Tired of schlepping through airports with overstuffed bags?  When you get home after a trip, do you unpack clothing you haven’t worn?  Have you thrown your back out so many times, you’re on your chiropractor’s Christmas card list??

It needn’t be this way!

If you can follow a handful of simple rules, you’ll travel light and will likely do so with just one bag.

Presented in rank order, the Eight Immutable Laws of Traveling Light:

1.  Switch to lightweight electronic gear

Let’s face it:  laptops and related gear trump just about everything else when it comes to traveling light.  If you’re traveling for anything more than a couple of nights and are bringing along a full sized laptop and its power brick, you almost have to bring two bags.

If you’re someone who’s always on his or her laptop, giving presentations from it, or crunching numbers on huge spreadsheets, perhaps you’re stuck with using a full size laptop.  Peace be with you.

Everyone else: consider a netbook.

Properly configured and with MS Office installed, it’s a great “road” substitute for a full sized machine.  My Asus weighs a mere 3.1 lbs; my ThinkPad from work, 5 lbs, and the power brick is considerably larger & heavier.  The netbook can do everything the ThinkPad can; it’s just smaller and lighter.   No brainer.

The same principle applies to cameras.  I love my Nikon D-80, but it’s a (relative) heavyweight.  If at all possible, I’ll opt for a high quality point and shoot instead, and save myself nearly three quarters of a pound.

2.  Ya gotta go paperless

Booklets, pamphlets, 3 ring binders and the like are killers as well.  Wherever you can, go electronic.  Scan handwritten documents.  Save files to USB drives.  Send literature ahead and pick it up at the Front Desk upon arrival.  Paper is heavy.  Keep it to a minimum and you’ll greatly increase your chances of keeping your bag light.

3.  Only one pair of shoes, Mrs. Marcos!

Shoes are another dangerous area.  Bring an extra pair,  pay a huge penalty.  A standard pair of men’s dress shoes weighs about two pounds: on your feet, no big deal; in your bag, ouch!  Don’t do it.

For business, aim for shoes that work equally well for dress and casual wear.  Plus, keep in mind that slip-ons minimize the grief at TSA checkpoints.  The right pair of dressy loafers can also work with jeans.  A personal favorite?  Cole-Haan Pinch Cup penny loafers.  Travel gear expert and Practical Hacks reader Till Richter swears by Cole-Haan Air Jackson Two-Gore slip-ons (see his post in the Forum under Travel Clothing).  Whatever you prefer, make sure they’re versatile enough to work during the day and at night, and if it’s a slip-on design, all the better.

If you’re a runner and have to bring along running shoes, opt for a pair of racing flats.  One of my garden variety Asics running shoes weighs a little over 11 oz; a racing flat typically weighs around 5-6 oz and as little as 4.2 oz.  Yes, you don’t want to do long training runs in flats, but for a short run while traveling, they’ll do.  As always, make sure you buy the right type of shoe for your feet!

4.  Wear heavier articles of clothing while en route

Wear the heavy stuff on the plane.  Bringing jeans?  Wear them if at all possible.  A heavy sweater?  Ditto.  Doing so will keep your bag as light as possible.  If I’m bringing along a sports jacket and weather permits, I’ll wear it while traveling, carefully folding it and placing it on top of my bag in the overhead before taking my seat.

5.  Opt for lighter weight clothing

When shopping for clothing, don’t forget to check out synthetics and lighter weight clothes.  If your meetings are business casual, opt for quick drying, synthetic polos or lightweight LS shirts like those from Ex-Officio, Tilley, or Coolibar (and others).  Vacationing?  Go lightweight/quick drying all the way!  Which brings us to…

6.  You must embrace your inner nerd!

When you convert to lightweight, synthetic, quick drying clothing, (and this includes underwear and socks) you’ll bring fewer of everything and will wash them out in the hotel sink at night.  Wring them out, get rid of the excess moisture by rolling them in a towel and walking on it, hang them, and they’ll be dry in hours.  It only takes a few minutes and will enable you to travel much more lightly.  Going on vacation for 10 days?  Bring 4 or 5 shirts instead of 10 or 12!!  Not convinced?  Buy one quick drying shirt or pair of socks, and experiment a bit on your next trip.

7.  Find the lightest bag possible that still meets your needs

Obvious, but:  keep the bag itself light.  Check out the recommendations on this site, OneBag.com, and OBOW.  Personal favorites? One or two nights, business casual or for students – Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel.  Two to four nights, perhaps with a sports jacket – Tom Bihn Tri-Star.  Three to seven nights:  Red Oxx Air Boss.

