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Packing light vs packing small

I have conquered packing small; haven't checked luggage since I can remember. However, now that age is starting to catch up with me, hoisting the carry-on into the overhead compartment has me rethinking about how to pack light. The clothes don't seem to be the problem; it's all of that "other" stuff - first aid; snacks; guide books, etc. How do you go all the way from small to light?

Posted by
19156 posts

I just came back from 2 weeks in Germany and Austria. I used a slightly-smaller-than-regulation carryon sized bag. It weighed less than 14½# when I left. I only carry about 2-3 days of clothes, so I have to wash as I go. I could just as well stay a month with no more clothes.

I also have a "purse" - a 4½#, 8½x11 inch case with my netbook and some printed sheets with things like critical train connections or addresses of accommodations printed out. That goes under my seat. When I went over in 1988, my case, with important travel info, like guidebooks, train schedules, etc - weighed more like 10#, so the electronic age has saved me 5#.

As for first aid "stuff", unless you have a cronic problem and know you will need something specific, don't take "stuff" for any occasion. They sell "stuff" over there. Snacks, you have to be kidding. Where do you think Europeans get snack, from over here?

Finally, my convertible carryon bag weighs 1¾#. If I tried to use a "rollaboard" bag, that would add almost 5# to the weight I have to lift into the overhead compartment.

Posted by
780 posts

I bring minimal toiletries and usually buy most of the stuff I need once I get to where I am going.

For snacks, a few granola bars are usually good enough to fill in the gaps until you can pick up proper foods once you reach your destination.

I also forego the guide books and summarize the places I want to see in a small notepad and print out google maps for places to visit as well as train and subway timetables. I toss the pages as I am done with each one.

The only technical equipment I bring is a camera.

Posted by
2193 posts

Rethink your “extras” and start removing them from your bag. Ask yourself if you really need to carry on a first aid kit, do you really need multiple guidebooks, and do you need a lot of snacks. I can think of good alternatives for all three of those things. My backpack typically weighs 13-17 pounds fully loaded regardless of length of trip…that’s it. You can slim it down. As for lifting your bag into the overhead bin, the flight attendants can assist you if needed…just ask for help.

Posted by
421 posts

I agree with the above poster.
First when planning your clothes make sure everything works together for mix and match.
second when you think you have all your toiletires and extra planned go through them again and i can gaurantee you can cut down......we have this tendency to want to bring way too much when in reality most things we can get over there.
Third when I put all the clothes I want to take I make it a habit to ensure I cut one or two things from the list

Posted by
1568 posts

Jo, I have found there is always a man willing to hoist the bag to the over-head compartment.

I use the Rick Steves' 21" Roll Aboard and use a day back pack that is 19x15x*10" expanded. You could use a day back pack as a purse as I do and even the load.

Posted by
2193 posts

Elaine: What are you talking about? What in the world does this have to do with feminism? While their primary responsibilities are centered on safety, flight attendants can and do perform a wide range of passenger-related duties, including assisting those who need help placing small baggage in the overhead bins (elderly, disabled, special needs, etc.). Indeed, they are not required to lift your bags, but I have never seen a flight attendant refuse a passenger who really needs some help in this regard. All kinds of people might require assistance, and it may have nothing to do with their gender or the weight of their bag. And, by the way, the FA position was gender-neutral last time I checked. Since you have no way of knowing my profession, beliefs, values, or politics, suffice it to say that invoking the feminist discourse haphazardly is offensive (and it should be to you, too) and undercuts the very efforts undertaken on behalf of securing equal rights and protections for all. Well, there it is, then.

Posted by
3428 posts

My problem isn't the size or weight of my bag- it is my height (5'1" or a bit less)! Thank goodness my husband puts the bags up and gets them down. I agree that you can eliminate much more than some people believe. But be certain to take basic first aid and medicines. You don't want to have to go looking for 'stuff' at 2:00 am and you can't go when you fall at a rail station and need a bandaid/ butterfly strip RIGHT THEN (that happened to me once)! I always take band-aids, guaze and a bit of adhesive tape (multiple uses), aleeve, asprin, benedril, dramamine, and small individual use packets of antibiotic cream and cortizone. That will do until I can get to the pharmacy or a doctor. It all fits in one small baggie (the creams go in the 3-1-1 bag). If possible get a charger that does multiple duty (they now have ones that charge more than one device at once) and you shouldn't have to worry about batteries.

Posted by
12172 posts

Liquids are heavy, eliminating unnecessary liquids can help lighten the load.

I also pay attention to the weight of everything I pack. When I buy shoes, I compare weight along with other factors. It's amazing how some shoes weigh a ton and others are feather light. It was even true of some very simple sandals my wife was looking at. When you picked them up, you would swear they have lead weights in the soles.

The other thing is to reduce or eliminate as many extras as possible. Paper weighs a lot so get rid of as much as you can. Batteries weigh a lot, it's better to buy batteries on the road (at maybe double the price) than pack a pound, or more, of spares.

During my trip, I'm always reaccessing what I need and what I can get rid of.

Your bag invariably expands on the trip, so start out with extra space and below the weight you are comfortable with.

Posted by
356 posts

I don't tend to take guide books unless it's a small Time Out city guide. I write things in a small notebook and maybe take a few print outs.

