How to Pack Light for a Flight (and other packing tips)

In recent months, I have been traveling quite a bit in my role as an education consultant. Neal and I went to Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania in January. I recently traveled to Wisconsin and California and then will travel to Philadelphia at the end of this month. All this to say, I have learned how to pack light.

All this to say, I have learned how to pack light. Most of my meetings are business casual and I am not super stylish. I dress more for comfort and temperature (I am cold natured). I have learned how to be a light packer because I don’t like checking my suitcase (lack of trust and time) and relish scooting through the airport with ease!

My son-in-law Keith commented about what a light packer I am when he and my daughter picked me up from the airport. He told my daughter Emmy she did not get the “packing light gene” from me. She is much more stylish than me and “likes to have choices” when she travels. After I initially posted this blog post, Emmy sent me a text which read “Ready for my beach trip. How did I do packing?” and included this picture. Isn’t she funny? I may have to use this photo for a Pinterest post as what not to do! Ha! Ha!

So I thought I would share some packing tips using my recent trip to Wisconsin in February (and then recently updated this blog post after my recent trip to Philidelphia in March). Winter is a little more challenging because clothes are heavier.

Purchase the right suitcase.

I suggest purchasing a lightweight, durable, compact, spinner suitcase that you can carry on the plane. This (see picture below) is the suitcase I use and I love it! Because of its size, it qualifies as a carry on for domestic and international flights. Rarely do I check luggage. The only recent exception is our trip to Washington, D.C. for a meeting (see my education blog to learn more about this meeting); we checked a bag, which contained our ski clothes for our weekend at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.

Identify your suitcase.

  1. Be sure to have your name, address, and cell phone number on your luggage tag.
  2. Have a distinguishing tag, ribbon, or pom-pom, especially if your suitcase if black or gray. I have a pink luggage tag and a pink ribbon on my suitcase. It is easily identifiable if I do need to check my bag for flights with limited storage. Neal has an American Flag luggage tag, which is very visible from a distance.

Remember your suitcase is DIRTY.

Think about all the places you roll your suitcase (bathrooms, subways, etc.). The wheels are disgusting and I admit I am a germaphobe. So, I NEVER put my suitcase on my bed unless I put an old towel down first. Typically, I use this bench, which I keep in my closet. I make sure the wheels do not touch the bench.

NOTE: Neal sprays our suitcases with Lysol (inside and out) after every trip. (Thank you, Neal, for starting that practice.)

Make a packing list.

I always check the weather where I am going (highs, lows, rain, snow, etc.) a few days in advance and then start making my packing list. I actually have a standard list I just update each trip. I usually make a list by categories:

  • outfits (Monday’s outfit, Tuesday’s outfit, etc.), including shoes, and jewelry
  • undergarments, socks, etc.
  • toiletries, cosmetics, vitamins
  • electronics, chargers, headphones, etc.
  • outerwear such as coats, jackets, gloves, etc.

This ensures I don’t forget essentials for each trip. Making a list takes the pressure off of having to remember things.

Narrow your color scheme for clothing.

I am the queen of black (especially for pants and skirts). Sometimes, I venture out there and throw in some navy. Remember, I am not a fashionista by any means. My focus is on being presentable for the occasion (typically meetings), but also comfortable and in my case warm. My friends might make fun of me for not being super trendy, but I am comfortable with who I am and deep inside, I scoff at those trying to manage big, bulky suitcases as I cruise through the airport with my little black bag. I can live with that!

Only take what you will wear and don’t be afraid to rewear some clothes.

I am typically gone for 3-5 days. On my Wisconsin trip, I traveled two days (one day traveling there and another day traveling home) and spent two days in meetings, for a total of four days (i.e. four outfits).

Because it was VERY COLD and snowed two of the days ❄, the foundation of my wardrobe was a black pair of corduroy pants and a navy pair of corduroy pants.

