Packing tips from 3 years on the road

Packing is an art in itself, especially when you are aiming for travelling light. We’ve been living a nomadic life for over three years now, and for the past two years we’ve mainly travelled with carry-on luggage. We’re slowly getting better at this art and have learnt many tricks and tips on the way. Some of them we shared after first few months of travelling (What I Have Learnt about Packing), but during the years we have gathered a few pointers to add to the list. So here you go, our top packing tips for travelling light!

What to pack

Don’t carry things just in case

If you start thinking about all the things you might need, the list is endless. Our advice is to just pack what you know you will need and leave the rest. Whatever it is you didn’t pack, you can probably buy it from where you are going.

Get solid toiletries

Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, deodorant, etc. You can get them all in a solid format. This means less weight and no need to worry about liquid limitations when flying. We’re big fans of Lush for shampoo bars, while for body we’ve found the cheap market versions good enough, as long as they are meant for sensitive skin.

Solid toiletries

For clothes, think layers

Instead of one thick sweater, bring 3 thin shirts that you can wear on top of each other. Or instead of heavy weight winter trousers bring few pairs of leggings/thermals and your normal jeans. This makes it easier for you to adapt to changing weather conditions and gives you a more versatile wardrobe.

Pack matching clothes

At first I packed my favorite clothes without thinking how well they fit together. I ended up with clothes that only looked good with a certain other piece. I often had to wear outfits that looked weird because that one matching piece was dirty. From then on I’ve paid more attention to making sure all my clothes look ok with each other. This also means packing mostly solid colors and simple cuts, adding just a few accent pieces to spice it up.

Clothes

Get climate specific clothes at your destination

If you don’t have clothes for hot tropical weather, there’s no point in hunting them in Europe at midwinter. Just pack a thing or two and buy the rest when you get there. Same for warm winter clothes, if you don’t own enough, buy more at your destination. And it might be a good idea visit the local second hand stores for scoring deals.

Pay attention to the fabrics

Select clothes that are made of durable and easy to wash materials that don’t crinkle easily. Our favorite material is merino wool, which is cool in hot weather and warm in cool, doesn’t crinkle much and doesn’t need to be washed every day.

Handwash clothes if needed

You can wash your clothes with shampoo or a normal soap bar. Trust us, we have tried both with success. Sometimes it takes a long time for your clothes to dry, but there’s a trick to speed the process: after wringing your clothes, wrap them tightly in a towel and squeeze all the remaining water out.

Pack a canvas tote bag

Many times you need an extra bag, and canvas bags take hardly any space in your luggage. We use them for grocery shopping, taking laundry out, going to the beach, and so on.

Canvas bag

Don’t make it complicated

Think what you normally like to wear, instead of going for a shopping spree of “travel specific” clothing. If you’re going for a long hike somewhere in the middle of the nowhere, sure, pack appropriate outdoor clothes. Otherwise, just take into account the climate and culture, and use what you have. Also, it’s hard to know beforehand what you will need on a long trip, or as a nomad. You’ll figure it out when living it.

How to pack

Roll your clothes

There’s lot of debate about how you should pack your clothes, but we have found rolling them tightly to work best for us. If we’re “living out of a suitcase”, I roll each piece separately and stuff them in a packing cube. This way I can see them all at once and it’s easy to pick the piece I need. If I’m just moving once before settling down for a while, I roll my clothes in bigger patches. It’s faster and there’s even less wrinkles. 

Use packing cubes

With packing cubes you can fit much more into your bag, because you can compress the clothes a bit. We prefer smaller cubes over big ones. They are easier to arrange to fit the luggage, and it’s faster to find what we’re looking for.

Packing cubes

Have a separate bag for valuables

…even if you carry it inside your main bag. We are a bit paranoid about our laptops and camera, so we don’t feel comfortable storing them in the overhead locker in the plane. On long flights there are also many other things I want a quick access to, like napkins, chewing gum and Kindle, so I prefer placing them in a smaller bag under the seat in front of me. There’s also been a few times when the overhead lockers have been full and some bags have been transferred to the plane’s hold. Same can happen in buses with limited storage, sometimes they don’t allow you to take anything bigger than a purse with you to your seat.

Get sturdy bottles for liquids

Remember those small shampoo bottles you can get from hotels? They seem very handy, until they fall apart and mess up your whole bag. We prefer buying durable, refillable bottles designed for travel. You can fill them with your favorite brands and there’s no need to worry about breaking.

Bottles

Everything should have its own place

Ever had to unpack your whole bag to find the thing you were searching for? If every single thing in your bag has its own place, you know where to find it fast. Use packing cubes and other containers to separate things. This also makes it easier to check you have everything with you, because you know what should be where.

Bonus tip

Empty your bags once in a while

When we first started out, Antti was carrying a big book with him for a few weeks before noticing it. That hasn’t happen anymore, but you’ll be surprised of how much small stuff accumulates in the deep corners of your bag.

Carry on travelling!

Don’t get intimidated by the term “carry-on only”, because you can fit surprisingly much in the carry-on allowance. The problem is not usually the space (~40 liters bag is most often well inside the limits), but the weight. The airlines seem to become stricter and stricter with their allowances, 7 or 8 kilos being a common limit nowadays. I’ve even seen some airlines with a 5 kg limit! Luckily most of them still don’t count the “personal item” (purse, laptop bag or a small backpack) into the weight limit, so if needed, you can place all your heavy stuff (looking at you, laptop!) in it.

We hope these ideas will help you with your packing struggles. We are also always looking for new ideas on making our travels easier and lighter, so please do share you best tips!

If you want to know all the things we are currently carrying with us, check out our packing list.

Antti and Mirje

We are Mirje and Antti, a 30+ digital nomad couple, entrepreneurs with restless feet and passion for experiencing the world. more »