Packing Light 101: 11 Packing Tips for Female Travelers

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Packing Light 101: 11 Packing Tips for Female Travelers

On this blog, we aim to help the full spectrum of travelers. A key goal around here is to illustrate how you can make the most of a trip by traveling light, regardless of whether you’re an urban partygoer or rural adventure-seeker, ardent forest trekker or easy-going beachgoer, man or woman.

In this article, we focus on traveling women. Thanks to demographic shifts and long-overdue changes in societal attitudes, women now travel more than men. Moreover, they do more solo traveling than their male counterparts. This uptick in female travelers has created a kind of informal network of ingenious tips, crafty hacks and women-centric packing guides. But these all-encompassing guides often tow the “maximalist” line, essentially asking women to pack their entire wardrobe and bathroom cabinet – plus a few gendered accessories for good measure. There are still few resources available for how women can pack light.

We can do better. Some tips below ring true for any gender, but a few tips skew toward the female travel experience. We’ll cover light travel clothing for women, compact sanitary products and makeup, as well as a few universal tenets for packing light. As always, feel free to sift through this guide for the tips that make sense for you.

Why Pack Light?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of packing light, let’s take two steps back and evaluate why we’re doing it. Packing light isn’t just a flex; we aren’t competing to see who can carry the tiniest bag for the longest trip. (We’ll leave the competitiveness to the men). Instead, we pack light for the following reasons:

  • It’s more economical: The money you save on checked baggage fees, porter fees, cab fees (because who’s taking public transit with a 60 lb bag?) etc., can be better spent enjoying your trip.
  • It saves time: Trips are finite. Every minute is precious. While large suitcases force you to wait around a luggage carousel for a half-hour or spend 20 minutes dragging stubborn wheels over cobblestones, a compact carryable bag saves you time.
  • It’s safer: Often, large suitcases are an easy mark for thieves and pickpockets. They assume, often correctly, that size equals abundance, value. Toting a minimal carry-on allows you to blend in with locals.
  • It’s freeing: We called ourselves “Unbound” for a reason; when you travel light, you can move freer, be more spontaneous, and remain open to whichever direction the wild ride takes you.

Time, money, safety and spontaneity – the four pillars of traveling light. Now, assuming you’re on board, let’s kick those common packing mistakes and craft the perfect carry-on bag.

1. To Pack Less, Pack Merino Wool

Naturally, our top tip is merino-related. Having traveled extensively on various trip types in various countries, we can confidently say that our merino wool clothing is road-tested for light travel.

The reason for this is scientific. Merino wool is naturally a) antibacterial, b) sweat-wicking, c) insulating, d) breathable and e) wrinkle-resistant. Its superfine, tightly coiled, lanolin-coated fibres are one of nature’s perfect regulators. In the wild, they help merino sheep adapt to a range of climates and physical obstacles; on our bodies, those same mechanisms work their magic.

Consequently, you really only need one or two of each garment – even for a weeks-long trip. A couple of our merino wool shirts for women and women's merino leggings can get you through an entire trip – days spent trekking, nights spent restaurant-hopping, and every experience in between.

2. Choose Neutral Colours for a Capsule Effect

If you’re familiar with a capsule wardrobe, you’re already halfway toward packing light. Essentially, you want to choose synergistic garments that each play nicely with one another.

If you’re packing a lime-green shirt and burgundy skirt, that’s hard to pull off. On the other hand, if you opt for neutral colours, you can easily mix and match without clashing. For instance, our breathable ankle socks in grey make perfect sense peeking out below a charcoal pair of leggings or classic dark blue denim.

Won’t that look drab? You can always get splashy with the accessories. Throw in a lavender silk scarf for that moped ride along coastal roads, or those stark-red cat eye sunglasses for a café in Mexico City. The idea is to complement with loud colours rather than compose.

Credit: yuliapetrova Via Freepik

3. Pack Four Days in Advance – Then Let It Simmer

Packing light is great. Packing light at the last minute is where some women struggle. The fewer items you bring, the more responsibility each item carries; packing light is an act of curation rather than compilation. Therefore, we recommend giving yourself some breathing room to ensure you feel comfortable with your packing job.

Consider packing your bag four days in advance, leaving the top open and contents visible. That’s four days you’ll spend catching it out of the corner of your eye as you enter the bedroom. Four nights you’ll spend considering this dress or that pair of shoes.

As Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Put your bag together in a mad dash if you have to, but ensure you take some sober-eyed time to consider if it all makes sense.

4. Consider the Army Roll

This is one of those classic, universal light packing tips – the kind you find on most “packing hacks” roundups. And who are we to exclude something that works so well?

For the unfamiliar, the army roll involves tri-folding a garment lengthwise, rolling it tightly, then tucking one end into the open pocket of the other. The result is a neat, compact package with less surface area than a typical folded garment.

The only downside of the army roll is that you have to keep it up every time you repack your bag. However, it’s a small price to pay for a hack that – done right – allows you to pack a couple more garments.

