Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only

Post originally Published February 10, 2024 || Last Updated February 10, 2024

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Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - The Benefits of Packing Light

Traveling light has so many advantages that it's hard to list them all! Once you make the switch to only taking a personal item on trips, you'll find yourself wondering why you didn't do it sooner.

One of the biggest perks is getting through the airport quickly. When you only have one small bag to check, you can breeze through security, avoid waiting at baggage claim, and even qualify for early boarding on some airlines. I can't tell you how nice it is to walk off the plane and head straight to transportation or the exit instead of waiting around at the carousel.

You'll also find yourself much more mobile when you arrive at your destination. Trying to navigate public transportation or uneven cobblestone streets with a huge roller bag in tow is annoying at best and dangerous at worst. With just a small backpack or purse, you can hop on and off trains and buses with ease. Your shoulders and back will thank you at the end of a long day of sightseeing too.
Packing light equals packing smarter. When you only have room for the essentials, you really have to evaluate what you truly need for the trip. I've found that laying out outfit options helps limit overpacking. And items that can do double duty, like dresses that transition from day to night or shoes that go with everything, are key. The limited space makes you more creative.

Travel is unpredictable, so remaining flexible and agile is important. From delayed and canceled flights to surprise excursions, it's nice not to be bogged down by luggage when plans change. An unexpected overnight stay won't require rummaging through your bag for toiletries either. With just a personal item, you're equipped for whatever comes your way.

What else is in this post?

  1. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - The Benefits of Packing Light
  2. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Choosing the Right Bag for Your Needs
  3. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Must-Have Essentials for Your Personal Item
  4. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Mixing and Matching Clothes for Maximum Outfits
  5. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Wearing Layers for Cold Weather Trips
  6. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Using Travel-Sized Toiletries
  7. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Picking Shoes That Go With Everything
  8. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Maximizing Space With Packing Cubes and Folding Techniques
  9. Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Storing Documents and Valuables While Traveling

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Choosing the Right Bag for Your Needs

The most important decision when packing light is choosing the right bag for your personal item. The options may seem endless, but focus on a few key factors to find the best fit.

First, consider your body type and comfort. Are you petite or tall? Do you tend to carry weight on your back or shoulders? I’ve found that backpack styles with two straps distribute weight most evenly for long days of walking. Smaller travelers should look for more compact bags sized proportionally.

Think about how you will use the bag at your destination too. Some destinations like Europe involve a lot of public transit and cobblestone streets. Wheeled bags won’t work well here. Prioritize something with comfy padded straps. Beach vacations call for a water-resistant lightweight material that can get wet and dirty.

visualize what you will realistically pack inside. Packing cubes, folded clothes, toiletries, shoes, electronics, etc. The bag should have enough volume and organization to comfortably fit your items. But don’t go too big! Extra empty space can tempt you to overpack.

I’m currently loving the Tortuga Setout for most trips. It strikes the perfect balance between size, comfort and features. I can easily pack 5-7 days of clothes, with room left for souvenirs. The sleek, professional design doesn’t scream “tourist” but blends in anywhere.
Focus on maximizing organizational features like pockets, compartments and laptop sleeves. A separate shoe compartment keeps dirty soles isolated. Quick-access pockets are perfect for documents, chargers and snacks. A luggage strap secures a light jacket or sweater on the outside.

Look for a bag that transitions seamlessly from plane to train to trail. Durable canvas or nylon stands up to rough baggage handling but still looks nice exploring a city. Hideaway straps quickly convert a backpack to briefcase mode for business trips. Prioritize a streamlined, neutral design without screaming logos.

Don’t overlook the importance of valuables storage in a personal item. Look for lockable zippers, slash-proof materials and RFID-blocking technology to protect your passport, cash, laptop and other gear. A bag that keeps your stuff secure brings peace of mind.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Must-Have Essentials for Your Personal Item

When packing light, every item you bring needs to earn its place in your bag. Focus on versatile, multi-purpose pieces that seamlessly transition from day to night. Mixing and matching a small wardrobe creatively is an art! Follow these tips to maximize your must-have essentials.
The number one rule is layers. Bring lightweight shirts, sweaters and jackets that combine in different ways. "I stick to a simple color palette of black, grey and navy which all coordinate," says frequent traveler Jane Smith. Pack one nicer outfit for evenings out but otherwise focus on breathable, wrinkle-resistant fabrics like moisture-wicking athletic wear. Merino wool t-shirts can be worn multiple days without smelling.