For very light packing: I wore one pair of pants on my travel day and then rewore that same pair again for my first day of the meeting. Then wore the second pair day two of meetings and rewore that pair home. (If this bothers you, you are way too sophisticated for me.) To eliminate a little “rewearing”, you could add a third pair of pants to wear traveling to (and rewear) traveling home. I choose to rewear a fleece pullover on my travel days. One travel day, I wore a black shirt and the other travel day, I wore a white shirt under the fleece pullover. If you want to pare this down more, you could rewear shirts. The bottom line: rewear as much as you are comfortable. If it is hot and clothes will get sweaty, you can’t do that. ? Just DON’T OVERPACK! There is nothing worse than unpacking a lot of clothes you never wore, but carried all over the country!

Add color and variety by choosing tops.

For this trip, I am sticking with neutral colors. However, if you want to brighten up your wardrobe, you could add a bright colored shirt or sweater.

Take as few shoes as possible.

I typically wear one pair and sometimes pack another. If possible, however, just wear the same pair throughout your trip. On this trip, I took black ankle boots that are warm and very comfortable (thank you Clarks!) Sometimes, I take a pair of athletic shoes (or sandals if warm weather) as my second pair. However, I will be in meetings this entire trip, so my little black boots will suffice.

If I am packing shoes, I put each shoe in a plastic grocery bag, so as not to contaminate my clothes. On a personal note, Neal put his athletic shoes in our ski bag (with our ski clothes) without putting them in plastic bags. I cringed as we unpacked the bag. ? He said, “At least I put them with the bottom of my shoes up [not directly touching our clothes].” Needless to say, I found some plastic bags for the return trip home.

Consider purchasing travel slippers.

I have a pair of travel slippers. They are made by Fitkicks and come in a variety of sizes and colors. They are flat, so easy to pack. They also keep my feet/socks from touching the hotel floor and help a little to keep my feet warm. I travel with them in a plastic bag (again to prevent contamination) and leave them in my suitcase between trips.

Now, time to actually pack my suitcase.

First, I set aside my travel clothes. I pack by stacking outfits together and in the order in which I will wear them. Sometimes, I take pictures of outfits on my phone to remind me each day of what goes with what for that day (don’t want to mess up my plan). I put my pajamas on top in case I arrive late and don’t feel like digging through my suitcase. Next, I tuck socks and underwear in all the crevices.

Take only essential cosmetics/toiletries.

I have a makeup bag that only has the essentials, a toothbrush, and a bag of vitamins. (Fortunately, I do not take any prescription medications.) I also take a comb and a brush. I always use the hotel’s shampoo, conditioner, soap, and hairdryer. (I am not that picky for a few days.)

Know TSA rules about liquids and purchase travel size when possible.

I put my liquids in a sandwich bag and put it in the front pocket of my suitcase so I can easily remove it when going through security. (It’s all about simplicity.)

Take dryer sheets in the winter.

In the winter, I take dryer sheets to rub on my hats or coat hoods to prevent static electricity. ?‍♀️

Take minimum jewelry and accessories

I wear my nicest things (engagement and wedding rings) and keep all jewelry a small cloth bag in my purse or backpack (so it never leaves my sight). When I am taking just a few small pieces, I use this nifty case.

Consider getting coats or jackets that compact.

I have this great ski jacket that folds up into a pouch. I purchased it from LL Bean about a year ago. It is super warm!

However, for this trip, I am taking a long, insulated coat and carrying it on the plane. I will get undoubtedly be cold and will use my coat as a blanket on the plane.

Consider a backpack.

This is where I carry my laptop, chargers, pens, notes for meetings, hand sanitizer, chapstick, gloves, hat, etc. Basically, this is where I put anything I will use during travel.

I can wear or strap my backpack to my suitcase handle when it is extended and thus can really move fast through an airport if needed. Note: Neal thinks I am crazy (he still loves ❤️ me), but I take a garbage bag (keep in the side pocket of my backpack) and put my backpack in it when I put it under the seat. The floor of a plane is disgusting and I don’t want to “wear” dirt on my back. When I remove my backpack from the garbage bag, I turn the garbage bag inside out, so the germs contained on the inside of the bag. I wad it up and place it in the side pocket of my backpack and use it again for the return flight home (making sure the dirty side is on the outside of my backpack again). Remember, I am a germaphobe.

