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Packing light for travel may seem impossible, but with a few strategies and the right gear, anyone can master packing a bag under 15 pounds for a trip. As noted in various packing talks, the prime strategy is to focus on ridding your bag of weight and bulk so here are our tips for packing light in 2022.

While any bag can be packed with my strategies using things you already own, I have found some products that increase efficiency or shed weight—or just level up the comfort on your journey.

This is an evolving document, check back for updates. Please comment and share your favorite items for travel.

*Note: The links in this article may be affiliate links for which receive a small commission—I have teenagers to feed. Buy through these links and support your local travel writer, please and thank you!

What’s the Key? Weigh it!

My theory is that it doesn’t matter what you pack, it’s what it weighs. The first things you’ll need to adopt my approach are a couple of weighing instruments.

OXO Kitchen Scale— Don’t cheap out here since this is the whole system. Buy a rugged, quality scale that can take several pounds. The one I use goes up to 11 pounds and can measure tiny fractions.

Bag Scale— This hand-held scale loops onto your bag once it is packed, and then you lift it to weigh. This is critical if you’re traveling on restrictive airlines.

Ultralight Cheapo Backpacks

Two inexpensive and road-tested choices top my list for super light backpacks.

G4Free 40L Backpack– Probably the most basic travel backpack you can find, but a steal at about $20 and under a pound. Many of my tour guests have used this successfully. There aren’t many pockets, just a big space that can be adjusted with bungee cords, so you’ll need to use packing cubes to keep it organized.

G4Free 40L Hiking Backpack with Wet Pocket- This bag is similar in spirit but has more features. It has two main compartments and a few smaller pockets, room for water bottles, and a bonus plastic-lined pocket at the back for wet or stinky clothes. Bonus—it comes in fun patterns that make it easy to spot your bag.

Upper Class Backpacks

Tom Bihn Tri-Star– The bags from Tom Bihn cost significantly more than others in their class, but there’s a reason—they produce the highest quality bags on the market. I have had this bag nearly 10 years and it’s good as new after tons of use. This could be the last backpack you ever buy. Organized, tough, designed with care, and sporting inner loops to attach their little pouches to.

Cotopaxi Allpa- Not quite the quality level of Tom Bihn, but close, this backpack has the perfect shape for overhead compartments. The interior is neatly organized, meaning that you could skip packing cubes. There’s a slot for a laptop, and a sneaky pocket that’s perfect for your toiletries.

Packing Cubes

I have thoughts about what makes a good packing cube on YouTube HERE and HERE.

Packing Cubes should be made of ultralight material and ideally have mesh panels for breathability. My favorite is the Tom Bihn Techonaut Large Laundry Cube, which behaves like two cubes in one. Technically it is designed to be clean clothes one side, dirty the other, but I put rolled clothes one side and folded on the other. Works brilliantly. My most used cube by far.

The classic best ultralight cubes are Eagle Creek Specter, which have impossibly thin and strong fabric, with great quality. These have lasted miles and many washings, but can be a little floppy.

Two lower cost sets also work well. E-Bags has the nice advantage of structured edges.

Lewis N Clark Electrolyte has another version of nice, ultralight fabric, and adds the feature of expansion/compression.

Toiletries

To keep to a minimum, I limit myself to the TSA standard quart-sized toiletries bag. My favorite is from Tom Bihn, their 3-D organizer cube. A cheaper option is available on Amazon, and it works, but I keep returning to the sturdier Tom Bihn cube. Your toiletries bag should at least have a hook or strap to hang, as many bathrooms have no place to set things.

Everyone has their own very personal beauty regime, but this is my small arsenal, which is a minimal make-up situation:

I’ve searched for ages for refillable liquid containers that were lightweight and easy to squeeze out every drop. I finally found the best ones, Kitsch Ultimate Travel Bottles Set, that pack almost flat in your pouch. They are perfection.

Finally, Sonicare has released a truly travel friendly toothbrush, the Sonicare One. It’s not as sexy looking as the quip toothbrush but the cleaning is no contest. It also comes with a handy case and also has a rechargeable version using a USB port.

Electronics

My top pick for electronics is undoubtedly my Iphone. I currently carry an 11Pro, which, even being 2 years old, works just fine for photos, video, and running my business. If you can afford the most current model, go for it, but if you’d like an upgrade for your next trip, 11Pros can be bought inexpensively. Be sure to buy an unlocked phone so you can buy a local SIM card at your destination, which is the smartest and cheapest way to have internet access.

Traveling without a cellphone is a huge mistake, they make a traveler’s life so much easier. But what if you don’t have international coverage or your phone is locked and cannot accept a foreign SIM card? Your best bet is to buy a cheap “burner phone” here in the US that can accept a foreign SIM, then act as a hotspot for your US phone. I recall the days of loving my stupid Nokia unlocked cell phone, and they still make those solid little babies, unlocked and hot-spot capable.

Tablets are a popular travel companion, and I often bring my Ipad Air for reading, sketching, and entertainment on the plane. It does almost everything my laptop can do and is more functional than a phone alone. The addition of writing makes this a cut above other tablets.

If you’re looking to go all-in on travel photography, there is no better travel camera than the Sony RX100 series. It’s a hefty chunk of change but worth every penny if you’re serious about upping your photography game. The sister to the RX100, but built for vlogging, is the Sony ZV1, which is what I am currently using for my travel content. It has the mechanics of the RX100 but is much less expensive and has lots of extra video features.

The darling of mobile travel video at the moment is the DJI Pocket 2, which combines a gimbal and a video/still camera into the size of a banana. It’s a neat toy that I have yet to try, but the reviews are stellar.

Charging

In the old days, you needed a current converter but for most current electronics, it is unnecessary. The only thing you will need is a plug adapter, and I suggest you bring several. This is the most forgotten item on my tours, so I pack several to lend. It’s a great way to make a new friend. Rather than just an outlet adapter, I bring Travel Plug Adapter (3 Pack) that can connect both USB C and USB simultaneously, so I can charge my phone and Ipad at the same time.

Cords are another valuable commodity. Don’t bring just one, and be sure you bring a long one. Sometimes the outlets is miles from your bedside. You’ll want something that won’t break easily, like this: 6 foot Lightning Cable

A fun emergency charging cable is a good addition to any daybag: Lever Gear Cable Kit

You will never regret bringing a back-up battery, but don’t go too crazy—they can be heavy. Anker Power Bank batteries are by far the best.

Day Bag Gear

For years, I have been using Tom Bihn bags as my day bag, and I have no reason to suggest anything else. The design is simple, the bags are tough as nails, and there are innovative little pouches to clip on interior loops for customization. My choice is the Cafe Bag which is, like all of their styles, wonderfully unisex.

If you’re looking for something similar in a lower price range, Sherpani makes a fun range of design-oriented day bags with interesting features.

I carry my famous Box of Awesome, the first aid/travel emergency kits I’ve created. If you’re too busy to build your own, there are some adequate options, like Claritude Travel Essential which you could combine with a comprehensive First Aid Kit.

Headphones are a major comfort on planes, and are useful to have for guided tours with groups. I will always pick Bose first. Their Quiet Comfort Noise Cancelling Headphones are a chunky thing to lug around, but there is a reason that every professional traveler on your plane is wearing them. They are a little piece of heaven and silence in a noisy world and are both wireless/wired. Wireless headphones are all the rage but remember, you’ll need headphones with a cord for the plane and for group audio systems. If the Quiet Comfort headphones are too chunky, I recommend Bose Soundsport, even if they are becoming an endangered species. Stock up if you find them at a good price (under $200).

Should you bring a water bottle? That’s up to you. I’ll often just buy one on arrival and reuse it. The ultra light Vapur Collapsible Water Bottle is a great choice because it has a clip that attaches to any bag and packs flat when empty. If I’m traveling in really cold or really hot weather, I’ll suck it up and take my heavy but insulated Swell Water Bottle. There are many cheaper knock-offs of this brand and they….they are not swell, they suck.

I have been a guidebook writer for too long, I must remind you—don’t forget to bring pens, pencils, and a little notebook, just in case.

Shoes

Oh, that perennial question, the most asked travel question of the ages, what are the best travel shoes? It’s a highly personal and complicated thing to answer, but I’ll give you the short answer here. The long answer can be found in my many blogs on Travel Shoes.

Insoles

Superfeet Insoles— The nicest thing you can do for your feet. Remember, if your feet hurt nothing else will matter.

Basic Superlight Comfort Shoes

Propet Travelwalker II— This shoe will not win any beauty contests but it’s not ugly. You’ll be hard pressed to find a lighter shoe in so many sizes, with removable insoles. I have the drab beige pair, but my tour guests have had better colors, like gray and turquoise.

Propet Travelfit Slip-Ons— This is the shoe for you if you prefer something a little spicier. Same lightweight sole but cuter, stripey upper that is shockingly versatile and fashionable.

Sandals

Skechers Reggae Slim— This sandal won the fall travel season for me, being light, rugged, and stretchy for when my feet swelled. They’re kinda cute too.

Teva Mush Mandalyn Wedge— If you’ve followed me for years, you know I’ve had a love affair with these for years, and I’m not the only one. It seems, however, that they might be discontinuing them so grab a pair while you can.

Ecco Flash T-Strap— Ecco wins the long-haul comfort award, being the one pair that I’ve never had foot fatigue with after many miles. Stylish enough and stable on the feet, just a little pricey.

Men’s Shoes

Skechers Equalizers—Pretty much a basic, no frills shoe, but comes in a wide range of sizes and are lightweight travel shoes for men, no easy task. My kids say they are very comfy.

Merrell Travel Suede—This is a surprisingly stylish and versatile choice. It’s both a walking and hiking shoe, and is low profile enough to wear to a nice dinner. A great pick for a variety of activities.

Teva Men’s Terra Fi Lite Sandal— There really is no better sandal than a Teva. You can swim in them, hike, walk, and maybe attempt to dress them up if you get the black ones. But, please, I beg you, no socks with sandals.

Socks

If you’re going to do one thing to improve your quality of life when you travel, make it compression socks. They are so good for your heart, and you’ll feel better on long flights. The best choice has no competition: Sockwell Moderate Compression Socks.

My favorite socks of all time are found at Costco, Kirkland Signature Merino Wool Socks. If you don’t have a Costco membership, you can still get them on Amazon, although the Costco price is better.

Clothing

Clothes are very hard to suggest considering size, shape, style and so on. What follows are some extremely neutral, basic travel staples to consider.

Scarves are always a must because they come in handy for all kinds of needs. At the moment, I am in love with my oversized cashmere scarf, which is a great airplane blanket but also a fancy-looking wrap.

Underthings

My favorite underpants are OnGossamer Low Rise Bikinis, the lightest weight underpants you’ll find, and so soft you’ll hardly notice them. They also offer Hi-Cut Briefs which run a bit larger.

I suggest at least two bras, and one should be a comfy sports/yoga bra. If you get one in black, it can sneakily double as a bikini top. Athleta and Lululemon have great options, but this knock-off on Amazon has become my favorite bra recently: Running Girl Crisscross Back Bra

If you’re going the route of sports bra and swim bottoms, Freya makes the best two-piece swimsuits around.

Random Other Stuff

For laundry, I bring along Earth Breeze laundry sheets. I use them at home to cut down on plastic use, and on the road I can tear off a piece for sink washing.

Vax Card Sleeves— Some of my very clever tour guests put their vax cards and a copy of their ID in clear sleeves for quick access. Some wore them on a lanyard around their necks.

If you’re renting a car, bring a Universal Phone Mount for the dash to help with navigation.

If you enjoy shopping, a Packable Goody Bag is smart. Be sure it has a zipper so it can be checked on the way home.

This is an evolving list, check back occasionally for more suggestions. Please comment with your own ideas to help our travel community!

 Packing light is so easy, you may even find room for your cat.
Sarah Murdoch

This post was written by Sarah Murdoch, founder and director of Adventures of Sarah. Sarah has been guiding around the world for 20+ years, after catching the travel bug while studying in Italy in 1995. Between guiding she is also a journalist, travel guidebook writer, occasional architect, and full-time mom to Nicola and Lucca. Click here to find out more about Sarah.

36 Comments

  • Cheryl Armstrong says:

    I have recently bought 2 chargers, both Anker brand. I had one I loved but lost, so these are to replace it. Both of the new ones say “can not be carried on” due to the lithium batteries.? I dont usually check bags, so….no chargers???

    • Sarah Murdoch says:

      It depends on the size of the battery, powerwise. Here’s an excerpt from TSA:
      "Portable phone chargers or power banks containing lithium ion batteries must be packed in carry-on. But, if your lithium ion battery is 100 watt hours or less, which should cover most of your portable electronics, you can carry the device in either your carry-on or checked baggage.Jun 17, 2020"

    • Anita says:

      My easy way to remember: If the lithium battery is portable or removable, it goes in your carry-on.
      An item with a battery that cannot be removed manually (like newish laptops, iPad, etc) can go in checked or carry on. Not that most people would check a laptop, but they could. I never travel without my power bank!

