International Travel Mantra ~ Pack Light

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In less than two weeks we will be jetting our way to Europe for a two-month extravaganza through France and Italy.   To say we are excited would be an understatement.  We’ve been busily tying up all the loose ends before we leave so I decided recently to do a carry-on packing run, the only bag (along with a small purse) that I will be taking.  We chose a carry-on without wheels and one that converts to a backpack, believing better on our backs than trying to wheel a bag over cobbled stones.

As I think about this upcoming trip, my mantra has been to “pack light, pack light, pack light”.  I already know, given the limited space for clothing, that I will be ready to toss out everything I am bringing when I return to the states.  A girl can only wear the same clothing for so long, right? 😉  Actually, I know that we can live out of our little bags for two months, as several years ago we traveled through Mexico for a year and headed south of the border with just a regular-size backpack strapped to our bodies, no vehicle, no place to call home.

I won’t bore you with all the details of what is going into my little black bag, but I would love to get packing tips or other travel tips from you avid travelers.  Are there any unusual items that one should not forget or something that you brought along that just weighed you down?  Is there something that caused an aha moment for you, something you told yourself you wouldn’t forget the next time you hopped a plane to an exotic place?  I think I have the clothing needs wired, erring on the side of being a minimalist, as I know I can wash my wicking-wear clothes in my room or at a launderette.

I am bringing along a small MacBook and a camera, so I can download my photos, keeping track of where we are from day-to-day.  I plan to continue the blog, as long as the Internet gods are with me,  albeit on a much more scaled-down fashion until I return.

So, all you world travelers, come on, share your deep-dark secrets on how to make living out of a backpack complete, utter bliss. 🙂

76 thoughts on “International Travel Mantra ~ Pack Light

  • From someone who’s traveled with everything we own over the past eight years I can’t be of much help, but I really look forward to your posts from Europe. Wish we were going with you!

    • We RVer’s know how to travel lightly so that won’t be a problem. Wish you two were coming along as well. We should seriously think about an international trip together sometime. 🙂

  • What I know is that you’re probably carrying much less than we do, I guess in part because we live on the road. We travel with a carry-on size case and a college-book-bag size backpack. I can’t think of anything intelligent to say 🙂
    except have a wonderful time!

    • Thanks Alison. When we lived and traveled through Mexico for a year we had a larger backpack than what we will be carrying this time. We are getting very excited as the time is rapidly approaching. 🙂

  • Enjoy your trip, LuAnn! Quick dry is the ticket, for sure. Have you considered panty liners to stretch out the 2 pair of underwear you are taking? 🙂 When hiking the PCT, i wore 1 fishing style shirt and 1 pair of zip pants for months, so I know what you mean about throwing stuff out, however, I will be wearing the same shirt beginning tomorrow for 8 days of backpacking. I’l wear a dif pair of pants, but still like the ones I began with in 2010–the waist is just not great for a backpack…. So, will you need a skirt? Seems perhaps a skirt and one pair of zip pants might do it, and a pair of tights/long jons for if it is chilly (Can go under skirt as well as pants). A rain jacket can double for wind protection and is amazing warm when over a light down sweater/jacket. One pair of good walking shoes, and will you take a pair of something like flipflops for when it’s hot or you just need out of the dang shoes? and sox? I used 2 pair plus one for sleeping, but if you are not in super cold weather, then 2 pair might do it, though they need constant washing and sox do not dry as quickly as other quick dry items… can you estimate and then re-pack your toiletries into smaller bottles? or just buy as you need there? Will you need a headlamp/flashilight? Not sure where you are staying and how you are travelling…. and a sleeveless smartwool shirt (sort of like a camisole) works for a top layer when warm as well as a base layer when it is chilly. OK, hope some of this was helpful, you probably know it all already!! and PS, thank you so much for mentioning my blog in your blog!
    Enjoy your trip, I look forward to stories!!

