master this completely. However having been to well over 30 countries, I can look back and safely say my packing technique has changed and improved through nothing more than trial and error over the years.

So if you’re interested in packing lightly, here are a few of my personal tips for organised luggage and travelling simply.


Stick to Hand Luggage

It’s an obvious psychological point, but the bigger the bag, the more likely you are to fill it. That being said, restrict your luggage size from the outset and you will find what you pack to be a lot more efficient.

A useful rule to follow for a short trip of 2 weeks or less (to one or two destinations), is to take a hand-luggage compliant backpack or suitcase. For a backpack this is usually 35L maximum but it will depend on the airline’s regulation.

For a longer trip or for more destinations across different climates, take a backpack that is a maximum of 50L. Aim to leave some space (say roughly a quarter) so it’s not packed to the brim.

The above being said, I have also managed a year backpacking with only a 35L backpack. Along the way I simply had to be strict with what I carried. I got rid of tops to swap for jumpers as I approached cooler destinations and also posted a few souvenirs and things I loved, (but didn’t use or need) home.

Essentially, just because it’s a big trip, it doesn’t mean you have to take your entire wardrobe and bathroom cabinet. Having a smaller bag simply forces you be organised so you only pack the essentials.

Roll Clothes And Stack Vertically

This is a tip I learnt from an ex-army friend which I initially didn’t like, but after persisting with the technique a few times, I realised it’s actually genius. I find it does work best with a smaller bag or backpack though.

As well as saving space, tight rolling is a great way to prevent creasing which can be an unexpectedly annoying issue when travelling (personally ironing is the last thing on my mind at the best of times let alone on my holidays!).

Another reason for organising your clothing in this way is that it allows you to easily look down and actually see your items. Gone are the days of digging around, pulling things in and out and messing everything up just to find the one thing you want.

For tops/t-shirts, fold them in half length-ways so any front motifs/patterns etc. are on the outside, fold the sleeves in and then roll from the top downwards. Ensuring you fold your t-shirts in half with any print on the outside means you can see it from the outside of the roll. If you’re anything like me, I have quite a few different tops in the same colour and this helps distinguish them from one another!

If rolling isn’t for you, then try this: instead of packing the folded clothing on top of one another horizontally, try placing them vertically, side by side. This also saves space and allows the same ease of viewing concept that is discussed above, ensuring you find what you want with less hassle.


Think Multi-Use

The more items you can take that serve multiple uses, the better it is for saving precious space in your luggage. Sarongs for example, are a relatively new trick I’ve learnt.

Sarongs serve as a beach cover up, a bath towel, a beach mat, a makeshift bag for dirty or fresh-out-the-washing-machine laundry, a blanket for bus rides, a protective sheet if you’re unsure of your bed cleanliness – the list of uses of this surprisingly versatile item is endless.


Use 1 Packing Cube For Clothing

For years I was against packing cubes until I borrowed one for a trip. It was a moment that drastically changed everything!

What I have learnt is that simple, material zip-up ones work best. I would avoid using fancy plastic vacuum ones as not only are they noisy if you’re staying in a dorm, they pack things so tightly that you end up taking even more clothing. Air in your luggage is OK, honestly!

Regular packing cubes work perfectly with rolled clothing and squashes everything into a practical rectangle shape to fit nicely into your luggage.


Store Underwear in Ziplock Bags

Plastic zip lock bags (the same ones you might normally use for your sandwiches) are in fact great for underwear. You can squeeze the air out to pack them tightly and they keep everything clean and smelling fresh. You could also use another for dirty underwear and label it accordingly.

I find packing cubes are often too big for underwear so to prevent over-packing, a zip lock bag is a great alternative.


Choose Basic Colour Schemes

Packing mute colours such as black, white, navy or grey means that it is much easier to mix and match clothing, ensuring maximum wearability from combinations that actually work together.

I love hippy and boho patterns, especially in bright blues and purples, however they are a total pain in the ass as they rarely match with more than denim or black shorts. Essentially, that means I lug one of my favourite tops around in my backpack for a month trip, yet may only wear it once or twice.

Pre-matching clothing in advance to narrow down which items to take is a really useful activity to do before you consider packing. Lie everything out on the floor and have a play around, ditching anything that doesn’t have any more than two or three outfit combination possibilities.

Remember You Can Buy Things On Your Trip

If there is only a small chance you will need something, then it makes sense not to pack it initially. If it’s an item that is relatively easy to get at your destination, buy it there instead.

