3 Must-Have Items for Packing Light

No matter the time of year, I hate checking my bag. It takes extra time I don’t have, plus there is always the fear that the airline will lose my suitcase. Not to mention–if you don’t have status or certain credit cards, the fees for checked baggage can really add up! I’ve gotten so good at packing over my decade of business travel that I can pack in a carry on for a seven-day international business trip, with room left over. Here are my three must-have items for packing light.

Packing cubes. There’s a bit of a debate over whether packing cubes help you pack more in your suitcase. In my experience, they absolutely do! In the two photos below you can see how much clothing I squeezed into the cube. My strategy is to fit as much in the cube as I can, then  lay the remaining clothes on top to fill in any gaps in the suitcase. Some travelers use the smaller cubes for undergarments and socks, but I just use the pockets in my suitcase for those items. I use the Eagle Creek Full Cubes for clothes and for my giant tablecloth (used for expos), although I know people who use the eBags version and really like them.

packing cube empty

Packing cube comparison

Refillable toiletry containers. There is almost no scenario where you need to have a full bottle of shampoo or conditioner on a trip. These bottles take up way too much space, plus they aren’t allowed through security anyway. I decant virtually all of my toiletries into smaller containers, including many that come in TSA-compliant sizes already. I use small bottles for toiletries that require a larger volume, like shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, and contact lens cases for smaller volume liquids, like face wash, eye cream, and moisturizer. These containers are available almost anywhere, but this is a great set that has plenty of different sizes and a funnel for easy pouring.

EReader. If you love to fill your transit time reading (like I do, when I’m not frantically trying to finish a presentation or report!), you are all too familiar with how heavy books are. Enter the eReader, which can hold hundreds (if not thousands) of books in one lightweight device. I take my Kindle Paperwhite with me on all of my trips, just in case I get lucky and have a few minutes to read. Plus there is the added bonus of borrowing eBooks from the library for free from anywhere! (I just finished reading Gone Girl, and while the movie was great the book was amaaaazing.)

Bonus: Small bags. I use small bags for organization, not compression, and while it may not help me pack less it makes what I do pack way more organized. They hold makeup, electronics, jewelry, pens, you name it!  Petite makeup bags are great, as are plain old Ziploc bags.

Click here to read about my strategies for packing light.

Readers, what are your must have items for packing light?


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  1. I have a few of the Eagle Creek packing cubes, which I use and stack. It absolutely helps and keeps my clothing organized. I pull out the cubes and leave them packed, but unzipped, and just set them into hotel drawers.

    I also use small bags for misc. items. Often I use Clinique makeup bags (free offer ones), or else airline amenity bags. I have one for undergarments, one for belts and jewelry, one for flow dryer and brushes, one for mis. items…. And I re-use my TOMS shoe bags to pack my shoes.

    I am a huge fan of Think Tank brand cable management pouches. These are made for photographers, but they are great, reasonably priced, sturdy and have a clear front for easy ID of contents. These I use for all the electronics and cables as well as my smaller photo items (I’m a professional travel photographer). https://www.thinktankphoto.com/collections/cable-management. I keep items I don’t need till arrival packed in one, and another pouch goes into my carry-on with immediate need electronic cables and cords.

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