  • Jimena J says:

    Some of my favorite things:
    1) shampoo/body shower bar, this is what I use daily at home, just one bar for shampoo, body soap, shave cream, face soap. Amazing!

    https://100senses.com/products/the-ultimate-body-bar

    2) conditioner bar, again I use this daily. Leaves my hair so soft.

    https://viori.com/products/hidden-waterfall-conditioner-bar

    When traveling both bars fit perfectly into a snack size silicone Stasher bag.

    3) I love Tom Bihn too, I also use the medium cafe bag, I just wish it had a zipper under the flap for more protection. But getting the accessories you can clip to the O rings does help. For our 4 passports I use a Tom Bihn Everyday Cubelet, they fit perfectly and there’s more room for cash/cards and more, even comes with a cross body strap in case you want to wear under your clothes.

    4) Shoes: absolute favorite are Kuru shoes, designed for people with feet problems and the ultimate comfort. My faves are: Atom and Stride

    https://www.kurufootwear.com/womens-shoes.html

    5) Sling Medium/day bag from Caraa Sport another fave Is this sling, you can wear as a Fanny pack or cross body. Tons of pockets and water repellent material.

    https://caraasport.com/products/sling

  • Geri Sullivan says:

    Duct Tape is a must!

  • Alene says:

    The most comfortable walking sneaker I have ever worn is the Hoke One One "Bondi 7" It took me on 20,000+ step days in Italy in November and my feet were never even the least bit uncomfortable.

  • Aderle says:

    Quick question about links: if I save things in my Amazon wishlist, from using your links, will you still receive a commission if I end up purchasing items later? Or is it better to come back to this post in the future and click the link again?

    • Sarah Murdoch says:

      I’m not sure, actually. Probably needs to be done from the links here. Thank you for that considerate thought!

  • Carol says:

    Your YouTube video and the blog are the best travel recommendations for women especially that I have found. And I have been searching. Thank you!

  • Laurie says:

    Ugh! This list is costing me BIG! But it’s great stuff! Thanks Sarah!

  • Melva O’Connor-Rafuse says:

    I have decided to order a number of items you recommended on this blog..I went right from this and have them in my shopping cart…will you get your commission Sarah? Thanks…this is first time I have ordered…

  • Sue says:

    Great list! Please note, however, that the link to the cashmere cardigan goes to a merino pullover.

  • K Thomas says:

    Hi Sarah, I love your blog and YouTube channel and hope to be able to take one of your tours one of these days! A question about weighing travel items: I’m curious about your Allpa 42 choice — at over 4 pounds it’s a pretty heavy bag. You could be using an Osprey Farpoint — or a number of other high-quality choices — and save a pound. With your Allpa showing its age, are you considering lighter but still tough brands?

    • Sarah Murdoch says:

      That’s a great question. I am still on the hunt for the perfect bag. I have tried to love Osprey but I don’t like they way they organize their bags. Tom Bihn and Cotopaxi are far better that way, but they are heavier to start. I’ll keep hunting and share what I find!

  • Christel Brown says:

    I love all of your videos, travel ideas and tips! You’re so amazing at what you do and I’m looking forward to doing a tour of yours sometime in the future. I’ve finally mastered the art of the carryon after years of being an over packer, and really look forward to the challenge of bringing less and less. One thing that has worked for me is just using clear shower caps over my shoes to protect them. They take up the least amount of room!

  • Marianne says:

    The link to the cashmere sweater takes me to the item listed above it. Can you provide link? Thanks!

  • Donna Kaiser says:

    Just found your YouTube videos and have been consuming them! But I must know — that tapestry behind you is AMAZING! Would look great in my living room. Did you happen to get it online? I’ve been searching and even put my daughters on the task because they can find anything but no luck so far. Keep the videos coming!

  • Morocco Desert Tours says:

    Dont forget your scarf for the Sahara Desert.
    https://www.saharadesertkingdom.com

  • Morocco Desert Tours says:

    Thanks for sharing! Very helpful.

  • Katherine Conn says:

    Hi!

    Will the Tom Bihn Techonaut Large Laundry Cube fit in the Tom Bihn tri-star bag. I noticed that they have their own labeled cubes so I wasn’t sure if The techonaut fit into a tri-star. Thanks!

  • Ivana says:

    Hi Sarah, how do you take care of your linen and silk clothing while traveling? Do you ever bring a steamer or a flat iron? Thank you.

  • Sharon Thacker says:

    What travel pillow do you use?

  • Sarah says:

    Hello! I wanted to let you know that the tom bihn website must have been redone recently, as all of your affiliate links go to the home page, instead of the specified product.

