the art of the carry-on

Last October we decided to take a last minute trip to Portland for our 2 year anniversary. Because we spent a chunk of change on tickets for a trip we hadn’t planned on taking, we didn’t want to spend the extra to check luggage. I also snuck apple picking into our itinerary, so you bet I was going to make room in my suitcase to bring bags of apples home; thus was born my first time only bringing a carry-on. It held exactly two outfits for the two days we would be there, and I had one pair of shoes that were on my feet. And a magical world was opened up for me.

Having only a carry-on was so liberating. I didn’t overpack. I didn’t have to wait at the carousel after my flight for my giant suitcase. I didn’t have to worry about luggage being lost. I didn’t have to lug a huge suitcase everywhere if we changed locations often. We traveled a lot last fall and winter, and every plane ride I only brought a carry-on. To New York, to Texas for Christmas, etc. I’m never going back. But how did I do it?

1. Try on everything. Try on every outfit you plan on bringing – I’m talking the bra, the top, the pants, and the shoes…the whole thing. Too often I’d overpack several “options” only to find I didn’t like how any of them looked on me or nothing went together. Make sure you have the right bra to wear with that specific top. Make sure that top looks good with those jeans. Pack specific outfits – you don’t need three different bottoms to maybe go with one top. Take out the “maybe”, and put in the “will”. Love every outfit you’re packing, so you know you will wear it…exactly how you planned.

2. Pack versatile pieces. Pack items that are both casual and classy. Sometimes you don’t have a set itinerary for a trip, but now is not the time to pack extra fancy dresses just in case you go out to a nice dinner (one is fine if you must). Pack classic pieces that always look nice and can be worn for any occasion, like black skinny jeans or a floral blouse – not something super trendy or off the wall that you might not find an occasion to wear it.

3. Wear your clothes more. This may seem outlandish (or even gross to some), but hey, you don’t have to wash your clothes after one wear. I generally wear the same top 2 or 3 times before washing, and the same pants for way longer. Unless you’re doing physical activity or sweating or spilling something on yourself, your clothes do not get “dirty” that fast. This means you can pack less clothes and worry less about what you’re going to wear, because hey, that outfit worked perfectly yesterday, why not wear it again today? P.S. This rule does not apply to panties and socks. Change those every day.

4. When it comes to shoes, less is more. If there’s one thing I’d say most women have a lot of, it’s shoes, and I am no exception. They’re fun and complete an outfit, so why not have a ton of options?! Wrong – on trips anyway. Shoes take up the most room, and you never end up wearing all of them. I say pack two pairs (maybe three if you need sneakers because you’re an overachiever and exercise even while on vacation ;p) at the most, and that’s including the pair you wear to the airport. When I went to both Portland and New York, I only brought the one pair of shoes on my feet. But like I said above, pack shoes that are versatile. Leave the heels at home; they take up more space, are more fragile, aren’t conducive to walking a lot (which is usually done on trips), and you won’t have many occasions to wear them. Instead, pack a pair of ballet flats; they take up little room in your suitcase, are great for walking, and can transition from day to night – with pants or dresses. If you want to bring a pair of bulkier shoes, like boots or sneakers, wear those to the airport.

5. Travel size it. I used to be opposed to buying travel sized bathroom essentials because hey, I already have a bottle of shampoo at home, why do I need to waste $1.50 to buy a super tiny one I’ll only get a few uses out of? Well guess what, they’re always worth it. Not only will it allow you to only bring a carry-on (we all know you aren’t allowed to pack large containers of liquid), but they save space and weight. I also used to think I had to check a bag in order to bring my razor (ridiculous right?), but you don’t. Those can go in carry-ons, so you don’t have to worry about going days without shaving! Hurray!

6. Don’t allow duplicates. If you’re staying in a hotel, chances are they will have a hair dryer, so don’t pack your personal one. If you’re staying with friends, ask them beforehand if they have a straightener or even bathroom essentials (like shampoo and conditioner) they wouldn’t mind you using. No point in everyone having one of everything that can easily be shared. This applies to clothes too; you don’t need 3 different jackets – one is enough. Wear it to the airport because jackets definitely take up a lot of valuable suitcase space.

7. Bring a carry-on that has wheels. Even if your bag is super small and light, it’s always nice to have a rolling suitcase when you’re traversing a large airport like LAX or Houston Intercontinental. I learned my lesson after bringing a gym bag and having to lug it over my shoulder as I trekked through the airport. Packing light is supposed to make the experience better and more comfortable, so don’t let the lack of wheels get in the way of that.

I’m sure there are other, more “professional” tips for packing, but these have all worked for me. Above all else, the whole “trying on everything” has been the best and most helpful rule for me to follow. Pack light, so your trip is easy breezy, and you can bring home more travel purchases (or picks, like apples!). Happy traveling!

-wonderland sam

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actress/texan kickin' it in los angeles. always searching for my next pizza. cia agent in another life.

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