top of page

Why and How to Travel Light (when you’re not Jeepin’!)

I’ve posted before about all the survival and recovery items I carry in my Jeep to ensure I’m prepared for anything that might happen out in the wilderness. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff, but it’s all stored away and it would all be used in a survival situation – and dare I say lives would depend on it at 11,000 feet! All these items aside, however, I am also passionate about minimalism and simple living. It brings me great satisfaction to eliminate the unnecessary and enjoy what’s left. And really, everything I carry in my Jeep is a necessity for survival and it’s all been used at one point or another on wheeling trips or camp outings. When you’re in the middle of the wilderness miles and miles from any sort of civilization, having everything that’s needed to survive is a necessity.

But, even Jeepers have got to travel once in awhile, perhaps to civilized areas of the world to see friends or family, for vacations, or urban adventures. We’ve been out of town off and on for a good portion of June, and on a recent trip I wanted to try traveling super-light because it just seemed much easier and I’ve gotta say, it worked GREAT and I’m SOLD! So, in the spirit of this blog which is to share what I learn, here’s why and how I travel light when I'm not Jeepin’!

Why -

At one point during the past month I had to wait on a shuttle so for an hour I people-watched at an airport, which is always a fun pastime. This time, however, I wanted to see how many people were traveling light – with only a backpack. Out of hundreds, I spotted only one. The rest of the people were struggling with heavy roller bags, up over curbs, one girl in flip-flops was running to catch a bus and the wheels of her rolling suitcase caught her sandal and she fell flat on her face. Others struggled to lift their bags onto buses or into taxis. Why do you need all that stuff, I thought. (I’m not talking about traveling for business or a specific purpose that requires lots of gear or professional clothing – this post is about traveling for personal/fun reasons, which shouldn’t require lots of extra stuff).

Carrying one lightweight backpack filled with only the essentials makes travel much less stressful and so much easier! There’s no bag to check, or to lose between planes, and no waiting for checked baggage at your destination. There’s no heavy carry-on to store in the overhead bin. You’re able to easily run to the next gate if need be. There’s no tripping over your roller suitcase, no having to keep track of multiple items if you need to duck into the restroom. It’s all in one place, and all carried easily on your back.

How -

Eliminate the unnecessary.

Don’t bring different clothing for every day that you’ll be gone. Pack a few non-cotton/quick-drying items that can be mixed and matched for different outfits, and hand-washed if needed, (or wear items more than once - except underwear and socks). Along the same lines, don't bring different accessories for each outfit combination. Wearing one pair of neutral earrings, for example, will ensure you look pulled together all the time without having to pack and keep track of extra jewelry.

Don’t bring extra makeup, the curling iron, blowdryer plus diffuser, 50-million hair products, five pairs of shoes, accessories for each outfit, several flannel PJ outfits for sleeping, a box fan or the kitchen sink. You don’t need all this stuff! One of the joys of travel is that it’s not home. You might miss your favorite fluffy slippers while abroad and that’s ok but it doesn’t mean you have to pack them. Or everything else you might use at home. Humans are quick to adapt and if you’re flexible during travel you’ll have fun even if your hair isn’t straightened (hint: wear a hat instead!).

Don’t pack your fears. And check the weather before your trip. ‘What if the plane crashes over the rainforest and I get bit by a Cayman and then I’m kidnapped and taken to the Arctic? I’d better pack my swim suit, a large first aid kit, rescue flares, and a down parka!’ Yeah, this is over the top but it illustrates the point of why we pack too much based on what might happen (but usually never does). And, checking the weather before you travel ensures you’ll pack most appropriately. Pack lightweight synthetic clothing that can be layered on if temps drop, and realize you can buy or borrow pretty much anything you might need – if you need it.

Consider casual activities. If you eat at casual restaurants (no dress code) and keep your itinerary mostly casual then you don’t need to bring special dressy outfits and accessories. Staying casual when traveling makes for a more relaxing (and therefore enjoyable) time.

Pack the essentials.

One lightweight backpack, and one toiletry bag. Some people also use storage cubes, although I don’t. One backpack means, if you want, you can easily take it with you wherever you go if you’re out adventuring. If plans change on any given day and you want to spend the night elsewhere you’ve got everything you need on your back already! You’ll have a jacket in case a rain shower pops up, a place to carry your water and a snack and your phone. It’s easy!

Utilize lightweight synthetic layers. Synthetic (non-cotton) ensures your clothing dries fast if it gets wet in the rain, and dries fast when you hand-wash if needed. Layers mean you can adjust to the temperature as needed. I like to wear shorts or pants (synthetic/quick drying material) plus a tank or tee, then a long-sleeved top plus rain jacket/windbreaker to layer up. This will get me through a good variety of temperatures and climates. If I know it will be colder I’ll bring base layer bottoms and a heavier fleece. Likewise, if I’m going to the tropics I’ll bring a couple swimsuits and a lightweight packable dress. When packing, roll each item of clothing tightly and it’ll take up less space in your pack.

