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Top tips for packing light on your next trip

If you’re one of those people who come home from vacation with half your clothes unworn, this post on packing light is for you! And to be honest, since Covid, I got out of practice and have indeed given some clothes a free holiday.

Whether it be for a short weekend trip or several weeks of travel – packing light is a skill requiring great mastery and years of practice.

Fortunately for you, I have been attempting this endeavour for the last 20 years as a full time travel writer. Not that I have my masters in Packing Light yet (it is a very long degree), but I have learned a trick or two along the way.

I now take the same size suitcase whether I am travelling for one week or one month.

Have you heard that Japan Airlines is trialing no luggage, instead you rent clothes online that will be delivered to your hotel for your holiday!

Here’s how I pack!

Packing light
Too big! Pic Flickr/DanielaVladimirova

Most airlines charge for luggage these days (in fact pretty much EVERY airline except Southwest Airlines, which is why they are my favourite airline in the US for domestic travel, but you need to know some tips for flying Southwest as they do not issue seat numbers!) so if you want to snap up the cheapest deals, you need to know how to throw yourself together in under 7kg. I know!

Now I don’t ever pack in just a cabin bag if I’m going to be more than two days away, but to ensure you don’t OVERPACK and give half your wardrobe a free holiday, I’ve put together 8 easy tips for packing a suitcase to help you take charge of the life part of your work/life balance to get away on vacation and save money on baggage fees while you do it – so you can spend it on things to put in them:

You’ll be surprised at how minimal you can be!

1. Roll v Fold & packing cells

When it comes to packing a suitcase, my husband is a roller and I am a folder. As much as I hate to admit it, he gets more into his bag than I do.

Fortunately, he is not likely to find this post, so I can retain my superior status in our household. I have now become a semi roller. I roll anything cotton like leggings, singlets and tops. I fold anything floaty like tunic tops. I also squeeze. I squeeze socks into shoes and smalls into a sunhat to make sure it keeps its shape.

But the discovery of packing cells last year was a revelation and now my clothes just fit into my bag like a jigsaw. Underwear in one, tops in another, 3/4 length leggings in one, singlets in one, long pant might share with a cardigan or light jacket… You get the gist.

What’s more, when you arrive at your hotel you can just put the cells into the drawer and not live out of you suitcase at all.

packing cells in suitcase
This is my bag packed for 3 weeks in Italy! Sunhat stuffed with socks and packing cells 😀

2. Wear it, don’t pack it

Even if I’m flying to LA via Fiji or Tahiti, I wear my boots and jacket on the plane because they are usually the most awkward items to stuff in.

I’ve even been known to wear my sunhat when leaving Auckland on a winter’s day because I don’t want it to get squished. (Except for the tip above which I only mastered recently, i.e. stuffing it with smalls).

3. Wash on the road

If you’re away for a couple of weeks, you’ll do laundry. Whether that’s washing out your smalls in the hotel or taking them to a local laundromat. I usually take a little container of washing powder or liquid so I can wash my smalls every couple of days and tops a bit longer.

If you’re staying in the same place for two nights or more, wash and ring them out by rolling and twisting them in towels, then hang them on coat hangers with your air conditioning left on. They’ll be dry overnight.

(I have added a twisty clothesline in my online store which solves the coathanger issue! Visit my Travel Store here >>) *Sorry I can only ship NZ-wide at this stage.

If you’re staying in the one place for two or three days, getting your laundry done is easy. In some cities they will even pick up from your hotel and charge by weight. It’s very reasonably priced too.

4. Best colour to travel

Black is the new black! Seriously, the New Zealand penchant for black comes into its own when travelling. (We love black, you’ve heard of our All Blacks rugby team? Riiiiight.)

Throw your best department store black look together and you can wear this same ensemble every day and no one will notice if you just add a pop of colour via your tops, a big necklace, a simple cardy or poncho or even a scarf.

5. Don’t give any clothes a free holiday!

I always hate when I get home from a trip and haven’t worn everything in my bag. Fail. That’s why I haven’t yet earned my Packing Light Masters Degree.

You always wear things more than once, so be ruthless and leave that extra skirt behind. Besides, you know you’ll probably buy stuff! Pack for seven days even if you are going for 14. Rotation is the operative word.

AND I never take more than three pairs of shoes. Walking/hiking shoe, sandal for day wear, nice shoe for restaurants and shows.

Disney luggage in hotel
Take your Disney themed luggage into the park!