5. As for Accessories, Use the “Past Month Rule”

Who knows who invented the past-month rule for packing (maybe we dreamed it up?). Variations of this tip exist in the home decluttering world. The thinking goes like this: if you haven't worn it in the past month, don’t pack it.

We tend, as humans, to prepare for all possible outcomes, especially when we venture into unfamiliar places. We also have a tendency to want to be someone else when we travel – an idealized, mysterious version of ourselves. But that thinking leads us to overpacking – packing garments we’ve never worn and probably will never wear.

This simple rule ensures that we only pack garments in our regular rotation. Garments we know look and feel good.

That said, explore our merino wool clothing ahead of your trip to ensure that you look and feel your best in our clothes. Take our light merino long sleeve shirts for a few winter walks before you roll them into your bag. We want you to feel comfortable in your clothes.

6. For Toiletries and Makeup, Skate by on Samples and Travel Sizes

That 50 ml bottle of perfume will make it past security, but its awkward shape doesn’t jive well inside a makeup kit. The same goes for that body moisturizer, cleansing balm, hydrating serum, foundation, cream blush, etc., etc. As women know all too well, a toiletry and makeup kit can get bulky fast.

There’s a workaround, although it requires some forethought. Most makeup companies offer free samples when you buy your full-sized products online, including blister packs, sample packets and 2 ml micro-jars. Next time you’re stocking up on your full-sized collection, throw in a couple of samples. Over time, you’ll have more than enough products to create a compact, versatile makeup kit.

This guide outlines all the companies that offer free samples online. Alternatively, you can just chat up the clerk at your favourite cosmetics store or drugstore – they might let you walk out with samples even without purchasing anything.

As for basic toiletries like shampoo or body wash, we recommend decanting your products into travel-sized bottles. Most drugstores sell travel-sized versions of basic amenities, but they tend to be overpriced big-brand products.

Credit: Freepik Via Freepik

7. Leverage Your Personal Item

Airlines allow you to bring a carry-on bag and personal item. The latter typically allows dimensions not exceeding 18 x 14 x 8 inches (or 45 x 35 x 20 cm), essentially the size of a small backpack or large purse.

Not enough people leverage this personal item effectively. They end up half-filling it with earbud headphones, a wallet and whatever receipts were in there before. Instead, think of your personal item as a purpose-built extension of your carry-on bag, used to tow items you want easily accessible for the flight.

This might include electronics like a laptop (which you need to quickly extract during the security check), a basic makeup/refresher kit, travel-sized pillow, documents, a change of shirt, and – yes – that wallet and headphones. Leveraging your personal item frees up space in your main carry-on.

8. Wear as Much as Possible on the Airplane

Especially if you’re packing light during the winter, fitting everything in a single carry-on can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Our workaround is simple: don’t try to fit everything.

Instead, wear as much clothing as possible on the airplane or in transit. If you’re bringing a down jacket and scarf, wear them on the plane, regardless of whether it’s cold at your point of origin. You can always shed some layers once you take your seat, tucking them neatly behind your waist or propping them against the cabin wall for a makeshift pillow.

9. Buy Sanitary Products Abroad or Pack a Compact Menstrual Cup

If you’re traveling for longer than a week or two, there’s a high likelihood you’ll encounter your period on the road. You might even encounter it on a weeklong trip – it’s hard to tell sometimes. Plus, traveling can throw off your period in weird ways.  

However, while it pays to be prepared, pads and tampons are bulky. It’s not uncommon to go through 30+ sanitary products during a period, which takes up a lot of space.

If you’re packing light, consider buying your pads/tampons abroad. This “ultimate guide to pads and tampons around the world” from Fearless Female Travels is a great resource, offering detailed descriptions of availability in each country.

Alternatively, pack a compact menstrual cup. They take a little getting used to and require some regular sanitation procedures. But they’re also economical, require less frequent changing and – pertinent to this article – pack away easily.

10. Odds and Ends: Collapsible Bottles, E-Readers and More

We’ve covered clothing (merino all the way!), accessories, makeup and menstrual products. But what about all those other little things populating a piece of luggage: odds and ends, amenities and creature comforts?

For every item you bring, ask yourself, “is there a compact version of this?” 99 times out of 100, the answer is yes. Instead of packing a rigid, cylindrical water bottle, consider a collapsible version. Instead of packing three 700-page books, consider an e-reader. Instead of a money belt, consider a bra-attachable travel pouch. Instead of noise-cancelling headphones, consider AirPods and a white-noise playlist on Spotify.

If you know of any other compact versions of common travel items, share them in the comments below. We’re always looking to save a little space in our own bags!

11. Know What to Leave Behind

Lastly, explore our list of items to leave at home. Items like towels, generic toiletries, valuables and TSA-flagged items are best left out of the bag. They’re either already available at your destination or aren’t worth the risk of transporting.

Don’t let a bulky suitcase get between you and your dream trip. Packing light as a female traveler might be a little more of an uphill battle, but it’s entirely doable. Follow the tips above, give yourself some time to mull it over, and be ruthless in your curation. With an efficient, light carry-on at your side, you can turn your attention to what really matters when you travel: freely enjoying the world.

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