Packing Light and Airline Packing Rules

Updated:  November 28, 2015

I preach packing light

After each trip I always seem to find some item, which I thought was necessary, yet I never used. Packing light often causes those who travel with me to struggle with what to pack for their tour. Invariably, they always pack too much and regret it as the tour moves along.

 Travel only with carry-on luggage

packing light

Limiting your luggage to a small carry-on sized suitcase forces you to pack lighter.  Believe me,  you will appreciate my advice when you have to carry your bags up several flights of stairs; through subway tunnels, stairs and platforms; and over all the uneven cobbled streets.   Many of my hotels are located in the historic city center where a tour bus or smaller vehicle cannot go.  There is no option in this case, you will have to drag your suitcase from the vehicle to the hotel.  It’s not fun!

Tour alumni, Jim and Roberta, traveled with me in Italy for 16 day with only the luggage you see here.  They are my all-time “light packer” champions.

I travel for several months with just one small roller-board suitcase

Regardless of my destination, I travel with one small suitcase approximately 9x14x20 (2100 cubic inches of space) and a small carry-on backpack. Currently, I use a wheeled carry-on type suitcase that seems to meet my needs. However, a backpack or duffle will work just as well. The trick is to make sure it is small, easily transportable, and lightweight. I carry a seven-day supply of clothes and plan to wash items in my hotel sink every couple of days. Additionally, once every two weeks I visit a laundromat to do a proper load of laundry, often dropping it off in the morning and collecting it all, fresh and clean, late in the afternoon.

Think about how long you will be on vacation

My tours generally last eight to fourteen days. I recommend packing enough outer clothing to last at least 1/2 the trip. Jeans and pants are fine. Ladies do not need a dress or anything fancy. Plan on bringing shirts and blouses that can be mixed and matched with different layering options. This makes it possible to design multiple outfits from a few pieces of staple clothing items. Sweaters and jackets are great for layering.

Don’t make this mistake

Sometimes, no matter how much I preach packing light, people don’t listen.  This group of high schoolers win my all-time award for the most luggage on a tour.  On this particular morning we had to hoof it for about half a mile, through a small medieval town, to get from the hotel to the bus.

Airline Requirements

Now-a-days, packing for an airline trip requires a great deal of thought. It seems that all the USA air carriers are imposing mandatory “checked baggage” fees of $15 to $25 per bag. Additionally, they are limiting the size and weight of the bags you can “carry on” to put in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Unfortunately, these “rules” change often.

Your Adventure Starts Here!  Start it by being happy… pack light!

-David McGuffin

Here’s a link to another article about packing: Cool Weather Packing Tips

If you are traveling in the winter, take a look at my “Winter Packing Tips.”

About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.
  1. Susan McInarnay Reply

    I can personally attest to David’s claim that he does pack light! I honestly do not know how he does it. I can also honestly say that I haven’t mastered that trait in a decade of traveling with him. Just ask David- he will agree. I will try to do better- I promise. One tip about traveling to Europe… most places do not use wash cloths so if you are accustomed to using them. You may want to take several with you- cheap ones from Walmart work great!

  2. James Richardson Reply

    What is the approximate size of carry-on now-a-days?

  3. Laurie Jernigan Reply

    Still haven’t mastered this either, but I am doing better..at least I think so!

  4. David McGuffin Reply

    James, you asked about the “legal” size of a carry-on now-a-days… according to Delta Airlines the carry-on bag must not exceed 45 linear inches. That LxWxH. My bag is actually a bit larger (49 total inches). On recent trips I have seen most of those travling with me bring bags smaller than mine. here is a link to delta’s carry-on baggage info. Most other air carriers have similar rules.


  5. Nancy Reply

    Unfortunately I learned the hard way on the last trip. I’m sure I’ll think twice before I
    Pack on the next trip!

  6. Aurelia Reply

    I’ve led student groups since the 1980’s and I tell them to pack items (esp. socks, underclothing, sleepwear) that are on their last wearing. Then toss them as you go along….leaves space in the suitcase for those items you buy overseas. One couple deliberately brought clothing they thought would be great for local goodwill type of organizations with printed notes. They neatly stacked outfits on the dresser with a note to donate to a local charity. Then they had fun shopping for new clothes for these second half of the trip…..came home with a new wardrobe!

    • admin Reply

      Aurelia, thanks for the “disposable” suggestions. I’m gonna try it!

  7. Beth Reply

    Okay, I finally have the where-with-all to take my family out of the country and now you’re telling me I cannot take trunkloads of clothes and necessities with me????? My family will definitely need some tutorials on this matter! How do you pack all of the “goodies” you purchase in Europe to get them back home? When on a domestic vacation, I usually take an “almost” empty suitcase so I can fill it with purchases from my trip. Guess that’s not an option on these trips, huh?

    • admin Reply

      Beth – I promise you will thank me for suggesting you pack light. As for bringing stuff home… that’s not a problem. One of the “fears” about checking your bags is that it will naver make it to your destination. When returning home, checking your bag is not such an issue because if it gets lost, you can really do without it for a few days at home.

      Bring several empty duffle bags to put keepsakes and momentos it.

      Also, in Ireland a USA citizen will clear customs and passport control before leaving Ireland. That means less time spent in your USA arrival airport.

  8. Lynn Porzig Reply

    Many of us find it difficult to pack light. I’ll share how I started and got to “light” with each trip, here or abroad. When I returned from any trip, I took note of what I packed that I did not use at all and what I did not wear/use at least twice. The next trip, I subtracted that amount. Do this three times and I’m sure you’ll be travelling lighter. Good Luck.

  9. Shy Reply

    Very useful information! Thank you all

  10. Nancy Reply

    I can pack light going over and I never have to many clothes – my downfall is bringing back the treasures, Last time I packed an empty backpack in my suitcase so could expand once I got there. Also the pair of jeans or the sweater or sweatshirt that take up the most room – make sure they are ones you can part with and leave them over there.

  11. Beth Reply

    Thanks for all of the useful advice. Your suggestions will definitely be used and passed along to other family members.

  12. Sally Reply

    I always pack too much. I promise to try to do better. And, not to sounds too sexist, but I think it’s harder for women to pack lighter. We’ve got a lot more clothing choices than you guys do!

  13. Katie Carter Reply

    If you must carry on you can avoid a lot of extra bag fees by simply applying for the airlines reward program.

  14. Odeen Tyre Reply

    The last time I travelled to Europe wth David, I did not take any baggage other than a small carry-on and a backpack. It worked great!

  15. Annie Taylor Reply

    David gives you the best advice about packing. You think it is hard not to take certain things, but it all works out, if you mix and match…..after all you need room for bringing things back.

  16. Jay Reply

    As long as you follow David’s simple guide for packing – you will have no problem getting everything in one bag! Just watch the weather forecast before you go!

    • davidmcguffin Reply

      I agree with Jay… the season has a lot to do with your packing list. Currently I am in Portugal, which is suspose to be warm. But, tonight I was out until midnight and had to wear a sweater. With our technology, there is no reason not to know what is the expected weather forcast.

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