Packing light for a long trip

Excitement is building here for our trip to Ethiopia.  It’s only a week away!  I’ve been working on a packing list, and thinking about how to pack as lightly as possible while still being prepared for what is forecasted as a LOT of rain.  We are also going to be traveling to several different places in Ethiopia, and the last thing we want to do is pack so much that it is miserable trying to schlepp our bags from place to place.

We are aiming to have three large bags total for the five of us, along with one small backpack for each person. We’ll see how it goes!  Here are some of the best tips I’ve discovered and collected over years of traveling to various places that I am planning to use as we pack for 16 days away from home.

Pack Light



1.  Start by making your wardrobe selections within a limited number of colors, so that as many items as possible can be mixed and matched.  If a particular item cannot be worn with more than two other things, don’t bring it.  This time around I’m doing lots of navy and black, with a few items that are pink, blue, or green to liven things up a bit.  I’m also packing several scarves that can be used for a little color with all the dark clothing I’m packing.  (This gal’s list is a great example of this concept.)

2. Compress as much as possible when packing. I’ve found that rolling clothes up is a great way to fit more into less space.  It also allows you to more easily see everything that you’ve packed, since clothes aren’t stacked.

3. Divide and conquer.  Another way to keep your bags organized on a trip is to sort clothing by type and organize each type into smaller bags.
This time around I ALMOST sprang for ebags, shown on the right.  But when I priced out those adorable bags for the FIVE of us, I decided to go with my old stand-by–zip loc bags, which have worked great for me on previous trips. Three dozen 2-gallon bags cost a mere $15, much more within my budget, especially considering that five of us are going on this trip.

I labeled the bags by type and by suggested quantity to create an effortless packing list for my two younger girls.  For example, one bag says ‘3 pair pants’, another is labeled ‘6 short-sleeve shirts’.

4.  Pack only what you love, and pack less than you think you’ll need.  Most likely you can decrease the number of items packed by 20% without running short on a trip. And one of the ways you can decrease the amount of luggage you bring is by being willing to wash once or twice during the trip.  Lightweight items wash and dry best– wring them out well after washing them in the sink.  For even quicker drying, roll  wet items in a dry towel and walk on the rolled towel for a minute or so to squeeze as much of the water into the towel and out of the clothes before hanging them up.  You may even want to bring string and a few clothespins for hanging items.  Or hang things on hangers on the shower rod.

What do you do to pack light on trips?  I’d love to hear your ideas too!



Some of our previous trips:

Ethiopia adoption trip- 2007

Dominican Republic (Compassion International) – 2008

South Korea Homeland Visit -2009

Chilean Wedding- 2011




  1. I went to France two years ago with my husband who insisted that we only take carry-ons. As you can imagine, I bought a ridiculous amount of things while I was there for myself, my family, my kids. Thankfully my husband thought to pack space bags.we filled them up and my husband rolled them up to push all the air out. We made it home with just our carry-ons even if they did weigh about 100 pounds a piece!!

  2. When I need to pack light for my family, I like to roll all the clothes I will need for one day and slide it in a ziplock bag. This is VERY helpful with my 3 young boys. I will pull out 1 bag that will contain 3 outfits for 3 boys. This keeps the suitcase organized and it keeps me from searching through multiple bags for underwear, socks, and all the different items to make 1 day’s worth of clothes. One more thing I like to do is have a color of the day since my kids are young. 3 boys in yellow is easy to spot anywhere!

  3. I like this:

  4. These are great tips! We also strategically air out clothes while traveling to extend the time between washing….of course, this depends on what we did/how active we were but every little bit can help.

    I also wanted to mention that you need to be very careful with how much your carryons weigh! Gone are the days when you could stuff them to the brim. I travel internationally on a regular basis and 18 months ago I was surprised when our carryons were weighed….now I am hard pressed to recall the last time we flew and every single one of our carry-ons wasn’t weighed.

  5. You are much more organized than I am! But I pack light–I wear neutrals, pack scarves, and do laundry on our month-long trips. I don’t do zip lock bags though, much less labeled ones! But the most important thing is to leave room for all the things you’ll want to bring home with you 😉

  6. Sherry Blair says:

    I can totally see where ziploc bags are more economical than buying the ebags, but as someone who has them and uses them each and every time I travel, I can tell you they are worth the money. I travel a handful of times each year and always take them with me. Because we often stay at different locations it is also easy to transfer from bag to dresser. I am sure you can use the ziploc bags in the same way. (And I can completely agree with you on the fact that most of us–me, included–overpack. On my last trip, I condensed by 1/4 what I had packed, yet when I returned home, I recognized that I could have done with even less.)

    Enjoy this adventure/trip! Will look forward to reading whatever you are able to post.


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