The Essential Travel Bag: What We Pack to Travel Light

Essential Travel Bag

We tend to travel light every time we visit a new city for a long weekend. In this case, we find it quite easy to travel with just hand luggage or a backpack. But over the years, we have improved the way we pack and nowadays, we also travel light when we visit the USA and Italy for longer periods of time.

We like to travel with just hand luggage mainly because it is more comfortable and lets us speed up the process of checking in when we are at the airport. Another reason is that we also spend less money on our travel tickets when we travel with just a backpack. 

Having less things to travel with gives us the opportunity to spend more time sightseeing and with family and friends. In fact, when it is time to travel back, it usually takes us just a few minutes to pack our belongings into a small luggage and then we are ready to head back to the airport.

Also, when we travel with the right amount of clothes and essentials that we need, we have fewer chances to lose them along the way, either forgetting them at the accommodation or at the airport.

We have mastered the technique of light travel during these recent years, but I remember that I have always traveled light. For example, during my year studying abroad, I only packed one medium size luggage and my laptop bag. I was probably the erasmus girl that traveled the lightest that year! The technique I used at the time is more or less very similar to the way I pack now, although I have refined it a bit more.

In this article, I describe the things that we absolutely need to pack everytime we travel, for both longer and shorter periods of time. I also describe why I decide to bring with me some things and not others. 

Of course, there might be some particular trips that you are going to take where some special equipment is needed, or where you need to bring some  very technical gear to check in (for example, if you plan to dive into the Pacific Ocean and you want to bring your own equipment).

Here, I highlight the things we always pack during city trips and hiking vacations that allows us to travel light and cheap.

If you are planning to travel light, I recommend that you prepare a list of things you want to pack with you in your hand luggage. Write down each and every item that you plan to bring with you and then lay them all down on your bed.

As soon as you start to pack your hand luggage, you will realize if the amount of items you prepared is too large. If so, decide what are essentials and what are not. Step by step, you will be able to improve this process and become quicker. Also, with time you realize that some items are good to go for every trip and therefore the packing process will run much smoother. Basically, you will spend less time thinking about what to pack over time.

At this point, the question is: What are our travel essentials? What do we pack when we travel light?

The essential travel list starts of course with clothes.

My Typical Packing List


  • 5 white t-shirts
  • 2 shirts
  • 1 pair of formal pants
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 t-shirt and shorts for exercising
  • 1 set of pyjama
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • 1 bra

As you see from this essential clothes list, I do not pack much at all. I love to wear white t-shirts because white is an easy color to wear and easily match with any sort of pants that I decide to wear, either jeans or more formal ones.

Additionally, I like to choose colors for clothes that easily go well with each other. I accomplish this by mainly bringing solid colors, with my favorite ones being blue and red.

Therefore, you will often see me wearing a white t-shirt, a blue or red cardigan, and a pair of jeans while I travel. I like how this simple color combination works together, therefore it makes it easy for me to choose clothes in  these shades and pack them in my luggage.

There are also some items that I love and always pack with me, like my pink Polo cotton sweater. It was a gift from my brother many years ago, but the sweater still looks new today. I love the fit and the color matches very nicely with both formal black pants or blue jeans. I always pack that Polo sweater, which makes me feel comfortable, yet stylish. It also fits very well on top of either t-shirts or button-down shirts.

Additionally, I always pack a couple of shirts in my carry-on travel bag that are good for fancier nights at restaurants or for layering under a sweater or cardigan during cooler days. 

The scarf is also a travel essential, which I usually wear during the trip on the plane or on the train. It keeps me warm in case the  air conditioning is too strong. I like scarves that are either solid colors (I have a white one that fits every style perfectly) or with patterns, and usually the colors of my scarves easily match the solid colors of my attire.

Additionally, I always add gym clothes: a pair of shorts (or long gym pants), a bra, and one t-shirt to exercise with.

Pyjamas are also a travel essential, and depending on the destination, I either pack a short or long sleeved one.


  • One pair of gym shoes
  • One pair of flip flop
  • One pair ballerina shoes/shoes with heels

I like to travel comfortably, therefore I always head to the airport or train station with a pair of gym shoes. The gym shoes that I use for everyday walks are the same shoes that I use for training, therefore I just bring one pair for both purposes.

Often, I don’t need more than gym shoes, as we like to walk a lot while visiting new cities.

