Traveling light seems to come easier for some people more than others. Even if you think it’s impossible to, there are ways to pack light — even in the winter. Maybe you learned the hard way: On one trip, your overstuffed bag literally ripped at the seams and you vowed to never overpack again. (Just me?) Plus, you tended to wear the same few outfits anyway — and in most photos, you’re bundled up in your coat, hat, and scarf, so it turned out that it really didn’t matter how many outfit changes you brought along.
This winter, sure, you may want to bring along your super cute wool coat, but your inner voice knows that you’ll save space to bring your foldable down jacket instead. But if you’re not used to packing light — and only traveling with a carry-on, for instance — it may seem like an overwhelming concept. Once you try it, however, you may just become a convert. You’ll see.
Rick Steves, guidebook author and public television host, tells Bustle that his tour company takes tens of thousands of people of all ages and styles to Europe — and tells each of them that they can only bring one carry-on bag. For many, this is a radical concept, Steves says. But in the end, the mobility and freedom of packing light wins people over, and most travelers who try it once will never go any other way.
Stefanie Michaels, founder of Adventure Girl, is also a pro when it comes to traveling light. “One winter, I arrived in Switzerland with just a carry-on,” she tells Bustle. “The hotel staff was baffled, because they knew I had a day trip to the Alps in mind,” she tells Bustle. “But I had packed for two weeks and had everything in my small bag.” Below, Steves, Michaels, and other travel experts share their best advice on how to pack light for winter trips — even if you’re bringing along some bulky items of clothing.
1. Make Sure You’re Traveling With The Right Bag
The type of luggage you use may vary from what your best friend uses, but it can definitely help you pack less, Helene Sula, who runs the blog HeleneInBetween.com with her husband, Michael, tells Bustle. “Chances are, you’re bringing way too much, and the bag you use is a very important aspect on how to maximize space,” she says. “I’ve been carrying a 460-Liter Osprey Porter bag for almost four years now and have traveled for a whole 22 days with one bag.”
2. Try To Visualize What You’ll Wear Each Day Of Your Trip
Sula says another way to make sure you don’t overpack is by visualizing what you’ll be wearing each day. “For example, one dress equals one outfit; two shirts, one pair of jeans, and one pair of shorts equals four outfits,” she says. “See how you can mix and match everything.” Sula says the best way to do this is by laying everything out so you can actually see what you’re bringing. “Also, make sure you don’t have too many of the same color, take out things that are redundant, and eliminate things that you won’t need or are overly bulky,” she says.
3. Only Pack Items You Will Wear At Least Twice
Gabby Beckford, founder of PacksLight.com, tells Bustle that a huge part of packing light is packing smart. She says it doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend away or an international trip, but the worst thing people who want to travel with just a carry-on do is that they overpack with items they don’t even use. “So only pack items you know you’ll wear two or more times,” she says. “That once-in-a-lifetime ball gown makes for a pretty photo, but takes up valuable space — and if the weather is bad, you’ll really have regrets.”
4. Bring Several Layers
When packing a winter wardrobe, an instant space-saver is bringing various layers. “In the winter, layers are key,” Steves says. “Consider packing along some super-light silk long underwear and a lightweight puffer coat that can squish compactly.”
Kristin Addis, who’s been running the travel brand bemytravelmuse.com as CEO for seven years and travels about 80 percent of the year, agrees with Steves about layering. “I’ve traveled for years doing carry-on-only whenever possible,” she tells Bustle. “It may seem you can’t do carry-on only in the winter, but I have achieved it several times — the key is layering.” She says she brings several pairs of leggings, and then alternates layering pairs on the inside and outside for variety.
5. Bring Multiple Items Of Small Items
Addis says that if you want a way to vary your look, you can also pack different colors of the same item. Just like she layers her leggings and alternates which pair she wears externally, she does the same with hats. “Bring multiple beanies so that you can switch up your style,” she says.
