11 travel hacks on how to pack light for 2 weeks or longer. Learning to travel light will not only save you a lot of hassle but money as well!
How to pack light...the golden question. Seasoned travelers know what a pain it is to drag oversized suitcases to and from hotels and train stations.
Not to mention the hefty baggage fees airlines hand out. Well, the importance of learning how to travel lightly is quickly becoming a top priority when you're looking to save money and unnecessary hassle.
When you learn how to pack light and carry on, you don’t have to worry about the airline losing your luggage and you save precious time by skipping the baggage claim.
My rule of thumb is that any trip 2 weeks or less should require no more than a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. It took me some time to get used to this new way of thinking and packing. Now that it’s become second nature, it’s a breeze and I would never return to how I used to pack; checking a bag for a week-long trip.
Seriously, what was I thinking, and more importantly what was I packing that took up so much space?
If you’ve decided now is the time to tackle the question of how to pack light for 2 weeks or less, this is the post for you. I’ll take you through the most important packing tips on how to travel light and carry on. Stuff that giant suitcase back in the attic where it belongs and put that carry-on to good use!
1. Wash your clothes
One of my biggest ah-ha moments was when I started washing my clothes while traveling. We Americans are so used to our washing machines and dryers that the thought of washing clothes in the bathroom sink is quite foreign.
If you work out while traveling this is even more important. I always hated packing multiple sets of workout clothes to wear for a grand total of 1 hour and then lug those dirty workout clothes with me the rest of my trip.
Now I bring one set of workout clothes for every 3 workouts since I wash and reuse. If you’re planning on working out 9 times, 3 sets of workout clothes are much less substantial than 9.
You don’t have to wash everything while you’re traveling. Focus on the items that dry quickly and are easy to wash (something to keep in mind when choosing what to pack). The items I always wash are my workout clothes, underwear, socks, and maybe a few lightweight shirts if I’m traveling in the summer and it’s hot and sticky.
2. Wear your clothes 3 to 4 times
The biggest mistake I made when checking bags and not packing lightly was that I wore my outfits once. Rookie mistake. There is no way you will be able to go on a 2 week trip with a carry-on if this is how you travel.
Plan to wear every outfit at least 3 or 4 times. I pack scarves and jewelry to change my look so my outfit appears different in pictures.
Pack neutral items that go well with everything and are classic pieces. No one will notice that you’ve already worn that black t-shirt 3 times.
See my packing tips on YouTube: Tips for Winter Travel/How to Pack Light for a 2 Week Trip
3. Shoe talk
Shoes take up the most space and are the biggest nuisance when traveling light. In order to carry on for a 2 week trip you need to
1. bring only 3 pairs (4 max if we're talking flat sandals)
2. pack shoes that are light and can be compressed.
By compressed I mean knit or cloth shoes that can be flattened, sandals with leather straps that can be pressed together, and shoes that are generally flexible.
High heels are not flexible and not compressible. Plus, I’d like to hear anyone say they had a pleasant experience walking the cobblestones of Rome in high heels.
I usually bring 1 pair of tennis shoes that can also function as a running shoe. Workout shoes, like APL or similar, look good enough that you can pair them with jeans and get away with it.
I'll also bring another comfortable walking shoe that is a bit sleeker than a tennis shoe. My current favorites are the Cole Haan Zerogrand Wingtip Oxfords.
Then, depending on the season, I’ll bring a comfortable bootie, a simple flat, or two flat sandals.
The last note about shoes is to buy and pack shoes that are lightweight. I love my Adidas Cloudfoams because they are super comfortable, but I rarely pack them on a long trip (unless I wear them on the plane instead of packing them).
The rubber soles and stiff leather exterior not only makes them heavy, but they also don’t squish together very efficiently. That’s why I like the Cole Haan Zerogrands so much. They are beyond lightweight and I can pack them down tightly.
4. Minimalize your beauty bag/toiletry kit
This packing tip is essential when figuring out how to pack light for 2 weeks. I actually wrote an entire blog post on sizing down your beauty bag.
Just like shoes, you can’t get away with a carry-on for a long trip if your beauty bag is the size of a large shoebox. In order to size down your beauty bag you need to make sure EVERYTHING is sample or travel size.
The ONLY thing I don’t buy sample/travel size is my mascara because the travel size ones dry out so quickly it’s a waste of money.
Buy products that are multipurpose. Instead of bringing makeup remover and face wash, buy a face wash that is a makeup remover and cleanser in one.
Skip the 3.4 ounce travel bottles. These bottles are way too big. I brought a 2 ounce travel bottle of face wash for a 3 week trip and I still had some leftover. If you need 3.4 ounces you are either using too much or you need to buy a more concentrated product.
Simplify your routine in order to pack less and travel light. Layering 3 night creams each evening is a luxury, not a necessity. Bring one lotion to use at night.
Do you layer a BB cream with foundation and powder? Try to find a 3 in 1 product so you can get by with just one product.
Consider this question for all your skincare and makeup products. Really think about what is an absolute must that you cannot live without and leave the rest at home.
5. Compression packing cubes
Compression packing cubes are a game changer when packing light for 2 weeks or less. Not only do you save space by compacting your clothes, but cubes keep everything organized and make moving between hotels a breeze.
I actually keep my clothes in my packing cubes the entire trip and just transfer the entire cube into drawers and closets. My packing cubes are organized by category.
All my workout clothes go in a small cube, pants and shirts go in a medium/large cube, dresses, bulkier clothing, and other miscellaneous clothes go in another medium/large cube, and all my underwear, socks, bras, and accessories like hair scarves, jewelry, etc., go in a small cube.
