Pile of old luggage

Picture it: you get on the airplane and get to your seat and then have to lift your bag into the overhead bin. For many travelers this is harder than it needs to be! Unless you’re a child, of very short stature, elderly or disabled, the flight crew should NOT be expected to do this for you. Worried you’ll hurt yourself? Here are some ways I’ve found to keep my bag lift-able.

If you’ve visited this site before, you know that I have an almost unnatural devotion to luggage, packing, and one-bag travel. But putting all your eggs into one basket can make that basket VERY heavy if you’re not careful. Here are my simplest ways to lighten up a bag, whether you’re going to check it or not. None of these tips will crimp your style, and may free you up to have more fun and less hassle getting where you’re going.

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  1. CHOOSE YOUR BAG, PART 1: You might be surprised where this list starts, although only because it is such a basic thing you may have never considered: Choose your bag carefully. Okay, maybe you aren’t surprised if you’ve read more than one post ever on this site. But this might be the simplest way to travel lighter. I have multiple suitcases from eBags (I’m not sponsored by this brand, just a fan.) I have one rolling duffel bag with a hard plastic back. That bag weighs 11.6 pounds. Empty.
    • When I fly, even if I check the bag, I love my the eBags Motherlode backpack. I have both sizes. (The junior size can be found on the eBags website, Amazon doesn’t have it. It is often out of stock even at eBags). No worries about uneven pavement or stairs (beyond my own ability to trip over them, of course). These bags weigh between 3 and 3.9 pounds. That right there saves me 7lbs of just suitcase! Both will fit larger airline carry-on requirements (the larger one sometimes pushes the more restrictive rules a bit at 14x10x22, but being soft-sided, it can usually be made to work, if it isn’t packed to the gills).
    • Not everyone wants a backpack case though, so here is a post from Fashion Travel Girl on the best lightweight luggage she has reviewed, many of which are wheeled bags. Just know that sometimes the amount of tech & design that go into creating ultra light bags comes at a price, many of these bags are on the more expensive side.
  2. CHOOSE YOUR BAG, PART 2: Along with a light bag, start with the smallest bag you think could maybe do the job. Only bump up to a larger size if you just can’t make the small one work. (It helps if you know your souvenir-buying habits. I bring a small packable bag with me in case I need more space on the way home, and will check my eBags travel backpack if I need to.)
  3. MAKE A LIST AND CHECK IT TWICE: Find or make a good packing list. “Good” is the key here. Lots of sites tout the “ultimate” or “perfect” packing list. And those are typically designed from a “use this and you won’t forget anything” perspective, and include everything but the kitchen sink. If you’re going to make your own list, it’s a great place to start. Most recently I used Smarter Travel’s Ultimate Packing List to help me remember things I might forget to put on the list I give students. But I was able to immediately cross off almost 20 items that would absolutely not be needed on our trip. Want to see what I advise? You can check out all my packing lists!
  4. CONTAIN IT: It may seem odd that packing cubes are in this list, after all, fitting MORE stuff into a smaller space seems against the point of this post, but if you have things packed efficiently enough to fit into a smaller bag, even if you “overpack” that bag, it will still be lighter than overpacking a larger bag. Just be sure this makes you pack a smaller bag! TIP: Consider using un-compressed compression bags on the way to your destination, to keep things from getting wrinkled. Use them compressed on the way home to make more room for souvenirs you’ve bought!
  5. MAKE IT MATCH: Pack around a color scheme. I usually bring all black or gray bottoms, and then tops that match either. I get a lot of fun color in my shirts, but can easily re-wear skirts or pants more than once. Let’s face it, we all wear some things a couple of times before washing. And if everything matches, it all looks like a whole new outfit. I’ve worn the same pants to school multiple times in a week and students never said anything. And if you know teenagers, SOMEONE would comment if they noticed.
  6. SUBTRACT: Take 5 items out of your bag. After you’ve picked what you will pack, find at least 5 things you can do without. Some who give tips suggest you lay out all you think you want to bring and then cut it by 50%. That may push the comfort zone of novice travelers. But look at what you’re planning to bring, and be a little ruthless. Most packing light advice you will get recommends 2-3 bottoms/week, and 4-6 tops. Often 20% of the things you bring make up 80% of what you wear.
  7. CHANGE IT UP: Find the smaller/lighter alternatives.
    • Rather than bringing books and magazines, bring a tablet or e-reader. I like to bring my iPad because it is more functional for killing time playing games, and is a nicer sized screen to read on. Of course, if I weren’t of the age where larger text is a desire, I would probably be happy with just my phone for everything.
    • Jeans are heavy. Consider lighter weight pants. If you know you want jeans, can you get by with just one pair? Generally plan to wear these heavier clothes on the plain, although for a long-haul flight you may want to choose comfort over weight.
    • Most people only need 2 pairs of shoes while traveling, maybe a third for “specialty” use like formal or beach wear. I tend to wear a pair of tennis shoes (the heaviest/bulkiest I will have with me), and bring a pair of Birkenstocks and some water shoes or flip flops for beach time.
    • Rather than a bulky sweater or hoodie, consider a thermal base layer long-sleeve that you can use with other clothes. That will not only weigh less than a sweatshirt, but take up much less space.
    • Purse/Wallet downsize. I seldom carry an actual purse in my real life, but I do have a full-sized wallet and often carry my work bag, even when not at work. For travel? No way. I fit all my needed cards and the small amount of cash I travel with, as well as my passport in a small passport wallet. I really like the looks of this ZeroGrid passport wallet. According to reviewers it isn’t super rugged, but if you’re looking at normal, everyday activities, it seems like an unbeatable deal at about $20. The purse I use is a smaller cross-body bag. It will hold what I need with me for the day (money, phone, maybe a small umbrella, ipad) without taking up much space at all.
    • Be low maintenance. Toiletries can take up lots of space. Do you really need a hair dryer? What about separate shampoo & conditioner? Could you take a smaller sized container? Did you know they make paper sheets of soap that weigh almost nothing? And if you’re traveling with another person, plan to share the supplies. You probably don’t both need your own toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, etc. And certainly can share a hair dryer.
    • Beats are great headphones. Ya know what headphones are also pretty decent? My wired Skull Candy earbuds. I hear good things about airpods but I’m too cheap to splurge on those. Maybe consider bringing the smaller headphones, even if they don’t have the most advanced immersive sound. (But I’m gonna recommend you find the noise-cancelling-est ones you can..)
    • Think multitasking. Can a sarong do triple duty as a blanket and as a beach towel? Can you sleep in clothes you already wore so you don’t need separate PJs? (I saw one travel blogger who said she sleeps in her bathing suit!)
  8. Throw as you go. Bring your older underwear, maybe even some shirts or bottoms you’re thinking of getting rid of. As you use them, throw them away. You’ll lighten the load slightly as you go, while making more room. If things are clean & reusable (like those cheap flip flops I mentioned above) just leave them in the hotel room for housekeeping to take. You may even want to label them as such, so they don’t just sit in a lost and found.



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