None of these weighs more than 4 pounds, and the Patagonia piece is a true featherweight.  If you must use a wheelie/rollaboard, consider the Sub-0-G:  it weighs only 4.8 pounds!

8. Cut liquids back to the bare minimum

I have a liquids bag that’s always packed and ready.  The whole thing weighs a few ounces; see it here: A peek at my 3-1-1 bag.  If you’re bringing 3 oz bottles of contact solution, shampoo, and the like, you’re needlessly adding weight.  Opt for tiny dropper bottles instead.  Bring lotion in an empty contact lens case.  Use the hotel’s shampoo.  My 3-1-1 bag weighs 3.99 oz, and that’s with a full (travel-sized) tube of toothpaste.

The same goes for your “dry toiletries”:  use a travel size deodorant, hacked off toothbrush, and plastic razor (if you can).  Scrutinize every item in your dopp kit and ask yourself if you regularly use it; if not, ditch it; if yes, see if you can identify a lighter alternative.

Obey these laws, and you’ll be on your way to traveling light.  And if you must carry two bags, these principles of course still apply!

Am I missing another “law” of traveling light?  Have you discovered any useful techniques for lightening the load?  Please contribute by commenting!

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27 Comments on The eight immutable laws of traveling light

  1. Buzz says:

    Kevin, a great list. I have a few additions that might help some:

    Ditch the chargers for your smaller electronics and take a universal one such as the Chargepod.

    I usually travel with Rockport Dress Shoes. Extremely comfortable. May not win style contests but they can be worn in the office and out. For long distance travel, I find my feet will swell after a long day so I stick with laced shoes.

    Think smaller and double use. Rather than spend $50 on a flashlight that is just a flashlight, I carry a couple of 1/2 ounce carabiner clips with LED lights built in. $5 and the carabiner clip comes in handy.

    Paper Soap (Leaves)–either the ones by Sea to Summit or Travelon. (Travelon’s have a heavier scent.) I use the ones for laundry (sink washing) and shaving. They weigh practically nothing and don’t have to go in the 3-1-1 bag. The leaves are also made for hand wash, body wash, shampoo and conditioner. Not a big fan of the last three mentioned. Sometimes, I’ll take shaving oil for shaving. Small bottle that easily goes into 3-1-1- bag. (I prefer Somersets.)

    Get a very lightweight toiletry bag. Mine weighs 4 oz., measures 9 x 6 x 2, and has two compartments. I use one for daily items, and the other for sometimes needed items and my laundry kit. (Rick Steves Classic Toiletry Kit.) Again, no style points, but very lightweight.

    I agree with everything written about clothing. One addition. Make sure your wardrobe mixes and matches. All tops should match bottoms. Think neutral colors.

    Always be on the lookout for newer, smaller items.


  2. Excellent List.

    Liquids should almost be nil as most airlines make you throw bottles away – the number of people I have seen having to leave liquids behind before security at airports is staggering.

    I normally take 2 pairs of shoes – One that you wear and the other as a backup for emergencies. Make the back up pair as light as possible. Ladies may find this harder to do!


    Robert Latchford Reply:

    Forgot to mention – As you are a blogger you qualify for the following.


    Good luck if you decide to enter send me a mail if you do plan to play pocketinfo.net@gmail.com

    Thanks Bob.


  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PracticalHacks: The 8 immutable laws of traveling light: http://bit.ly/73aHOA #travel…

  4. Berg says:

    Guess it depends on the lady. ;-)

    I usually travel with a pair of Merrell Sport Sirens, which are cute enough to go with jeans or even a dressier shirt. I also carry a light-as-heck pair of Sanuks, which are great for all sorts of things. They also double as slippers because you can wear them various ways. For those ladies more into heels, color and heel height is key for comfort and useage. Mephisto makes Mary Janes that will work under various circumstances. Most women’s shoes weigh less than men’s, but it’s all about keeping down the quantity. I never travel with more than 2 pairs of shoes, but obviously the stereotype is one bag just for shoes and makeup!

    My liquids bag is pretty light. Contact fluid, toothpaste, and a small bit of conditioner. Ususally I use hotel shampoo but I like having good conditioner (it’s easy to make a small amount last a while). I don’t carry a makeup bag, but that’s my style (my few vanity items are tiny). For the rest of my toiletries, I dumped my dopp kit and now just use a plastic freezer bag. It packs the same amount of stuff but packs flatter than a kit. Plus I can see what I’ve got with one glance.


  5. Till says:

    One of the best write-ups on this I’ve seen. Bravo, Kevin! Not much to add.