Additionally, I add my flip flops and a pair of fancier shoes (like ballerina shoes or shoes with heels) in case we plan some fancier dinners.

Soap bar

Since we don’t travel with many articles of clothing , I like to add a soap bar to my luggage to wash clothes by hand that get dirty during our trip. If we are traveling for just a weekend, I usually don’t stress about it, but if we are traveling for a week or longer, I like to make sure that I can wash the dirty ones. I mainly use the soap bar for my gym t-shirt, the white t-shirts that I change every day, and for my underwear, too.

If we travel for a month or so, we like to find accommodations that have a laundry machine (hotels and Airbnbs are great options). In this case, we just plan to do a load of laundry every week or so. We did this when we traveled to Japan for two weeks, as well as in Canada, USA, and Italy. Having the possibility to do laundry is definitely the best option, but using a soap bar does not require too much time if it is done for a few items.

Food & Drink Containers

  • Water bottle
  • Plastic bags
  • Silicone bags

We try to make sure we drink plenty of water during our trips, especially if we sit on a plane for many hours. In order to do so, we always bring a water bottle that we refill with drinking water.

We also pack a few plastic zip lock bags and silicone food containers: we use these to pack food that we bring with us during city trips or hikes. This way, we have something on hand if we suddenly get hungry (it happens to me a lot!), and usually our options are also healthier than what we would buy when we are starving. Mainly, we pack nuts and peanut butter sandwiches as well as fresh and dried fruits.

I also bought a silicon coffee mug that collapses and it is a travel best friend nowadays. I bring it to cafes, where I can fill it with coffee or tea and can avoid using plastic cups, too.


  • One medium size towel

Although most accommodations provide towels, I like to add a medium sized microfiber one to my hand luggage. It is not voluminous at all and it is lightweight, too. I like to bring it with me to use to lay on the grass at parks and to have an additional one in case there are not enough provided at the Airbnb. 

Makeup bag

  • Makeup
  • Nail cutter
  • Makeup remover towels

I like to wear makeup, but not much. Therefore, my makeup bag is also quite limited: it contains my foundation, my blush, and a couple of lipsticks. Additionally, I add a nail cutter and makeup remover wipes that I use before going to bed.

First aid bag

  • Aspirin
  • Headache pills
  • Bandages

I have learned to always bring a first aid bag with me: mine is a plastic ziplock bag that contains headache pills, bandages, and cough drops. I also add some aspirin fizzy tablets in case my husband or I get a fever.


  • Phone charger
  • Watch charger
  • Electricity adapter 
  • Electric toothbrush

When we travel, we always make sure that our phones are fully charged because we rely on them for phone calls, text messages, maps, and for taking pictures.

Therefore, we make sure that the phone charger is packed in our hand luggage.  Make sure you bring the right chargers for all of your devices. While some products may share the same ones, like an iPhone and iPad, some other ones may need their own dedicated chargers, like smart watches.

I also like to keep track of my fitness activities and I wear a Garmin watch. When we travel, I make sure to add the watch cable to charge it at the hotel or Airbnb.

If we are traveling to countries outside Europe, we also pack an electricity adapter and converter in our luggage.


  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Small purse for passport, telephone, wallet
  • Fancy dress/blazer
  • Bathing suits

Additionally, tissues and hand sanitizers are essential items that we add in our list. We make sure to have them easily on hand, especially when we are at airports and train stations.

I also personally like to travel with a small purse besides my hand luggage: in the purse, I usually keep my most important belongings, such as my passport, my wallet, and my telephone. This way, I feel comfortable that these items are with me all the time and I always have an eye on them.

For trips where we know we will be required to dress in a fancier way, my husband adds a suit or tuxedo and I make sure to pack a dress. For example, we were lucky to witness the marriage of many of our friends around the world, and on these occasions we always traveled with these additional clothes, too.

On top of that, if we know we are going to travel to a beach area or we will use a wellness or pool at the hotel, we of course add bathing suits.


Traveling light is not always possible, but it is mainly achievable if you plan well in advance what to pack in your luggage. The list of travel essentials above have made my life so much easier while traveling, and also allow me to feel comfortable with what I am wearing. In case you missed something, don’t forget that you can always buy a few items when you land. Also, wearing many layers of clothes, one on top of the other, allows you to keep warm while still bringing the same amount of clothes.

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