6. Toiletries are the tricky part

Little bottles or refillable pouches are the trick. Save your hotel amenities to reuse next time you travel and refill them with your own products from home. I’ve added little shampoo pouches to my Travel Store which I prefer as when they’re empty they lie flat rather than still taking up the same space as a bottle.

Also if they are under 100ml you can take them on international flights in your hand luggage.

Use a washable makeup remover cloth to cut down on make up wipes – which is also much kinder on the environment. I have my own Bare Face Cloth range, sold NZ-wide.

Packing tips
You can’t take everyone! Pic Flickr/HajimeNakano

7. Wear it then throw it!

This great tip came in from a reader: she wears her oldest clothes on the plane and chucks them out, either halfway through a long-haul flight or when she lands. This is genius. Especially if you are flying 12-24 hours from winter to summer. Wear your old daggy winter trackies on the flight, then get changed half way across the world into your “arrival” gear!

For quick and easy packing, packing cubes are a revelation! I also have these in the Travel Store, but if you are outside New Zealand, you can pick some up on Amazon.

Shacke Pak - 5 Set Packing ...Shop on AmazonBAGAIL 6 Set Packing Cubes,...Shop on Amazon

Here are 8 reasons why I love to use packing cells now:

  • Pack your clothes neatly by type (underwear/pants/tops, etc)
  • Know where everything is at a glance as you can see through the mesh top, so you don’t rifle through your suitcase every morning
  • Itemise by outfit with the top, bottom and accessories all packed together for specific days, if that makes your life easier
  • Unpack in your hotel or cruise cabin by simply placing the cells in the drawers and you’re done
  • Repack and be ready to depart in under 5 minutes!
  • Use one packing cell for items that might need declaring to make it easy at Customs
  • It’s simple to remove one cell at check in if your luggage is over weight

AND if packing really is a nightmare for you, get my free printable packing list, just print it out, fill out the boxes and have it beside you as you go.

You might also like to see tips for my post on Packing for a Cruise here >>Save

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Wednesday 10th of April 2019

Wring out your washed clothes in the hotel rooms towelling bath mat rather than your towels. You keep your towels dry for drying you. You don’t usually mind standing on a damp/wet bath mat.


Friday 12th of April 2019

Yes good point - unless you have too many towels in your hotel room :)


Wednesday 9th of May 2018

Great tips thanks! What are the three pairs of shoes you take and what for? I always end up with more - Ballet flats for the plane and evenings, Skechers for walking, jandals for the beach and sandals for hot days (I tell myself the jandals don't count)!


Wednesday 9th of May 2018

Hi Johanna - yes I tell myself jandals don't count too! It depends where I am going, when I went to Fiji I only took 2 pairs. But usually a day shoe for walking, a cute flat for going out and maybe wear my boots on the plane if I'm heading into winter. But it sounds like you have the shoes down pat! :)


Wednesday 23rd of August 2017

Hi Megan! Love reading your blog and tips for all sorts of stuff. We're off to te UK next month and just wondering on tips for what to pack for the weather? Adults and tween/teens? Also do you use those packing cubes. I'm seeing them around a lot. We're borrowing some luggage from family and I'm not sure whether to take the hard add or soft case suitcases and carry ons. Any tips there for our long haul?

Jackie Robertsjc

Friday 12th of April 2019

Thank you for the information on packing. Our trip to Alaska was sounding very hard to know what to take and how to pack so many different kind of outfits. We are going in June. May e two differant temperatures in.


Wednesday 9th of May 2018

Hi Marie, thanks for your feedback :) I use a couple of the packing cubes for things like underwear and leggings/singlets - mainly because everything is black so I can see at a glance how many I have left before I need to wash! I like hard cases too, but really either is fine. Go for as light as possible in the case so you don't risk getting too heavy with your luggage (and shopping!) I also take a little wheelie carry on too (plus my handbag) which I can use for extra luggage space if I need it coming home. I have this post on my best travel hacks that you might find some tips in:


Wednesday 12th of July 2017

just love, love, love your tips and columns. but now I have a question for you. going to Honolulu for 2 weeks (been before years ago)..... which is best to buy, a hard case or a soft case ? one looks beautiful and the other looks practical, are they the similar weight empty. thanks for your opinion.............JAN


Friday 28th of July 2017

Hi Jan, thank you, that is so kind of you to comment. The hard and soft cases are both very light. I use the hard case, but it does open out into two halves and therefore takes up more room on the floor! However it does mean you can pack beachy wear vs shoes and warm wear on each side and see at a glance where things are. Hope that helps!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!