    1. Electronics. Cutting down on them is almost as important if not more so as cutting down on paper. The problem is in the power supplies. Those things are too heavy. The netbook with PSU will still weigh 4lb. We need to get the same functionality at half the weight. I am thinking of lightweight AC-to-USB chargers for that. There is one company that just came out with a universal PSU that weighs half of normal models. It was on gadling I think. Will try to dig that up again. Ideally one would make due just with the Iphone and perhaps a camera. Unfortunately, most cameras don’t charge over USB. I know my G9 doesn’t.

    3. Shoes. Yes, I swear by the Cole Haan’s you mentioned. They are so comfortable and fit me so well I could run in them. If it is just a short trip, just mix up your workout routine a bit. Skip the jogging and do some bodyweight exercises in your room or use the hotel pool. Swim trunks are lighter than shoes and can be used as underwear in a pinch.

    6. Even mix fiber clothing will do. You don’t need to go all technical. My underwear is HOM Ho1. It is 80% cotton, wears like a dream and dries overnight guaranteed. This particular model is not available in the US but others in the same fiber mix should work just as well.

    7. I think the OPEC bag and the A.Saks 21″ must be mentioned for lightest weight carry-on bags. The Opec is around 700g and the A. Saks UNDER 500g! Also, don’t go overboard with packing accessories. Those really add up weight quickly. A toiletry kit is usually the largest offender. Why would one even have a 4oz(130g) toiletry kit when a 10g ziploc does the trick? I take two, one for liquids and one for hardware. The hardware is cut down to the bare minimum. Small comb, lighter than usual hair brush, Schick Quattro Titanium razor with integrated trimmer, travel toothbrush, lighter than usual sheath for the scissors.

    8. Liquids. Here is a good thread on traveling liquid free:
    It is a weight and a very slight time saving. I did try the Bronner soap as toothpaste replacement. Yikes! A tiny toothpaste tube and a tiny shave oil tube will go in your jacket pocket with no problems. TSA has never said anything against me carrying those in the jacket pocket instead of a dedicated 311 bag.

    Last question. Where is the blog recent comments bar? I don’t see it anymore. Can you please bring that back. It was a great feature.


    Kevin Reply:

    A few quick comments:

    The Asus and power brick weigh about 3.5 pounds; I’d give an exact weight but I’m on the road.

    I have some nice little bags (bihn) that are great for 3-1-1 but I still use ziplocs or freezer bags – you just can’t beat them from a weight standpoint.

    Agree on the Bronner’s soap as toothpaste: blech.

    Blog Comments widget? Why, I didn’t think anyone would notice. It’s back.


    Till Reply:

    Thanks for putting the blog widget back! Huge plus!

    That is a light PSU then. Mine weigh at least 300g. I once weighed my Mac 65W but forgot what it was. Will do it again.


  6. Buzz says:

    Have you tried Eco-Dent tooth powder? It comes in a few flavors such as peppermint, cinnamon, etc. It’s not bad. I still prefer a small tube of toothpaste but if you’re trying to cut out liquids, it’s the best alternative I’ve found. (Don’t follow the direction of putting some on a wet toothbrush. What I do is pour some out, add a few drops of water and make my own paste. Works much better.

    I also take disposable razors. Weigh less than a regular razor and I throw them out as I go along–especially on a longer trip.

    I agree about the ziploc for 3-1-1.


    Till Reply:

    I will try that out. Just didn’t see anything locally. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. Thanks for the paste tip. Sounds logical.

    I don’t do the disposables for reasons of waste and of shave quality. For weight they win, though. You could also try the KoS Azor razor. Super lightweight, like a disposable and nice design. Didn’t work for me at all in terms of shave quality but others have liked it. Blades are cheaper than Gilette; about the same as Schick. Recently converted one of my best friends to a Schick Quattro Titanium. I get way better blade life out of it then out of anything else and the shave is excellent. On my first blade I got at least 30 shaves. I threw it out not because I would have not been able to use it anymore but because I felt it had done its dues. On the second blade I am at around 15 shaves, no end in sight. I also really like the trimmer to do the side burns and clean up around the ears.

    But since you say that, I might take my disposable Schick Quattro I got as a freebie in a hotel gym for really short trips when no trimming is necessary.

    When I was less experienced I always took an electric razor with me on top of the blade just to get the trimmer function. Now this is not necessary anymore. I still take an electric if I need to be shaven every day. My skin doesn’t take too well to daily wet shaves but daily electrics are no problem. Just got a Panasonic 8243. Absolutely excellent shave and dirt cheap as a refurb.