The ones I have are no longer available, but I was able to find similar ones: Tripped Packing Cubes, Well Traveled Packing Cubes, Outdoor Products Packing Cubes, and REI Packing Cubes.
6. Backpack game
This DB backpack is a game-changer. It's large enough that you could actually call it a weekend bag. It fits under the airplane seat, so even if the gate agent questions a roll away plus this backpack, I can argue that the backpack fits under my seat (which has happened multiple times in Europe where they're more strict).
Since this backpack is too big for daily use once I arrive at my destination, I'll pack my nylon Tumi backpack (smaller option).
I try to buy directly from Tumi's website as the customer service and warranty is fantastic.
A nylon backpack is a must as it takes up no space and lies flat in the bottom of my DB backpack.
The suitcase pictured above is the Bigger Carry-On Flex by Away. Because it's a larger carry-on, I've had to check it two or three times when taking low-cost European airlines. Brands like RyanAir are very strict on carry-on size. The cost to check is fairly low as long as you do so BEFORE check-in or choose a ticket that includes a small checked bag.
AWA Tip: I always pack a Longchamp shoulder bag to use as a "handbag" when I don't want to wear my backpack (i.e. for dinner). The medium size (make sure to get the one with the large handles) is perfect for traveling. It folds up into a little square and fits all the essentials (my camera, a water bottle, small wallet, etc.).
Similar to Tumi, it's not cheap. Priced at $140. But it's SO worth it. I've had my Longchamp for 11 years and it still looks new even though I've taken it on every single international trip.
7. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane
Before I put everything into my packing cubes and then my suitcase, I look at everything laid out and take out the items that are the bulkiest to wear on the plane. That usually means I’m wearing my booties or workout shoes, jacket, and bulkiest top(s).
8. Don’t pack for the what if
One of the biggest mistakes that prevent people from traveling light is packing for the “what if”. What if we decide to go to a nice dinner and I need a dress and heels? What if the weather turns and it ends up being cold and I don’t have a warm enough jacket?
90% of the time the “what if” never happens and you just lugged around clothing you never wore. Unless you're going to the middle of the Sahara you’ll be able to buy the “what if” clothing items if you really end up needing them.
9. Ditch bulky clothing
I love a good oversized cozy sweater, but I rarely pack items like this for long trips. Think of how much space 5 bulky sweaters can take up. Then picture 5 long sleeve tops paired with a compactable down jacket (that you'll wear on the plane). The difference is considerable and you aren’t sacrificing warmth or comfort.
If you must pack bulky clothing definitely invest in these vacuum compression packing bags.
10. Rethink those comfort items for the long flight
Long overnight flights in economy just aren’t fun. There's nothing around it and no travel pillow is going to make it comfortable. I’ve seen people bring bulky pillows and blankets on flights and I can guarantee they checked a bag in order to bring those items.
Do those items make your 10-hour flight a little more bearable…yes…but is it worth lugging those items around for 2 weeks for 16 to 20 hours of flight time? No.
At the very least, if you must have a travel pillow, make sure to buy one that has a loop or snap (like this one) so you can attach it to the handle of your backpack instead of having to use precious packing space.
11. Make do with less of the non-essentials
When thinking through how to pack light for 2 weeks or less, you really need to reevaluate the items you’re bringing that you don’t actually wear. I’m talking about that travel steamer, two curling irons, travel hair dryer, thick novel (ditch it and get a Kindle), etc.
Don’t get me wrong, these items would be nice to have along, but do they really add enough value and daily use for the hassle of having to check your bag? Probably not.
I hope these 11 tips on how to pack light for 2 weeks enables you to carry on for your next adventure. Once you realize you can get by with a lot less and experience how much more enjoyable it is to travel lightly, you will never turn back.
Book yourself an extra tour or splurge at a few meals with all the money you saved by skipping the baggage fees and being able to walk/use public transportation vs. getting a taxi because your luggage is weighing you down. Literally.
Silvia Tallarico says
Good posts and great advices.
About washing clothes, I always do it. I travel with my two sons ( 29 and 32 years old) and it is our time with not work, friends, girlfriends, etc, just mom and sons, once a year. We always rent an apartment to have more space than in a hotel, with washer/ dryer machine and I carry papers for laundry, the same I use at home for laundry. The brand is True Earth. I buy them at Indigo bookstore in Toronto, but I saw then in Whole Foods in New York as well.
Ashley Friemel says
So great you do a trip each year with your sons…how fun! I’ll check those laundry things out…thanks for sharing 🙂
What would you pack for a January trip in Europe? 1 week.
Ashley Friemel says
Hi Claudine! I did a YouTube video on what I packed for a 3 week trip to Europe over Christmas. This should give you a good idea. I would pack the same types of things, just fewer items since your trip is only 10 days. Let me know if this helps and if you have any questions. I’ll be doing a blog post on what to pack for winter in Europe before the holidays 🙂
Hi! This was one of the best posts I’ve read on this topic. Actual helpful tips & I love all the pics!
Heading to Portugal/Spain for 3 weeks in a few months to walk the Camino Portugués. I may not be able to do it all in a carry on, but this is helpful bc I still want to pack light.
Ashley Friemel says
Thank you! Comments like this make my day :). Have so much fun in Portugal/Spain!
Hi! What if you want to do some shopping on
Your trip? What do you do with the additional stuff?
Ashley Friemel says
The carry-on suitcase I bring can expand. I don’t usually buy much when I travel, but that’s an option if I do. There is a chance they will make me check the bag going home as it exceeds the size limit when expanded. You can also bring one of these bags that lay flat in the bottom of your suitcase.
g gonzaga says
thank you for the tips!
Ashley Friemel says
you’re welcome, glad you enjoyed!