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7 Tricks to Travel Light in Winter

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Cold destinations may call for heavier essentials, but traveling light is possible with these tricks.

woman in snow with luggage

Packing light can be a challenge year-round, but doing it in the winter is particularly hard, as you have to account for heavier, bulkier clothing and accessories. But if you’re up to the task, it can be worth it, especially if you’ve been burned by lost luggage or just don’t want to pay the ever-climbing fees for checking a bag. Here, three travel pros share their best tricks for packing just a carry-on for a winter getaway.

Edit Your Packing List

Before you even take out your suitcase, take inventory of what you plan to pack. “Lay all of your stuff out,” says Summer Hull, a travel deals and rewards expert and writer at The Points Guy, who has her whole family follow this strategy. “We lay each thing out and go through it. Do we really need three pairs of this item? And will you have access to a washer?” Take these into consideration when deciding what you really need and what’s just extra—then leave the latter at home. This is important even if you’re traveling by car or train; do you really want to be heaving that extra weight around?

Wear Your Heaviest Clothing on the Plane

It’s worth the sweat, according to Meghan Donovan, founder of travel-planning service Paris, Perfected. She always wears a long-sleeved t-shirt and her thickest sweater over it on the plane. “I’ve also been known to double-up on coats on the plane,” she adds. “I layer a trench over a leather jacket—or put a car coat over it.”

You can always remove it once you’ve reached your seat and put it in the overhead compartment after your luggage is in. And anything goes, since no one’s really critiquing what you wear on, say, a red-eye flight. “Even if it means tying an extra sweatshirt around my waist, it’s one less thing to have in a bag,” says Valerie Wilson, a solo travel expert and founder of Trusted Travel Girl.

Don’t Underestimate Extras

Room inside your bag is prime real estate, but don’t discount what you can stash elsewhere. Carabiner clips can be super handy. “I’m a big fan of carabiners for smaller items,” Wilson says. She keeps two on her backpack at all times and will often use one to hold over-the-ear headphones and other bulky items. Another trick: Keep Emergen-C Immune+ packets accessible by strapping them to a reusable water bottle with a hair tie. Not only do you get an extra hair tie out of it, but the immune support from vitamins C and D, as well as zinc, also help support your health on the road.

photo of inside suitcase

Be Strategic When You Pack

Maybe you’ve heard of—or already practice—the rolling technique for packing your clothes. Take it to the next level with two tricks. “I roll my stuff and stick a rubber band on it,” Wilson explains. “So when you’re taking clothes out, you don’t have to re-roll everything up.” As you’re securing your rolls of clothing, set aside your heaviest items to put their weight to good use. “If I have thicker sweaters, I’ll fold them on top of the rolled items to compress them,” Donovan says. “For the biggest ones, I put one on the bottom and one on the top.”

Pack Collapsible Footwear

Certain boots, such as snow boots or other rigid styles, should be worn onto the plane if possible. (If you think you need to bring more, Hull presses you to seriously consider why you need multiple pairs of boots at all.) But in a pinch, “bring a collapsible boot, like an over-the-knee boot where you can roll the shaft around the bottom,” Donovan suggests.

Opt for Rewearable Clothing

The more versatile the clothing, the better off you are. That’s why Wilson swears by simple black leggings. “You can wear them with anything—long sweaters and long coats—and re-wear them a bunch,” she says. She also gives her sweaters extra mileage by packing very thin V-neck T-shirts to layer under them. They absorb any sweat, don’t take up much space, and are easy to wash (even in the sink!), which keeps sweaters feeling (and smelling) fresh.

Invest in Packing Cubes

Between mittens, hats, and scarves, winter accessories can become disorganized fast. Keep them corralled in packing cubes. “They are so crucial for staying organized, especially in a carry-on bag,” Wilson says. Plus, they’re easy to compress, making it easier to squeeze a lot of bulk into a small suitcase. “They’re life-changing,” Hull says.