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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hawaii: A Lesson in (Carry-on) Packing 9.24.11

I’ve been making my packing list and perfecting my techniques and while I talk a lot about how to pack and shove everything into a carry-on-size bag, I am well aware that a picture is worth a thousand words. That said, I decided to make a photo guide for you showcasing my actual packing and everything I take with me. Keep in mind that I am packing for two, so packing for one should be even easier if you travel alone, go with friends or you just want your own bag. I find that putting everything in one larger carry-on is convenient for us, because Eric can carry that bag and then I can carry my purse and the smaller carry-on that goes under the airplane seat (the one that has the toiletries in it).

Before I start, I can let you in on a new secret I learned: make your pile of travel stuff (clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc.) and put it all in one place, then take a picture of it. Take a look at it with an objective eye and wonder what other people would think of your must-take pile. Is it huge? Would a carry-on packer be embarrassed for you? If so, maybe it’s time to reevaluate. I don’t say this to be mean, I say this because it can really help you pare down your “essentials”. Even I was able to look at what I was taking and toss some stuff back in the closet, so you may see the before pictures with some notes!

My "plane purse": big enough to hold my netbook, ipad, Kindle,
card games, confirmations/boarding passes odds & ends and snacks!
I truly LOVE packing. It could be because I know it means I’m going somewhere fun and different, but I think I also like to see how good I am at actually getting everything into a small space and still have room to spare for bringing back goodies. While that is not quite as easy with two people’s sets of clothing, we also don’t take a lot of pieces. I always suggest taking clothing that coordinates with everything you plan to take. Each piece should match with at least 90% of other stuff you are bringing. It makes putting together outfits super easy at your destination, because all your tops will pretty much go with all your bottoms and vice versa. Make sure your shoes do the same, so you don’t have to take 9 pairs. Two should be your limit (not including a pair of flip flops, which are always useful). Wear one on the plane and pack one. This saves you valuable space in your travel bag and also helps you choose all your items carefully.

Eric's clothes including a pair of pants and
swim trunks
My clothes, including swimsuit. I've decided I'll be wearing the pair of pants and a top from this set on the plane.
You may have noticed that there aren’t enough tops or bottoms for the whole week, unless we re-wear pieces. We plan on doing that. I also plan on doing some laundry to achieve that. I know, I know. Laundry on vacation? That sucks! Look at it this way: You saved between $15 and $35 to carry your bag on instead of checking it. You’ll be hanging out in the room for at least an hour at some point during your vacation, so use that time to pop your clothes in the washer. While you wait you can watch a movie, catch up on some email, write a postcard to your mother, eat a sandwich, wander around the hotel gift shop, play a game of cards with your travel partner, call a friend and catch up. It’s only an hour. Give your feet a break. If you don’t have laundry facilities, then do your laundry in the sink while you’re winding down for the evening. Let it soak a few minutes, rinse it out and then roll items in a towel and wring them out, so they’ll dry faster. It’s not as horrible as it sounds. In fact, it’s kinda fun. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time hand washing, then do a few pieces each evening and then you’ll be done faster. 

See how these items are interchangeable?

Now, onto the actual packing. You always want to put the heavier things on the bottom. In the case you'll be packing one person per bag, your toiletry bag will be on the bottom with the shoes, as I show here:

 Shoes to pack --- my shoes and toiletry bag, if I were just packing myself.

Since there are two of us, I pack the toiletry bag in the smaller carry-on and use the space for the second pair of shoes. Putting the shoes at the bottom (the side near the wheels) helps to create a foundation for packing and also keeps your bag more stable when upright. Try to pack them where you will take up as little space as possible (see how I've wedged my shoes into the space left by Eric's?)

Now that you have your "foundation", you can start adding actual clothing. I prefer to roll my clothes, because it makes it easier to pack and because you can get quite a bit more into the bag that way. Without rolling, I find that only about 2/3 of the same stuff would actually fit in the bag without unzipping the bag's expandable section...and if I do that, I won't be able to take it on the plane. So, roll the clothes and go in layers. Bigger items on the bottom and smaller ones on the top and in spaces left between other pieces. Here's my progress:
Obviously, Eric's clothes are bigger than mine, so they go on the bottom.
I added another layer with the rest of his clothes.
I finished with all my clothes on the last layer and my swimsuit on top.
Make sure you leave out your luggage "seat belts". You'll need these later. See how I've crammed in everything in all the available space? This is the secret to efficient packing. Got some empty space between clothing? Shove something in there: socks, underwear, a scarf. Unused space is wasted space and makes your stuff take up more room. It is helpful to employ this type of packing on your way to your destination and also get practice for when you are on your way back and need to fit more in the same space, because you bought things. If you bought too many things, then you might need a tote bag, like the Travelon Pack-flat Backup bag I have and highly recommend. I put this on top of my clothes and then cinch everything down. If you have to open your bag for any reason, it's already organized:

In the zippered compartment of my bag, I put undies, bras and socks...and the all-important Spacebags (in case I REALLY buy stuff or only have a little bit too much to get back in the bag).

If you are packing for just one of you, you can also add all your toiletries and extra stuff you plan on bringing with you, like your hair dryer, accessories or any of this stuff I take as well:

If you are packing for more than one of you, they may still fit in your bag, or these extra items can go in a smaller carry-on that can fit under the seat. You can probably also put the things you need and want to use on the plane in this smaller bag, like those that I put in my "airplane purse" above. My small carry-on has my toiletry bag, both of our 3-1-1 bags and a packable rain jacket for each of us, because they are more convenient than umbrellas and might be needed upon arrival. 

You can use the same packing technique with this smaller carry-on, with the heaviest items on the bottom. In my case it would be my toiletry bag, then I layer with packable jackets, my bag with my iGo, tips, camera charger and power strip and I end with my 3-1-1 bags on the top, because I will need to get to them quickly when going through security. Now, obviously, if you are packing one person per carry-on, you will have room for pretty much everything you need in the one large bag. (Even with all our clothing, there is still room for much of the extra stuff in ours. The above is just an example.)  You'll probably want a purse or laptop bag to carry what you want to use on the plane, because trying to wrestle your big bag in and out of the overhead is inconvenient and sometimes totally impossible. My "airplane purse" will fit right inside this bag, too, if I need it to.

I hope this "tutorial" helps you in your packing endeavors in the future and inspires you to try to pack lighter, because if we can pack two people's worth of clothing for 1-2 weeks in one large carry-on and one small carry-on, then certainly you can do it for one person in one bag. Not only will you save money, but you'll also save your back, because you can carry it all on your own.  

Are you a savvy traveler (or shopper)? If so, or you have aspirations to be, go check out the Savvy Living Community where I'm a savvy travel leader. You can connect with me and 15 other awesome bloggers that blog on various topics, start fun discussions and engage members is live chats on whatever is hot that week/month. Do you want to share your biggest Packing Light Obstacles? Join in the discussion!


  1. Hi Shereen,

    Looks like you did a great job packing all the essentials into a carry-on bag for your trip to Hawaii. We just wanted to say we're glad you chose to bring Space Bag To Go Bags with you on your travels. As you know, Space Bag To Go Bags compress without a vacuum and are great for separating dirty and clean laundry on a trip. Feel free to visit www.SpaceSaversCommunity.com to share your packing tips with other Space Bag customers or to see our other space-saving tips.

    Best wishes,
    Space Savers Correspondent

  2. Thanks. I would love to do an in-depth review and possibly a giveaway if Space Bags was interested :)


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