Last week, a friend of mine and her son were flying out of town for a 3-week trip that required them to pack for two different seasons. The bad news is that their plane was delayed by 12 hours. All the passengers had to deplane and wait it out in the airport, leaving their luggage behind and taking only their carry-on items with them. The good news is that my friend and her son had packed everything they needed for this big trip in their carry-on bags, so they sailed off the plane with all of their belongings in tow!
My family and I always travel only with carry-on bags. I love the secure feeling of knowing that my possessions are under my control at all times. It’s freeing to travel light and not be burdened with so many items to keep track of during the trip and re-pack when heading home.
I have a client who is a frequent traveler and also seems to be a frequent target of the TSA’s “random” luggage search. Opening her suitcase to find a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” makes her cringe at the realization that strangers have been rifling through her belongings and messing up her orderly bag.
Has your luggage ever been lost? What a pain that is. Typically, the bag is eventually found, but It really puts a damper on travel plans to spend the first couple of days buying new underwear and toiletries and communicating back and forth with the airport about the bag.
As if these pitfalls weren’t enough of an insult, most airlines are now charging baggage fees ranging from $25 to over $100. Thought you got a great deal on your tickets? Think again!
Have you heard enough to convince you to go carry-on only? Try it for a trip and see how it goes.
“But how can I possibly pack everything in a carry-on bag when I need wardrobe options and my special shampoo?” you ask. Answer: you can’t.
Being organized and streamlined for travel involves making choices and trade offs. You’re deciding to trade maximum clothing flexibility and creature comforts for ease and freedom.
First, let’s get some logistics out of the way: TSA regulations and luggage options.
You know the drill: To get through security, remove shoes, belts, and jackets. Make this process efficient by swapping the jacket for a sweater, skipping the belt, and choosing slip-on shoes.
Next, you’ll have to remove electronics (laptops, phones, e-readers, and tablets) from your bag, so pack these where you can pull them out easily, not buried under other items.
Liquids and gels have to be scanned separately too. Pack them in a clear quart-size ziplock bag in containers not larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) each. Stow the bag in an outer pocket of your carry-on purse or tote so you can easily get to it without having to open your suitcase.
Note: Medications and infant feeding items are exempt from the 3.4 ounce limit.
Want to skip this bothersome process altogether? Do as I did and enroll in TSA Pre✓®, which allows you to use a much faster security lane in which you don’t have to remove any clothes or take anything out of your bags. Zip right through to the gate!
Bring the right luggage.
How big a bag can you carry onto the airplane? Unfortunately, there’s no standard, so each airline sets its own rules. According to World Traveler if your bag is 22" x 14" x 9" or smaller, you should be good to carry it on U.S. flights. To check a specific airline’s rules, use Travel Made Simple’s handy chart.
I recommend a rolling hard-shell suitcase rather than soft-sided luggage because they are durable, protect your belongings, are light weight, and are easy to slide into the overhead compartment. Plus, you can really stuff them full and still get them to zip closed. Four full-swivel wheels are a must!
In addition to your carry-on suitcase, you are (almost always) allowed a personal bag. Make it count! Don’t take your usual small, everyday purse. Instead use a tote (preferably with zippers, pockets, and sections) or a backpack and slip your purse into it.
Now, let’s pack your bags efficiently!
Rule #1: Don’t be a fashionista.
Unless you are a celebrity or a socialite, you don’t need to travel with an extensive wardrobe. If you do happen to be a celebrity or a socialite, let your entourage carry that stuff for you!
Trust me, no one will notice you wearing the same thing two, three, or even four times. You aren’t being photographed by the paparazzi and others are more concerned with their own outfits than with yours.
To satisfy your need for clothing options while also keeping things simple with a mix and match wardrobe. Limit colors and patterns and make sure each piece you bring can be worn with at least two other pieces. I like to choose a base of black and then add pops of color. Accessories such as a jacket, cardigan, or scarf create layers that change the look of your outfits.
Don’t think about packing for all the weeks of your trip, but know that you can do laundry (hand wash or send things out) and think about packing for just one week and then repeating those outfits for the other weeks.
To select your outfits, lay your clothes out on your bed and then take away items until you have pared down as much as possible. Do you really need two pairs of jeans (They take up lots of space.)? Can you get away with one jacket?
When deciding between items, choose your tried-and-true favorites that are sure to look good and make you feel comfortable. For wrinkle-resistance, choose knits over woven fabrics.
If your travel plans include a dressy event, do as a savvy client of mine does and rent dress clothes from Rent the Runway or a local shop.
Shoes can be a big dilemma. Try to limit yourself to two pairs and wear the larger, heavier pair onto the plane. My all-time favorite, all-purpose travel shoes are these Keen closed-toe sandals because they are as comfy as sneakers for walking, can be worn with no-show socks, and look cute with a dress.
Rule #2: Roll your clothes.
To maximize every square inch of your suitcase, fold your clothes in half or thirds lengthwise so they form long rectangles, then roll them up tightly and stack them into the bag like little logs. This prevents big wrinkles and allows you to fit clothes close together.
Start packing the suitcase by putting shoes at the bottom (the wheel end), stuffing socks into the toes. Next add jeans, pants, jackets, and other heavier clothing items. At the top of the suitcase, place lighter clothing such as tops and bras, stuffing undies into the cups of the bras so they don’t get squished out of shape.
If you need a bathing suit, pack it in a ziplock bag with the air squeezed out. This way, you’ll have a bag ready in case you need to re-pack a wet bathing suit.
Plan to wear your bulkiest clothes (i.e. jeans) onto the plane to create a little more space in your suitcase.
Rule #3: Minimize toiletries.
Maybe in your everyday life you need special shampoo, hair styling tools, and a full face of makeup. This isn’t your everyday life. You want to get out there and enjoy your trip, not spend hours in front of the mirror.
For travel, strip your skincare and makeup routine to the bare bones. You won’t turn into the Crypt Keeper in just a couple of weeks, so leave the anti-aging products at home and just go with a basic moisturizer. Use facial wipes instead of cleanser plus makeup remover.
Keep makeup simple by packing combined products such as a tinted moisturizer with SPF instead of moisturizer, facial sunblock, and foundation. A makeup palette eliminates the need to pack a whole case of blushes, eyeshadows, highlighters, and eye liners.
Consider whether you really need to bring your own shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Most hotels supply decent products. If you must bring your own, try an all-over shampoo and body product or a bar shampoo.
Finally, remember that unless you’re headed to a remote part of the globe, you’re likely to be close to shops that sell any necessities that you may have forgotten. Say hello to light and easy worry-free travel!
Toiletries can be a big hurdle when trying to pack only in carry on luggage. TSA regulations allow only a quart-size bag of liquids and gels in bottles of 3.4 ounces (100ml) or smaller. Here’s how to make it work: