Traveling the world

Packing for Dummies: 3 Simple Steps

If you have no idea how people travel with only a carry-on, then Packing for Dummies was written for you. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you’re dumb. You’re good at lots of things! Just not packing light.

First of all, you have too much stuff. Ask yourself this: If I could only wear one outfit for the rest of the month, what would it be? Got it? Great, pack it.

We’re not going to give you a packing list because what you pack depends on your individual needs. Your list will be different than ours. Think about what you use and what you absolutely can’t live without when you’re away from home.

For us, non-clothing essentials include our Kindles, our Hydro Flasks, and our laptop. I was a late adopter to e-books, but since I used to literally pack 8 books, this switch (at least while on vacation) has been a game changer. Plus, using a local library app to borrow books saves tons of money too!

3 Simple Steps

  1. Lay out everything you think you need (only take what you need!)
  2. Group like things together and fold (see below)
  3. Pack wisely (use all available space!)
Packing for dummies items spread out on bed
Lay it all out and group like with like

Pack Smart, Pack Early

What do I mean by pack smart? I mean fold things neatly and fill spaces well. It’s really that simple.

It’s also a good idea to start packing at least a few days in advance. This makes it easier to edit and pare down what you think you need. If you don’t start early, you’ll end up bring much more than you need. Unless you have a personal butler, you need to get smarter about your packing game.

Pack Practically

When trying to minimize the amount of clothing you bring, choose items that can function in more than one way and clothing that can be mixed and matched to create new looks.

For example, a black t-shirt can be dressed up with a scarf and earrings or a necklace. The right scarf has multiple uses, from dressing up a look to sun protection or extra warmth.

Packing for Dummies: The Weather

It’s important to think about and pack for the weather where you are going. Believe it or not, we often travel through both winter and summer in one trip. Yet, we still manage to get by with just a carry-on. That said, we are not into high fashion and are completely comfortable wearing the same thing more than once. If you wouldn’t dream of doing that and want a different outfit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, go ahead and check a few bags.

Winter Clothes

The great thing about winter is that you don’t sweat (unless you have hot flashes, but don’t get me started), so it’s totally fine to wear something more than once. Get one of those puffy coats that squishes down to nothing for warmth, add a long sleeve for layering and a sweatshirt or sweater for in between temperatures and call it a day. I also include a pair of thermal underwear, which don’t take up much space at all.

Summer Clothes

This can be trickier if you sweat a lot, but we get by with 3 – 4 shirts and a couple of tank-tops. Remember:


I think this is probably the most important tip in terms of packing clothes. Many hotels will even do your dry cleaning. The hotel we are at as I write this cleans 2 items per day for free! If you have to pay a baggage fee, think about the cost savings of simply doing laundry, even if you have to pay for it.

Packing for Dummies: Underwear

Of course, mother knows best, and it’s always important to have clean underwear. With the ability to do laundry while traveling (whether using a machine or in a hotel sink by hand), you really don’t need more than 7 pairs of underwear for longer trips. You could even get away with as few as 3 if don’t mind washing them by hand.

Think about the length of your trip. If you’re only traveling for less than a week, scale down to the amount of days you have or even fewer. With double sinks in many bathrooms, you’re all set for a wash and rinse cycle. Want them to dry faster? Place them in a towel on the floor, put on those hotel slippers, and walk on them. This greatly speeds up the drying time!

Don’t Pack a Hair Dryer!

Okay, seriously, leave your hair dryer at home. You’ll find these everywhere. Everywhere we’ve stayed in the past 10 years has provided a hair dryer.

Speaking of things that put out heat, you’ll also find irons and ironing boards in all hotels and even some Airbnbs.

Fold to Fit!

Many travel blogs tout packing cubes. We’ve tried them. We find them completely unnecessary because they don’t allow you to use every inch of space. We’re not fans. Instead, we use small soft bags to organize chords and other smaller items. Clothing, we fold to fit.

Rather than use packing cubes, check out Marie Kondo’s folding and packing method (<– the only packing video you’ll ever need!) or simply fold or roll your clothes neatly to fit the available space. Rolling helps prevent wrinkling of certain fabrics. Fold to fit!

If you’re really itching to see more packing videos, here are two time-lapse videos I made showing how I fit everything into my carry-on bags. You’ll also find my packing lists for each bag listed there.


Okay, so this is one area that leads people to check a bag. They simply can’t do without their products. My best advice here is to get smaller containers and put small amounts of whatever liquids are essential into them. Remember 3-1-1 for your liquid allowance.

  • 3.4 ounces / 100 milliliters per container
  • 1 quart-size clear, plastic zip top bag
  • 1 bag per traveler

If you are traveling to another country, you may not be able to find your preferred products there, so this can be a deal breaker for some travelers. If you are traveling within your home country, remember you can purchase certain items more cheaply than some checked bag costs.

Packing for Dummies: Personal Item

The typical carry-on allowance is 1 bag that will fit into the overhead and 1 “personal item” or “handbag” that will fit under your seat. With few exceptions, this is what we have each been allowed on the hundreds of flights we have taken.

T with carry-on bags
Ready to go!

It is very helpful when going through airport security to have electronics and liquids in your smaller bag since you often have to take them out. Get a small, flexible bag to put your chords in. Those can go in your larger carry-on and do not need to be removed.

Pack Light, Not Heavy

Keep in mind that weight matters! If your carry-on is too heavy, you could be forced to check it. We often eliminate clothing if it is bulkier or heavier. Our heavy items tend to be electronics. We typically put a fair amount of small heavier items in our smaller bag to keep the weight of the overhead bag down.

Airlines do not always weigh your smaller bag, but they could. Keeping this bag small enough to easily fit under the seat in front of you seems to be helpful in avoiding having it weighed. Be sure and check the weight allowance for your flight to avoid any hassles. Also, if the check-in counter staff recommend that you check a bag, you can sometimes get around this by telling them you have valuables inside. It’s worked for us.

Final Packing for Dummies Tip

Take half of what you think you need.

Each time we travel, we pack less and less, and we still end up not wearing some of what we bring. I struggle to pack light more than E does. I know how it feels to think, “But I don’t know what I’ll want to wear. I want choices!”

By all means, give yourself choices! I honestly don’t think we pack that light. We simply pack smart. And sometimes we don’t even do that. We include items of comfort, like our electronic toothbrush and Bose headphones. Could we do without these? Yes, but we don’t want to.

Be sure to bring items that give you comfort as you travel. Long flights are my least favorite aspect of travel. Having noise canceling headphones is essential to my peace of mind.

That’s it! We hope you found this helpful!

Vicariously yours,

T (and E)

p.s. This post was inspired by and written for my aunt, who will be meeting us soon. We can’t wait to see how her packing goes!