Six Savvy Reasons Why You Should Travel Light

Note: I wrote this article before the airlines began charging a fee for checked luggage. So, with those new fees, there is definitely an additional financial benefit to packing light these days.
Travel LightIf you could add a couple of extra quality hours onto your vacation, would you? If you could reduce the stress of traveling, would you? I know I would. It is so easy to save time and energy by packing light. If you haven’t discovered the joys of traveling light, you are really putting yourself under undue stress and unnecessary constraints.

I discovered the joys of traveling light about four years ago. I decided to travel without checking luggage after a trip to Kauai when my luggage was temporarily lost by the connecting airline. I now travel with just carry-on luggage that fits in the overhead bin. Sometimes, I’ll bring a small child’s sized backpack as well. I’ve traveled overseas into multiple climates for nearly three weeks at a time with just a rolling carry-on suitcase and a small backpack.

My goal here is to share the reasons why you’ll benefit by leaving the big suitcases at home. So, lets get started.

1. You don’t have to stand in long lines at the airport to get a boarding pass and check luggage. It seems that the airport lines at the check-in counters are longer than ever these days. You’ll save yourself at least five minutes, but more likely quite a bit more by checking-in online at home and not having to check luggage. Another benefit of checking in online is that you’ll reduce your risk of being bumped from your flight. Most airlines cut-off check-in 30 minutes before departure, so if you might be running late because of traffic, you don’t have to worry about missing the window for checking in. Please note that you will save the time and stress going inbound and outbound. The benefit to you is that you completely eliminate the time waiting in line at the check-in counter. You’ll also benefit by reducing your risk of missing your flight.

2. You don’t have to wait for your luggage at baggage claim. According to a JD Powers study, US passengers wait on average 17.3 minutes for their baggage to arrive. That’s 17.3 minutes that you could be in your convertible headed to the beach. Remember that you’ll save this time again when your are returning home, too. The benefit to you is the time saved getting to your destination and then back home.

3. Your luggage won’t get damaged, pilfered, or lost by the airlines. I’ve had at least two suitcases destroyed beyond use by the airlines. I’ve also had my luggage temporarily lost twice. Who wants to spend precious time watching for your luggage to show up at baggage claim only to discover that it’s not going to show up? Then you must find an agent who can help you file a claim. My blood pressure is starting to raise just remembering the times I had to do just that. The benefits to you are that your luggage will be completely in tact and with you when you arrive at your destination which saves you time and tremendous stress.

4. You won’t require assistance with your luggage at your hotel. I prefer to handle my luggage myself. While it is in my control, nothing will go missing. I always feel silly having a bellhop carry my luggage when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. After a long flight, do you really feel like making small talk with another stranger? Plus, there is the need to thank the bellhop with a gratuity, which you must prepare for and find the least awkward time to dig through your wallet. Sometimes, when you leave your luggage with a bellhop, you have to wait a while for it to be delivered to your room. Who wants to wait for that? If you are able to bring your luggage along with you, you can freshen up as soon as you get to your room.

5. You will reduce the clutter and bulk you have to carry around. Let’s face it, even with skycaps and bellhops, at some point you have to carry and move your own luggage. The bigger the case, the more the weight. So, make it easy on yourself and pack light. How many times have you packed a large suitcase full and worn every piece of clothing and every shoe? I’d be willing to be that hasn’t happened very often. One strategy that I’ve used to reduce the amount of clothing and shoes that I bring is that I choose either black or brown shoes and select clothing colors that go with those shoes. Shoes take up quite a bit of space in your luggage, so by limiting the number of shoes you bring, you’ll be able to fit your travel needs into a smaller case. Other good strategies are to use the hotel laundry services and/or bring a travel-sized container of Febreze to freshen up and re-wear your clothes. The benefits to you is that you’ll have less weight to carry and less clutter to deal with at your destination.

6. You will be more flexible for changing flights if necessary. If you are confirmed for a flight, but when you get to the airport, you discover that there is a possibility of getting an earlier flight, if you’ve checked luggage, you can’t take advantage of the earlier flight. Also, if your connecting flight gets canceled and you must wait in standby for other flights, you’ll be glad to have the flexibility and have your luggage with you.

If you don’t think you can travel light, I challenge you to just give it a try the next time you travel. I’m almost certain you’ll discover that it is the better way to go. Use these tricks to help you pack light for Hawaii:

Strategies for Packing Light

Hawaii Vacation Packing Checklist

What you should NOT pack for your Hawaii vacation.

  1. Another reason to travel with just carry-ons. You’re going to be among the first from your flight to reach the rental car counter. You snooze you loose, in this case you could loose an hour waiting to pick up that convertible.


