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What’s INSIDE My Bag? A Travel Blogger’s Guide to Packing Light

I’m really excited to welcome Karen Dawkins today for our A to Z Packing Tips series. She’s here to share some of her best tips for packing light and traveling smarter!

A peek inside a travel blogger's bag with packing tips for packing light!

Tips for Packing Light

A friend and I met up in Washington, D.C. for four days. We both flew there. She arrived before I did, with her two checked bags, carry-on bag and a purse. When I arrived, with my carryon bag and purse, she laughed. After a quick hug, she said, “I knew I’d learn some packing tricks from you.”

She watched as I opened my bag, neatly packed with no wasted space. I pulled out a plastic bag and withdrew my shoes from it. One shoe held all my medications (allergies, you know), and the other contained my underwear. As I kept unpacking, she literally giggled as I shared each tip.

While I’d love to travel with you to teach my packing strategies, that’s probably not practical. How about if I take you through it step by step so you can pack like a pro, too?

What’s INSIDE my bag? And why?

FIrst, I think about what I really need for my trip. Too often we pack for “might needs” instead of making ourselves pack must haves. When I’m deciding what to take on a trip I ask myself, “Do I NEED this or is this a just-in-case?” If it’s a just in case, I leave it home.

Second, I pack using a color palette. Many travel sites recommend black or gray as universal travel colors. My go-to is navy. Guess what! That’s okay. If you like a particular color, use that as your base color palette and build around it.

INSIDE my bag 2

Packing Tips – Pack a Color Palette

Third, l pack double duty clothes. I tend to pack a shirt for each day of travel, but that’s because I can’t keep photos straight during a trip if I wear a top twice. I pack pants, shorts and skirts that are versatile and can be worn at least twice. The first time, I wear the pants or shorts with a dressier top. The second time, I’ll wear them with a t-shirt for an active day. I also pack a neutral (usually white) cardigan for the occasional cool night or overly air conditioned restaurant.

On an upcoming trip, I will be visiting museums one day and riding a river trail later in the week. For the museum day, I’ll wear shorts with a purple top. For the bike riding day, the same shorts will work with a t-shirt.

INSIDE my bag 3

INSIDE my bag 4

Fourth, I use ziplock bags. More than once, I’ve had a bottle spill during travel. I learned — the second time — that bottles can’t be trusted. I always pack liquids in ziplock bags, just in case one pops open during travel. The spill is better contained leaving less chance of clothes being dirtied. Also, packing bottles in ziplock bags keeps them together which helps me stay organized.

INSIDE my bag 5

Fifth, include emergency items. I call these the “MacGyver” of travel tools — for those old enough to remember the show. The best one, a binder clip, can be used in so many ways: to hold hotel room curtains closed, hang a wet swimsuit, seal a bag of chips so they don’t spill or organize papers. Other versatile emergency items are medical tape and ziplock bags. With the right “stuff” on hand and a little creativity, minor travel emergencies are easy to address.

What’s INSIDE your bag?

We’d love to hear your creative packing solutions. How do you pack to travel light and still be prepared for anything?

About Karen Dawkins

Karen Dawkins is the creator of Family Travels on a Budget, a website devoted to helping families travel better for less. As she says, “Budget doesn’t mean cheap. It’s smart!” She has also been featured in print and online markets and on podcast. Follow her on Instagram and Pinterest to learn her latest tips and ideas.

Thanks so much Karen for the awesome tips about packing light! Check out the other great posts in our A to Z Packing Tips series:
Thank you Jessica for an excellent and helpful post about hiking with dogs! Check out the other great posts in our A to Z Packing Tips series:
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Alcohol & Wine, Building Lists & Plans, Chargers are a Must
D’s to Remember, Embark on a Cruise, First Aid Kits
Games for Any Family Trip, Hiking with Dogs

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Sunday 23rd of April 2017

I travel a lot doing humanitarian aid. One thing I never leave home without now is two different size bathtub plugs. One time I stayed in an apartment with a giant soaker tub (weird for a third world country) and there was no plug. No soaking for me! On another recent trip I had no washing machine for about 10 days. I plugged up the shower, filled it to the brim with water and soap and left all my clothes to soak before giving them a scrub. Plugs weigh almost nothing and fit in anywhere! Never leave home without them. Also the ziplock bag thing….I always take several sizes, several of each. I've used them for various reasons on every single trip.


Thursday 27th of April 2017

Washing in the tub is a great trick! Never thought of packing along plugs, thanks for the helpful tip!

Gina Fowler

Wednesday 4th of November 2015

Very helpful tips! Especially the one for the zip lock bags. It is very useful.

Donna Antolak

Thursday 13th of August 2015

One of my fav tips... is donating clothes. We love to travel and often are on the road for weeks. I wear pants, shirt, sweater and then donate and buy new.....Great reminders of places and different locations. I have fav jeans from Dublin, Silk scarf from Italy and t shirts from San Francisco. Love them every time I wear then and the places love my donation!


Friday 14th of August 2015

That's fabulous Donna! I love finding souvenirs that are useful and provide continuous reminders of your travels!