How to travel light

Let’s start off with this, I had seen it before but just rediscovered it thanks to Bridget  @ Money After Graduation.

Guy version here.

Dying yet? Alright moving on.

In my last travel related post I referenced the fact that I tend to overpack (For all travel-related posts click on the travel tag above this blog post or head over to the header where you will find a tab with a few of my travel-related postsl) While I know EXACTLY what I need to pack in a carry-on like; don’t bring paper books because I literally never even crack them open for a minute but I DO spend a lot of time on my phone/laptop/whatever gadget I brought along… I’m not so good at packing a regular suitcase…

I know what I really, really don’t need… You know, common sense... bringing winterjacket to a tropical destination and that sort of stuff but other than that I tend to pack pretty much as much as will fit. I don’t go overboard by adding on suitcases, but if I’ve got room left in my suitcase, I’ll fill it.

In September 2011 I travelled for two weeks with a 28″ upright. For my most recent travel-stint in July/August I was on the go for 17 days, through 4 countries, for which I downgraded to a 24″ upright that I picked up for a super sale at Zellers at $45. Ca-ching! (note: I didn’t backpack, stayed in hotels/friends&family but did use solely public transit) That’s a medium-sized suitcase and these days I’m scratching my head at myself because what was I thinking? What could I possibly need to fill so much space!?

The red doesn’t pop here like it should, but it is definitely front-door fiery red!

Measuring 22.5 x 17 x 8″, on the inside, this suitcase has 3,060 cubic inches of space.  (Yes, I measured it and YES I am a geek) I love this suitcase! It’s the perfect size to be able to pack more than you need. 😉 It’s light and portable and with the internal wheels it’s super easy to transport. HOWEVER: Lugging this puppy through a Belgian street really made me feel like a tourist, which I hate. so found that while this suitcase is roomy… it might still be too roomy for any trip under 3 weeks since I still managed to way overpack.

Thus commenced Project How To Travel Light.

I borrowed these two suitcases from my family (the left one hasn’t been used in a dog’s age so excuse it looking a little worse for wear, it does the job!) The rounder suitcase on the right belongs to my cousin.

A comparison

The first trick to traveling light is: travel square.

Any square suitcase or rectangular suitcase has MORE space than any bag with a round top, round bag or rounded corners like the little suitcase on the right. It’s simple mathematics. length x width x height = cubic- whatever you’re measuring. In this case; space for clothes and shoes and trinkets!

Now that we’ve covered that I think the obvious choice is the one on the left due to it’s square-ness. For comparison sake I also measured out the inside of this suitcase: 19 x 14 x 7 giving 1862 cubic inches of space. FYI I looked up the carry-on limit for IATA which is 22 x 18 x 10 = 3,960 cubic inches… that’s more than my red suitcase! 0.o

I don’t currently own anything smaller than my red suitcase (I’m looking for a good deal on a 19/20″ upright) but  I was supposed to travel to Denver Sept 5-9 for Fincon 12 so I decided to give packing the little 19″ blue suitcase on the left a go as a trial-pack.

Even though I was only planning for 5 days, while packing I decided to pack for 14 days and see if I could do it, which brings me to trick #2:

Trick #2 to traveling light: Roll everything.

I’ve always partially rolled things, usually ending up with two neatly folded piles in the middle of my suitcase, surrounded by shoes and rolled up items of clothing, covered and tucked in by a larger sweater or a jacket. This time I really tried to pack it like a pro; rolling-style.

All rolled up.

First I lined up my shoes around the outside perimiter. Workout shoes, two pairs of heels and a pair of flats (a pair of sneakers next to the suitcase for the outfit to wear while travelling)  After that I rolled everything, while rolling didn’t work for one of my dresses it worked for almost everything else. If you’re scared of wrinkles: most fabrics if rolled nice and tight won’t wrinkle too badly and most hotels will have an iron available. I packed my workoutshirt and workout shorts INTO my workout shoes… no wasted space! And yes, I even rolled the two dress shirts I was bringing on this imaginary two-week long trip. Want to know how much I managed to fit in that suitcase?

