“There are only 2 types of luggage: carry-on…..and lost.” Rita Davenport
It might be a bold claim to call myself an expert packer, but I’m going to be bold. I am notorious for being able to go anywhere with very little luggage (especially for a woman) and for being able to pack in a short amount of time. Packing well, to me, is an art form.
On my recent trip around the world, I packed on the morning of my departure, and I carried just a backpack, a medium sized suitcase and a small computer/roller bag. We went to 6 different global destinations, with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below Fahrenheit on the Great Wall of China, to 95 degrees F on the beaches of Rio. I got quite a few comments from people asking, “is that all you took?!” Yes, it was all I took- and I even had room to spare to bring home gifts for family and friends.
I went to Panama to visit my lifelong friend, Chrisi, about 2 years ago, and I got detained by TSA in customs when arriving into Newark Airport for an hour because they were so suspicious of my one tiny suitcase. I am pretty sure they thought I was a drug runner. I had 3 different male agents come up to me and ask,
“Is that all you brought?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “…… I like to pack light.”
“I wish my wife would learn to do that,” they all said, in a serious- non serious, chuckling kind of TSA tone.
I just smiled and politely asked if I could get on my way.
Living in NYC has sharpened my ability to travel light—I didn’t hone this skill until I had to, when I moved here 3+ years ago. Growing up in a place like Texas, you can take 2 large suitcases for a 5 day trip if you want- you just roll them out your front door, put them in your car, get out at the airport, check those suckers and you’re all set.
In New York, I generally use public transportation to get to the airport- it runs me anywhere from $2.50 going to JFK (straight shot on the subway) to about $15 to get to Newark via subway and train. That definitely beats an $80 one-way taxi fare. When you come and go as much as I do, that can really add up.
I live on the 2nd floor of a brownstone in Chelsea—thank goodness it’s not the 6th floor- and this is my process to get to the airport: I carry my suitcase down those stairs, roll it 6 blocks to the subway, go down 2 more sets of stairs, through the subway rotating entrance….hop on to the subway to Penn station, down more stairs to get underground where I buy my train ticket, and then down more stairs to get to the train. Once I get to the airport, there are escalators—but, many times they’re broken or not working, which means trekking up more flights of stairs.
Doing all of this with a 50 lb. suitcase just doesn’t work—trust me, I’ve done it. I learned this on my first trip after I moved here, and I’ve carried on my bags ever since. I even carry-on during the holidays, when I have gifts to pack for my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews (**shopping online and having items delivered at my parents’ house is a key tip here).
So, I’m going to give you a few ‘tricks of the trade’ that help me. I love living simply and traveling simply. Less stuff in life makes me have less stress—and less stuff on a trip does the same: it’s less for me to manage and keep up with. My personal rule is to have no more than 3 ‘things’ to keep up with—usually it’s my carry on, my backpack and an over the shoulder purse. For you ladies, I would get a small little purse like this crossbody from Coach that I’ve had for years and love: it’s easy to keep up with, secure and compact. You don’t have to worry about it falling off your shoulder or getting too heavy, and it’s perfect if you’re traveling internationally. Inconspicuous and secured with a zipper, it will keep your passport and cash secure and difficult for someone to grab.
Tip 1: Determine the Purpose of Your Trip
I’ve found that most times, people just over-pack. They end up taking way more than they need and not wearing or using half of it. To me, that’s just lugging around a lot of extra weight. I have realized that I can take the same amount of stuff for a 3-day trip as I can for a 10-day trip. Now, if it’s a business trip where you have to dress formally (suits, etc), you may have to carry more.
If I’m going home to Texas for 2 weeks, I’ll most likely be in yoga pants and comfy clothes while I’m at my mom and dad’s house, and I can re-wear those over and over. I’ll be seeing people and doing some business, yes—but most of the people I see, I won’t see twice, so they won’t know if I wore the same thing yesterday to dinner that I’m wearing with them tonight. Think about it: how many outfits are you really going to be wearing? Will you be seeing the same people each day? If not, simplify.
Tip 2: Mix and Match
For my trip to Rio, I’ve packed 3 pairs of shorts, 1 denim skirt, several tops that I could wear with any of those bottoms, and 4 dresses. Now here’s the issue for most women: You have so many cute clothes and you think the world needs to see all of them. You can’t fathom not taking your (fill in the blank) …. So, you pack it all. And then you don’t wear half of it — you end up wearing the same denim shorts and top everyday, going to the beach and staying in your bikini most of the day. I feel you, ladies. I had 4 denim skirts I wanted to take on this trip—different washes, different colors….and they would have ALL been so cute. But the truth is, no one really cares if I have on a different color of denim from one day to another. So, I just packed one.
Tip 3: If You Want to Travel Light to the Promised Land, Let the Shoes Go
This is the primary reason why men pack lighter than women: they have fewer shoes. Women love their shoes. Again, I understand. My closet is full of them. But, shoes take up a lot of space…..so if you want to travel light, you must learn to simplify. In the winter, I wear my most bulky pair of shoes/boots on the plane so I have one less thing to pack. On this trip to Rio, I’m bringing 4 pairs: my running shoes (I don’t go anywhere without these- they’re bulky but necessary), my Havaianas (flip flops), 1 pair of brown wedges and a pair of nicer, decorative sandals. That’s it.
What about my high heels? My wedges are serving that purpose. Know where you’re going. Rio, for example, is pretty casual. If I go out, wedges suffice- I don’t need 4” stilettos, and if I brought them I’d look out of place. But even if I were going to Vegas, I’d bring 1-2 pairs of heels and plan my outfits around them. All 4 of my dresses go with these brown wedges. I did have another black dress that I was going to take… but I would have had to bring 1 pair of shoes to wear just with that dress. That wasn’t efficient for packing lightly, so I chose another dress. Easy fix.
Tip 4: Figure Out if You’ll Have Access to a Washing Machine
This is key. I’m only taking 3 Lululemon tops and bottoms on this trip, even though I’ll probably run 6 out of the 8 days while I’m in Rio. I’ll have access to wash my clothes, so there’s no need to overdo it. While I do have 6 sets of Lulu stuff that I love, I’m going for practicality here, not fashion.
Tip 5: Become Friends with the Container Store
Or, wherever you can find great little travel containers that allow you to consolidate your toiletries. Not only do you have to have each bottle under 3.4 ounces to carry on, it also cuts down on weight. I use Arbonne products, so I take either their skin care travel set that is awesome and compact, or sample packs of products if I want to pack really light. Everything else- my shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen and even my sea mud face mask (it’s a must for me) are in small little travel containers. I am definitely my father’s daughter: growing up, he would always cut open the toothpaste tubes. I made fun of him then, but I’m finding myself doing the same now. Waste less, use more. I also found the best little baby hair dryer– $45 at Bed Bath and Beyond, it actually has nearly the same force as a full-size dryer.
I love experiential travel, and it usually encourages simplification in life. I enjoy moving around and exploring, and to do that, I can’t be burdened by a lot of stuff. Perhaps if you’re going to an all-inclusive resort and setting up camp for a week, it would work for you to take a bit more. Most of the places I stay in are boutique hotels or hostels that are small and don’t have a ton of room for big, bulky American-sized suitcases. But even if they did, I prefer to go the easy route. Packing simply and living simply bring a lightness to my soul- if you’re used to taking a lot more, try downsizing on your next trip. You may find that it does the same for you.