Packing light for summer travel

10 easy tips
By Therese Iknoian | Photo by Michael Hodgson
Every time I hear somebody say what a struggle it is to take only one piece of luggage on a two-week trip (or even three or four), I wince. Really, it is not hard, especially if you are packing light for summer travel. It just takes a little change in mindset. In the end, packing light will make your trip so much easier with less luggage to pay for and schlepp about, lower baggage fees, let alone less stuff to think about along the way. We’ve got friends who pack so light they travel with carry-on luggage only. With all our photo gear, we’re not quite there yet.

So, let’s get down to packing light tips for summer or warmer-weather travel. Packing light is where it’s at for easier, hassle-free travel.

Caveat: Winter travel requires a slightly different plan – with thick coats, thicker sweaters and perhaps boots and long underwear, so this will apply mostly to spring, summer and fall travel.

Get yourself out of the one-outfit-per-day mindset. You CAN wear the same thing for more than one day if you are focused on packing light for summer travel. You can in fact wear the same clothing item or even outfit for multiple days. Especially if you deal with basic colors (see below), nobody will ever be the wiser or frankly even care. Yes, even on the Instagram shots. Packing light hack: No more than 2-4 each bottoms and tops, for any length trip, more like two if less than 14 days, perhaps closer to four if highly changeable weather.

How much of a hassle is it to hand-wash a few things? None, if you choose lightweight fabrics, underwear, tops or even pants and socks can easily dry in a day — or less. Packing light hack: 2-3 pairs of underwear or socks, max. See our take on what to look for and our favorite undergarments here.


Basic, mix-and match colors are your friend. Just say no to the striped shorts, fuchsia shirt or little flowered skirt that go with nothing else. Basic colors, mostly solids in both tops and bottoms so EVERY top goes with EVERY bottom. Period. No wiggle room. Packing light hack: For women, A lightweight scarf or two can transform any basic into a new look. For men … well, men can always get away with wearing the same thing practically, right?

Layer, layer, layer and layer some more. On a recent trip to Argentina, I had three tops. And every single one could be worn either separately or all at once depending on the weather. It was colder than expected and I wore all three most of the time. I lived to tell. Packing light hack: Do a trial getting-dressed routine to make sure things match and layer.

Think merino wool and “scrunchable” fabrics. Seriously killer stuff, that merino, since you can wear it for DAYS and DAYS without stink. (Sssh, I often run an entire week in the same merino top and socks.) And those pressed, collared, cotton shirts that wrinkle with a sideways glance? Nope. They stay home. You need soft fabrics that can roll or stuff into a bag, suitcase or corner and come out looking none the worse. Packing light hack: Some merino-specific brands include Icebreaker and Smartwool, and Darn Tough and Point6 for socks — click here to see the sock brands we prefer and why.


Shoes make the man … and women. But only if it’s 1-2 pairs total. Shoes are space hogs, especially for men. Wear one pair that is a wear-everywhere, super-comfy, walking and standing shoe – basic color. Depending on your personality, you may want a pair of athletic shoes – not the fluorescent, garish variety, please – or flip-flops if it’s going to be warmer. Packing light hack: Since travel always involves walking, do some test walkabouts in your shoes to make sure you don’t have hot spots or get blisters. Some of our faves are Lowa, Keen, Boggs, Teva, Asolo and The North Face.


HITT Tip for runners and walkers: As a runner, I carry ONE set of workout clothes and wash after every wear. I have a lightweight, very packable shell jacket (the size of my fist when bundled) that serves as do-it-all protection. This means of course that the athletic shoes you pack may also be your running shoes.

Forget department stores, go for outdoor stores. With the packing light rage for camping and backpacking, the cross-over for travel is no-brainer, follow me? And gear made to dry quickly on a workout will dry quickly in a hotel room, too, so you can accomplish packing light for summer travel. Packing light hack: Brands such as Outdoor Research, Prana, The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, ExOfficio, Patagonia and Marmot are some places to start.

Big jars and bottles are a BIG no-no. For your toiletries, think small. For your faves, pick up small bottles and tubes to pack along JUST what you need, and dive into the travel-size section in many drugstores for other items. Packing light hack: Buy a few select toiletries on arrival, such as deodorant, lotion or hand sanitizer. Unless you are perhaps far from civilization the entire trip. Which we doubt.


Analyze and pare back. If you are tucking something in that you “might” need or “might” wear once, forget it. Seriously, dump those “just in case” items now. Every piece of clothing and travel gear adds up in weight. Unless you have a personal Sherpa, you WILL regret a suitcase that weighs as much as the maximum airlines allow (who carries that much stuff and survives?)

Want a little more help packing light for summer travel? Here is our take on how to Pack Smart for Travel with our 10 steps to help you list, assess, pack. And take a look at another of our stories filled with insider tips on how to trim your load for packing light.

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