There is no doubt that packing is a science, but over the years I have taken it as a personal challenge to turn it into an art form which, for me, means a perfect balance of need versus want. Like many areas of my life, it’s about simplifying and not allowing stuff to get in the way.
Basically, less is more, and in packing it’s all about a capsule wardrobe. For example, with five tops and three bottoms that can be mixed and matched, along with coordinating scarves, jewelry and a cardigan, you can create endless outfit options. Capsule wardrobe. Google it. Or look it up on Pinterest.
And there are so many benefits to packing lightly: less clothes means less mess in a hotel room or a ship’s cabin; fewer choices means getting ready in less time; and not having to think about clothes allows our mind to travel outward in anticipation of the day's adventures.
photo credit: via Pinterest
Suitcase or carry-on?
Up until a few years ago, I always thought in terms of a suitcase. But that shifted when I began reading articles by seasoned travelers who only used carry-ons. No lugging around a big suitcase and no checking bags at airports; instead, it was about packing with less to have the freedom to move about more.
I was intrigued, so for a trip to Italy last year – a trip which involved traveling by plane, bus, train and boat – I decided to give it a try. One carry-on for 10 days. I planned, I coordinated, I packed. And you know what? It worked. Not only did having a small carry-on make it easier to maneuver through a hotel lobby or a train station, but I was free. I didn’t have to check my bags, stand in a line at Baggage Claim, or wait for a porter; the carry-on fit easily in the back of a taxi or on a train luggage rack, and unpacking (upon arrival) or packing (when moving to the next town) was quick and effortless.
I have been using a carry-on ever since: for a family Caribbean cruise, a week-long spring break in Florida, and a trip to Lake Tahoe. And traveling with a only a carry-on has been wonderful for our family vacations. Everyone is responsible for their own carry-on and backpack, and this works whether we’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile.
Clothes on the left;
shoes, hairbrush, cardigan, scarves, and my cross body bag on the right.
It’s all in the bag
When limiting myself to a carry-on, you can believe that I also have a purse. A rather large purse. So while my shoes and clothes go into the suitcase, my wallet, toiletries, make-up, kindle, and iPhone go into my purse. Sometimes I need to bring my laptop, so there needs to be room for that, too. For our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, I used a beautiful Anne Klein satchel for my travel purse which was not only a nice size, but also very stylish.
Now, I know you’re wondering if I use that same travel purse once I reach my destination. I do not. The size makes it impractical. So I will either pack a leather tote or, as in the case of our Lake Tahoe trip, a leather cross body bag … both of which are flat enough to fit in the bottom of the suitcase and are more reasonably sized for sightseeing.
|This bag, more of a large satchel, was the perfect travel purse.|
Inside was a compartment for my laptop, and plenty of pockets and dividers to keep things organized.
Additionally, the straps were long enough that I could carry it over my shoulder.
|For sight-seeing, I switch out my travel satchel for a leather tote or, |
as in this photo, a cross body leather bag.
But what about souvenirs?
It’s always interesting that people use the excuse of needing room for souvenirs to justify bringing a large suitcase. With a few exceptions, most people with a large suitcase fill it before even leaving home (believe me, they are not carrying an empty suitcase).
Of course, it all depends if you are a serious shopper or an opportunistic browser, but a long time ago I decided that I didn’t want my travels to be about the souvenirs; that I would rather explore than go from shop to shop. This is not to say I don’t purchase souvenirs, because I do. But I tend to stick to local markets and purchase items which are packable: table linens, pretty scarves, jewelry, leather wallets, or small ceramics (salt & pepper shaker, sugar and creamer, a tray).
And if, by chance, I purchase more than I can fit in my carry-on, I simply purchase an inexpensive duffel bag, fill it with my purchases, and then check my original carry-on for the return trip home.
|Some of my souvenirs from my last trip to Italy. Everything was small|
and fit easily into my carry-on suitcase and travel purse.
Traveling with bling
As many of you know, I am a watch girl. I love watches, and the bigger the better. But again, it’s about simplifying. Why pack a fancy jewelry organizer with too much when a small pouch of just enough would do? On our last trip, I brought two watches, each with a coordinating ring and bracelet. That’s it. Two watches, two rings, and two bracelets.
But consider this: you can always supplement by purchasing jewelry as a souvenir. Yeah, that’s right. And because you didn't bring too much jewelry to begin with, you won't feel guilty for deciding to buy that watch you spotted in a store window in Capri, or that artisan cameo ring at a market outside of Naples.
|Two watches, two rings, two bracelets.|
Keeping travel jewelry to a minimum.
|Great idea: jewelry as a souvenir!|
One of my favorite souvenirs was this leather wrap bracelet
(with the "Our Father" in Italian) which I purchased in Rome last year.
Toiletries are an issue … especially for females. Between make-up, moisturizers, lotions, and hair products there’s a lot to consider. And if you’re flying and not checking a bag – there’s not much that will fit into that quart-sized TSA approved Ziploc bag. So what’s a girl to do?
You decant shampoos and lotions into small bottles. You consolidate with items that do double duty – body lotions that can be used as a moisturizer, a foundation which already contains sunscreen, a shampoo and conditioner in one. You also do without (leave the Dead Sea Facial Mask or the Argan Oil Hair Treatment).
And then there’s the check-out lane at Sephora … you know, with all those bins of travel sized items? Honestly, I love standing in line at Sephora, and the longer the line the more time I have to browse. Not only do I like to get travel sizes of some of my favorite products, but the smaller sizes also allow me to try new products without investing in the larger size.
And here’s a secret: if you ask (nicely) for some free samples, they will give them to you. The last time I was in Sephora I mentioned our upcoming flight to Lake Tahoe, and the clerk gave me a handful of sample moisturizers and eye creams. “Stay hydrated and moisturize,” she advised me.
|Finds from the Sephora check-out lane:|
Living Proof Dry Shampoo, Hourglass pressed powder, blotting papers,
and an assortment of free(!) samples.
The Shoe Conundrum
This is tricky. Us gals need more than one pair of shoes, but because shoes take up so much space you have to be smart about it (and more than a little practical) which means having the strength to set aside that cute pair of heels that you would only wear once (if at all). Generally I allow myself three pair of shoes: one pair that I wear on the trip, and two that go into my suitcase; furthermore, each pair has to coordinate with more than one outfit so I can change the look if I re-wear the same outfit.
|Supergas are my go-to sneakers. They travel well, and look good with|
jeans, short skirts, and maxi skirts.
The nitty gritty: To re-wear or not to re-wear?
Re-wear. Definitely. Oh, I’m not talking about socks and underwear, but jeans, skirts, tank tops, and even the occasional top can be re-worn if they are not stained. Or smelly. And if, for example, your jeans are clean but smell wind-blown from walking around all day, simply spray them with Febreze
and allow them to air overnight.
and allow them to air overnight.
Also, I like to stick several sheets of fabric softener in my carry-on to keep everything smelling fresh.
|Are your clothes clean but smell wind-blown after a day of sight-seeing?|
Spray with Febreze-to-go and allow to air out overnight.
One final word
Pinterest is a wonderful source for all things travel, and I have several boards dedicated to travel, packing, and capsule wardrobes. Another web site with a wealth of information is Travel Fashion Girl where Alexandra Jimenez and her team offer everything from reviews of the best travel shoes, to packing check lists that you can print and use for your next trip.