  2. @ Going2Oahu – I’m glad you liked the tips. Are you a light traveler?
    @ David – Yes, you are right about getting to the rental desk sooner. The same applies to getting a cab. Either way, you’ll be waiting less. I’d rather get out of the airport and onto the beach as soon as possible. 🙂

  3. Three cheers for getting to the beach sooner.

    You appear to be a “Hotel” person. We on the other hand are “Condo” people. While I recognize that a great divide exists between us, it’s good to know that we can at least communicate about our differences.

    On the matter of packing light “Condo” people have a real advantage, that is if they ask the most important question up front. “Does the unit have a washer and dryer?” Once this is established a whole new world in “packing light” opens up.

    Our philosophy for packing goes something like this:

    For the basic Hawaii ensemble (shorts and a shirt), it’s one to wear, one clean and one in the wash. Add a swimming suit and some flip flops and you’re on island time. Throw in a pair of jeans, a light jacket and a pair of walking (hiking?) shoes and you’re ready for almost anything. Wear a set of nice clothes and shoes on the trip over and back.

    Get one of those nifty “compressor” bags at Wal-Mart, stuff your clothes in it, smash the air out and you’ll find that your carry-on is still half empty. Don’t bother packing shampoo’s, conditioners and so on, just buy them when you get there and throw them away when you leave.

    The only problem we have is, where do we pack the gifts we’re bringing home for friends and family? My answer is don’t buy any! The good news is, at least my wife and I are still communicating about that one. 🙂


  4. @ HVG – about 90% of the time, I fly American Airlines. I’m fairly certain most US airlines have similar rules. You are allowed one case that must be able to fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. In addition, you can bring a “personal item”. So, the backpack counts as the personal item. We’ve brought bigger than child sized back packs, but smaller than backpacking backpacks, on board with no problems. Here are American’s guidelines:

    @ David – Haha…not so fast my friend (as Lee Corso would say). 🙂 I am an equal opportunity accomodationist. 🙂 I am living proof that it is possible to be a hotelist and a condoist. Actually, I usually try to look for a good condo before I look for a hotel in Hawaii. Here is an article I wrote months ago about the pluses of staying in a condo:
    On Maui, we really love staying in the condos at Kapalua. Where do you guys like to stay?

  5. I read your “vacation on the cheap” article. Well put. Wow, a condoist and a “Lost” fan. Does life get and better than that? During the season Wednesday night is “Lost” night at our house. Don’t tell any one but I secretly scour the blogs looking for plot tips and spoilers and then pretend I have special insight as we watch the show. But I digress.

    Where do we stay on Maui? We’ve stayed in Kaanapali, Kahana and Kihei. Recently we’ve found a condo we like in Ma’alaea, where the harbor is. Andrew Doughty in his “Maui Revealed” book (p.131) recommends against staying here unless you get a really good deal. We’re getting a one bedroom ocean front condo for about $105 a night plus tax, which seems like a good deal to us.

    Here are a few things we like about the Ma’alaea condo:

    The price. As stated above it’s quite reasonable for the location.

    It’s ocean front. The condo is literally 50’ feet from the ocean. There is no beach in front, but a short walk takes one to 3 miles of sand along Ma’alaea Beach.

    We like to go whale watching. From the condo to the pier is a 5 minute walk. When not out on a boat we can watch the whales from our lanai.

    It’s quiet. The condo is well off of the highway so there’s little traffic noise. The harbor noises do filter in, but we find them quite pleasant.

    It’s centrally located. We travel around a lot taking pictures and researching places to add to our websites so the location saves us some time.

    The owners are terrific. Renting from a private owner can make one a bit nervous. The owners of this condo have always conducted business very professionally with us.

    And the most important thing. It has a washer and dryer, so we can pack light.

  6. Hi David – That sounds like a fantastic condo deal! Maybe we should check that out. Do you know if they have the permit with the county of Maui for legal vacation rental?

    I’m glad to hear I’m not alone as a Lostie. Have you been to Oahu to check out some of the spots where Lost is filmed?

  7. HI Sheila, The condo is in a resort area, so there are no problems with the county. It’s if you want to check it out.

    We’ve never visited any of the Lost sites. In fact, other than the airport, we’ve never visited Oahu. Maybe you’ll have to give us “5 Outrageous Reasons to Visit Oahu.” 🙂

  8. Hi Sheila – thanks for all of your wonderful tips and advice. I am a chronic overpacker who would love to change my ways. My husband and I leave in 62 days (and counting) for our first Hawaiian vacation. In reviewing your site, I saw your packing checklist, and agree that just about every item on there will be a necessity for us. We will be in Hawaii for 16 days, divided between Kauai, Big Island, and the last weekend on Oahu. We will be doing everything from hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, etc to viewing the Volcano lave flows at night (hopefully), taking a helicopter ride, and going to the top of Mauna Kea for stargazing. So for all the things that we will need (and the all types of weather clothing we will require), how could we possibly fit all of that into a carry on? I can certainly see the “why” of doing it, I just can’t fathom the “how”?!?!?!?!?! Have you fit everything on your packing checklist into a carry on? Can you tell me how one can accomplish such a feat?

