The Ultimate Guide to Packing and Traveling Light for Female Travelers [Beginner Friendly]

by | Sep 17, 2019

For some, travel can either be a very liberating experience or the most daunting thing they have to endure, usually due to packing and planning. In my experience, I noticed that travel became a lot more fun and way less stressful after mastering the art of packing light and traveling carry-on only.

Not only does packing light save you money on baggage fees, worrying about lost baggage, and time waiting at the airport, but also a lot of back pain and the noodle arms. Let me be real here, at only 4’11 this can be especially important for us small women. Something that I really struggled with on flights—before learning how to pack light—was lifting my carry-on into the overhead bin but usually, a kind smile (and maybe puppy eyes) got the person behind me to show some compassion and help. Can anyone else relate?

Here are some tested beginner-friendly packing tips for the female travelers out there that want to be carrying around as little baggage as possible—literally and figuratively speaking!

1. Start with Your Luggage

It would only make sense to start with the biggest item you will be traveling with—
your luggage. 


Personally, I find backpacks to be the easiest to travel with because you can kind of squeeze them into the overhead bins, under your seat, on busses and taxis. They have a lot more compartments than a regular wheeled suitcase allowing for more effective use of space. They are easy to move around in, especially if you are going to be visiting multiple cities and a good backpack will provide you with a lot of back and waist support. 

Believe it or not, I spent a whole month looking for the perfect backpack for my very first solo backpacking trip back in 2015. None of the ones I was seeing and trying were sitting right on my waist because I have a short torso, plus they were just way too bulky. I’m sure you have come across those travelers with backpacks that go way over their heads… yeah, not a cute look!

Female backpacker packing and traveling light
Me and my Deva Backpack chillin’ with a cup of hot ramen at the Belizian border #travelinginstyle

After many failed trials, I found the Deva 60 Liter backpack from Gregory that was the perfect fit for me. I have it in X-Small, great for those under 5’2, and it is still in perfect condition after all I put it through.

Why is this backpack awesome?

It’s made for women! This backpack comes with a removable day pack, a rain cover (came in handy during monsoon season in Central America), it’s front and top-loading so it’s easy to access your stuff. Features lots of hip and back support and buckles to compress the bag after its all packed. So far, this backpack has worked as a carry-on for me on most airlines I used. 

Not feeling the backpack look? Then check out these lightweight wheeled suitcases:

Lipault Paris makes ultra-chic and ULTRA light suitcases. At less than 5 pounds when empty, this will be a very easy one to lift up and stuff… just a little bit!

They offer a spinner which is four-wheeled and a foldable two-wheeled option. 

The Personal Item

Most airlines allow for a carry-on plus a personal item and you really need to take advantage of this if you will be going on a long trip. I opt for a small expandable duffle bag like The Landon Carryall from Dagne Dover which made out of neoprene so its dirt and water resistant.  Or a small daypack with at least two main compartments and a water bottle side pocket, this can be very useful when on the road! 

Lately, I have been traveling with only a small backpack (as my personal item on some airlines that don’t allow a carry-on) for trips 2 weeks or shorter. If I’m traveling for more than two weeks, I will take the Deva 60L backpack as my carry-on bag and a small daypack as my personal item.

2. Clothing

The secret sauce for packing light and traveling carry-on only is two words: 

Packing Cubes 

Packing cubes allow you to not only save on space by compressing your clothes but also stay organized on your trip by categorizing your cubes. This way you won’t have to dig through all your folded or rolled clothes all the way at the bottom of your backpack or suitcase. You simply pull out the cube that has what you are looking for.

three packing cubes to pack and travel light with a carry-on only
Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube Set

I have the Eagle Creek cube set which I bought almost 5 years ago and they are still holding up. Hands down these are the best on the market! 

Here is how I categorize my cubes:

  • Large Cube–bulkiest items (shorts, pants, and dresses)
  • Medium Cube–lightweight items (t-shirts, tank tops, and swimsuits)
  • Small Cube–best for underwear and socks

I never have to unpack when I’m on a trip because these cubes act as my closet basically. Paired with my front-loading Deva backpack; this is an organizational power duo! 

