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The 3 essentials if you want to “Pack Light”

Like the rest of you I have had to cancel several trips to Europe over the last year. This week I had to travel fo Hilton Head Island for a professional meeting and it felt good to get my bag out and pack it for the trip. I started thinking about what are the most essential items I had to have to make the journey. Here’s my list, I would like to hear about yours:

1) Bag - I use a backpack because it just works for me having my hands free, my wife likes a roller carry-on and it works just as good for her except it is a little heavier than my bag and she loses some packing space due to the roller hardware. Your bag is essential because it has to be a specific size & weight to carry on and it has to be durable to last (serious travel is hard on a bag).

2) Rain Shell - My rain shell is water proof and goes with me on every trip, put a good fleece under it and you can withstand pretty much anything the weather throws at you ( except a blizzard).

3) Shoes - I am a convert to Merrell Moabs because they are super comfortable and I can wear them with shorts or slacks, either on the trail or to a restaurant. I will take a light weight pair of sandals with me if I’m going to the Mediterranean area.

What are your 3 essentials for packing light?

Posted by
2766 posts
  1. Iphone (other brand of smartphone would work just as well) - this replaces a camera/video camera, books for leisure reading, paper notes/files, guidebooks, language guides, maps, address book, currency converter, and so many other things that otherwise would take up a lot of room. I admit I often bring a "real" camera, too, but photography is a semi-serious hobby for me, for the average traveler the camera on most current phones is more than enough. I often leave the DSLR in the hotel if I'm not specifically out to take photos or going to a particularly special sight, and the camera photos are often just as good.

  2. Black cotton knee length sleeveless dress. This is very specific, but this particular dress has been everything from a beach cover up to dressed up enough to pass at a cruise ship semi-formal night. Put it with a sweater on top and tights and it's a skirt for winter. Sleeveless and sandals and it's for summer weather. Dress it up with heels and jewelry and it can go to the theater or nice restaurant. This thing replaces a ton of other special-purpose outfits.

  3. A good foldable tote bag. This holds my purse plus some random stuff as my personal item on the plane, serves as a shopping bag at stores, a way to carry things to the beach or other places where just a purse isn't enough, it can hold excess items I can't fit in the suitcase on return, and if I don't need it it folds to practically nothing

Posted by
6777 posts

1) Bags (plural): a) International carry-on size. Your choice, soft-side or hard-side, roller, spinner, backpack, or good-ol’ carrying style. Main thing, if it doesn’t fit in the bag, it doesn’t come on the trip.

b) daypack or shoulder bag. This carries essentials on the flight, making things easily accessible. It can be also carry a bit of what didn’t fit in the first bag, but still has to come along! Then, it’s what you take along each day, while your main suitcase stays at your lodging.

c) Baggu or other portable, packable tote. Pull it out for a trip to the market, or to stash damp or dirty clothes. It’s your third, temporary bag, for when you need one while on the ground.

2) Scarf(s). Does double duty for warmth, or to dress up casual clothes. It’s also an accessory so you can look different on a second day, even if wearing the same outfit from Day 1.

3) Clothes that can be worn more than just one day, and can be mixed and matched to help achieve that. Underwear and socks are the exception - bring enough to wear just once before washing.

Posted by
196 posts

Great topic!

  1. My 12 oz lightweight thermos - So soothing to have a cup of hot tea at the end of the day.

  2. I always bring tea bags

  3. Comfortable, reliable walking/athletic shoes with my custom orthotics

  4. Broken in walking sandals I use for slippers (Merrell)

  5. A hooded jacket

Posted by
8026 posts

1.) 22 inch 2 wheeled piece of carryon luggage.
2.) iPhone with charger
3.) Keen shoes or sandals depending on where I’m traveling

Posted by
196 posts

Sorry, got so excited talking about packing that I went over "3 essentials"...

Posted by
6158 posts

My three essentials for European trips are my money belt, my iPhone (for the reasons Mira mentioned) and my Keen sandals to walk comfortably for miles on cobblestones or any surfaces.

