How To Pack Light And Smart: Essential Tips For Efficient Travel

A guide to travelling light, even if that means taking carry-on only on your flight no matter how far or how long you go.

A guy watches a jet taking off with his feet up on a small suitcase

2min read

Published 12 September 2023


A guide to travelling light, even if that means taking carry-on only on your flight no matter how far or how long you go.

You're checking in at the airport, you have a huge bag packed to the brim, and it's time for it to go onto the scales. Anxiety fills you - is your bag overweight? Will you be charged excess baggage fees? Or maybe when you travel, people always "joke", "How long are you going for?"

If this is familiar to you, we understand! Even though we here at Flight Centre are seasoned travellers, many of us have been through the over-packing woes. It can be hard to know how to pack light, that's why we came up with this comprehensive, tried and tested guide to packing light to help you (and us).

Why pack light? 

Besides avoiding check-in anxiety and "jokes", learning to travel light has many other benefits, especially if you can travel with carry-on baggage only (which is very doable!). Of course, the lighter your luggage is, the less strain on your body and having everything neatly packed in an organised way will make it much easier at your destination.

If you travel with just a carry-on bag, you won't even have to check in at the airport – you can check in online and head straight through security when you arrive. You also won't have to wait at baggage claim for your checked luggage when you land, and there's no chance your baggage will go missing because it will always be with you. 

Okay, we've given the why, and you must admit it sounds pretty appealing. Now is the how! 

The limit does exist

Tip one: Find out your baggage limits

The first step to keeping below a certain baggage weight is knowing how much you need to stay under. Baggage limits change depending on the airline, where you are flying to and from and the fare type you've booked. If you've already booked, your itinerary information will tell you how much you're allowed. If you haven't booked yet, speak to your travel agent or check the baggage limits while booking online. 

If you're taking the carry-on-only challenge, the carry-on bag dimensions are usually standard worldwide: 56x36x23cms or 22x14x9 inches. Weight-wise, if you travel domestically or internationally in/out of Australia and New Zealand, most airlines will only allow seven kilograms/15 pounds of carry-on. Some also allow you to pay to increase this. 

In the United Kingdom and Europe, it depends on the airline and the country you're travelling to and from, so be very mindful if you're going to several different places with different airlines. In America, most airlines don't have carry-on baggage limits; you just have to be able to lift the baggage into the overhead compartment yourself. So bear this in mind!

Packing light starts with the suitcase

Tip two: Buy a smaller suitcase!

The easiest way to not overpack is to have smaller luggage. It makes sense that the more room you have, the more tempted you'll be to jam more in. Staying small is simple if you're going with carry-on only because you have such small dimensions and weight limits to stick to. Checked baggage is where you can go from light to heavy quickly. The standard checked baggage weight limit is 23 kilograms, and most medium (50-80 litres) and large (80-100 litre) sized suitcases can be packed to stay under this. Some airlines and classes of airfare allow more than this or even allow two checked bags, but if you're looking to travel light, you'll want a suitcase in the medium category. 

Suitcases are not all the same weight-wise, but these days, suitcase manufacturers focus on developing lighter luggage. A quick Google search will bring up many lightweight suitcase options, which will help you in your packing light era.

Up for the carry-on-only challenge?

Tip three: Go carry-on-only 

There are many benefits to travelling with carry-on-only – online check-in, getting to your gate quicker, getting out of the airport faster and not having to lug a heavy suitcase around. Carry-on-only will make transits and stopovers easier, and you can purchase cheaper carry-on-only fares from many airlines. All of the tips in this article will help you pack lighter if you have checked baggage, but they are especially handy for carry-on-only travel.

The can and can't of carry-on

Tip four: Don't take anything dangerous on board! 

If you're only taking carry-on, you must be mindful that there are some items you can't take. There is an extensive list on the Department of Home Affairs website, and each airline also has a list. Essentially, you can't take anything dangerous or that could be used as a weapon. Of course, you can't take a swiss army knife but this also includes things like scissors and tweezers. In Australia, you can travel with knitting needles and nail clippers, but check any other countries you will be flying in/out of.

Liquid limits

Tip five: Stick to liquid restrictions 

Domestic airports don't have liquid restrictions, but keeping within the 100 millilitre rule is a good idea because that will save you space and weight. If travelling to or from an international airport, you must follow the restrictions: liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 100 millilitres or less containers. Items like shampoos, perfumes, hand creams and the like will need to be in small bottles in clear plastic bags – ziplock sandwich bags are perfect!

Another great option is to get solid versions of things like shampoo, or if you're staying at a hotel, simply leave your shampoo, condition, moisturiser, and shower gel at home and use the ones in your room. 

Prior planning prevents overpacking 

Tip six: Make an itinerary and packing list and stick to it! 