6. Choose A Down Coat Over A Wool One
TravelChannel.com writer Deanne Revel tells Bustle that down is your friend. “Skip the fashionable wool coat and go with a down puffy jacket,” she says. “You can use it as a pillow on the flight or squish it into a bag without taking up any space.” Plus, these days, many down jackets can fold and roll into a little pouch, so that’s a space-saver, too.
7. Use Bulkier Items As Buffers
Sula says that if you do travel with some bulky items, use them wisely so that you will still pack light. “For instance, use sweaters as buffers,” she says. She also says to make sure to stuff things inside bulky items to save space. “If I have an ornery hat, I’ll use my sweater to fill it out,” she adds.
8. Roll Your Clothes
You can roll your clothes and place them right into your bag, or you can roll them, then put them into packing cube(s). “The rolling method really is the best space-saving method for clothes,” Revel says. “I’ve tried all the techniques, from cute cube sets to literally folding all of your clothes together into one giant clothes burrito.”
9. Use Packing Cubes
Using packing cubes, where your clothes are compressed in a flexible cube-shaped pouch, can help you save space, too. “The idea is to condense your bulky clothing as much as possible so that your suitcase isn’t filled with air and wasted space,” Beckford says. “Packing cubes not only organize everything, but they literally pack down any bulky items into a smaller size.”
Addis agrees. “Always use packing cubes,” she says. “They make rolling and compressing items so much easier.”
10. Compress Your Clothes And/Or Use Space-Saving Bags
You can also have more room in your luggage with another packing method. To really maximize bag space, use little plastic bags or compression bags, Steves suggests.
Michaels, too, swears by space-saving bags. “Everything from my parka to ski pants to bulky sweaters and jeans fit perfectly in my small bag,” she says. But, inside her bag, she says she uses the kind of space-saver bags that simply roll and let the air out with each rotation. She also has the type of bags where you can suck out extraneous air with a vacuum cleaner, which she can do while traveling, too. “Most upscale hotels have a vacuum that has a separate suction part to the canister,” she says. Michaels adds that you can, and should, use space-saver bags year-round, no matter what season it is. “With airlines charging a fortune for checked bags, this can be a simple and efficient money-saver,” she says.
11. Leave Heavy And Bulky Toiletries At Home
Michaels suggests leaving behind anything that will weigh you down, such as bulky products like shampoos, lotions, and makeup. “Unless you’re heading to the Australian Outback, there’s no reason to endure schlepping things like these in your bag, especially if you’re trying for a carry-on for your adventure,” she says. Not only will certain hotels and Airbnbs provide bathroom products, but you can also head to a local store to pick up similar items you use, she says. “Products from local shops not only can work during the trip, but can also be a nice takeaway for bringing home as a souvenir,” she adds.
Similarly, Revel suggests investing in travel-sized hair products. “I used to travel with a big, bulky hair straightener, but now I use a compact straightener that is a third of the size (the T3 SinglePass),” she says. “Sure, it takes a couple more minutes to do my hair, but I’d rather have the extra space in my carry-on.”
In addition, Revel says you can cut your liquids bag in half by using solid toiletries. “These include powder face wash, a dry or bar shampoo, and stick sunscreen,” she says.
12. Wear Or Bring The Bulkiest Items On The Plane
Although you may not want to spend an entire flight wearing your down coat, you can always use it as a pillow, blanket, or store it above your seat. But you’ll save a lot of packing space if you carry it on the plane with you. “I wear my jacket and snow boats on the plane so that I can reserve my luggage for other things,” Addis says.
Sula agrees. “I always try to wear the heavier stuff — my coat, thick sweater, and boots — to my destination,” she says. “That saves space in my bag and helps me fit in a bit more.”
So while you may think it’s impossible to travel light even though you have bulky winter items to bring with you, as you can see, it’s quite possible. And the less you carry, the more free you’ll be and can focus more on your trip versus wondering why you overpacked again.
Rick Steves, guidebook author and public television host