    • I agree with you Julianne. Most everything I buy seems to be quick dry these days. I had not thought about panty liners but will look into them. I am bringing a skirt for wearing out to dinners at times and into cathedrals. A pair of zip pants is also on the list for hiking in the Dolomites but could also be converted to shorts. A rain jacket and light down jacket is also on the list. I have a pair of lightweight hiking boots and a comfortable pair of Teva walking sandals, along with a pair of flip flops for early morning or evening. My toiletries will go into small bottles and I have also ordered travel sizes of a couple of items. Thanks so much for the tips…truly appreciated. And your blog is so worth mentioning…love it!

  • Just returned from a 2.5 week trip to Italy, France, Montenegro and Croatia. Although I didn’t need to pack quite a light as you (we were on a cruise), you may want to be sure your backpack has a locking zipper device as there are many pickpockets throughout Europe. Our friends had their camera stolen several years ago as they walked through Florence. I’m looking forward to your Blog as you journey through Europe. Have an amazing time.

  • Sounds wonderful! We have toured the area but on guided tours. The hotel shampoo works for washing clothes just fine. It will be cool in the mountains.

    • I recently read about someone who uses the hotel shampoo for washing their clothes. I was going to bring some liquid laundry detergent but I’ve changed my mind.

    • This is what I just food for two weeks in Venice! Got back to the hotel, clothes went right into the bathroom sink with hotel shampoo, drip-dry over the shower stall door. They weren’t ready to be worn the next day, but for sure the day after.

      • I packed very lightly and plan to wash out clothes in the bathroom sink as well. We are now in Paris and having a great time!

  • Sounds like a wonderful time for two months!! My mother use to teach people to pack light since she spent years living aboard for months at a time. She always talked about using the panty liners to get a couple days out of underwear. She would also demonstrate how to roll clothing. It is amazing how much more you can pack when rolled. And if rolled properly, things don’t wrinkle. Rolling also fills every little space in the bag. Wear your largest pair of shoes. Fill each shoe with small items…underwear, socks, etc. Good luck packing!! Have a great time! Be careful:) Can’t wait to hear about it:)

    • Thanks Pam. I didn’t know your mom lived abroad for months at a time. We are getting excited. I was going to roll my clothes but instead bought some packing cubes, which will allow me to take just a few items out of my bag at each stop and still stay organized. It drives me crazy when I am not organized. You know, it’s that OCD thing that kicks in once in a while.

      • I’ve never heard of packing cubes! I’ll have to check them out. I totally understand about staying organized:) I’m a little crazy like that also.

        My parents worked with USAID and volunteered in various third world countries for several years. They also did a lot of international traveling over the years. So my mother is the master at packing.

        Have a great trip:)

  • I didn’t enjoy using my hand for washing down in the shower so if you feel the same, take a wash cloth. They are not provided at least in Italy. Rome is known for it’s pickpockets especially in crowded subways so beware. They will look you right in the eye while trying to unzip your purse, etc. They usually work in tandem. Also, you might want to visit a bank before you hop on the plane to buy some euros. I think I bought about $300 in euros before I went. If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge an overseas fee, take it and use it! Best way to go for those bigger expenses. Of course, tell whatever bank card you will be using that you are traveling to Europe. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway…..I’m envious!!!!!!

    • I am packing a small microfiber washcloth after you told me about none provided in Italy. We have talked to our credit card company and made sure that we didn’t need to increase our allowable daily withdrawal using our debit card. So many little things to think about. Thanks for the great tips. So now start thinking about what types of photos you might like to see. You know what I’m talkin’ about. 😉

  • LuAnn after reading through the comments a lot has been covered. We too travel with a pack but it opens like a suitcase. I always take a large light scarf which I use for multiple purposes such a s dressing up an outfit, wearing over shoulders in churches, warmth in restaurants in evenings, sun protection, warmth on an airplane. Take earplugs as many European hotels are thin walled and the bells ring hourly all night long in Italy in many places. Also ear plugs for sleeping on the plane, inflatable neck pillow, eye covers for sleeping. We always pack a small amount of duct tape and super glue. Dave has used the glue to put a cap back on his tooth in the middle of Turkey and I have used the tape to keep my line pair of shoes wearable until I could buy a new pair after a footwear disaster. Also we take toothbrushes where the toothpaste can be put inside the brush.
    Most of all have a marvellous time. Money belt at all times is our very best tip.