You might be a traveller who likes to wing it and go wherever you feel on a trip. This doesn't mean you can't have some idea of what you'll be doing, the weather in your destination and what you will need. Putting together an itinerary is the best way to ensure you know what you need, but if that isn't your vibe, just spend a little time thinking about it, plan your outfits and make a packing list. You can find many packing lists online or write one up yourself.

Layering and versatility will be your best friend – for example, if you're going on a business trip but will also be going for dinners – take a pair of pants that can do both. For winter trips, take items with you that you can layer rather than taking several big jumpers and jackets. Shoes take up a fair bit of space and can be heavy, so try to limit to two or three pairs – again, versatility is key! Take an everyday pair like boots or Birkenstocks, going out shoes like flats or dressy sneakers and active shoes. A great tip is that shoes are handy to pack other items into to save space. 

Countdown 5,4,3,2,1

Tip seven: use the 5,4,3,2,1 packing method

An easy method of packing that is becoming more popular is the 5,4,3,2,1 method. Essentially, you assign each number a clothing category, with things like underwear, tops and bottoms being the most important. The idea is that you'll have everything you need for a trip following this method – the key to success is choosing versatile items that you can mix and match and re-wear.

A typical example of the method in action is to pack five pairs of underwear, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one dress or suit. You can adapt based on the climate and what you'll be doing. You can even extend it to the 6,5,4,3,2,1 method – six pairs of underwear, five tops, four bottoms, three pairs of shoes, two dresses or suits and one bathing suit, for example. 

Laundry time

Tip eight: Don't take more than a week's worth of clothes, no matter how long you're going for 

 You can find many different tried and tested methods on the internet for packing light, but they all have the same tip: don't take more than a week's worth of clothes – even if it's a long trip. You may argue that that's not enough, but we present a crazy concept – you can do laundry on your trip. Most hotels have laundry services, but while convenient, they can be a little pricey sometimes.

Many destinations will have affordable laundry services where you can drop your clothes, or you should be able to easily find a laundromat where you can relax with a book while you wait. If worse comes to worse though, you can take or buy a small amount of laundry powder and use the sink or bathtub of your hotel room.


Tip nine: Limit your toiletries

We spoke a little about toiletries before, mainly because these are mostly liquid, and you'll need to stick to liquid/gel/aerosol restrictions if only taking a carry-on bag. Other toiletries tips are only to take what you actually need and remember the hotel will likely have shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower gel and moisturiser. You'll also be able to buy things you need at your destination.

Only taking your prescription medicine helps, but if you want to take something like Paracetamol or Ibuprofen – take them out of the box or put them all into one small bottle (as long as they are easily distinguishable). Do away with a large toiletries bag and put everything into clear ziplock bags or a smaller bag that is easy to squish into your suitcase.

Only take the bare essentials makeup-wise – the items you will absolutely use and cannot go without. Getting your eyelashes and eyebrows tinted before the trip will save you from having to take these items. Take a reusable makeup remover to save room and the environment. Remember that most hotel rooms will have a hair dryer, but you can check ahead and take a small fold-up one if they don't.

Tech Talk

Tip ten: Be smart about the tech items you take 

Do you really need to take your whole laptop, or will an iPad and fold-up keyboard suffice? Phone cameras are fantastic these days, so unless you do photography for a hobby or profession – do you need to take a proper camera? Take a Kindle instead of books and small in-ear headphones rather than large, over-ear ones. There are so many handy travel apps you can download onto your phone, and you can have your bank cards on your phone rather than carrying the physical ones.

Some last notes before you pack

  • Packing light doesn't mean you have to go without things that are important to YOU! If you can't imagine not having a straightener – take one. If you like to wear a suit or dress shoes – take them! Just be smart about it and plan accordingly.
  • Before you pack – do one last audit of your items. Look at each item and consider whether there is something that is lighter, better quality or more versatile like a collapsible water bottle, metal straws or a travel pillow. 


It's time to pack!

You've planned, compiled your packing list and audited your items – now it's time to put them into your bag. Here are our tips: 

  • Use packing cubes or compression bags. Packing cubes are a game changer that will make you feel incredibly organised, and you can get options that will suit all suitcase sizes and budgets. 
  • Roll your clothes. We have done a very scientific experiment proving that rolling is the best way to save space. Check out our video below: 



  • Put smaller items into bigger items- like socks into shoes. Shoes take up a lot of space, but you can use them as storage for other things.
  • Wear your bulky items on the plane, but don't do the thing where you stack as many items onto yourself as possible- this will not end well. But you can wear your biggest jacket and boots for the flight, for example. 

So there it is – our comprehensive guide to packing light. Will you take the challenge? Maybe you'll even give carry-on-only a try for your next trip. As we've shown, it's very doable, and think how convenient it will be!

Ready to plan your next holiday? Speak to a Flight Centre travel expert today!

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