Perhaps the bane of many women traveler’s existence is figuring out how to pack a bag that fits the weight restrictions, especially at airports.

At least, for me, it has been. I’ve been called many things in my life, but a light travel packer isn’t one of them.

I’ve moved abroad five times in the past eight years, and bit by bit I have learned to navigate the murky waters of packing my suitcase and backpack.

Bit by bit I’ve improved and learned how to pack quickly and efficiently for any trip, anywhere in the world and without the benefit of a partner’s suitcase to share.

From the arctic conditions of southern New Zealand in winter to trekking through Mongolia to a girl’s weekend in Manhattan, here are my best travel packing tips and secrets for packing for solo female travelers.

10 Travel Packing Tips for solo female travellers

1. Wear layers and convertible clothes

If there is one thing I dislike traveling, it’s wearing uncomfortable clothes. That being said, I intentionally don’t dress like a college hobo in sweatpants 24/7 either. I always try to pack my most comfortable clothes for long travel days and long flights.

I wear a lot of really soft cotton t-shirts, pants and skirts with cute cuts that can be either dressed up or down. I also make sure I pack things I can layer easily, like cardigans and wraps that I can re-wear over and over again. And a thick good pair of black leggings is a key part of my travel wardrobe.

Me exploring New Zealand
Me exploring New Zealand

2. Take a backpack as a carry on with a small tote

This is probably one of my best travel hacks I’ve figured out.

If you take a daypack sized backpack as a carry-on, you rarely are asked for it to be weighed – I believe this is because it’s much less obvious and obtrusive. Much less often than with a rolling suitcase as a carry-on.

This is important if you are flying with an airline that can be strict about weight limits. My carry-on always is overweight since it’s filled with my camera equipment and electronics, though if I get asked to weigh it (which is rare) I just say it’s camera equipment and they let me through.

Since I usually buy snacks and water in the airport, I have a small canvas tote rolled up in the side of the pack that I use once I’m on the plane to put whatever I need for the flight into, like my laptop, Kindle and music.

Then I put my backpack in the overhead bin and I don’t have to think about it til I’ve landed. Trust me, this makes life so much easier.

3. Plastic bags

I am the biggest fan of plastic bags, and I usually have half a dozen tucked away here and there throughout my luggage.

I always put my toiletries in a plastic shopping bag to prevent it leaking all over my clothes, and my smaller items in a ziplock bag inside. If I buy wine, I always wrap it in two or three plastic bags before padding it in clothes.

Additionally, depending on where I’m going I will leave “bigger and heavier” toiletries at home and buy them once I arrive, like shampoo and conditioner, bringing just a travel size with me.

4. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on

You never know when your luggage might get lost and if you’ve been traveling for 24 hours, not having a clean shirt or underwear might be a breaking point, at least for me it is.

It doesn’t have to be an elaborate outfit, usually I just pack a light cotton dress, underwear and socks, depending on the climate of my destination.

5. You really don’t need 5 pairs of shoes

Shoes are so heavy and take up so much space and weight in your luggage I’ve found it’s not worth it.

I have a 3 shoe max rule and stick to it when I’m traveling. If I’m going somewhere warm or beachy, flip-flops and flats, and my sneakers if I’m hiking.

If it’s winter, I’ll wear my boots on the plane, if it’s really rainy, I pack waterproof shoes. Wet feet can ruin a day.

6. Don’t pack a hairdryer

I went through a stage where I used to take a hairdryer with me until I realized that the majority of hotels have them already. And if they aren’t in the room, you can ask to borrow one. What was I thinking?

7. Hide some money in your suitcase

Knock on wood I’ve never been mugged or pickpocketed, but I have plenty of friends who have.

One of the best ways to cope with it, is to divide up your money, and hide some in your suitcase or bag, away from where you keep your wallet in case something happens.

8. Portable USB charger

In this day and age, everyone needs to charge something right?

My life is on my phone, and when I’m traveling, it’s where I store all of my essential info, like maps, directions to hotels, flight info, ect. That means I need it on all the time, and I really hate having to rush looking for outlets in airports or transport spots, especially with different converters.

I’ve invested in a few small portable USB chargers and batteries over the years, and my god have they been a lifesaver!

9. Blanket size scarf

Even in summer, I always wear a big blanket-sized scarf I can wrap myself up in on long travel days. Whether I’m in a cold hotel room or an over-air-conditioned flight, or I just need a nap somewhere, I love being able to wrap myself up when I need to.

10. Leave “one time” outfits at home

This is another big takeaway, I’ve learned to leave one-time outfits at home because they usually aren’t worth the space. The exception is when I need a specific outfit for an event, like a conference day or a wedding.

I love pretty dresses more than most girls, and have more than enough of them in my wardrobe, but I’ve learned the hard way not to pack them on busy trips, or maybe just pack one. Otherwise, they end up scrunched up in the bottom of my bag.