Packing tips for budget travelers

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when packing for a trip is to over-pack, as was painfully evident for my first trip to Europe that you can read about in my blog post How I learned the importance of packing light. So you don’t make the same mistake I did, here are my best tips for not only packing light, but packing smart!

First thing’s first: know your trip. Where are you going? For how long? What time of year? What do you plan on doing once you get there? These are crucial questions to answer so you can determine what to pack. Obviously a backpacker hiking for a month in Nepal is not going to have the same wardrobe or luggage as someone that’s taking a cruise to the Bahamas for a week.

1. How long will you be gone?

Answering this question will determine what size luggage you need. A weekend getaway will not require a rolling suitcase. Likewise, if you think you can fit 3-weeks worth of clothes in a duffel bag, you are sadly mistaken. Do be aware of baggage restrictions for flights as well. Most airlines now charge to check baggage, however, you can usually take one carry-on and one “personal item” (purse, laptop bag, backpack, etc.) for free. While yes, it can be a bit of a pain in the butt to wheel or carry your luggage from terminal to terminal for your connecting flight, it usually means saving at least $25. A full plane may not sound all that fortuitous, but many times airlines offer complementary baggage check at the gate to save space on a sold-out flight. You won’t always be able to avoid the checked baggage fee, especially if you’ll be vacationing for a while, but being smart about how and how much you pack could save you some headache and money.

2. Where are you going and when?

I always, always, ALWAYS look up the local weather forecast for where I am going to be. If I’m going to be there longer than what is forecasted ahead of time, I will look up average temperatures and weather conditions for the day/week/month that I will be there. If I’m going multiple places in one trip, I will look them all up. Period. Knowing what type of clothes you need to bring is essential to knowing how you’re going to pack. Colder climates require more layers, and of course, that takes up space.

3. What do you plan on doing on vacation?

Are you a sightseer with an affinity for historic sites like me? Are you an adventurous traveler, that will be hiking, biking, skiing, or hunting? Will you be attending a special event like a wedding or graduation? These questions matter! You have to think about equipment, toiletries, wardrobe, and shoes. These things will likely take up the most space in your luggage and are not really malleable like clothes.

Not to sound like your mother, but make sure you have sensible shoes! I generally limit myself to 3 pairs: activity specific (hiking boots, tennis shoes), comfy flats (I love my TOMS!), and a wild card (sandals, wedges, or heels).

As a woman, I have a completely different beauty routine when going to a special occasion. Day to day, I don’t need a blow dryer or a curling iron, but for something like a wedding, they’re a necessity! However, some things can be avoided depending on your accommodation amenities. Most hotels have blow dryers in the room, and some hostels have things like this that are communal or rentable, so check and see ahead of time.

Equipment especially takes up space, and sometimes requires it’s own luggage. For things you don’t want, or aren’t able to rent, you’ll need to plan accordingly. Even thought they are large, many times special equipment luggage, like guitar cases and skis can be treated as a carry-on.

4. Are you planning on buying souvenirs?

This is probably the MOST overlooked aspect of packing! If you plan on getting anything while you’re abroad, you need some way to get it back home. Foreign shipping costs are expensive and you’ll likely make it home before your package does thanks to customs.


1. I like to bring a couple articles of clothing that are on their way out. It’s comforting to know that I can do anything in an outfit, because I don’t care what happens to it. At the end of your trip you can donate them or toss them to make room in your luggage. The same goes for bath or beach towels…we all have that one towel that we use to dye our hair, or dry the dog, or clean up bleach spills. As long as it’s clean, does it really matter what it looks like? It does the job, right? Would you really miss it if you left it behind?

2. Stuff your shoes! Don’t just let the bulkiest things you pack take up space, put them to good use! Socks and underwear will fit perfectly in shoes. If you’re bringing boots, roll up shirts, shorts and/or boxers and use them to fill the leg part.

3. Put anything liquid, cream, or paste in a zip-lock bag…basically anything that will make a mess if it spilled or exploded. Don’t laugh, it happens. Keep in mind that you cannot bring any liquid, gel, cream, paste, or aerosol in your carry-on unless it is LESS THAN 3.4oz/100ml. You can pack anything over 3.4oz/100ml in your checked baggage.

4. Bring an EMPTY water bottle. It is important to stay hydrated, and in order to make it through security without being confiscated, a water bottle must be empty. However, once you make it through security, you can fill it up. Bringing a reusable water bottle with you will not only save you money (sometimes I can get a whole 24 pack for the price of 1 bottle!), but it will also help the environment.

5. I’m sure you’ve seen the rolling-method for packing clothes, the one where you tightly roll your clothes instead of just folding and stacking. I have found that this isn’t always the most space saving method. What works best, in my opinion, is a hybrid of rolling and folding. Soft clothes (t-shirts, tank tops, leggings, sundresses, basketball shorts) and pants, shorts, or skirts WITHOUT a lot of pockets will roll best. Things like jeans and cargo shorts will be way bulkier rolling as opposed to folding; I always save these for last as they act like a helmet against the lid. Also, if your luggage has those annoying dips to accommodate for the telescoping handle, fill up those indentations first to create a level bottom; shirts and leggings usually work best for this. Next, comes shoes; I always put these at what would be the bottom of the luggage when it’s standing. You don’t want them sliding down and smashing everything! Now you can start packing your rolled clothes. Remember: the tighter you roll, means the tighter you can pack, and the tighter you can pack, means the most stuff you can fit! Now comes the helmet hahaha! The jeans, jackets, cargo pants, etc. get folded on top. I like to kind of maneuver the folds to fill in uneven spaces, and I will tuck edges into the side of the suitcase so they don’t get caught in the zipper.

6. LADIES the best spot for your bras are in the corners. You will usually have to twist the middle, or push a cup inside out, but the curve in the corner of your luggage is perfect for protecting the curve of the cup and underwire.


If I can help just one over-packer, I will be happy! Do you have any packing tips that could help out a fellow traveler? Leave them in the comments!

Much Love,

Heather ~ The Bargain Bin Traveler



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