My top essential to “pack light” is my own packing list with checkboxes. That list forces me to not add extra “what if” items as I’m packing or the day we’re leaving. I bring four outfits that look nice in most situations and dry overnight from sink washing. I weigh all of my possible items on a scale to make those final choices, One of my favorites is similar to Mira’s - a black sleeveless knee-length cotton dress paired with a colorful scarf. With the scarf, I can enter churches & look nice at dinner. That dress tends to be worn more than any other item. When my husband travels with me, his comparable item is his black lightweight golf slacks.

Posted by
4010 posts

My list is much more basic. But it consists of 4 things that I'd need to recover quickly from a major loss away from home.

  1. U.S. Passport.
  2. Prescription medications.
  3. Credit card.
  4. Mobile phone with trip and other essential documents.

I can imagine a future when the only 3D items would be the meds, but it's not here yet, at least for me.

Now, beyond those survival items, my 3 most essential light packing items are these that I wear everyday.

  1. KEEN Women's Terradora 2 Waterproof Mid Height Hiking Boot with Sockwell socks. These provide for comfort, stability and support.
  2. Money belt like this one. My passport, emergency information and credit/debit cards are in my money belt.
  3. Pants with pockets. New favorites both for at home and for travel are Eddie Bauer Incline Utility Pants and Guide Pro Pants.
Posted by
6113 posts

I don’t pack light. My time away is too precious to waste time washing clothes or trying to get laundry done. Unless I was going for a short week long city break with just hand luggage, I would always take a checked bag.

Posted by
174 posts

Love talking about packing!
My 3 essentials are:

  1. The right walking shoes - usually either Altras or Chacos depending on the weather. If we'll be dressing up, I also throw in a light pair of ballerina flats.

  2. My kindle - I load it with books from the library before the trip, and this way I always have something to read.

  3. Cross-body bag/packable tote - I pack these in the carry-on and then use them on the trip. My favorite is a small Sherpani cross-body, and I clip a Chicobag packable tote inside it.

Posted by
3398 posts

Carole, that’s so funny cause I always bring my tea bags too, with my immersion thingy to heat water in my room. I love my tea in the evening to relax and go over the day and plans for the next one. I also bring a foldable tote for the same reasons Mira does. I have a few different ones to match my color scheme for the trip. And a scarf or two.
I will add - Moleskin for the days my comfortable walking shoes don’t cooperate. A good sun hat. I finally found one in Quebec, a Tilley brand.

Posted by
2321 posts

Choosing just 3 essential things is difficult since to pack light everything I take has to be “essential”. So here’s my most essential, most already noted by others:

1) Bags I like my RS Rolling Carry-on. The other bags are changing with travel experience. Next trip I will use an extra small Travelon purse, a packable backpack and a RuMe cFold for the extras.

2) Neck wallet But I really like the looks of the money belt Lo mentioned so I’m ordering one to try. I want my passport, credit cards and spare money with me.

3). IPhone It holds all my maps with locations marked, bookmarked sites to see, hotels, restaurants, notes and just about everything else including RS app downloaded for walks and translator apps. It even works as a phone. I’m still old school enough that I take paper copies of tickets and reservations. Although phone notes include my drug list I print it and include the pharmacy labels.

EDIT: Can I sneak in a fourth essential? Comfortable Shoes because if my feet aren't happy, I'm not happy. I take two pair of shoes and one pair of sandals; current favorites are discontinued models of Ryka Devo II, Alegria Essence (oxford tie style) and FitFlop sandals (not thongs). The extra weight is no more than a guidebook or two. Since my iPhone with maps and bookmarked websites is an essential I'll leave the guidebook(s) at home. After three neuroma surgeries, a broken foot and a torn tendon, comfortable shoes are not optional.