Rolling Your Clothes 

Folding your clothes wastes so much space in your bag and even your packing cubes. Army rolling your clothes will help you pack your carry-on effectively with space to spare for that extra pair of shoes you really wanted to bring!

Watch the video below to learn how I pack my carry-on backpack and how to roll clothes for your packing cubes:

Traveling during the summer? 

A summer trip is the easiest to pack for. I recommend packing a week’s worth of clothes regardless of how long your trip is.

Female traveler wearing multi-functional beach sarong
This sarong was such a style saver. I used it as a skirt and a dress while traveling!

The Simple Summer Packing List for Female Travelers:

  • 7 different types of tops—T-shirts that can double up as PJs, crop tops (you can pack more since they’re smaller!), tank tops, one or two nice night time tops
  • 2-3 Swimsuits—interchangeable sets are a plus!
  • 1 sarong that can double up as a skirt or dress 
  • 2 dresses (linen or chiffon to keep you cool and pack small)
  • 1-2 shorts made out of linen, terry or cotton 
  • 1 pair of denim shorts
  • 1 sweater/hoodie (to wear on the plane)
  • 1 pair of sweatpants (to wear on the plane)
  • 2 different types of bras (I wear one of the bras on the plane- I also pack reusable silicone pasties)
  • 7 pairs of panties 
  • 1 cute pair of flip flop sandals (these are a fav!) plus a pair of walking sandals or tennis shoes (I wear mine on the plane)
  • 1 Body/beach towel  

What if you are traveling during the winter?

Well, this is trickier to pack for but can be done by getting a little more creative with how you wear your clothes. You will definitely need to utilize the Packing Cubes and what you wear on the plane.

female traveler traveling in the winter wearing a warm winter coat

The Simple Winter Packing List for Female Travelers:

  • 2-4 thermals (tops and bottoms—these are thin under layers to wear under your clothes to keep you warm)
  • 1-2 neutral colored turtleneck (you can layer under a crewneck sweater for styling and warmth!)
  • 3 warm sweaters (wear one on the plane)
  • 1 fleece hoodie (wear on the plane)
  • 1 pair of warm sweatpants (wear on the plane)
  • 1 pleather or wool skirt—cute for going out
  • 1 pair of denim pants
  • 1 nice warm coat. I like a fashionable long waterproof puffer (take on the plane with you)
  • Warm socks and tights
  • 1-2 pairs of wool gloves, beanies, and scarves for styling
  • 2 different types of bras (I wear one of the bras on the plane- I also pack reusable silicone pasties)
  • 7 pairs of panties
  • Waterproof (snow) boots, black or brown booties, tennis shoes (wear those on the plane) 
Female traveler winter coat for packing and traveling light
Wearing my favorite winter puffer from Noize

Laundry While Traveling 

The reason I recommend packing only a week’s worth of clothes regardless of how long your trip is because doing laundry is easy and affordable abroad. Your hostel or hotel will usually offer laundry services for a small fee or you can find local laundromats that will wash and fold your clothes for a few dollars. 

All purpose castile soap for female travelers traveling light

Something that I got in the habit of doing is washing my swimsuits and underwear in the shower using Dr. Bronner’s all-purpose castile soap. This helps me go longer before I start worrying about doing my laundry.  

3. Toiletries and Beauty Products

The truth is that toiletries are where we really tend to overpack. Especially if you are a curly girl like me—you know the struggle is even more real. When it comes to toiletries and beauty products, the key to packing light and smart is to bring multi-purpose products and buying products at your destination

My favorite multi-purpose products are:

Hair Care

Bringing solid products will save you space for other things in your clear quart-size bag and they’re more eco-friendly! 

For curly girls like me that can’t go without their hair products, I just bring enough of my favorite styling product and conditioner in 3oz silicone containers (or recycled travel-sized containers) and simply buy more if I run out while traveling. My wet brush comes with me everywhere I go, this is a non-negotiable item if you have knotty hair! 

