Summer time often leads to summer travel. Whether it’s a road trip, traveling to a family reunion or a long-awaited trip to Europe, Dave and I have learned through the years the art of packing light. We don’t want to be encumbered with a lot of “stuff,” so we make what we pack count. Our goal is to never check a bag.

Maybe there are a lot of people with this philosophy, are you one of them? Or maybe you are pleased as punch to just bring whatever you want on a trip, and I respect that too. For me, the no-bag-check was just kind of engrained in us growing up. I mean, my parents would do their “around the world” book tours and be gone for weeks in different climates and only have one small carry-on with them the whole time. Dave joined the unwritten Eyre no-checked-bag policy lickety-split when we got married.

Which leads me to this question from a blog reader:

I’d love to hear your travel tips to Europe or packing and what to bring to make sure you can get around easily and use the least amount of luggage for a family of girls.

I love questions like this, because I’ll admit I am kind of proud of our summer travel light packing when we went to Europe with all four of our girls when Max was on his mission.

Oh we missed that missionary of ours fiercely, but it was a pretty magical trip. Here’s a video of the Paris part Grace put together:

Ok, and now I’m crying because I just watched this Switzerland one too:

Oh how I miss those laughs and that excitement…in the London video too, especially Lucy at the beginning. Where did that little girl go?? Sure, everyone is still so excited, but there’s a different kind of excitement in the glittering eyes of children I tell you. I miss them.

I’m really getting off topic here.

What I want to talk about is what we brought with us on that trip.

What we brought to Europe for two weeks

  • Four small carry-ons for all six of us.
  • Everyone got a backpack.

When I say small carry-ons, that one behind the others in this picture below was actually smaller than a backpack.

And guess what? We were just fine without extra stuff.

The unencumbered life is pretty joyful I have to say:

There’s no way we could have made it in this tiny European car with any more than what we had:

Let’s get a better look inside:

The truth is, you just don’t need that much!

We have had the chance to travel light all over the world. This one was en route to one of my most special “Thin Places“:

I can’t talk about it very much or I’ll cry again. It was one of our last trips with everyone still at home under the same roof. Before all these kids had to grow up to be adults.

San Francisco to visit my sister who lived there:

Banff with our Wellesley girl:

Not sure why those examples are the ones that came up from all the places we’ve traveled over the years, but you name the place, we like to travel there as lightly as possible.

tried and true tips to packing light for summer travel

Choose neutral clothing.

Keep colors neutral. Think white, gray, black, brown. This way you won’t get sick of what you have and it won’t date horribly in pictures when you look back some day. Also, neutral goes with neutral so you can mix and match lots of different outfits with a few pairs of pants and a few shirts.

Yes, keep things neutral, but I like to pack one or two more colorful things just to keep it fun.

Chose Hotels or Airbnbs with washing machines if possible.

Knowing a washer and dryer is coming up along your stay is a game-changer. So nice to get things washed mid-trip and feel so refreshed!

Master utilizing the bathroom sink to wash clothes.

I wash clothes (especially underclothes) in the sink when needed. Light things will dry so quick overnight, especially if you use my handy-dandy wringing out method. You just wring as much as you can, then lay out the item of clothing on a towel on the floor. Roll up that towel and put firm pressure on it (I step on it all over). Take it out and voila: barely damp.

Hang it up overnight and it will be dry in the morning. Well, except for in really humid places. But in really humid places whatever you washed will feel damp anyway, so your’e all set.

Limit shoes.

Shoes are big culprits for taking up all the room. And really, I’ve found that all we need on trips is one or two pairs of shoes. One pair of comfy walking/exercise shoes and one pair of sandals. If you’re going to a cold climate, maybe stick in an extra shoe that doesn’t take up much room. Because I’ve learned from experience that you shouldn’t ever paint yourself into a corner with only one pair of shoes. Tip: these ones can squish well into a suitcase.

Wear your bulkier clothes.

Jeans or sweatshirts are bulky and take up lots of precious carry-on room. I always wear my sweatshirt around my waist. It helps save luggage space and I like to have easy access on a freezing airplane.

Choose a good backpack.

Your backpack is your key for holding any extras. I usually put my make-up and any toiletries in my backpack because I have extra room in there. I’ve loved this one from Calpak. It is super roomy and can double as a suitcase for no-carry-on flights like Allegiant and Frontier.

Get a good roller bag.