Posted by
3089 posts

Jennifer, Packing light is all relative. LOL. I bet there are things you do to keep your bag lighter than it would be otherwise; things you do to keep within the airline weight requirements for checked bags? Maybe? Also, you might find that in 30 years, when traveling from location to location, solo, you will find you just can't maneuver your bag so well and will decide to go slightly smaller...or not. I pack light and in a carryon bag for flights so that I can easily move around without help (although I do usually check my bag).

Posted by
8062 posts

Donald, I agree with the rain jacket thing. No matter what time of year or where. My light-packing goal is not to pack anything but clothes (no extra shoes) and minimal toiletries in the carryon bag. Anything else - books, electronics, maps - goes in my personal item. And I bias clothes towards more t-shirts, socks and underwear, and fewer shirts/pants.

Posted by
3089 posts

There are a lot of great thoughts on here, and I think mine will be somewhat redundant. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to discuss packing. My travel light is for airline travel...

Bags As many have said, the bags are important. The more space one has the more likely one is to fill it. That being said, I will not go below (or above) international carryon size for a trip of one week or more. My bag will have more weight initially because I will have wheels. My PI will not exceed 12x16x6 because I fly BA. So that is where I begin. I will never have the perfect bag because I have a bag addiction, but I am coming close.

Camera Never say never as I have lightened my camera load, much to my surprise. This, of course, depends on my destination. Greece would always demand my Canon D5 or D50. However, I now have a compact Canon G1X Mach III, which I will take as a replacement. This change saves a large percentage of space and weight in my bag.

Shoes It's a rare occasion when I would pack a pair of shoes.

Posted by
3642 posts
  1. My phone-for all of the above.
  2. Moneybelt-I carry all essentials with me, passport, cash, credit cards.
  3. Credit card-anything else could be bought when I get there.
Posted by
5028 posts

I am a convert to Merrell Moabs because they are super comfortable and I can wear them with shorts or slacks, either on the trail or to a restaurant.

I have a pair of Merrell Moabs, not the most comfortable walking shoe I own but does the job for dog walking in the summer. Would never wear them to a restaurant though, they are quite utilatarian looking or even ugly. What I wear for walking is a far cry from what I'd wear to a restaurant, a country pub accompanied by my dog in order to provide an excuse for my attire would be the limit.

Packing light? I swap the 'portable' Nespresso machine for an Aeropress.

Posted by
969 posts
  1. My phone. As others has said it serves as so much and saves me space and weight. It’s my communication device, camera, book, alarm clock, flashlight, map, research tool and has saved copies of my necessary documents. Probably more that I am not thinking about right now.
  2. A light pair of black flats. My current ones are from Born. I usually wear the same pair of walking shoes, usually Merrills, every day on a trip (I know, horrors) but there are usually a few things I want to dress up for, and the flats are dressier and take up little space. In the summer I’ll substitute sandals, but I don’t travel often in the summer.
  3. Versatile clothes. This varies trip to trip, but I look for clothes that are light, wash and dry in a sink well, can be used as casual and be easily dressed up, and can be layered well for changing weather. I love the idea of the black sleeveless dress someone said above because that could be worn in so many ways.
Posted by
3961 posts

Thanks Donald, this is fun to think about future travel.
1) Bags - Lt. weight, Travelpro 22” Expandable upright roller. Carry on tote with trolley sleeve. Small Baggallini crossbody bag. Nylon shopping bag like RuMe or LOQI for trips to the market. My husband likes the RS Civita day pack for daily touring.

2) Rain jacket - lt. weight water proof with hood. I have had good luck with Columbia brand.

3) Clothing - Mix & matched, mostly sink washed. Comfortable shoes- ECCO 7’s and Keen or ECCO Sandals. Both are light weight.

We keep our luggage weight below 20 pounds.

Posted by
613 posts

I might have a different take on this. The most essential items to pack are my passport, money (cash and/or credit/debit cards), and underwear.