Makeup

You don’t have to skip on makeup just because you are backpacking or traveling light. Bringing a lipstick and an eyeliner won’t take that much space and you’ll be glad you brought them. 

The Travel Makeup Essentials Packing List: 

(You can buy body sunscreen at your destination)

FYI 1, you can save some $$ on the Bluemercury site by using Rakuten to get 10% cashback!

FYI 2, the best bag you can store your makeup in while traveling is the free Glossier bubble wrap bag you get when you make a purchase with them because It protects your powders from shattering!

4. Shoes

Shoes are usually the bulkiest items to pack and the hardest to decide on when packing for an upcoming trip. My rule of thumb is to limit yourself to 3 pairs, one of those pairs you’ll be wearing on the plane…no cheating. This is what I consider when packing my 3 pairs of shoes: 

Something comfortable, something versatile, and something necessary/functional (based on the activities you plan on doing).

Multi-purpose sandals for packing light
Versatile sandals for the beach and night-time fun

Something comfortable could be your walking sandals, something versatile could be your flip flop sandals as they work at the beach and at night time, and something functional is like hiking boots or tennis shoes. 

5. Electronics:

Cameras

The lightest camera you can pack is your phone. But also something like a mirrorless camera can be space-efficient. If you are just going to take your phone but still want to create bomb videos of your trip and capture more selfies then consider buying a gimbal. The DJI Osmo phone gimbal is foldable so it packs small and will provide you with smooth videos. 

Chargers & Adapters

I never go anywhere without my portable charger. It saved my life many times. The Anker Portable Phone Charger is pretty lightweight and fits in almost all of my purses. 

Travel friendly external portable phone charger for packing light
Anker PowerCore 10000

For international travel, don’t forget to pack an international power adapter to charge your electronics. 

6. Books

I know that nothing is like reading a real paperback book. If you must, try to limit yourself to one paperback book and get the rest of your books either on Audible (get any two audiobooks for free here) or download them to the Kindle app on your phone. I highly recommend packing a slim language book to help you practice the local language and use it whenever you can’t use Google Translate.

BTW, I found a bunch of Lonely Planet travel guide books on Amazon Prime for free when I selected the kindle version at checkout. 

Packing light with free Lonely Planet travel guides on Amazon

I hope that this guide will help you travel with more freedom so that you can fully enjoy your trip and focus on what’s important—creating memories!

If you are going to be traveling alone, you should check out my top tips for solo female travelers:

Disclaimer: I might make a small commission on some of the links mentioned in this post at no additional cost to you.

Much love and happy traveling! 

Hey friend! It's Marina :)

Hey friend! It's Marina 🙂

I’m an Egyptian born and NYC based brand strategist, designer, coach, and traveler!

Obsessed with living a freedom-filled life on my terms, I’ve been traveling the world solo for the past 7 years. My adventures inspired me to start this platform—Livin Vivaciously.

I’m also a proud corporate dropout passionate about helping freedom-obsessed women and digital entrepreneurs build a true-to-self personal brand.

I believe that personal branding is the only way we can build pivot-proof businesses that thrive, simply because we show up as who we are, online and offline!

2 Comments

  1. Justin

    Long time supporter, and thought I’d drop a comment.

    Your wordpress site is very sleek – hope you don’t mind me asking what theme you’re using?
    (and don’t mind if I steal it? :P)

    I just launched my site –also built in wordpress like yours– but the
    theme slows (!) the site down quite a bit.

    In case you have a minute, you can find it by searching for “royal cbd” on Google
    (would appreciate any feedback) – it’s still in the works.

    Keep up the good work– and hope you all take care of yourself during the coronavirus scare!

    Reply
    • Marina Girgis

      Hey Justin,

      Thank you very much for your support!

      I used the Zeen theme here is a link to where I got the theme.

      Your website looks amazing! I added my own graphic that I created to mine to customize it 🙂

      Hope you are safe and well.

      Reply

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