  • Shar says:

    Bluetooth keyboard for my phone. I wear my Indiglo watch in bed. I can decide whether to get up for the bathroom or wait til dawn and it lights my way to the loo.

  • DEB says:

    Hi SARAH, I BOUGHT YOUR RECOMMENDED TRAVEL BAG G4 FREE AND HAVE IT DOWN TO 14 LBS. I AM TRAVELING IN EUROPE FOR 5 WEEKS, I WAS ALL SET AND HAPPY AND MY SISTER IN LAW TOLD ME I SHOULD HAVE A HIP STRAP??? WHAT DO YOU THINK? I ONLY PLAN TO USE THE BAG FROM TRAIN TO HOTEL…AND LIKE THE FACT THAT THE ACTUAL BAG IS LIGHT…I WAS GOING TO USE THE RICK STEVES BAG, BUT IT IS OVER 3 LBS….AND I WOULD BE NEAR 20 LBS. HIS DOES HAVE THE HIP STRAP. I’M 66 IN GOOD SHAPE, FOR MY AGE AND HAVE BEEN PRACTICING WITH YOUR BAG. WHAT DO YOU THINK? WILL THE LIGHTER WEIGHT OUTWEIGH THE HIP STRAP:?

  • Maureen says:

    Hi there! I know you’re traveling at the moment. When you get the chance – which size Cotopaxi Allpa do you rec? Looks like it comes in several different sizes. Thanks!

  • Linda Watson says:

    OMG I just found one of your videos and this blog post! You are so awesome. I can’t wait to try your your travel ideas. I’ll be pretty much studying everything you’ve done. (If you get a big spike in your analytics it’s me! Hahaha)

    Take care.
    Linda

  • Scott Greenwood says:

    Hi Sarah. For shoes, have a look at Vessi shoes. They’re waterproof, light and breathable, with different styles.

  • Sherry L says:

    I just got back from a trip to England, my first time overseas since college (1997). As I prepped for the trip, I think I watched at least a dozen of your videos, and this blog post was extremely helpful– thank you! I love your packing philosophy and would love to do one of your tours someday when I can! I took a 30L LLBean backpack that I already had, and it was about the right size, but I’m saving up for something with better organization like the TriStar or the Allpa (or maybe the TB Western Flyer if it’s ever back in stock). A few hits and misses from my trip, now that I’m home:

    –I took this bendy thing that I ran across on Amazon, and it was great for watching movies on the plane and for holding the phone for the GPS in the rental car: https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B07VJZ6YF6?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details
    –Most of the hotels/inns that I stayed in didn’t have wash cloths, and I wished I had packed a lightweight one.
    –I have never worn scarves, but I took an oversized lightweight one after watching your videos, and I used it SO much.
    –I packed a travel umbrella and then of course it didn’t rain. Next time I might just skip and and buy one over there if needed.
    –I replaced my insoles with Superfeet, but threw in the original ones, too. I was glad I did. While the supportive Superfeet helped prevent knee pain, they’re not super squishy and after 3 days of 20k+ steps/day in London, I swapped out the insoles and it was like wearing a new pair of shoes and gave my feet a much-needed break.

    Thank you again for all of your videos and posts. I want to travel everywhere now!

  • C Page says:

    Do you have a link for the EU + USB outlet adaptor? I saw in the video explanation of your packing, but didn’t see it listed above. Would love to get for my husband’s freq business travel

  • Carol says:

    Collapsible cup with a lid – – – I purchased a set of 4 recently. My husband and I are currently on a 7-week trip to Greece. We have used them almost daily much to our surprise. They were handy when breakfast wasn’t included in our lodging, but we had a refrigerator and used them for yogurt. We had a bag of leftover peanuts and stored them in the cup with the lid keeping them from spilling. In Greece, there is a charge for take-away drinks. We gave them to the barista and used them for our coffees. My husband has already mentioned he won’t travel again with at least 1 of the cups. On Amazon, they are about $14 for 4 collapsible cups with lids.

  • Roberta says:

    Where did you find your light silk ponchos?

  • Valerie Sasson says:

    So happy about all you have going on!
    Any recommendations for durable and light weight duffel bags that are small enough to fit under small plane seats and hold up to 20 pounds?
    Thanks so much!

  • Kirsten Davis says:

    My husband wraps it around an old rewards card and carries it in his pocket!

  • Kathleen says:

    Does anyone have any other recommendations for a dual layer packing cube? I have been waiting for the Tom Bihn Techonaut Large Laundry Cube to come in stock since December.

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