Following is my current pack list plus a few why’s about what I take. For just the list, download it here: Travel Light Pack List.

You can adapt this pack list to your needs, depending on where you’re going. I could cut this list down even more but so far this works great for me. The most important thing to keep in mind is to eliminate the unnecessary items for lighter travel and more fun! Hand-wash clothing in the shower or sink between wearings so you always have something clean.


Backpack – any lightweight pack will do. I use the Patagonia Refugio 28L because it was free from hub’s work and it’s the perfect size for what I need. It weighs 1 lb 7.5 oz if you’re into tracking weights.

Toiletry bagthis shower kit from REI holds all my non-clothing personal items. 3 oz weight.


Wear - (all non-cotton). Grab the long-sleeved top from your bag if you get cold on the plane.


Tee or tank

Sneakers or running shoes (my personal opinion is that closed-toe shoes are better for travel. They’re comfortable, safe, they allow you to move fast when needed and you can work out whenever you want. Remember the gal with the flip-flops at the beginning of this post? Don’t be her).


Undies, bra

Pack -

1 – pair of socks

3 – underwear (you could pack less underwear if you want, this is just a random number that works for me. Always have clean underwear available!)

1 – sport bra (if you wear a sport bra, above, you could just use that for the trip but I’ve discovered that traveling with only one bra can get extra sweaty/stinky and that’s a bit of a pain. I’ve decided that room in my pack for a second bra is a good thing)

2 – addl tee or tank (you could just bring one extra tee or tank; I bring two for variety and since they’re super lightweight it adds barely any weight)

1 – workout shorts or tights (no need for PJ’s – sleep and work out in the shorts [if warm] or tights [if cool] and one of the above tanks or tees)

1 – addl pant or casual shorts (no need to bring both extra pants and shorts. You wear pants to travel so if it’ll be warm, bring shorts in your pack)

1 – long-sleeved wool top (wool is versatile and generally lightweight. I like Smartwool tops but any will do. Or, use another synthetic long-sleeved fabric if desired).

1 - rain jacket/windbreaker, or jacket (a couple years ago I snagged a Patagonia Alpine Houdini on sale – it’s a rain jacket/windbreaker that seals in body warmth when combined with a long-sleeved layer underneath. Super packable and lightweight. If I travel to cooler weather I’d take my Nano Puff staple jacket – super warm yet lightweight, windproof, and water resistant. Packs down fairly small for its size)

1 - beanie or cap or hat (hide your bed hair, protect from sun, or keep warm – something for your noggin is required)

Sometimes: long underwear (if it’s cold) and/or heavier jacket/ layers (only if traveling to cold weather)

Sometimes: swim suit (2 suits if swimming daily) (if traveling to a beach/pool destination)

Sometimes: dress (if required), sandals or flips-flops (if poolside) (if traveling to a resort that requires a dress for dinner take 1-2 dresses but no more than two. A few years ago I took three dresses to an all-inclusive tropical resort and only ended up wearing the two I liked best and it worked just fine. Ensure they are lightweight so they don’t add much weight to your pack. Sandals or flip-flops are good to have poolside and can be worn with the dress for dinner if in the tropics. Try to choose lightweight footwear since these are in your pack for travel).

Electronics -

Laptop and cord (optional) (when traveling for fun I don’t take my laptop but some prefer to do so)

Phone (I use my phone for internet, GPS, email, texting, photos, videos, and more. One item, multi-use, essential and yet packable)

Phone cord

Phone power reserve (charged) (I use this one – it provides a couple hours extra power, is small and lightweight, and works great!)

Headphones (keep them small and packable)

Kikkerland universal adapter (if needed) (if traveling internationally)

Toiletries -

Face care (optional, I choose to bring my own face wash and lotion, etc. - travel size containers)

Hair care (such as travel shampoo/conditioner, I choose not to bring my own – just use the hotel’s or borrow from friends or family)

Travel toothbrush (go with a small plain-Jane plastic toothbrush. Leave the electric one at home)

Travel toothpaste (small travel tube)

Dental floss


Travel deodorant

Travel contact case filled with solution

Small comb and hair tie

Nail clippers


Feminine products

Eye mask


Medications (regular meds, or small case with a few pills such as Ibuprofen, Immodium, kids Dramamine, etc.)

Makeup (I only bring three items when traveling anymore – small bottle of face tint, small tube of lipstick/face color, and mascara)

Glasses and case

Other -

Wallet (remove all unnecessary cards)

Passport, if needed

A few snack bars, and vitamins (optional, but I like my vitamins so I bring them)

Sunglasses (optional)

Hand sanitizer (small tube)

Kids -

Teach your kids about packing light and layering at an early age and you’ll set them up for a lifetime of enjoyable travel adventures, plus they can carry their own stuff! Here’s our 8-year-old’s pack list (he packs himself now, which is awesome!): Travel Light Pack List – Kids Edition.

And that’s all, folks! Do you travel light? I’d love to hear how it works for you – comment below! If you have questions on specific items in this post leave a comment or message me, and thanks for reading!

bottom of page