Carry On: Packing Light

These people are bringing too much stuff on their plane trip. Some of it will get lost or broken.

Turning Over a New Leaf

19 Inch Travel Bag and Matching Case

On our trip to Paris France (See Carry On: The French Connection) we experienced the luggage mix up of the century, where – long story short- my husband traveled across town in the middle of the night to exchange suitcases with a complete stranger.

On our next trip, we traveled to Spain. This time we resolved to play it safe and keep our luggage with us.  John and I each brought a 19-inch upright bag with a matching tote that sits on top for easy transportation. You’d be surprised how much stuff will fit into these expandable cases, especially if you do your research and learn how to pack correctly. There are all kinds of ‘travel light’ packing lists online, along with endless YouTube videos, but for now, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned about traveling with carry-on bags.

A Mental Shift

carry on clothes 2 day

Day two – same outfit!

Over the years I’ve been conditioned to think its taboo to wear the same outfit two days in a row.  Well, guess what? I did just that in Spain and the world didn’t come to an end. News flash – I travel to see the world, not to have the world see me. So, rather than taking weeks’ worth of clothing and accessories, I learned to pack light.

Mix and Match

carry on clothes

Figure out the minimum amount of clothing you can get by with, then choose items that mix and match. Include a variety of scarves and lightweight accessories that will go with everything and create different looks. The items pictured here fit easily into my suitcase along with lingerie etc. Here’s a surprise, I didn’t even wear all the clothes I brought.

 Consider the Season

Tne reason I didn’t wear all the clothes I took to Spain was that I packed for the wrong season.  Once again, a mental thing.  I was in Utah where the average daily temps were in the 60’s.  Even though I could see online it would be 80 to 90 degrees in Spain, I couldn’t get my head around that and insisted on packing a sweater and too many long pants.

Great Shoes
carry on shoes
Bring 2 pairs of comfortable walking shoes, black goes with everything, but that’s up to you.  I brought one pair to wear with casual clothes and another that worked well enough with skirts and sundresses. (I love my Clarks Cloud Steppers. This pair walked from one end of Spain to the other and is still as comfy as ever.)

 Shoulder Bag

I always roll up an empty canvas shoulder bag like these and stuff it inside my carry-on tote, so I’ll have something to use on a daily basis. You need a small bag to hold necessities like phone, camera, hand sanitizer, and I.D. Your tote is too big to carry around on a daily basis, besides, it’s stuffed with toiletries back at the hotel.

Wash and Wear

One thing that helped us was the fact we usually had access to laundry facilities. If that’s not an option, purchase a small bottle of dish soap to wash items in the hotel sink, then hang to dry on a shower rod or portable clothesline. If you’ll be doing lots of handwashing, make sure to pack clothes that are lightweight and quick to dry.

Carry-On Converts

By the end of this trip, we agreed that traveling with carry-on bags was the best idea we’d ever had.  I for one will never check luggage again.  Carrying my bags with me made it easier to make tight connections, and I was happy to save the time of checking suitcases and claiming it (hopefully) on the other end. But best of all, with this system, my spouse will never again have to rendezvous with a complete stranger, in the middle of the night after stealing her suitcase. Happy travels everyone and Carry On!

update

Another reason I will always keep my luggage with me.

On returning from an overseas trip two days ago, I sat in the plane and watched airport employees unloading luggage from the cargo hold onto a trailer. They threw things willy nilly – including skis and a musical instrument – which crashed down on top of each other. The icing on the cake was a stroller, which banged onto the trailer rail. A wheel broke off the stroller and went skittering across the tarmac. The employees did not notice and drove away.

Ever had a problem with items being damaged while in the care of an airline? Any suggestions on packing light? I’d love to hear from you.

(For more great travel tips, read Globetrotting Grandpa’s excellent post!)

42 thoughts on “Carry On: Packing Light

    • Hi Sean, I know, you mentioned in my last article that you felt too many people were bringing carry on luggage and the overhead bins were over crowded. I actually agree with you and almost feel bad encouraging people to not check their bags, but until I see the airlines making an effort to be more careful with people’s belongings, I’ll keep carrying on.. (Did you happen to read the last paragraph of this article? It seems like the employees just don’t care. It’s sad. Something has to change.)
      Aside from that problem, I just really enjoy bringing less stuff. I don’t mind checking my bag when I have to – bins are full and it’s mandatory – as long as it’s not a long trip with multiple transfers where things can go astray. Thanks for following along!.

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  1. Excellent tips! After our last trip when we downsized to two carryons, one each, we will never go back to checking luggage again! Kon Mari folding worked for us for clothing and packing too. Like you, we even overpacked in a limited size bag. You’re right – we’re travel to see the location, not have the location see us! Where are you off to next?!

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      • Yes – her folding techniques are fun! She has a couple YouTube videos about it. Aw – Hawaii – I’ve never been there, I’ll have to check out your post about that trip!
        Regrouping and saving money – we’re in that stage of travel too.
        I always enjoy stopping by to see what you’ve been up to!

