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How to Pack Light for a Trip

Though it takes a deft hand and a bit of practice, packing light makes for a much less stressful traveling experience. Keeping everything in one carry-on means less time spent in airports and less hassle moving around cities. Here is some time-tested advice for packing a bag that contains what you need and only what you need for your next trip.

Start with the Bag

If you're still using a suitcase you bought several years ago, it may be time to invest in some new, lightweight luggage. Manufacturers like Eagle Creek, American Tourister, Samsonite, Briggs & Riley, and Tumi all make super lightweight luggage, so more weight can be dedicated to what’s inside. Most 22″ wheeled upright bags labeled as “lightweight” weigh in around six pounds; traditional bags of the same size can be almost four pounds heavier. What's more, while spinner bags—the kind with four wheels on the bottom instead of two—are incredibly agile and easy to maneuver, they don't fit as well in aircraft overhead bins as two-wheeled bags. Consider spinner bags for checked luggage, but opt for two-wheeled bags or duffles for carry-ons.

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Stick to the Essentials

If you find that you return home from trips with a bag half full of clean clothes, it's time to start packing less. To take on this easier-said-than-done task, follow these tips:

• Only pack mix-and-match outfits. Pick a color palette and stick with it. Make sure that every pair of pants and shoes and every shirt matches several other items in your suitcase.

• Don't bring a coat. Opt for layers instead of a bulky coat. Your luggage will weigh less and more layers mean more options. Bring a lightweight windbreaker, flannel shirt, or shawl instead of a down parka. In general, give preference to clothes made of lighter fabrics.

• Lay it out. Before stowing everything in your carry-on, lay it all out. This is a good way to quantify your outfits and will likely result in you returning a few items to your closet.

• Tread lightly. Wear one comfortable “all-purpose” pair of shoes and, if you must, pack a second pair. If you need to bring something heavy, like hiking boots, wear them while traveling to save space in your suitcase. (You can always pack a pair of flip-flops to change into.)

• Stick with trial size toiletries. Bring only the most basic supplies and only in travel-size quantities. If you're staying in a hotel or aboard a cruise ship, soap and shampoo will be provided. Though not always the case, you can frequently buy what you need wherever you're going.

• Consider a laundry service or bring detergent. Many hotels and cruise ships offer reasonable laundry packages. Take them up on it (though beware overpriced services), or simply bring a few travel packs of detergent to do hand laundry in your hotel sink.

Fold Wisely

Believe it or not, the way you fold your clothes matters. Many expert travelers swear by the rolling method, which helps to reduce wrinkles as well as save space. Be sure to stick rolled-up shirts or socks into shoes. Other travelers prefer packing in zip-up mesh cubes with underwear in one cube, shirts in another, etc. Alternatively, try Eagle Creek's Pack-It Folder, which creates crisp folds in clothes to help save space.

Pack a Collapsible Duffle for the Return Trip

Souvenir lovers will be familiar with the problem of getting all their purchases home at the end of a trip. Pack a lightweight, foldable bag or tote at the bottom of your luggage to load up with your goodies (and dirty clothes) when it's time to head home. Depending on where you are, it might also be cost-effective to ship your souvenirs home using FedEx.

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