As a former frequent flyer, I learned quickly that traveling with only carry-on has its advantages.

In addition to eliminating the potential of a lost bag in transit, going carry-on can be both a time and money saver.

However, I wasn’t always like this.

When I first started traveling, I was a major overpacker. Think five pairs of shoes and 12 dresses for a two week trip. I feared being seen in the same outfit twice.

Once, on a two week trip to Europe, I brought a huge 32” hardside roller bag. We were traveling on a private coach, so I didn’t have to drag it around the cities with me, but I did have to bring it in and out of the hotels and hostels. When packing this gigantic bag, I didn’t think about the fact that Barcelona is a hilly city.

I ended up having to drag my luggage (which was crazy heavy) up this steep, cobblestone hill in flip flops to the hotel. I almost got pulled down the hill by my suitcase during the 15-minute sweaty climb.

Terrifying, and embarrassing to say the least.

From then on, I made it my mission to travel lighter on each journey.

But my transition from over-packer to carry-on only traveller was not an overnight change. It took time to adjust to this new mindset.

This was somewhat expedited by my career in management consulting, where I was on a plane weekly, and carry-on only became not only a necessity but a sanity-saver.

I’ve learned to minimize what I bring using one simple pre-trip preparation step.

It’s a step in trip preparation that many people loathe, and skip over, but in my experience it's the most essential step to traveling lighter.


The reason why most of us tend to overpack is we want to nurture that feeling of being prepared - ready for anything, at any time.

It’s July in Spain, but it could rain? Let’s throw in that umbrella. I might work out on my trip, or I might not? Let’s put in those runners and workout gear just in case.

Dealing with the 'what-if’s is what leads many people to overstuff suitcases full of things they will never wear.

A good way to check this is after a trip when you’re unpacking, take the contents of your suitcase and split it into three piles. One pile should be things that you wore once on your trip, another pile for items you wore more than once, and a pile for those items that you did not wear.

What are the sizes of the piles?

I’m betting you can safely take the ‘did not wear’ and never pack those items ever again. The ‘worn once’ pile is also an opportunity to optimize.

You really shouldn't bring clothing you’re not wearing more than once (except for the odd special occasions dress).

The items in your ‘wore more than once’ pile are also of interest. These are your core travel pieces. Remember them, as they’ll be essential for traveling light in the future.

The ideal travel packing list has clothing that can be mixed and matched together to make an abundance of outfit options, thereby eliminating the need to bring so much stuff.

Do This One Thing Before You Travel to Ensure You Never Overpack via @encircled #travel

Click to Tweet

Planning will help keep you focused.

Years ago, I developed an excel template (yes, I’m a secret geek) that maps out where I’m going, what I’m doing, what the temperature/weather is like and what I'll wear for each longer trip.

This simple planning template changed the way I packed forever.

I make sure that every time I map out an outfit, I try to re-use components of the outfit (jewelry, shoes, tops, bottoms) in future outfits in the trip.

Sure, it takes time to populate the template with weather, events etc. not to mention the time spent actually planning your trip, but it’s worth it.

To travel even lighter, start bringing laundry detergent, a sink plug and laundry line. When you can wash your clothing en route, you’ve instantly doubled your wardrobe.

Many women I know fear this - the idea of being seen in an outfit twice. But trust me, when you’re jet-setting through Paris, no one is paying attention to what you wore two weeks ago.

For the first few trips after using this packing method, I still overpacked. Separating yourself from that last-minute “Let me throw this in just in case” is truly difficult.

However, over time, I started to be more mindful about what I was putting into my suitcase.

I still have moments where I throw in an extra t-shirt, just in case. But, I’m not throwing in five extra outfits and three pairs of shoes.

So, if you’re guilty of overpacking, I suggest you try out the pre-plan packing tip before to taking off for your next adventure.

Here’s an image of a basic version of my planning template. Feel free to copy it, and use it when planning your next trip.

Pin me!

Image source:

Want more? Read 9 Genius Items Every Female Carry-On Traveller Should Have