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

woman pulling suitcase

I have learned how to pack light for a trip. So this blog post will give you tips for packing light as well as some travel tips.


I have learned how to pack light, especially for work trips. Most of my meetings are business casual. 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 moving through the airport with ease!

My son-in-law commented that I am a light packer when he 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 that read “Ready for my beach trip. How did I do the packing?” and included this picture. Isn’t she funny? I may have to use this photo for what not to do! Ha! Ha!

So I thought I would share some packing tips. Winter is a little more challenging because clothes are heavier but these packing tips are applicable for any season.

Purchase the right suitcase

The first packing light tip is to purchase a lightweight, durable, compact, spinner suitcase that you can carry on the plane. This (see the 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 is 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.

Make a packing list

Having a packing list is another packing light tip. 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. To save time, I 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

This packing light tip might be the most crucial tip. 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 re-wear 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.

An example of light packing . . . making it work!

I wore one pair of pants on my travel day and then re-wore that same pair again for my first day of the meeting. Then wore the second pair on day two of meetings and re-wore that pair home. (If this bothers you, you are way too sophisticated for me.) To eliminate a little “re-wearing”, you could add a third pair of pants to wear traveling to (and re-wear) traveling home. I choose to re-wear a fleece pullover on my travel days.

On the travel day, I wore a black shirt, and on the other travel day, I wore a white shirt under the fleece pullover. If you want to pare this down more, you could re-wear shirts. The bottom line: re-wear 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

Shoes take up so much space, so this is an essential packing light tip. 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. Sometimes, I take a pair of athletic shoes (or sandals in warm weather) as my second pair. However, I will be in meetings this entire trip, so my little black boots will suffice.

Put shoes in bags

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. Because they are flat, they are 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 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 if 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. However, 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 sizes 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 in 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. You can also use the safe in your hotel room.

Consider getting coats or jackets that are 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!

Consider a backpack

This is where I carry my laptop, chargers, pens, notes for meetings, hand sanitizer, chapstick, gloves, hat, etc. 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 move fast through an airport if needed.

Keeping it Clean . . . for fellow germaphobes

Note: Neal thinks I am crazy (he still loves me), but I take a garbage bag (kept 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 are contained on the inside of the bag. I wad it up and place it in the side pocket of my backpack; I 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 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 having to carry my backpack).

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 them 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 it and put it 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 laptops, chargers, books, etc.
  • I scout out restaurants and hotel amenities before 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 as 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 way 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!


  1. Katie on 03/13/2019 at 6:42 PM

    Super helpful!

  2. Marcia on 03/14/2019 at 12:07 PM

    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.

    • Suzanne on 03/15/2019 at 8:37 PM

      Great suggestion, Marcia! Thanks for reading my blog.

  3. Sally on 03/15/2019 at 9:19 PM

    Thanks for link to charger. I neeeeeeed this!

  4. Brenda on 03/15/2019 at 9:20 PM

    The garbage bag made me ?!
    I feel ya.

  5. Vivian on 03/16/2019 at 6:26 AM

    My weakness is packing shoes. ?

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