Having a great roller carry-on bag is a game changer for fitting in lots of stuff. Over the years Dave has outfitted the kids on birthdays or Christmas with Away travel suitcases. They are pretty awesome and come with a warrantee if anything breaks or has problems. We’ve used that deal a few times. But of course, there are great knock-offs on Amazon as well.

Two things we don’t leave home without:


This isn’t really a tip for light packing, but wanted to include it. Because a pack of cards doesn’t take up a lot of room. But it is an essential travel companion in our family.


Books don’t save luggage room, that’s for sure. But man alive, travel is the BEST place to delve into reading. Long car, airplane, or yes, boat rides are the best places for kids (and you!) to dive into a good book. Audible saves Lucy and I on trips, and doesn’t take any extra room. But sometimes it’s just so good to have an actual book to read separately or together with your “captive audience.”

If you need young adult book ideas, I’ve got you covered!

Ok, and with that, there you go! Some tips for packing light for summer travel.

Happy trails!

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  1. Hi Shawni,

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve always wanted to be able to pack light. I’ve never in my whole life been able to not check a bag. It seems so ‘freeing’ and I’m going to try it on our next trip for sure!

    May I ask a few follow up questions:
    1. Do you bring a big camera or do you only use your phone? If you do bring a big camera (or WHEN you did bring a big camera), how did that fit in?
    2. Do you travel with a laptop? How does that fit in?

    Thanks so much – can’t wait to give this a try!


    1. Oh such good questions! I used to always 100% bring my big camera. I had a backpack that fit it and various lenses in it along with all my other stuff. If you look at that picture with my girls en route to Europe up there above you’ll see my little camera bag (before I had a good backpack). I have carried that thing all over the world up mountains and deep into valleys.

      But my passion was taking pictures of my kids and they’re not with me nearly as much these days, nor are they kids! So I usually just take my iPhone. I am really wanting to experiment with film again at some point.

      I do always travel with my laptop. My backpack has a laptop sleeve and it doesn’t take up hardly any room.

      I’ll have to add this to the post to keep it all together!

  2. Oh my gosh, I’m sorry but I just thought of one more question:
    3. Do you work out on vacations and just keep re wearing workout clothes or do you skip the hotel gym on vacations? Thanks again!

    1. Oh another good question. Workout clothes are so small so I usually stick in a couple tanks and shorts. I do love to work out on vacations. Sometimes, like in Europe with four younger girls, that didn’t happen much. But now when I travel with Dave we always make time for workouts.

  3. Thank you for sharing! I love reading your blog. We were hiking the other day and ran into this family:
    It was pretty amazing and I thought of Lucy with her failing eyesight and your family’s love of hiking. Just wanted to pass it along.

    1. Oh that looks like a pretty amazing thing! Thank you for sharing. Lucy is too big for that now, but that sure looks like it has the power to help so many hiking famlies!

  4. I love this post!
    I, too, think I have mastered the art of packing light and efficiently. Whether it’s a 2 week trip to Europe or a quick get-away to Newport Beach, I can get everything into a small carry on suitcase or a larger back pack, which like you means I never have to check a bag.
    The key for me is t-shirts and comfy pants- always want to look nice but be comfy and dress according to weather needs. I also am a skin care junkie so have morning and evening routines for my skin, which normally would take up a lot of room but I use sample sizes for everything and that helps to cut down on space needs. Usually 1-2 pairs of shoes depending on where I’m going. If it’s a big tour of Europe and I know I’ll be walking alot, I just bring one pair of shoes.
    Strangely, I take pride these days in my packing abilities! 🙂

    1. Oh love these ideas! Thank you for sharing. I love a fellow light packer with good ideas. It really is so freeing to not have to drag around so much stuff!

  5. Jess, Love your add on with more ideas. If you could have seen the HUGE suitcase I just brought to Canada – I not only have to drag that heavy thing around but I felt like it (all my stuff) was too much to deal with the week I was gone. I’m gonna give this a try on our upcoming week in VT. It’s not an airplane trip but I still want to try it.

  6. It seems that most people in the airport have multiple large bags, checked & carry-on. I am with you and so happy to never check bags (our airport is soooo slow at getting bags to the carousel) but I take it one step further. No matter the length of my trip, I fit everything in one bag that fits under the seat in front of me. No more pulling cumbersome, heavy bags from the overhead bin! I know this isn’t possible for everyone but I have so much less anxiety knowing I have so much less to deal with!

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