How can I save by travelling lighter?

After travelling for more than half a year now, I’ve become convinced that one of the keys to travelling the world on $50 a day is packing lightly.

Travelling with hand luggage only doesn’t just mean avoiding checked baggage fees on most airlines. You can also save on:

  • Travel goods: Your first saving starts before you leave home. Hand luggage is much cheaper than buying a large suitcase. And the fewer bags you have, the fewer travel accessories you need – such as locks, bag straps, luggage tags etc.
  • Storage: One of the most annoying things about travelling is deciding what to do with your luggage between check outs and check ins. A smaller bag, especially a backpack, means you can easily take your luggage with you to a park, restaurant, or cafe. Many museums and theaters will hold small bags for free or a small fee (while larger bags and suitcases are not permitted). If you do have to use a coin locker or left luggage facility, often, the smaller the bag, the smaller the fee.
  • Transport: Aside from the cheaper deals on flights, travelling with fewer and lighter bags means you can save on taxi/bus fares or hire car fees by walking instead.
  • Tipping: In countries where gratuities are customary, such as America, porters are tipped per bag. If you’re staying in hotels where your bags are carried to your room, using the services of fewer porters for your party also represents a saving.
  • Replacement: Since cabin baggage stays with you, the chances of losing your luggage (unless you leave it on the plane yourself!) are much lower. You can save on replacing lost luggage, and take out a lower insurance policy if you take fewer things with you. And the fewer things you have, the harder it is for you to lose things.
  • Souvenirs: If you can’t fit it in your bag, you can’t buy it. It’s easy to save on souvenirs (a.k.a. things you don’t really need…!) when you have a small bag.

Here’s a quick video (<5 min) featuring my bag:

Choosing a bag

  • Choosing a bag. CabinMax sell ultra light bags, and their website is organized by the maximum size available for most airlines. Even if you don’t buy one of their bags, the site is extremely useful for figuring out the best dimensions for your bag. Ideally, you want a bag that is a) accepted as handluggage on most airlines, b) is as big as permissible, c) is as light as possible. There’s no point wasting half your luggage allowance on the bag itself!
  • Choosing external accessories. Choosing a bag with only one zip, or zips that align so you only need to use one lock, is a big time and money saver. Luggage tags are important too. Look for light and sturdy. You can make your own with a laminator or sewing machine. Some airlines give away long-lasting plastic ones for free.
  • Choosing internal accessories. We ordered two sets of packing cubes online, but only received one. In the end, that turned out to be perfect – three each. I use one for everyday layers, one for winter, and one for summer clothes. If I were to start again, I’d probably go with washing bags. Then I could pop them straight into the laundry to reduce the chance of lost clothes. For toiletries, I use a resealable bag with a handle (some airports give these out for free) for liquids. I keep a toothbrush in a small case made from a face washer with a zip which doubles as a hand towel.

Packing tips

Everyone’s style, clothing preferences, and travel plans are different, but here’s what I do…

  • Underwear and socks. Since an accident involving an unfamiliar washing machine that turned all of my pastel garments a drab grey, I decided to buy all black underwear. This is also good in case you have to use water that isn’t particularly clear, as is the case in some locations, as you don’t have to worry about staining. Also, if all of your socks are the same colour, you don’t need to worry about pairing!
  • Stockings and leggings. Instead of lots of pairs of thermal undergarments or trousers, I find stockings or leggings a lightweight alternative.
  • T-shirts and dresses. I take a few t-shirts with me, not only for wearing in warm weather but for layering under other clothes, and to use as pyjamas. I don’t see the sense in bringing special clothes for sleeping when you have limited baggage! I have as many dresses as T-shirts as I find them more flexible. You can wear them on their own in warm climates, or with other layers and leggings/stockings in cooler climates.
  • Jackets. I have two jackets with me. One is more formal, which I can wear onto the plane, to avoid weighing my bag down. The other is a lightweight puffy down jacket which fits into a bag and is excellent as a neck pillow or foot rest when on the move.
  • Trousers. Jeans are probably the most hard-wearing, warm garment. But they’re heavy, so I always wear them onto the plane. I make do with leggings the rest of the time. My husband has an awesome pair of trousers that transform into board shorts, are UV and mosquito resistant, and super fast-drying. That will likely be my next investment!
  • Shoes. One pair of really good shoes is what you’re looking for. Don’t mind the weight, as you’ll be wearing them on the plane anyway. I found a pair of boots that work equally well with dresses as other clothes. More importantly, they’re very comfortable for walking. For a break, I have flip flops I can wear at the beach, in warmer climates. (Or in the shower if I’m at a shared facility.)
  • Accessories. I have two scarves. One is a large circle scarf I made. I can use it as a jacket, skirt or dress. The other I use as a skirt over my bathing suit, or as a wrap for more formal attire. The circle scarf also comes in handy as a blanket for the plane. Or as a sheet or pillow case (if you have to sleep on bedding that isn’t so great).
  • If you’re travelling with a partner or friend, try to bring scarves you both like so you can swap. Do this wherever possible – think hats, sunglasses, socks etc. Anything where an exact size isn’t important and you can both effectively double your wardrobe!

Travelling tips

In order to travel with fewer belongings, you may find that you have to modify how you travel a little. But the good news is, this often results in other savings by changing how you travel!

Rather than paying for your laundry to be done at a hotel/using coin laundries at a hostel or bringing enough clothes with you for your whole trip, you may find it cheaper to stay at an AirBnB. Often, accommodation with laundry facilities also comes with a kitchen, and even wifi, meaning you can save on food and phone/internet bills too.

10 ways to save by traveling lighterNow that you know how to travel lighter and save money, why not calculate how long you can travel for?

Download your free hand luggage sample packing list

What do you always pack? Share your best light travel tips in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “How can I save by travelling lighter?

  1. Fun post. Thanks for sharing.
    I use a laundry bag (instead of packing cubes) to pack some of my stuff, and can attest to the handiness.

    My space-hogging luxury on most trips is a book, because I prefer paper books, but many travelers are able to cut down luggage further with an eReader, or multipurpose electronic device.
    Other items can be multipurpose too, such as shampoo/conditioner doubling as body soap (also perfectly servicable as washing detergent in a pinch).

    1. Thanks for your comment Anna! You raise a great point – shampoo/conditioner does make an excellent body soap or washing detergent. This reminds me of another tip – if you’re traveling with hand luggage only, don’t bring washing powder or liquid! Apparently neither is allowed in the cabin (I’d saved a few little packets from hotel stays to take on our trip, and had them taken off me at security when I went to board our first plane). According to airport security I spoke to, only liquids for personal use are permitted in the cabin (hence toiletries like shampoo is okay). So it’s much better to bring shampoo/conditioner that you can use as a detergent for hand washing.👚
      Your tip about paper books vs. eReaders is great too. I also prefer paper books, and for short-term travel, they’re my space-hogging luxury too ^_^ Honestly, even though my eReader has been useful for the times we’ve had limited power (such as in Fiji), it’s been more of a space-hog than I would have liked, since I am mainly reading on my tablet transformer PC these days (since I can borrow books from home while abroad).
      Glad to hear laundry bags are indeed handy!! 👜

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