    Anxiously awaiting your reply,

  9. Hi Jennifer –

    It’s all magic. Just kidding! 🙂 Seriously, it can be done. Here are some of my tricks:

    – I start with the shoes and go from there. I try to stick with one or two colors – black and tan and coordinate all clothing to go with those shoes.
    – I generally try to wear the shoes that occupy the most space on the plane.
    – I generally just bring hiking shoes, sandals, and flip flops.
    – I lay out all my clothes before packing. That way I can tell if I have any mismatches or too much of the same thing.
    – I re-wear some things and use my travel sized Febreze to Go.
    – We often stay in a condo, where we have access to a washer and dryer. Alternatively, you can also take advantage of the hotel’s laundry service, which can be pricey, but so is checking luggage these days.

    Looking over your activities – you’ll need hiking trousers. You can wear those for horseback riding, lava flow viewing, and up to Mauna Kea. I have a great pair from REI that are extremely lightweight and take very little space.

    Will you be going up to Mauna Kea with an organized tour? (I do recommend going with an organized tour, by the way.) If so, then the tour company will provide the parka and gloves.

    Did you see my post on what not to pack?

    Here are some more articles that may help based on what you plan to do.

    Hope these tips and tricks help.

  10. Hi Sheila – thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly! OK, you’ve convinced me its possible – so I’m going to give it my best effort – but I’m going to have my big suitcase close by waiting in the wings, just in case . . . :o)

    I did see the articles you suggested, and your post on what not to pack (another one I wholeheartedly agree with!). We do intend to go to Mauna Kea on our own. We have already splurged on the 4 wheel drive, and intend to take the free tour on the weekend from the visitor center. We are not without limits to our resources, and so, since it is possible to do Mauna Kea on our own, we can use the money we would have spent on the tour for upgrading our helicopter tour on Kauai to the one that stops at the private waterfall.

    Thanks again for all of your very helpful website – I am learning so much that will surely make our upcoming trip the “trip of a lifetime.”

    Mahalo, Jennifer

  11. You’re welcome Jennifer. Good luck with your planning and packing. I hope you’ll be able to go with carry-ons. With all the island hopping you’ll be doing, it will really make a difference – saving you time and trouble. Airlines have been changing their luggage rules quite a bit lately, so do make sure you check the rules on the airline’s website.

    I’m glad that you are finding Go Visit Hawaii to be a good guide for your planning! I sincerely hope you pick up advice here that helps your vacation be even more special. After you return from paradise, please let me know how everything worked out. Also, let me know if you’d be interested in writing any guest posts here. I feel like we all learn from each other here at Go Visit Hawaii.

    By the way, I thought that I was going on my trip of a lifetime to Maui and my one and only ever trip to Hawaii over 5 years ago. Little did I know then that I was about to fall in love with Hawaii and eventually write this blog. 🙂

  12. Mahalo! I’ll definitely check back in when we return and let you know how it all worked out. And I’d love to throw my 2 cents in on a guest post :o) In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and learning from you and all your guests. . . .

    1. Hi Sam – there shouldn’t be any extra charges for bringing carry-ons with you as long as you are complying with the airlines’ rules – no more than 2 items that are not larger than the airline’s carry on size restrictions. Generally, a roll-aboard case and a personal bag such as a lap top bag or small backpack are ok. In fact, I just flew this week with a roll aboard and and small backpack as my carry-ons and had no problems. Check online with the airline you’ll be using for their carry on guidelines.

  13. We are a family of 4 and we check 1 bag for the sole reason that we can put razors, scissors, contact lens solution, sunscreen, shampoo and everything you can’t bring on a plane which is now a LOT of items. That way we don’t have to buy everything new upon arrival. Other than that we do pack light.

  14. the problem is that nowadays everybody does the same and there is not enough space for all the carryons in the cabin, it is quite annoying when I cannot cram my small backpack because people are putting their huge carry ons plus a jacket, personal computer or handbag!

  15. I am struggling with the idea of carry on luggage only. I do plan to shop and bring back gifts. Where do they go?
    Additionally, I will be bringing expensive mask, snorkel,fins and regulator with special mouth piece for scuba diving and dive computer. I was going to rent everything else. I would rather miss clothing than my personal tried and true dive gear.
    Should I use a 19 inch carry on or use a 24 inch as a carry on for Hawaii?

    1. Check with your airline to see what their size and weight limitations are for carry on luggage. I believe 24-inches exceeds the size for carry ons for most airlines.

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