If I am thinking about where I need to pay the most attention when I am trying to pack light, the list would be:

1) Bag - If my empty bag weighs ten pounds, then it's pretty difficult to pack light. My favorite is an Osprey Porter 46, which clocks in at around 2.5 pounds. I really try to avoid anything with wheels.

2) Shoes - I try to get away with two pairs, one sturdy pair of walking shoes that I wear on the plane and during the day, and a second very light and comfortable pair to give my feet a break at the end of the day. I usually do okay with the shoes.

3) Electronics -- Not just the electronics, but also the assorted chargers, batteries, and cables that go with the electronics. The weight can add up in a hurry, and it always seems to be my downfall.

Posted by
276 posts

Besides the essentials already mentioned, regardless of the length of the trip (up to 2 weeks), I take:

-4 pair of 'ex-officio underwear' rolled up in a sandwich baggie that can be washed when I shower, then hung up to dry

-a packable water and wind resistant down puffer jacket for chilly days/nights that can be rolled up into a small storage bag and attached with a carabiner to a purse or backpack

-a travel vest, like a fisherman's vest, with multiple interior and exterior pockets to hold my i-pad mini, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc instead of a purse when I don't want something hanging on my neck all day while touring or hiking.

Posted by
706 posts

For me, a one- or two-color wardrobe that can be mixed and matched and, as everyone else, good shoes. Ziplock bags, everything on paper—itineraries, tickets, etc. as I stink at technology, and patience and good humor.

Posted by
13801 posts

I agree with Estimated Prophet:

1) Passport

2) Credit Card

3) Phone/Charger combo

With those three I can get anywhere and buy what I need. Which is why all three of them are on me whenever I am out and about outside the USA.

Posted by
18855 posts

It seems to me that the title of this thread is The 3 essentials if you want to “Pack Light” Somehow, a lot of people got this confused with "essential thing to pack, that don't necessarily make your pack lighter."

For me, the essential things for light packing are:
1. Shirts and underwear, of cotton polyester blend, that can be sink washed at night and will be dry by morning, and
2. Implements (drip dry hangers and inflatable hanger) that facilitate overnight drying.

The above items make it possible to travel with a minimum of packed clothing. But I'm not a fanatic about light packing. If I really wanted to be an extreme minimalist packer, I'd just bring the clothes I wear, carefully picked so they reliably dry overnight, and after dinner, return to my room, wash everything and hang it out to dry, then put it back on in the morning. Or, a little less radical, I'd bring one packed change and, after checking in, I'd change into the other set, wash everything I wore that day and put it out to dry, then go to dinner.

But no, I'm reasonable (and a little lazy). In addition to the set I wear - underwear, shirt, and slacks, I bring two more pairs of slacks (3 total), four more shirts (5 total), and two more sets of underwear. My slacks are all different - black, tan, and khaki - and the shirts go with any of them, so that gives me 15 different wardrobe combinations. The extra set of underwear allows me to skip a day now and then (of course then I have to wash more to catch up).

So now, 3. having reduced the amount of clothing I take, my "packables" are down to less than 10 lb, including a pair of walking shorts, a sweater, and my bathroom kit, and about 1400 cu in volume. This allows me to really save weight on my bag. Ideally, what I want is a bag at about 1800-2000 cu in, just to have some reserve, but unfortunately, hardly anyone wants to sell (or buy) a bag less than regulation carryon size (2772 cu in). Or if they do, they think it must be a backpack, that opens at the top, not like a book. Most bags are made of heavy-weight material, since the manufacturer assumes you will have to check it now and then (I've never had to), and therefore it must be gorilla-proof, built like a tank, which just adds to the weight.

Posted by
13801 posts
Posted by
18855 posts

Frank, before all this COVID stuff, I got a Hynes Eagle 30 backpack. It's in my basement; obviously, I haven't had a chance to use it, and I haven't trial packed it, but my impression, by measuring the individual panels, is that it is somewhat less then the advertised 7.8 inches. However, I think it will be big enough for me, and I really like the weight.