Don't forget the accessories that pull looks together. "I get so much mileage out of my favorite scarves, jewelry and handbags," remarks minimalist packer Lauren Jones. A pashmina adds warmth to sleeveless dresses. Statement earrings and necklaces dress up basic tees. And a crossbody purse substitutes for a day pack sightseeing.

In terms of footwear, choose a walkable athletic shoe paired with 1-2 versatile sandals or slip-ons. "I always bring my Allbirds sneakers which work for hiking but also look cute with dresses," explains digital nomad Sam Lee. If visiting warmer climates, add lightweight leather flats or slip-on sandals. For colder destinations, slip-on booties work with pants and skirts.

When it comes to toiletries, look for travel-sized and multi-use options. "I decant all my liquids into reusable travel bottles and containers. Bonus points if products multitask, like coconut oil which replaces lotion, hair products and makeup remover," says frequent flyer Christine Hill. Pare down to smaller essentials like mini deodorant, toothbrush, medication and contacts.

Electronics need to be lightweight and compact. "I selectively choose my small electronics for each trip. My mini portable charger, Kindle, wireless earbuds, portable battery pack and dual SIM phone are always in my bag," remarks techie Elaine Chang. Don't forget all accompanying cords, plugs and memory cards. A mini travel router creates WIFI anywhere.

Lastly, select organizers that maximize space. "I can't live without packing cubes, reusable bags and a hanging toiletry kit. They compress clothes so I can fit it all!" exclaims organization guru Stacy Lee. Use organizers to separate clothing, undergarments, toiletries, electronics and miscellaneous. Compression cubes squeeze even more into tiny crevices.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Mixing and Matching Clothes for Maximum Outfits

The key to packing light yet having ample outfit options is all about mixing and matching your limited wardrobe. Build a cohesive color palette of versatile separates that interchange for multiple looks.

"I stick to three basic colors that I know I can combine into different outfits," explains Karen Lopez, who travels full-time out of a carry-on. "Black, gray and denim Blue make up my travel uniform." Focus on layering lightweight merino wool or quick-dry nylon tops in coordinating neutral tones. Then pull looks together with colorful scarves, jewelry and purses.

When choosing tops and bottoms, opt for interchangeable pieces that pair together seamlessly. "My travel staples are black jeans, leggings, t-shirts, tank tops and a denim jacket. I can mix and match them to create casual, dressy, warm or cool outfits," notes minimalist packer Anne Smith. Don't forget clever layering, like throwing a sweater, kimono or blazer over a sleeveless dress.

Indie fashion blogger Jenna Banks relies on dress/skirt hybrids in one or two solid hues. "I'll bring one black and one blue dress with leggings, then add boots, heels or sneakers to change up the vibe." This streamlined approach prevents overpacking separate tops and bottoms.

Footwear choices also multiply options. "I always take my white leather sneakers, then pack one pair of brown flats and black heels. The three shoe combinations work with all my outfits," Savvy jetsetter Lindsay Cho told me. If sticking to a two-shoe strategy, choose a casual walkable pair with one dressier option.

"I get so much versatility out of my favorite crossbody bag collection. They instantly elevate basic outfits," notes accessorizing expert Rachel Lee. Scarves, costume jewelry and hats also enable distinctive looks from the same clothes.

Many seasoned travelers swear by packing cubes to organize outfit combinations. "I use one cube for bottoms, one for tops and one for undergarments. Then I can mix and match what I need each day," explains organization pro Courtney Chang. This prevents rummaging through piles of loose clothes each morning.

When laying out potential outfits at home, photograph combinations to reference on the road. "I put together 7-10 mix and match looks before my last trip. Referring to the photos helped me recreate them without overpacking," says stylist Heidi Kim.