    Have fun and so sorry about the tech problems on my blog. We are working at it. Xo

    • Thanks for the tips Sue. Our travel pack opens like a suitcase as well. I am taking a couple of scarves to change up my outfits and to wear over my shoulders if needed. Got the earplugs, inflatable REI neck pillow, eye covers for sleeping. We are taking some duct tape but I hadn’t thought about super glue…great idea. Terry has already had to seek out a dentist and have a crown replaced during our travels. And got my money belt ready. No problem about the tech issue. All is now resolved!

  • LuAnn and Terry have a wonderful trip ! Looking forward for your posts. I can’t give you any advise I actually learned a few from the above comments. First time we traveled with the carry-on with wheels and I was amazed how much would fit in them. Have fun. Z

    • Thanks Z! We were going to get a carry-on with wheels but changed our minds when we thought about the extra weight that the wheels would add. Not sure how often we would have to pull a wheeled bag across cobbled streets.

  • Oh, I am so very jealous. I love Italy! My grandparents came over “on the boat” from Naples. When Carrie and I visited Italy, we started in that area. Very, very poor region, but allowed Carrie and I to see where my grandparents, her great grandparents grew up.

    Carrie and I hit up the Salvation Army and bought all our clothes for travel. We each took one bag and a carry on. We read in the Rick Steve’s book, that if you leave something in the hotel, usually the people cleaning are so poor that they take it home. So, we would wear a piece of clothing maybe two times and then leave it for the cleaning people. We made so much room in our luggage for gifts for friends and family that way. We came home with little clothes but lots of memories.

    Enjoy and be safe. What an adventure is in store for you.

    • Thanks Marsha. We will be taking a side trip to Naples as well. I may have to reconsider Good Will or Salvation Army. Hadn’t thought about leaving clothes behind in a hotel room for the staff and clearing space in my luggage for gifts. Enjoy your travels!

  • There have been a lot of great tips for you, in people’s comments. When my daughter and I traveled to Italy, a few years ago, all of these tips would have been handy to have. I am very anxious to read your blog, as you travel. Have a great time, and stay safe.

  • So excited for you! I always travel with a non-metal money belt (the kind that wraps around your stomach) for both my money and passport + credit cards. Non-metal (plastic zipper) is important so that you can go thro’ airport security without hassle.

    Also highly recommend good quick-drying underpants. I use Patagonia and have backpacked with them (and use them generally) for years. It’s great to be able to clean your underpants in the sink (say) & have them dry in just a short time. You can travel for months with just a few pairs this way. Cotton will never do this. I usually carry a ziplock bag with some powdered detergent for cleaning on the road.

    Same for quick-drying hiking pants that convert to shorts (one garment, two uses). Also quick-drying T-shirts or button-up shirts. Limit your cotton…it takes forever to dry. The quick-dry stuff is easy to clean, easy to use and packs really efficiently.

    Microfiber wash cloth (someone else mentioned this).

    Obviously bringing a hat is important too.

    You shouldn’t have any issues with mosquitoes, but if you’re worried pre-treat your clothes (and hat) with Permethrin. That’ll help a lot.

    Have FUN!!


    • Thanks so much Nina. I was hoping you would weigh in. We do have money-belts with plastic zippers. And most everything I tend to buy these days is quick-drying, shirts, undies, and pants. Got a sun hat as well. I think we may be getting there!

      • I think you are! Forgot to mention bring a few pins for the clothes drying (I typically carry some thin rope too, but that’s probably overkill LOL).