Extra Tip: When you have multiple compartments/pockets in your backpack, be sure to designate a place for everything. I have learned this the hard way, not being able to find something because I put it in some obscure pocket. Neal has a great backpack; however, the only downside is that it has so many compartments it is easy to misplace things. I have literally returned home and realized I did have extra socks or headphones with me, but put them in some obscure pocket and could not find them while on my trip.

Have extra chargers (and charge all devices the night before your trip).

I have an extra computer and phone charger I always keep in my backpack, so I don’t have to worry about remembering to pack these each trip.

Consider a portable external charger.

Neal and I carry a portable charger in case our laptops or cell phone batteries run low and we don’t have access to a charger.

Consider a small, flat purse that fits inside of your suitcase or backpack.

I have a flat purse that I put in my backpack. This way, I have one less item to keep up with, but I have a purse for evening dinners, etc. (i.e. not have to carry my backpack). Below are two of my purses, both of which I purchased at T.J. Maxx. I am not a fashionista, but I do love T.J. Maxx for retail therapy!

Pack healthy snacks.

I pack healthy snacks (Kind bars, almonds, a few pieces of dark chocolate, etc.) in case my connecting flight does not allow time to purchase a meal at the airport. I put all my snacks in a gallon ziplock bag in my backpack so I can remove easily when going through security.

Laundry bag

I take a small plastic bag for just dirty socks and underwear, knowing that all my clothes (even those refolded) are dirty and will be laundered when I return home.

Update your playlist, Audible, grab a good book, etc.

I always update my playlist, download a few good books on Audible, or grab a good book. Yes, I LOVE Audible because I can listen to SO MANY good books. Click here for a list of some of my recent favorites.

Pack a safety pin (or two)

I also take a safety pin for emergencies. I just keep one pinned on the inside of my suitcase. This has saved me when I ripped out the hem or lost a button.

Make a list of last-minute (the morning of) items.

Here are some items on my list. Most of these items I will use at home on the morning of my departure: laptop, phone, makeup, brush, comb, tickets, coat, etc. This just takes the pressure off of me to remember the last minute items.

And a few more traveling tips during travel . . .

  • When taking a Lyft or Uber, I always screenshot the driver information on my phone and send it to my husband via text (or to another close friend or family member), just in case something happens to me.
  • I immediately iron my clothes (if needed) when I get to my hotel and hang them in the order in which I will wear them. After I wear each outfit, I then neatly fold (or roll thank you to Marcie for suggesting this), and put in my suitcase. This makes the last day easier when packing to return home. I never put anything in drawers unless I am staying for a week or so.

  • I always lay out my clothes the night before to save time. When there is an extra bed, I use it to lay out all my items, such as laptop, chargers, books, etc.
  • I scout out restaurants and hotel amenities prior to my trip so I know what is available. For example, is there a coffee/tea maker, refrigerator, etc. in my room? I always celebrate when there is a grocery store nearby for purchasing healthy snacks such a yogurt, apples, etc. It is sometimes hard to travel with fruit.
  • The night before I travel home, I charge all my devices (laptop, phone, and earphones).
  • I have a mental checklist when departing my hotel room for the final time to ensure I have all my belongings. Neal left a charger at a bed and breakfast in Mercersburg, PA one trip. ? I check the bathroom, then the closet, outlets for chargers, under the sheets (in case I peeled off my socks during the night), bedside tables and all other table surfaces, etc. You get the idea. ?
  • I also clean my phone and laptop (if used on the plane) with a Clorox wipe when I return home.

So there you have it! I am still improving my packing light and traveling strategies. Some of you might think I am waaaaaay over the top. I might be, but I like being organized, well planned, and able to just pack what I need. Planning pays off for me and I hope it will for you too.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Please share below any strategies or suggestions you have for How to Pack Light for a Flight! I love learning from my tribe!



Author: Suzanne

Blogger and DIYer with my talented husband Neal. I share about our projects and life lessons following Christ.

9 thoughts on “How to Pack Light for a Flight (and other packing tips)”

  1. Great ideas! Also if you “roll” your clothing (instead of folding) it takes up much less space – learned this from a friend who travels overseas for long periods of time and needs lots of clothes.

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