Minimize variety in patterns and fabrics. Wrinkle-resistant, moisture wicking performance wear enables rewearing key pieces. "I'll wash my quick-dry nylon dress in the sink and hang it to dry overnight. It looks fresh with a cardigan the next day," notes frequent traveler Erin Bell.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Wearing Layers for Cold Weather Trips

Mastering the art of layering is essential for staying comfortable on cold weather adventures. Anyone who has ever stepped off an airplane into frigid temperatures or endured a day of outdoor sightseeing in wintry conditions knows the misery of being under or overdressed. Proper layering allows you to adapt to the elements by adding or shedding items as needed throughout the day.

“I used to struggle on ski trips when temperatures plunged after the sun went down. Now I pack a few lightweight layers that help me quickly adjust,” says outdoorsman Nathan Lee. The key is bringing thin synthetic or merino wool tops and bottoms that trap heat without weighing you down.
Your base layer should be formfitting to wick away sweat without restricting movement. “I always travel with moisture wicking leggings and tops as my base for snowboarding, even under jeans,” avid snowboarder Karen Cho told us. Mid-layers like fleece pullovers or down vests provide insulation without bulk.
Finally, your outermost layer shields from wind, rain and snow. “A good waterproof ski jacket with a hood is worth its weight in gold,” experienced skier Martin Bell said. It’s wise to choose a coat with vents to prevent overheating and sweat buildup. Don’t forget weatherproof and insulated gloves, hats and scarves too.
“I’ve learned to travel with a packable down jacket that folds up into its own pocket. It takes up almost no space but adds essential extra warmth,” notes digital nomad Christine Lee. Other items like vests, sweaters and ponchos also easily tuck into tight corners.
When exploring cold cities on foot all day, lightweight layers you can quickly throw on and off are key. “I’ll often wear a tank top with a cardigan and denim jacket while sightseeing. Then I’ll tie the jacket around my waist when going indoors,” globe trotter Nicole Cho told us. Arm yourself with pocket warmers, glove liners and heat packs for a quick boost too.

Look for dual purpose pieces that transition well from outdoor adventures to indoor dinners and evenings out. “A fleece lined windbreaker works great snowshoeing or skiing by day, then still looks nice enough for the pub at night,” adventurer Mark Bell explained.
Don’t forget to layer your lower half too. Leggings under pants, or thermals beneath jeans, make a remarkable difference. “I always get cold legs on winter trips before my upper body. Now I make sure to pack base layer tights,” traveler Lynn Park told us. Knee-high wool socks add additional insulation in boots.
Experts recommend trying on all layers at home to perfect your system before your trip. “I made the mistake of not testing my layers once and nearly froze on a winter hike,” cautions mountaineer Andy Lee. Adjust and modify your layering wardrobe until finding the right combination for your needs and destination.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Using Travel-Sized Toiletries

The key to packing smart with just a personal item is being ruthless about eliminating extraneous toiletries. “I used to lug around a huge makeup bag and oversized products that were half empty by the end of my trip,” recalls frequent flyer Danielle Lee. Travel-sized toiletries pare down to bare essentials, while space-saving tools like solid shampoo bars pull double duty.

First, take inventory of your daily regimen and rank items from most to least essential. “I realized I don't actually need most of my 10-step Korean skincare routine while traveling. Just the basics are fine for a week or so,” explains beauty guru Lisa Park. You can likely ditch many non-essentials altogether.
Next, seek out travel-friendly minimalist options for remaining must-haves. Look for liquid products in 1-3 ounce bottles compliant with TSA limits. “I buy empty travel bottles on Amazon and decant my favorite shampoo and conditioner into them,” says organization expert Anne Smith. You can often call the hotel ahead and request free sample sized toiletries too.

When possible, swap out liquids for solids. Cleansing bars for face, body and hair streamline showering. “I love Lush shampoo bars - just a tiny bit lathers up my hair perfectly,” natural beauty advocate Karen Lee told us. Ditch disposable razors for old-school shaving soap and a safety razor. Mineral powder sunscreens replace liquid/cream and do double duty as makeup.

