The One-Bag Wonder Packing List: Essential Tips for Packing Light

Here are 11 travel tips and a checklist of what to pack for your trip, from Katherine Gibson, author of Unclutter Your Life.

Uncluttered travel is about taking less so we can bring more home. This goes beyond great photos and souvenirs to include memories of a place. I still recall the richness of a day spent on a mountain trail in Jasper, Alberta, a raging lightning storm in Montana, and the tales I heard from an old man selling newspapers in a Paris kiosk. Uncluttered travel is about traveling with our hands free and our minds, hearts, and souls wide open.


  • Books abound with light-packing tips but my bottom line is simple: Be ruthless. I have yet to meet anyone who moans about not having taken enough.
  • If you can’t carry it onto the plane, don’t take it. Although figures vary according to the airline, on average 1 in 200 bags goes missing. Most eventually show up, but others vanish, rerouted to the eternal baggage carousel in the sky.
  • Pick a bag that works. Travel guru and author Rick Steves devised a nylon suitcase that converts to a backpack large enough to hold gear for his three-month travel stints; it even meets most airlines’ carry-on guidelines.
  • Each item should do double or triple duty, be lightweight and easy to launder, and coordinate with absolutely everything. Consider convertible pants, anything fleece, and microfiber fabrics.
  • Choose grime-hiding, dark-colored clothing made from fabrics that wick away perspiration, keep the body warm, don’t crease, and dry overnight. Silk or stretch lace undies are light and dry quickly.
  • Consider one pair of walking shoes and one lighter pair, such as walking sandals.
  • Other than a plain wedding ring and a knock-off watch, I leave valuables at home.
  • Pack for the purpose. If it’s business, forget the Birkenstocks. If it’s pleasure, forget the pinstripes.
  • Clothes with pockets, especially deep ones, hold maps, gloves, tips, and telephone change. Tilley Endurables has the lead on pocket clothing.
  • Wear a money belt to protect against light-fingered encounters.
  • Because thefts do happen, compile a list of everything you take (handy for insurance purposes) and make two copies of essential documents, including your passport, credit cards, travel insurance, airline tickets, and trip itinerary. Leave one list with a friend and take the other with you; keep it separate from the original documents.
  • Unclutter your travel plans. Plan longer stays in fewer places. Take time to wander and explore. Unexpected, serendipitous moments make the trip.

One-Bag Wonder Packing List

(I use this same list whatever the trip duration. Everything fits in a carry-on bag.)

  • *1 pair pants (no-crease docker-style)
  • 1 pair of pants that convert to shorts
  • *1 jacket (rain-resistant, fold-into-a-pocket style)
  • *1 long-sleeved T-shirt
  • *1 pair walking shoes
  • 1 pair walking sandals
  • 3 quick-dry, no-iron shirts
  • 1 casual, wrinkle-free dress. (For men, a decent shirt to go with the docker pants.)
  • 1 light sweater — whatever the season or destination
  • 4 pairs underwear (quick-dry)
  • 4 pairs socks (quick-dry)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 small towel
  • 1 hat

* Items I wear on the plane.

For cool seasons, add gloves, a scarf, and a collapsible umbrella. Fleece sweaters and pants, which come in various weights, are ideal travel choices as they are warm even if wet, lightweight, and wrinkle-resistant. Boring but versatile black is the way to go.


  • Essential toiletries, including sunscreen; sunglasses; liquid soap that does duty as laundry soap, shampoo, and shower gel; and a moisturizer (forget blowdryers, nail polish, and perfumes).
  • Medications; a copy of prescriptions, including eyeglass prescriptions; a small first-aid kit; vitamins; waterless handwash; and scissors.
  • Four clothespins and an elastic laundry line.
  • Passport and visa, health documentation, emergency information, medical insurance, hotel reservations, photocopies of all documentation, and just the keys needed on your arrival home.
  • A notebook, one guidebook, camera and film, a travel alarm clock, a daypack, a money belt, and a small combination lock.

Katherine Gibson, M.Ed., the author of Unclutter Your Life: Transforming Your Physical, Mental, And Emotional Space (Copyright © 2004 by Katherine Gibson), is in demand as a speaker and workshop presenter, inspiring her audiences to choose clarity and purpose in their personal and professional lives. She has shared her wisdom with thousands on national radio and television shows, and has been featured in magazines and newspapers throughout North America. She currently lives in Victoria, B.C.



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