        My other traveling tip. Take scans of all your important docs (passport, credit card & credit card call numbers) and put them somewhere secure online (e.g. Dropbox). That way you can access them if you lose them along the way. This came in incredibly handy for me when I lost my documents in Peru a few year ago 🙂

        And lastly, unless you have an insurance that covers you abroad be sure to buy temp health insurance. It’s not expensive and you def want to make sure you’re covered.


      • All great suggestions Nina. Had thought about the pins and we’ve already taken care of scanning the important docs. I still have to address the health insurance, which is on the list. Thanks so much!!

  • I am the very last person in the world you should ask about travelling light. Just ask hubby. 😆 So exciting for you to be going to Europe for such a long period. Have lots of fun and safe travels, LuAnn. 🙂

    • Since we have so many places we still want to see it does help with the budget if we do a lot of the legwork ourselves. It is time consuming however.

  • We look forward to seeing your postings, LuLu. Tell Terry hello for us, enjoy and be safe……….R&G

  • Sometimes I fear that I’ve lost my ability to pack light—I’m so accustomed after three years of full time travel to towing what I’ve come to think of as a big rolling suitcase behind our truck, haha! But many years ago I did travel for a year in Europe with just a backpack, small purse, and camera, and there’s something very freeing about having so few possessions.
    Everyone has offered such great suggestions—even traveling as we do now, I rely on quick dry clothing and undies (I love Ex Officio styles—doesn’t look like you’re “camping”), a lightweight shawl, and crushable broad brimmed sun hat. I love my little cross-body purse that holds my sunglasses, extra camera batteries, and other essentials. (When you get there, buy a little pocket knife—it will come in handy when you pick up delicious fruits, cheeses, and other yummy things from the market for a picnic.:-))
    We’re so excited for you guys! This is going to be a grand adventure—can’t wait to hear all about it!

    • Thanks Laurel. I got pretty good at packing light when I traveled so much for work, but with this latest trip, using the bag we will be taking to Europe, I packed twice as much as I needed. I am really going to try to be diligent about packing light. I think toiletries, cosmetics, and vitamins will be the bigger problem for me. I have some very strong opinions on what ingredients I will allow in my products. Terry reminds me I can purchase some of this in Europe but I’m not buying it. I think you can relate. 🙂

  • Lu,
    I have been following your blog forever. I’m so happy that you’re going to add another great adventure to your already full dance card!

    I would suggest a travel clothesline (don’t count on a laundry mat) at least two blow up hangers and to pack your clothes in zip lock bags – all your shirts in one, long pants in one etc. They have bags from snack size (meds) to huge ones which are good for shirts etc.

    I got back from Africa about 2 weeks ago. Fun, fun, fun.

    Nancy Kann (YNP, but no longer there!)

    • Well hello stranger! So good to hear from you. We do have a travel clothesline on the list and Terry is looking into some inflatable hangers. I purchased some packing cubes but hubby is going to use zip lock bags for his clothes. I would love to hear more about your trip to Africa. Do you ever post photos online?

  • So exciting LuAnn! I am not the best with packing as I pack a ton usually but it is because I always get a suitcase free and want a big one to bring stuff back that I buy! So I’m not good! Only advice is to buy washable and quick dry clothing which I’m sure you already do. I wash stuff by hand in the bathroom and let it dry. I can’t wait to follow you along on your exciting adventure!!!!!

    • It seems that most of what I buy is quick-drying so I think I am set there. My bigger issue is on the toiletries end, as I am attached to clean products without a lot of chemicals. Not sure if I can duplicate that in Europe.

  • Just returned from six weeks in Europe with only a carry on. We included a small lightweight fold up backpack in our larger backpack to put extras and dirty laundry in! It folded up to a bit bigger than my hand!! Came in handy many times for day trips too and then went back in the main bag when not in use! There is always more stuff than you think! Right?!!

