Featured Articles, Green Gear, Planning
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How to Pack Light Part I: Why Should You Pack Light?

how to pack light 1Image by Flickr user Brit

Pack what you need.

It sounds so simple right?

But how do you know what you need? Or what you might need? And how often will you need those things? And what if your plans change?

The Real Problem with “Packing What You Need”

how to pack light 1aImage by Flickr user sandwichgirl

Packing only what you need seems like the key to packing light, but that’s the same rationale I hear from friends or fellow travelers about how they came to be laden down with 40-litre backpacks in front and back or two 2-foot high rolling suitcases:

“What on earth do you have in there?”

“Oh, you know I’m backpacking through Europe for the next three months, right? So I need clothes and shoes for hiking, going out, and visiting museums, snacks, a ton of guidebooks and reading for the train, a couple different jackets because who knows what the weather will be like, some mementos from home so I don’t get homesick, and some other things I forget about now. I know it looks like a lot, but I just packed what I needed!

To which I can’t help but reply:

“Yep, me too. I have clothes for everything from hiking to conferences and snow to the beach along with snack, a whole office, and gifts . . . in my 18-inch-high carry-on.”

Packing light is an art form, and I fear that like many crafts, it’s a dying skill.

Why We Should All Pack Light

how to pack light 1bImage by Flickr user Kim Seng

There’s between 300-400 passengers on your average flight between New York and London.

If every passenger brings a checked bag, that’s around 31,700 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per flight.

Or, with about 1.2 million passengers on this route per year, it’s 108.7 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Over 100 million kg of emissions on one route because of baggage! Honesty, I shudder to calculate the extra carbon emissions worldwide racked up due to inefficient packing.

Why You Personally Should Pack Light

how to pack light 1cImage by Flickr user Charles Wiriawan

But if the emissions are too much of a distance issue to convince you, let me make it a bit more personal. There’s a reason that rolling backpacks became all the rage a few years back. Carrying heavy bags can cause serious health problems, including:

  • muscle spasms
  • headaches
  • numbness
  • scoliosis
  • disc injuries

When I don’t do a really tip top job of packing, I start to feel it in my hands, arm, neck and back before long.

Just being lazy and holding on to what seems like a few things that I don’t really need has a cascade effect. I start picking up books and brochures . . . or purchasing four scarves in one week when I’m already carrying three.

A friend who travels full-time recently confided her secret packing woe with me. Her backpack is so large that she’s constantly looking for a place to store it rather than carry it.

She just wishes she had less stuff. But she can’t bring herself to get rid of any of the things she has in her pack.

The best solution?

Pack smarter in the first place.

Okay, it won’t help her because she’s been traveling for three years, but it can help you!

In the next part of the EcoTraveller Guide on how to pack light, we’ll move from the why to the how of packing light with my three most important packing secrets.

Stay tuned!

Other articles in the How to Pack Lightly series:

2. How to Pack Light Part II: My 3 Best Packing Tips
3. How to Pack Light Part III: Modulizing without Modules

Filed under: Featured Articles, Green Gear, Planning


When she was ten, Gabi Logan was commended by her school as an "environmentalist" after spending recess and lunch picking up trash around her school for a week. Now she's a freelance blogger and travel writer who encourages travelers to use sustainable travel methods and connect to local culture along the way. Her work has also appeared in Transitions Abroad, GoMad Nomad, and publications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. You can read more about her at gabilogan.com.


  1. Passport Dave says

    I always find packing light to be rather essential. I still have a long way to go though before I get to where I want to be. Eventually I would like to be traveling to world with my 50L pack no more than half full, just need to figure out how to do that. Looking forward to your upcoming posts.

    • Gabi Logan says

      The half full part is challenging!

      I try to always take a bag that is small enough for the situation, whether that’s a small, purse-sized duffel for summer or a roller board for many-month, multi-climate trips because if I have a bag that is bigger than what I need, I’ll find way to fill it. I’ll get lazy in terms of pairing down what I need or taking pictures of brochures instead of packing them away for later.

      Even though I take small bags and “pack light,” I always have everything I’ll need. The challenge is not to have more. And that extra half of your pack is great temptation…

  2. Great post Gabi. Those CO2 stats are terrifying. I always curse that last pair of jeans I packed when standing int he queue at customs with my backpack on my back. I must look at getting one of those rolling backpacks, sounds like heaven!

    • Gabi Logan says

      Wow, Charli! I can’t even imagine standing in the customs queue with a backpack (I somehow always end up there for an hour). My favorite part about having a rolling bag is actually that I put my purse, which usually has most of the heavy stuff like laptop, charger, magazines, and water bottle, on top of it when I’m walking through the airport or waiting in line.

      The days that I have only traveled with a shoulder bag, a travel day seems that much more draining. Definitely look into the rolling backpacks. Because they’re popular with school children now, you can get them very in expensively.

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