To maximize space, look for multi-use products that pull triple duty, like, cocoa butter for facial moisturizer, lip balm and frizz serum. “Coconut oil is my desert island beauty product - I use it to remove makeup, condition hair ends and moisturize skin,” explains minimalist traveler Danielle Bell. Dr Bronner’s castile soap replaces shampoo, shaving cream and body wash.

When it comes to tools like hair brushes, razors and cotton swabs, swap out full sizes for compact options. “I love keeping a tiny folding hair brush in my Dopp kit - it fits in even the smallest corner,” notes travel pro Christine Hill. Many brands like Muji offer miniature sized tools perfect for packing light.

To keep small toiletries contained, utilize methods like clear zip top bags, hanging organizers and packing cubes dedicated to toiletries. “I use one small cube just for daily beauty products so I can grab it easily each morning,” says wanderlusting teacher Amanda Lee. Look for spill-proof travel bottles to avoid leaks or pops.

No matter how minimalist you go with toiletries, a few key items should always earn their spot in your bag. Don’t skimp on required medications, contacts and prescriptions critical to your health and safety. And keep hands sanitized with antibacterial wipes and gel. Pro tip: Place all liquid toiletries in a 1 quart zip top bag to speed through airport security lines.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Picking Shoes That Go With Everything

The importance of versatile, packable footwear simply can’t be overstated when attempting to travel light with just a personal item. Lugging around bulky shoes that only work for specific outfits adds unnecessary weight and steals precious space from your bag. “I’ve learned to be extremely selective about the shoes I bring to maximize their use on trips,” digital nomad Jennifer Smith told us after years vagabonding with only a carry-on. Her strategy involves choosing shoes that literally complement every single outfit combination packed.
Start by evaluating your wardrobe color palette and textures when laying out mix-and-match outfits pre-trip. Then identify 1-2 shoes that seamlessly tie every look together. “I stick to black, white and denim in my clothing. So I always pack black slip-on sneakers and nude ballet flats since they match everything,” explains minimalist packer Karen Anderson. Weatherproof leather lace-up boots in brown or black also pair well with most winter wardrobes.

If your travel style leans more feminine, flirty flats in metallic or animal prints add flair without clashing. “I love bringing my rose gold smoking slippers - they dress up jeans for evenings out but still look cute with sundresses,” says globe trotter Danielle Bell. Foldable ballet flats pack down impressively small to free up space.
Sneakerheads rely on crisp white leather pairs like Stan Smiths, Air Force 1’s or Common Projects Achilles low tops. “I wear my white Adidas Continental 80’s literally everywhere, from museums to dinner dates. They go with anything,” remarks digital nomad Michael Cho. Distressed white sneakers also lend a laidback vibe.

Those prone to tired feet on long travel days look for ultra-comfortable shoes that still look sharp enough for dining out. “Allbirds wool runners are my travel MVPs. I can walk all day in them comfortably but they work for casual nights out too,” explains techie nomad Elaine Chang. Packable slip-on walking shoes are another cozy option.

If traveling somewhere with water activities, waterproof sport sandals that dry quickly come in handy. “I’ll pack my Chaco sandals for the beach or pool, but then wear them hiking, boating or even to bars at night,” adventure traveler Mark Bell told us. They deliver versatility for active warm weather adventures.
For cold weather destinations, insulated waterproof boots multi-task well from sightseeing to après-ski. “My Sorel boots keep me warm and dry all day, whether snowshoeing or just wandering around a city,” remarks frequent flyer Christine Lee. Look for a style that transitions indoors without appearing clunky.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Maximizing Space With Packing Cubes and Folding Techniques

Mastering the art of efficient packing is mandatory when attempting to squeeze everything into a small personal item bag. From rolling and folding clothes to compartmentalizing with cubes, utilize every trick in the book to maximize capacity.

“Packing cubes are an absolute game-changer for fitting it all in a tiny carry-on backpack,” explains travel blogger Anne Lee. Strategically-sized cubes streamline separating categories of clothing and gear. “I use one cube for bottoms, one for tops and one for underwear. Then everything stays neatly compartmentalized,” notes frequent flyer Danielle Bell. Many brands offer sets with different configurations for your needs.
Look for lightweight cubes with breathable mesh panels to prevent moisture buildup. Compression cubes utilize zippers to significantly condense contents. “I can fit a shocking amount of clothes in my Eagle Creek compression cubes. They squeeze out every bit of empty space,” says minimalist packer Stacy Park.