My first aid kit consists of a few plasters, a packet of reasonably strong painkillers (at home I use different painkillers for different things, but just take one when I travel), some Imodium and some anti-histamines as I have problems with allergies. I take these as I commonly use them whilst travelling. I figure that if I have any other problem I will just have to throw myself on the mercy of the hotel staff or a pharmacist.

The only snacks I take is a couple of cereal bars and a packet of mints.

I know what you mean about struggling to life bags into overhead lockers as I am really tiny. I don't like to rely on getting some guy to do it for me as there have been two occasions on trains when the guy had disappeared by the time I got to my destination. I nearly knocked myself out trying to get a case down from a rack that was far too high up for me!

Posted by
190 posts

Thanks so much for all of the ideas. You have given me what I need - a different perspective! I leave for Guatemala(!)on Friday for 3 weeks, so I think I went way overboard with the "3rd world" concept. Yes, I CAN buy "stuff" there! I don't have to take it all with me!

Now, if I can just fit that water purifier in my bag......

Posted by
2193 posts

Answer = water purification tablets (or simply buy Evian when thirsty). And, you probably should keep that over the counter medication for GI issues in the bag!

Posted by
676 posts

As a feminist, as well as a woman who´s not very strong, I take exception to the person who said you can get a flight attendant to lift bags for you as that´s probably not their job, and why should they strain their back and neck cuz you can´t pack light?
And asking a man to do it is just as bad, as another poster said they aren´t always around, and where is it written they have to help lift your stuff? Ladies--show some gumption and don´t pack more than you can lift!!

Posted by
19156 posts

Some airlines don't limit your carryon bag weight, but simply say that you must be able to but it in the overhead rack yourself. Flight attendants are there for safety purposes - that does not include being Sherpas to people who pack too much.

Posted by
15577 posts

Jo, there are numerous small water bottles with built in purifiers. If you have any outdoor/camping stores in your area they would have these.

Posted by
780 posts

Im not a feminist whatsoever and am glad to admit that on my travels, I have never had a problem asking and having a man to help with my suitcase on the tube, bus, etc.
Men generally do have more upper body strength and will always lend a hand, especially if you ask him for help in front of other men as he can't let himself look like a wussy. :)

Posted by
441 posts

I recall seeing somewhere that flight attendants aren't allowed to put luggage in the rack. Packing only what you can lift is good advice as a helpful man may not be around.

Posted by
92 posts

What about a divide and conquer approach? Take a rolling bag that will fit under the seat, (perhaps the Avanti roller bag) along with a soft sided bag like the Autobahn messenger bag to put in the overhead compartment. If you get a bag with a a slip on the back it can ride securely on top of the roller bag when you are walking with your luggage. You could pack heavier items in the roller bag, making it easier to lift the lighter bag into the overhead bin. That is how my 87 year old mom travels, using a light weight tote as the overhead bin item. I guess whatever you hoist up into the overhead bin would be considered your "personal item". If that is still part of current baggage restrictions.

Posted by
416 posts

Gee, on our flight home from Ireland the flight attendants were helping passengers get things into the overhead bins, I was helping the folks in front of us (they were in the bulkhead seats) get their things organized and stowed as they were traveling with a toddler and the husband helped my elderly father get his cane into the overhead bin. Helping people is just common courtesy. Gender and politics have nothing to do with it whatsoever. I'm a feminist, too, but I am not too proud to ask for help when I need it. Sometimes I'm just too SHORT to reach and tall man who is willing to assist is appreciated. Oh, and when we landed in NY, the husband from the family in front of us helped get my Dad's things down first because he knew we had a tight connection to make while they were already home (so much for the stereotype about rude New Yorkers).

Posted by
190 posts

Thanks so much for all of the ideas and advice. I leave Friday for Guatemala, so I am almost packed. I found a great water bottle with purifier insert at REI which doesn't take up any more room than a regular bottle of water. I took a good look at everything and got rid of some clothes. I reduced the snacks to a couple of mini-Clif bars and some nuts. Tossed the guide books altogether and reviewed the first aid kit. Yes, I need the immodium, but do I really need 50 bandaids!!!!!

I even tossed a few of my school supplies. (I am going to an immersion school for 3 weeks.) I think I had packed enough school supplies for two semesters! Now, that lessened the weight!

Just a note of personal philosophy: I don't believe I should travel with more than I can personally handle. Some of that is pride; I don't like getting older when it means being less independent. (Otherwise getting older is kinda cool.) Some of that is what I consider being responsible. However, this is MY personal philosophy which I apply only to myself. Other people have circumstances and perspectives that are different than but just as valid as mine. That's why this world is interesting instead of boring! Vive la difference! And happy travels!

Posted by
33 posts

On my last trip to Europe, traveling alone, I was worried about lifting my roll aboard into the overhead bin. I'm not very tall or strong. So I took a $5 bill from my wallet and put it in my pocket and asked a young man (college age, maybe) if he would be so kind to lift it up and down and I gave him the $5 and told him "Thanks, have a drink on me." I plan on doing that again if need be.

Posted by
356 posts

Nancy - I think I prefer to travel light because you cannot assume people will help you. I have struggled on trains before which are full of businessman who clearly were not in a helpful mood. I don't want to have to ask for help from someone who is clearly more interested in playing with his Blackberry! I was once taken ill on the tube and fainted. I was about 24 at the time and I am a very tiny person, but none of this seemed to appeal to any man's chivalrous nature because smart men in suits were apparantly stepping over my body to get off the tube!