    Till Reply:

    Just weighed the two Schicks. The big Titanium with Trimmer is 70g exactly with blade, blade cover and battery. The disposable Quattro (not sure if it’s a Titanium) is 16g.

    How many shaves the disposable gives I don’t know. Haven’t tried it yet. Which brand do you use and how many shaves do you get? I know that’s subjective but just as a reference. I know that 30+ shaves on one blade are pretty amazing but I swear it’s true. On a Gilette Sensor Excel I got about 5-7. Often I threw them out after 3 but that was probably too soon. On the Gilette Fusion I get maybe ten. On top of it the Fusion blades are even more expensive and I like the Titanium ones better because I can do better detail work with them around the mouth. So Titanium wins hands-up against Fusion.

    With these two bits of info one can determine what makes more sense from a packing standpoint if balanced with a shaving and utility standpoint. The volume is very similar for both razors. So taking a bunch of disposables might take up more room on the way out.


  7. Helder says:

    Regarding a laptop: I noticed that 90%+ of my personal travel needs could be covered by my smartphone. I always take my Nokia 5800 with me. It, along with a bluetooth keyboard and TV-Out cable take very little space and weight less than 1lb combined. Having wifi and GPS are also a plus!

    I also try taking only one pair of shoes (a versatile and comfortable one), but I find that’s not always possible, for me.

    My Tom Bihn Wester Flyer (26L capacity) has been used for a 6-day trip weighting only 10lb (4.5kg), and it still had some free space. A longer trip with a little weight increase is possible. :)

    Wearing the heaviest items is a great tip, specially if you use a jacket to complement your carry-on (Scottevest anyone?)

    Cheers from Brazil.


  8. sharon says:

    Liquids? I use Kirk’s Castile soap for bath, hair and laundry. I am working on cutting down my travel bags but since I do trade shows and am out for a week at a time, I build everything around Chico’s travelers for my wardrobe in black only. It is not really light weight but does not wrinkle and is easily washable. If you need to replace or add a piece, the blacks always match.

    I still bring too much but, this is my New Years Resolution…lighten up.


    tfar Reply:

    Right. The Castille soap works fine for all of that, even shaving. Aleppo soap can be used, too. Bronner’s is Castille soap. Marseille soap is basically the same thing. In principle you can use it to brush your teeth, too. But, as we all agreed, it’s not that agreeable. :( I think it would make much more sense for hotels to supply toothpaste instead of body lotion. It would also have a more significant impact on health than lotion.

    I find all-black can be difficult and look a bit aggressive (or in mourning). A brown, grey, blue range usually does the trick for me.


    sharon Reply:

    tfar, I just returned from a stay in Long Beach CA at the Hyatt Regency next to the convention center. They did add tooth paste to the items they leave in the room.

    I also know you can call the front desk to supply you with a gratis razor which can last a shave or two. Being female, this is plenty for legs.

    About all black, I agree but I do have colorful tank tops and other tops to brighten up the black. I usually take along a red or grey jacket in addition to my black.


  9. Michael W. says:

    Excellent overview of the basics.

    I think trimming 3 ounce TSA bottles back to eyedropper bottles is a fun challenge but not really necessary; I used to feel good about limiting myself to 8 ounce shampoo and conditioner bottles and 12 ounce spray saline cans, so trimming back to TSA permitted sizes is actually quite good for me and workable as well. I usually don’t carry shampoo which most hotels have, but I like my own brand of hand lotion so I do carry that. My splurge item is a small battery powered shaver; I can shave with a blade, but prefer to knock down the beard a little with an electric shaver before finishing with a blade.

    Till – I can easily believe 30 shaves with a single blade since I get more than that, since I am lightly bearded and only use the blade for the finishing pass or two.

    I saw an ad for a compact laptop power supply and compared the advertised measurements to my netbook brick, and figured out the netbook brick is already compact – it’s actually the US spec power cord coming into the brick that is bulky. On my new Acer ao532h, they solved that problem by shipping the power supply with the plug attached to the brick, instead of to a power cord, then they just lengthened the much thinner gauge low-voltage run to the computer.

    BTW I may start traveling with a 12.1″ netbook instead of a 10.1″. The boost in screen size finally gets us up to a full size keyboard, and a more “standard” screen resolution. The 10.1″ versions are fine for watching videos and surfing the web, but annoying to type on compared to a full sized keyboard (but still much better than a hand-held like an iPod Touch). Upsizing would be about an 8 ounce weight penalty, not bad at all, still about 3.5 pounds total if you can live with a 3 cell battery.

