Our Ultimate Packing List for Travelling Light

With airlines constantly increasing baggage fees, having a well-designed, customized packing list for travelling light has become essential.

While hammering out the details for our upcoming trip, my husband and I printed off the packing list that we created several years ago. We’ve added to it and modified it numerous times over the years. We created our own because the ones we found online just didn’t cut it for us; they either missed very specific items that we ourselves like to bring, or they went above and beyond the items we need to travel comfortably.

Since we only use backpacks and carry-on bags, we needed a customized packing list for travelling light. In fact, we travel so light that on our recent week-long trip to Paris, the desk clerk checking in our backpacks marvelled at the weight of our bags. So how do we manage it?

First of all, let’s talk about the backpacks for a minute. We stopped using rolling suitcases after our very first overseas vacation to Italy. They were heavy, cumbersome, a pain to haul up flights of stairs, and the incessant “clackity-clack” of the wheels on cobblestones grew annoying quickly. The next year, my husband and I bought backpacks.

MEC black and grey medium back pack

MEC orange and black large back pack

We’ve had these bad boys for over ten years now. Unfortunately I don’t have their detailed specs anymore. But they are MEC brand, and I believe mine is a 50-60-litre (medium) bag, while Mark’s was the larger size MEC carried at the time. They’ve been a godsend. Our only complaint is that we made the mistake of purchasing more industrial-type packs, designed for backcountry hiking and camping. All the straps tend to get in the way, and are completely unnecessary for city-to-city travel. Due to the worry of the straps getting caught in airport conveyor belts, etc, we also had to purchase duffle bags to put them in for the plane. But we’re getting to the point that they’re ready for replacement soon. Our next backpacks will have fewer straps and a more stream-lined look.

So that’s our starting point for packing light. But now, you need a list of what to pack so you don’t over do it!

Without further adieu, here is our ultimate packing list for travelling light:

Our own list may not work for you, of course, and this list was built over years of trial and error, over-packing and under-packing. So you should make your own list and tweak it as necessary. But it’s an example of how to customize a packing list for the way you travel, rather than trying to use a generic list that includes everything but the kitchen sink.

One thing we did was to create a list of “lessons learned” after each trip. For instance, on our last trip I failed to bring my sewing kit. We’ve never had to sew a button on holidays, so I decided not to bring it. Well, as it turns out, the sewing kit goes beyond actual sewing. The needles are handy for popping blisters. Gross I know, and it’s usually recommended not to pop blisters for fear of infection. But when you’re walking all day on a big, puffy blister, it’s not only painful but it can really put a damper on your holiday. But one quick pierce from a needle, and you can drain the blister, slap a bandaid or some moleskin on it and go on about your travels. Besides, most travel-sized sewing kits take up next-to-no room.

small sewing kit for travel

There are also things we used to bring that later become cumbersome, heavy and, often un-used on trips. For example, a portable electric water heater. We used it a few times to make soup or coffee in the hotel room, but it quickly became a burden to bring and something we rarely used. So we took it off the list.

As for shoes, I’ve learned that I need three pairs for all trips. It may sound like a lot for some, but I find that three pairs is just the perfect number for me. The first pair, of course is a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. They offer coverage, a bit of warmth on cooler days, and something to change into if one of your other pairs of shoes start to hurt your feet or gives you blisters.

The second pair of shoes that I always bring are sandals. They can be a little bit dressier than walking shoes for evenings. Sandals are also cooler for hot days, but still give a bit of cushioning for walking around a lot, especially in cities. My favourite pair are from Josef Seibel. I’ve worn this style of sandal for the last ten years, maybe more. I’ve only had to buy a replacement pair once because the elastics started to wear out and no longer had “spring” to them. They’re leather, have some cushioning in the sole, and have never given me a blister, ever.

The final pair, and I hesitate to even call them “shoes,” are a pair of flip-flops. Great for the beach, pools and hot springs, but they’re also nice for the plane ride. They’re also handy in hotel rooms and showers if you’re not sure about the cleanliness factor. Plus, they are light, inexpensive, and take up minimal room in your bag.

Here are my favourite three pairs of shoes for travel. I bought the grey walking shoes last year in Trier, Germany. I love them so much. They look a little beat-up because I wear them almost every day on holidays!

My travel shoe collection

Also, another note on packing light: the trick lies in the materials. I’ll give you an example. This year, we’re travelling through Europe in September/October, and the general weather forecast is somewhere around 20-24 degrees Celsius during the day, and 12 degrees Celsius at night. But, we are also doing a two-night stop-over in Reykjavik, where it’s expected to be rainy, and a high of about 12 degrees Celsius during the day, and lows of 4 degrees at night. This means we have to pack for two different climates. Layering is always an option, though with too many layers you run the risk of looking like a marshmallow.

Luckily, a few years ago I bought a very light down/feather jacket from Mark’s Work Warehouse (Wind River, specifically) for our Kilimanjaro climb. It scrunches down into a little bag. When I ordered the jacket, though, the little storage bag didn’t come with it. So yesterday we popped over to MEC where I bought a 3L stuff sack. My down jacket fits snugly into it, making it very compact. The jacket, including the bag, weighs a whopping 369 grams.

Yes, this down jacket squeezes into that little 3L pouch!

Clothing materials are always evolving and getting lighter and more durable. While some outdoor clothing/equipment stores can be expensive, you can sometimes find a good sale or deals online. And it’s worth it to find revolutionary materials that do the same job that heavier fabrics once did.

As for toiletries and cosmetics, never pack full-sized bottles of anything. For as long as you’re going to be on holiday, you’re only going to use a tiny fraction of each product. Instead, I pack sample-sized packets of various products – shampoo, face cream, sunscreen, etc. This means less worry about accidental spillage, and even the potential to try some new products. Keep an eye on your favourite brands websites for trial size and sample opportunities, or ask for product samples at the department store.

sample sized products for travel

So there you go, our ultimate packing list for travelling light, and a few tips for creating your own! Happy packing!

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