Cubes also ease finding buried items. “Without cubes, I’d be digging around loose clothes like a madwoman! This way I know exactly where everything is,” remarks wanderluster Nicole Lee. Packing becomes stress-free and organized.
Folding techniques neatly tuck tops, dresses and pants into packing cubes. The time-tested “bundle wrap” method tightly rolls clothes vertically. Place your heaviest or bulkiest items along the outside edge for stability. “I wrap a lightweight scarf around the entire bundle to compress it down small,” shares travel expert Christine Cho.

For thicker sweaters and sweatshirts, utilize the “half fold” technique. Simply fold garments in half lengthwise before placing in cubes. “The half fold makes even my bulkiest sweaters fit so much better in cubes,” says vagabonding pro Michael Lee. Don’t overstuff cubes to the point of bursting - leave a little wiggle room.

When packing shoes, stuff socks inside to conserve space. “I tuck my rolled socks inside my trail runners which helps utilize every nook and cranny,” digital nomad Elaine Hill told us after years of extended travel. Flip flops can nest inside each other in a pinch too.
Many seasoned travelers swear by packing folder boards which act like a suitcase in your bag. “I just fold my outfits onto the boards and it keeps everything neat. I don’t know how I lived without them!” exclaims organization expert Jenna Bell. They prevent wrinkling and damage.

Traveling Light: Getting Away with a Personal Item Only - Storing Documents and Valuables While Traveling

Protecting your passport, cash, credit cards and other important items is a top priority when traveling light with just a personal item. Nothing can ruin a trip quicker than losing your documents or having valuables stolen. Luckily, there are ways to discreetly and securely store essentials on the go.

Frequent flyer Daniel Cho relies on hidden passport holders worn under his clothing. “I use a slim travel wallet with a neck lanyard tucked under my shirt. My passport stays protected right on my chest where no pickpocket can grab it,” he explains. Hidden storage vests with multiple compartments are another option. Just be sure to choose secure zipper closures and slash-resistant fabrics that foil thieves.

For cold hard cash, experienced vagabonder Michael Bell recommends a practical money belt or concealed travel wallet tucked out of sight. “A simple nylon pouch with a strap hides cash under my pants or around my neck. I can access it easily but it's invisible to others," he says. RFID-blocking technology prevents remote electronic scanning and theft. Dividing funds into multiple caches reduces risk as well.

When it comes to securing credit cards, debit cards and IDs, using an RFID-blocking wallet provides peace of mind. “My old leather wallet didn't protect my cards’ chip technology from scanning. So I invested in a great RFID-blocking version,” explains tech-savvy traveler Christine Lee. Avoid overstuffing card holders to deter damage, especially for fragile smart chip cards.

Frequent travelers strongly advise locking up physical documents in your accommodations whenever possible. “I immediately put my passport, extra cash and any cards I don't need in the hotel safe or locker as soon as I check in,” says road warrior Elaine Bell. Some hostels provide personal lockers with padlocks. This removes temptation to carry non-essentials out and about.
For securing electronics, locks, tracking devices and hard cases deliver portable protection. “I travel with a TSA-approved cable lock to tether my laptop and devices when I’m on the move,” digital nomad Danielle Cho told us. Sophisticated GPS tracking tags can even remotely locate lost luggage real-time. And padded sleeve cases prevent damage, especially for delicate laptops and cameras.

When it comes to jewelry, luxury watches and other high-end accessories, the savviest travelers insure valuables and leave pricey items at home. “I never take expensive jewelry on the road. The risk of damage or theft isn’t worth it,”globetrotter Anne Smith advises. Travel insurance can provide some reimbursement for losses, but irreplaceable heirlooms are best left behind.

For prescription glasses, sunglasses and contacts, always pack a spare set if possible. “I learned my lesson and now bring an extra pair of contacts and glasses when I travel long-term,” says wanderer Michael Park. Dual spare sets provide backup options in the event something breaks or gets lost.
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