  • Definitely pack light! Some airlines charges the baggage you check out, esp. when it is over the limit. Dear goodness check with your airline on bag limitations. Most Europeans travel with small luggage. Bring locks, and always keep an eye on your belongings. If you have to put your bag in front of you, do it! Where in Italy are you going? Or are you keeping that a surprise? 🙂

    • We won’t be checking any bags and we have already done a practice run packing. My carry-on comes in well below the limit. 🙂 I will mention a few places we are going in Italy – Rome, Florence, Venice, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, to name a few. We will be in France about a month and Italy for a month so we are planning to see as much as possible. I expect to come back home completely exhausted!

  • Light is definitely the way to go. Most places you can buy most things you might need. I would say make sure you have a very comfy pair of shoes and of sandals, one thin sweater ( especially for planes) a pashmina and scarves that can be used for everything from a sarong to towel, to shoulder covering to head covering.

    Have fun.


  • Sounds wonderful! We did 4 weeks in France & Italy in May/June with a backpack each.
    We thought it would be difficult at first but by the end of our trip and seeing people struggling with 2-3 huge suitcases on the trains… We were so glad we ‘packed light’ !
    The biggest challenge for us was storage for souvenirs/gifts… Hubby brought his laptop bag and we bought small flat souvenirs…such as local ‘street art’ which we love! He could put it cross shoulder under backpack on travel days… Not super comfy but better than lifting heavy luggage!
    Enjoy.. Look forward to the blogs! 😄

    • That is the only thing I have been concerned with, where we would put any souvenirs. Hubby has decided to bring along a laptop bag so they may work for us as well.

  • Nothing to add, LuAnn, regarding tips; looks like they’ve been covered very well. In fact, I’ve learned quite a lot by reading the comments! I’ve never been one for camping, or even hiking so I’ve never had to ‘travel light’, so to speak. I’m pretty good at packing only the ‘needs’ though; and generally end up buying whatever I’ve not packed wherever I travel (I love to buy ‘local’, if and when I can). I understand this is not an efficient way to go, and your trip requires precision packing, order and thoroughness… Think you have all that covered… haha…
    Have a delightful time. I’ll look forward to reading about your bold and daring exploits… (yes, that’s how I see it)! 😉

    • Well, I hope we have most things covered. I figure that since we are heading to Europe, I should be able to pick up anything I may have forgotten. The challenge will be determining what I am buying in languages other than English. 😉 As for bold and daring exploits, we will see how well we planned this trip.

  • LuAnn, first, Big Congrats on the Discover feature. It’s well deserved. You and Terry live a life which is dreamed of by many, and actually sought by few. And you do it so well. As to packing, we travel with only a carry-on and have done it for 2 RTWs, so we agree wholeheartedly with the packing light philosophy. I’m sure you will have thought of everything, but my “Tim the Toolman” tip is take a yard-length strip of duct tape wrapped around a small pencil. It’s a great fix for emergencies of all kinds that I’ve used a couple of times. Have a great trip. ~James

    • We have the duct tape packed and are traveling with a carry-0n only. We hope this is only the first of many trips to Europe. I know just the blog to follow to take us to so many places in Europe. 😉

  • If you’re planning to go to Amalfi Coast, does it mean you’re planning on visiting Positano and Sorrento as well? They’re all in “one general area.”

    • I know we will be in Sorrento as I have already booked a hotel there. I believe we will make it to Positano as well. Right now we are in Paris, having a great time!

  • Wow, it’s coming on quick now! If space for clothes is short you can always buy cheap clothes in Europe and donate them to a second hand shop before returning. Saves on space and is easy on the pocket and will help somebody else out. Other than that just make room for a book or two on the way back!

    • Thanks Ste J. I was thinking I would leave a few articles of clothing behind when we head back. I am already seeing some interesting book stores in Paris. 🙂

      • Yes indeed! The problem is coming back with too many books. Unless you want to have them shipped which is always an idea…I almost did that in Boston but I really do need to consider the limits of my obsession these days.

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