For me, this is often what I do with after-sun. I usually don’t get burnt so I wouldn’t bring a bottle in order to save space in my bag. However if I do, I can just buy it from a pharmacy or corner store abroad, and use it all up before I repack to leave.

This is also the case with basics like laundry detergent. It is something you can commonly purchase all over the world, so there’s no need to bring it.


Take Solid Toiletries

Since taking my first solid shampoo bar from Lush Cosmetics away with me, I can safely say I will never be packing liquid shampoos EVER again. I can’t believe I even went on a trip lugging full bottles to start with!

These little miracle bars, although they are a bit on the pricey side, last roughly 80 washes and save so much space and weight in your bag. A bonus is that shampoo bars are fine for hand luggage regulations and they are much better for the environment too. You can store them in a tin or bamboo box to keep them dry and transportable.

For shorter trips, solid toiletries have meant that I can now breeze onto a flight with just hand luggage and what a change to my overall airport experience that has brought!

Aside from soap and shampoo, it’s also worth thinking about other solid alternatives such as moisturisers, sunscreen and face wash bars.


Don’t Pack Liquids Over 100ml

Although solid toiletries are best, there may be some liquids you can’t do without. For me, it’s antibacterial hand gel and of course toothpaste (I haven’t found any toothpaste tabs I like yet).

If you want to take liquids, be strict on yourself and choose a bottle or tube no bigger than 100ml, which like solids, complies with hand luggage restrictions.

By doing this you will also find yourself being more frugal with your supply. If you really need a whole litre of moisturiser to maintain your tan, well, you can probably buy it at your destination instead.

There are a lot of things you can buy at your destination should you need them, which can be more practical than taking an excess of items with you.


Consider Foldable Items

You’d be surprised how many day-to-day travel things can come in really useful, foldable versions. They are such a blessing for packing light and are really worth investing in.

My favourite fold-up item has to be my day backpack that I bought on Amazon. I take it on every trip because it is so amazingly lightweight. When I’m not using it, it packs so easily into my main bag, taking up hardly any space.

Not only is the bag really good value, it can also be hand-washed and has proven to be pretty sturdy considering I have been testing its limits hiking and tightly packing it as a weekend bag for the past two years. A foldable rucksack has been one of my top investments for sure.

You can also get some other super useful fold-up items such as water bottles, hanging toiletry bags, cutlery and walking poles if you are headed hiking.


Take No More of 3 of Everything

When I begin deciding what clothes to take, I generally base it on the idea of packing a maximum of 3 of each item. From there, I then adapt depending on the climate I am going to.

For example, I will take no more than 3 pairs of trousers, 3 short sleeved tops, 3 long-sleeved tops, 3 dresses or 3 jumpers. However, if I am going to Norway in winter for example, I won’t need the dresses. This allows me to have an extra 3 items elsewhere, say 2 extra jumpers and 1 more long sleeved top.

If I am going somewhere hot, swimwear is my weakness, but again, I’m allowed no more than 3 pairs!

Another obvious thing I think a lot of us forget when we pack, especially for a long trip, is that everything can be washed. Essentially you do not need to bring enough clothing for a fresh outfit every day! If items get dirty or you sweat a lot, you can find washing services practically everywhere, or if worst come to worst, some soap in the sink often does the job!


Write or Research a List (and Stick to it!)

Packing frantically last minute like you are fleeing from a zombie apocalypse means you are more likely to throw in all sorts of mismatched and potentially useless items. Having a strategy, that you intentionally sit down and plan in advance, is the key to ensuring what you pack is organised and appropriate for the type of trip you are taking.

Personally, living on the road for prolonged periods of time has taught me the importance of a good long-term packing list, consisting of items painstakingly narrowed down that are not only versatile, but frequently serve a purpose.

A packing list will mean you don’t end up over-packing, taking useless items and also getting that horrible ‘I feel like I’ve forgotten something’ feeling. There are loads of great checklists on the internet should you get a bit stuck such as what to pack for a beach vacation.

Saving a copy of your packing list somewhere like Google Drive means you can access it any time, wherever you may be, and update it easily too.

There’s something therapeutic and freeing about travelling with only a few possessions. Of course travelling for some people is taking all the comforts of home with them but there is a distinct beauty in leaving them all behind too.

Have you found this packing advice useful?