Before I show you, I’m not size 0. I’m a size 8, sometimes a 6, sometimes a 10 or even a 12 and I also wear pretty normal clothing so I don’t have the excuse that my clothes are made of very little material.

Check it out:

Not bad!

You can see I chose items of similar colour tones, pinks, reds & oranges combined with blues, greys and blacks. Even though I managed to pack enough options to wear a different outfit every day I could pare it down a bit and just mix and match!

All in all the suitcase weighed in at 10Kg, exactly the carry-on limit, of which 2.6Kg was just suitcase.  (Which means that while I’m looking for a smaller suitcase I’ll def be considering the lightweight options!)

And here’s a detailed list of everything I managed to pack and I didn’t even have to sit on the suitcase to close it.

3 dresses
one small purse
2 dress shirts (blue & white)
a thin sweater
a camisole
2x leggings (black & grey)
Workout shoes/pants/shirt/underwear
Bathing suit & travel towel (same size as reg towel, just awesomer)
underwear for 14 days! including 4 bras
toiletry bag with shampoo, conditioner, makeup, lotion, everything
8 pairs of grey/black/coloured socks
2 longsleeve shirts
2 t-shirts
3 dressy tops
3 regular tops
1 undershirt
2 pairs of heels
1 pair of flats

Yeah that was more than I thought too. Honestly, I did NOT sit on it to close it and there is room in those top expanding pockets!

Ready to go!

To wear: Shoes, sweater, top, jeans, coat & scarf (layers are easy to shed, scarves do double-duty as blankets, pillows etc.)

Carryon bag/purse/laptopbag-whatever with:
15″ laptop & charger
small toilettry bag
phone & charger
camera & charger
water bottle
passport/various documents

So there it is. You really really can travel for longer than a few days, two weeks if you want.. or more! with JUST a carry-on without going over the weight limits and without going over the size limits, with TONS of clothing options. Literally way more than you could ever need. I baffled myself, I couldn’t believe it when I laid everything out after I’d packed it all! Next trip I go on? No more waiting for checked bags, I’m going carry-on only, and I’ll be packing less than all the crap I listed here because I really don’t need THAT many options for a few weeks.

I picked up a 20″ x 14″ x 7″ expandable carry-on (superlites, Tower by London Fog) for $51 this week. That’s 1960 inches… if you’re counting, 2660 if expanded. I’ll save my two bigger suitcases for the next time I move. 😉

Extra travel tricks:

I’ve found it very handy to bring a few different sizes of band-aids, paperclipped together in my toiletry bag as well as a few individually wrapped tylenol or advil. I end up using these every single time for myself or someone else. A few wetnaps (like the ones you get at KFC) are also very handy and don’t take much space at all. Also check out a few other tips I left in this post.

In summary: I can travel for several weeks with a ridiculous amount of stuff efficiently crammed into one small suitcase, with a purse on the side. So what do you think, have I convinced you that carry-on is the way to go?

Published by Renée

I write about my life, travel and my financial up and downs on my blog, Nickel By Nickel, while contradicting myself daily. ;)

6 thoughts on “How to travel light

  1. Great tips. I think the guy's version is much better, lol. Packing properly really takes some skill, and I'm not very good at it. I haven't done a vacation in several years but in the past I usually just bring a carry on, no suitcases or any large luggage. 10Kg is pretty light, I think for my local airport it's more like 20kg.


    1. 20kg checked luggage is pretty standard internationally. For carry-on some airlines are more lenient than others. The ones I would fly with (AC, iceland air, condor etc) usually have a 10kg carryon limit + personal item, seems to be the most accepted standard world-wide with the exception of RyanAir and likely other regional carriers!


  2. I know that feeling. I just over-packed for a cruise because I could. I had a big suitcase and filled it up. However, I once took a two week trip to Europe with a small rolling suitcase (fit in an overhead) and a small backpack. It is easy to over do it when you have the space.


    1. Yeeepp. I always boasted that I'm good at packing and not very high maintenance…. and compared by the average woman going on a trip I probably am (according to my male friends) but I still overpack *sigh*


    1. Thanks! I love your list too, I should do an update because this one is 1,5 years ago and while I proved how much stuff I can fit in one carry-on suitcase I definitely don’t need that much at all. Less is more and all 🙂


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