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  2. Like you, I try to travel light with a carry-on and backpack. The issue is when I travel to visit family, they load me up with gifts (birthday, christmas) and I feel like such an ingrate because then I’m unable to return home without checking a bag. Oh the wonderful first world problems, right!

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    • Me too. I’m not sure what’s harder, packing light for winter because you don’t have as much room with sweaters and long pants or summer where you either have to pack lots of tee shirts or do more laundry. Thanks for reading.

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    • Ditto, these shoes have been on so many trips. We walk a lot, and they still look like new. My favorite scarf is a giant red one. It works for a headscarf if it’s raining, a shawl if its cold, or just wrapped around my neck. I could probably make a skirt out of it in an emergency. No probably not a good idea. Anyway, thanks for your comment.

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  3. Oh I so enjoyed this post! I am all about traveling light and carrying on my luggage! I was tempted when traveling via SW Airlines recently to take advantage of the 2 free checked bags but I knew that would encourage me to just bring more stuff I do not need! No one really care when you are traveling if you repeat your outfits. It is just important to be comfortable and to have if needed one nice outfit if you want to go somewhere nice.

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    • Exactly, I always bring a dress for church, nice restaurants, etc., but it’s one I can roll up and doesn’t get wrinkled. It’s so much easier to pack too, if you’re not bringing the whole house. Thanks for following!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Live this post! I’m a big fan on doing with as little as possible. Makes the entire journey so much more enjoyable when you don’t spend all that mental energy on keeping track and organizing all that stuff.

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  5. I lost a wheel off a brand new suitcase once. That is about it. I have been so lucky not to get my luggage lost. I dread the day it happens. I couldn’t travel with just a carry on when I travel for over a month. How long are your trips?

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    • Usually 10 to 14 days. I don’t know if I could pack for a month, but I’d be willing to try. You’d have to have a place to do laundry, unless you’re really into hand washing. You are lucky if you’ve never had anything go astray. I had a suitcase come back with the handle torn off, my husband has had a couple of problems, and one of our travel friends had to live off what she had in her purse for 3 days until her luggage finally caught up with her. Maybe I should travel with you. You may have good travel karma.

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      • Maybe, I have good travel karma, L.Lady but it might run out one day. I don’t mind handwashing and have done just that many times. I had an American lady who travelled with me in Norway, who was in a similar situation as your friend. We were even loaning her clean underwear as we were up in the mountains and nowhere for get to buy new underwear! At the end of the fortnight’s tour, they found her luggage in Newark, not Norway. They wanted to send it on but by the time it reached Norway, she would have been back in Texas!!

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    • I had someone else mention a capsule wardrobe today, and I think it’s mainly what I’m doing – minimal, mix and match. One of my friends has a capsule toiletries bag that she leaves filled all the time and just puts it in her bag when she goes. I’ve been meaning to do that, because I hate gathering up all that stuff every time. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  6. We did the carry on thing for a two week cruise where temperatures ranged from the mid 30s to the mid 90s and we did just fine. One of the main things I did was to wear my middle weight coat onto the plane. Mainly, I think it is important to check the weather forecast at the various places you are going to visit.
    The tip on using light weight (easy to dry) clothes was also crucial to our success.
    I also tried the mix and match thing, but mismatched socks didn’t go over too well with my wonderful wife.

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    • Thanks for the good advice bestadman. I agree with you, it is possible to do weeks worth of travel with a small amount of clothes even in different temps. Hmm, your wife sounds a lot like me.

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  7. Great advice. Another reason to use carry on; we recently returned from a 3 month trip. We checked our backpacks as it was an international flight out of Cartagena, Colombia. A baggage handler at the airport went into my backpack and stole a few items. It was even wrapped in a plastic bag as per airport rules, but it’s hard to lock a backpack.

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  8. Great post! I’ll be doing my first overseas trip in May with a carry-on only. The biggest issue I’m finding is trying to downsize all of my lotions and potions into the tiny allowable clear plastic bag we can bring onto the plane. I’m convinced a monster decided on the allowable sizes (while they laughed maniacally).

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    • I know, that’s my problem too. One thing I do if I can’t find my hair products in travel sizes is – with hairspray for instance – pour some of it into a travel size bottle (you can purchase these anywhere) and pack the empty spray bottle so I can still use it when I get there. I totally agree about the laughing monster.

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      • That’s a great idea about the empty spray bottle! I purchased several “travel sized” products only to find that they’re still to big for the Ziploc.. so have transferred what I’ll reasonably use during my holiday into those small ones from the dollar store. Talk about jumping through hoops! Have a great weekend!

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      • What i do is pack my liquids in the allowable quart size zip bag (as best I can) and then put it and anything that is not easily fitting into that bag into a gallon size zip lock. I have never had a problem…they seem to let it go. Of course you still have to keep each container within legal limits, but at least there seems to be a bit of flexibility on the bag size.

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