    I may add or subtract other items, but I’m never going to leave home without a netbook again. Staying up to date with favorite blogs and news feeds is priceless. I no longer come home with a lot of catching up to do.

    Till, you get my vote as the best commenter out there, keep up the back and forth!


    Kevin Reply:

    Couple of thoughts…

    It’s a funny coincidence you mention the length of the power cord (from outlet to brick). I need to find a shorter (12″??) cord and then utilize the longer low voltage cord. I sit in a hotel room as I type this, and 90% of the AC cord is wasted.

    As a blogger, I need the netbook on the road. The iPod Touch doesn’t quite cut it for creating and editing posts, or even for commenting. I suppose in another year or so we’ll be having the same conversation about tablets.

    Travel safe!


  10. dan says:

    The thing about travelling light is that it’s a mindset. It’s not necessary to take everything you might possibly need, if you get somewhere and find you don’t have something you really really need, well, most places have shops where you can get it. And it’s always worth looking at each item when you get back and asking yourself if you could have done without it – for example, I very rarely take a laptop or netbook anywhere now, I find that I can do what I need with a smartphone, flashdrives, etc.


    sharon Reply:

    Of course if that somewhere else is Monaco and you discovered the toothbrush was at home and cost you $14 to buy another one. You are so right, we take things we might need and never use. A sense of Security maybe?


    dan Reply:

    You think Monaco’s expensive (and I’ll spare you my thoughts on why the hell anyone would want to be in Monaco unless very fast cars are being driven round and round the place)? Try anywhere in Scandanavia!


    sharon Reply:

    Believe it or not, I have pictures to prove it, this was back in 82 when I went to Monaco with my art work and had lunch with Princess Grace. I agree about Monaco. Very expensive and not too much to actually see except expensive shops and food and the casino. I spent most of my time in N Italy and S France. Never been to Scandanavia.

  11. Great list! A note on the paperless thing, there’s a great FREE service called Office Live Workspaces, which can really help. You can upload, access, edit, and share documents all with just an internet connection. If you’re traveling around, it’s a handy tool in an internet cafe. No need to worry about losing your USB flash drive.

    Learn more about it here: http://workspace.officelive.com/en-us/.

    Hope this helps! Happy travels.

    MSFT Office Live Outreach Team


    Michael W. Reply:

    LOL at corporate spam. But if MSFT wants to compete with Google Docs, I’m all for it. I don’t particularly like Google Docs and I’m open to a review of MSFT’s alternative.

    Hey Kim, please let someone in the appropriate department know that some of us think Win XP is actually the new Linux for netbooks – lean and mean, and a lot fewer headaches than Linux (plus there is no iTunes for Linux).

    I admit that I like some of the bells and whistles on Win7 Starter (yes, even starter has some more bells and whistles than WinXP) BUT clearly battery life is better on WinXP than on Win7 and it is still slightly faster. I hope MSFT continues to push some of the new features in Win7 back to WinXP – particularly the improved video and improved use of SSD drives.

    (Or in the alternative fine tune Win7 a little more, and at least let us change the background color in Starter for heavens sake!)

    PS I think it’s good you are doing viral marketing like this but the post still sounded a little “canned”.


    Kim_Office_Team Reply:

    @Michael – thanks for your feedback and thoughts. I’ll definitely pass along to the appropriate folks. We definitely striving to keep our eyes and ears to the ground.

    MSFT Office Live Outreach Team


  12. Peter says:

    I mostly travel to 3rd world countries around Asia and Africa, here’s few tips from my experiences:
    – try sandals instead of shoes (weather permitting) – it saves on weight and space (fewer socks)
    – netbooks are great, try to use them to charge other equipment via USB (ipods and some phones are OK, cameras usually aren’t); search the net (eBay, Brando) for smaller AC adapter for the netbook
    – clothes can be washed locally, so try not to overpack (happens easily with underwear, socks etc)
    – jeans is heavy and takes ages to dry after washing, try lighter trousers
    – try a small headlamp instead of a torch (petzl’s zipka is great)
    – swiss army knives seem great, but all those extra tools are rarely used/useful, try a simpler folding knife


  13. Lani D says:

    I did South and Central America for at least 5 months with about 11kgs. I probably could’ve gone lighter since about a quarter of my pack seemed to be toiletries. I’m a blogger but found so many cheap internet cafes in that part of the world that there was no need to bring technology (though I admit, there were frequent cases of Wi-Fi envy).


  14. Don’t take what you can buy for cheaper at your destination? Why people go shopping for t-shirts and vest tops in the west, before heading to somewhere in south-east Asia, is a constant mystery to me.


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