Do you ever see those travelers who have one bag – that’s not even bulging! – that look super put-together and get right off the plane and into a cab and you wish you could be more like them? So often I’m walking through a hotel lobby or past the check-in desks at the airport and watch families that seem to bring everything they own on vacation with them, and I wonder how much they paid in baggage fees and chiropractor visits. It was not all that long ago that I thought I couldn’t live without taking individual outfits and a dozen pairs of shoes either. Once I realized I never wore half of what I packed, I decided to downsize my packing. Then when airlines started charging for checked bags, I made the decision to downsize more.
When my husband and I went to Nassau and our checked bag was almost lost, we committed to carry-on-only travel. This not only saved us money, but also time and headaches. No more waiting at the baggage carousel forever wondering if our suitcase would be, yet again, the last one off the plane. No more worrying that we will have to vacation with just the few clothing items we packed in our carry-on. No more backbreaking trips up the stairs hauling our too-heavy bags behind us. And absolutely no more paying for our clothes to travel out of our eyesight.
Yes, it can be difficult at first to ditch the comfort of a large suitcase that can carry all your shoes and hair products and “what if” items. We now can pack by a set list of rules and go on vacation with everything we need and only a few things we might need. It is rare that we come back from a trip where we haven’t used everything we’ve taken. In fact, on our last trip, we each packed three bottoms and four tops, in addition to what we were wearing on the plane, and those clothes got us through 11 days. What’s more is that we packed it all into one carry-on bag and a bag that counts as a “personal item”. So, how did we pack so little and not go crazy? Here are the rules to travel by:
Mix and match everything you take. I used to go wild when I packed and took all my favorite things regardless if they went together or not. If you do this too, stop it. Pick a few things you love and want to take with you and then build a travel wardrobe around them. Make sure everything is in the same color palette. If you like bright tops, then bring neutral bottoms. That way, everything you take will match other things in your travel bag. Bringing mix-and-match separates is the perfect way to travel, because if you have four bottoms and five tops, you can make 20 different outfit combinations! It also helps with Rule #2.
Two pairs of shoes are all you need. When everything in your bag has a similar color scheme, it’s much easier to find shoes to coordinate. Almost everywhere I go calls for the same two kinds of shoes: general walking shoes and comfortable dress-up shoes. With ballet flats being so popular these days, it’s easy to find a great pair that will be comfortable to walk in all day and still look good with everything from shorts to dresses. Wear your heavier shoes on the plane and pack the smaller ones, so you have more room for clothes and other necessities.
There is an exception to this rule and that is for flip flops or similar sandals. They take up little space and are convenient for many things, so shove them into an empty space in your bag and pretend they aren’t shoes. You can wear them to the pool, to do laundry, get your continental breakfast, the beach and so much more.
Prepare to do laundry. I hear you groaning and whining, “But I’m on vacation!” I’m aware. I go on vacation, too. I also do laundry on my vacation. When you take so little, unless you want to walk around in dirty – and possibly stinky – clothes, you will want to throw them in the wash at some point. Most decent hotels and vacation rentals (my personal preference) have laundry facilities. You can pop your clothes in on your way to dinner or when you get back from sightseeing and just want to sit and rest your feet. It will take much less time than you think and then you smell fresh the next day.
If your accommodation doesn’t have on-site laundry, you will normally find a Laundromat nearby. I have hoofed it down the street for clean clothes. I take a book or game for my husband and I to play while we wait and then we take our freshly laundered duds back to the room and get on with our trip. If you are at a destination long enough to need to do laundry, you will have enough downtime to do it.
Don’t forget to layer. When traveling to cold weather destinations, or even preparing for chilly nights during your stay, don’t start dumping in bulky sweaters and jackets. You will get three of those in your bag before it’s full and you can’t pack anything else in it. Look for lightweight fabrics that pack well and can be layered with other pieces. When I travel, I always bring at least one cardigan and a pullover, like a hoodie. I get cold, but I don’t need to wear my winter coat to stay warm. These pieces work well over most of your normal clothing, like a t-shirt or tank top, and can be crammed into your day bag when not being used.
If you are traveling in the winter time, layering works just as well. Sweaters that are thin and lightweight fleece are great, because sometimes you think it’ll be cold and then it’s not as cold as expected. If it is, you can wear layers underneath these to stay warm. T-shirts and tanks work here, too, but if it’s going to be really cold, look to purchase base layers – thin, but super-warm separates that look like long underwear. They trap heat to your body, but also wick moisture, so you don’t sweat to death while trying to prevent hypothermia. You can pack several sets of these in your bag and they take up little room and are undetectable under your everyday clothing.
Downsize your toiletries. How long does it take you to go through a full-size bottle of shampoo? Two months? So why take that big thing with you on your vacation? TSA rules allow you to bring a one-quart plastic bag full of three-ounce bottles. If your problem is that you can’t find your same shampoo, conditioner, facial scrub, hairspray or whatever else in a travel-size container, make your own. Purchase small bottles, pumps, vials or jars and decant your favorite items into them. This gives you just the right amount you need for your trip and allows you to take them with you in your carry-on.
If you’re one that needs to carry beauty tools with you, like a flat iron or curling iron, purchase a mini version specifically for your travel bag. You can normally find the same brand you use at home that works just as well, only smaller. I love my mini flat iron so much, I almost want to use it instead of my full-size one at home. It takes up half the space in my bag too.
Streamline your beauty routine. Don’t stuff your toiletry bag full. Your objective here is to pack as little as possible. Look for make-up palettes and multipurpose products that will enable you to pack less. I am a fan of tinted moisturizer that has SPF in it and pairs perfectly with a powder foundation for a flawless look. Cheek tint is often meant to be used as lip tint, plus it can be applied with your finger, so you don’t need to pack another brush.
There you have it. Six easy rules to pack by that will help you travel lighter and save you tons of hassle. If you can’t lift your bag to put in the overhead, you probably have too much in it. It’s really true what they say: Lay out all the clothes you want to pack and then put half back in your closet. I make packing even easier by creating a detailed packing list. This can help you see if you have way more than you really need, reminds you of the essentials – like underwear! – and helps you repack on the way home. When you travel with an organized carry-on, not only do you save money on baggage fees, but it helps your trips go smoother, so you only have to worry about what to do first when you get to your destination.
Need help with a packing list, make sure you are signed up for my newsletter, because you'll be getting downloads in the next one or two. These are the same ones I use and tweak for each trip I take. What are your packing light tips?