Packing Simplified: Carry-On Luggage

Simplifying / Monday, September 10th, 2012

This past Thursday through Sunday I attended the Financial Blogger Conference in Denver and it allowed me to accomplish something I’ve never done before.

I didn’t do any public speaking or win any awards and I didn’t climb to the top of Pike’s Peak. No, my big win was that I packed light enough to skip the check-in counter and carry on my luggage.

Seriously. First time ever. I was so proud.

Carrying on luggage is a big time saver since you don’t have to check in at the gate before you leave or wait at the luggage carousels when you arrive. It also eliminates the prospect of lost luggage. And now, with most airlines charging fees to check bags, it can save money as well.

Here’s what helped me get the job done:

Start with the shoes.

Shoes are a huge roadblock to packing light. As women, we often have different shoes for different outfits. And men’s shoes are just plain big and bulky. If you can limit the shoes, you’ll be well on your way to one bag packing. I was able to get by with two pair of lightweight flats in the bag and a pair of tennis shoes on my feet.

One pair of bottoms for every two tops.

Instead of packing a different, complete outfit for every day, make each pair of jeans or pants or skirt do double duty by pairing it with with two or more different tops. I took one pair of jeans and one pair of capris, with two tops/sweaters to go with each.

Travel-sized everything.

If your hair can handle using the hotel-provided shampoo and conditioner, use those and leave your big bottles at home. If it can’t, pack travel-sized bottles of these two, along with travel-sized toothpaste, lotion, perfume, and whatever else you take.

And rather than traveling with full bottles of prescription or over-the-counter medication, put smaller amounts in pill boxes or even snack sized plastic bags. Every little bit counts when you’re packing to carry on.

Don’t try to cover every contingency.

Pack only the things you know you’ll use. If a need arises while you’re traveling, you can purchase it while there. Chances are you won’t have to.

I blame my need to pack like a ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ contestant on being a mom. Need a band-aid? Got it. A cough drop? Got those too. A snack, a drink, some entertainment? Check, check, and check. Something to write with, something to write on? Let me just look in my purse. But I wasn’t a mom traveling with small kids  and I wasn’t traveling to a third world country, just to the next state over. I was safe leaving all that stuff at home.

Make your second carry-on an oversized one.

Make sure that the bag or purse you’re using for your second carry-on is a large one. Even if you plan to carry a small bag once you’re at your destination, put it inside the larger one and use the big bag to carry on anything that won’t fit in your main carry-on.

While you’re at it, downsize your wallet. I usually just need a driver’s license, credit card, health insurance card, and some cash when traveling. My big wallet with things like my library card and Petsmart customer loyalty card doesn’t need to make the trip. Neither do my keys or checkbook.

So my carry-on plan was successful, but it wasn’t perfect. Here are the things I now know to do next time:

Take a carry-on with wheels.

Tom actually suggested this and I ignored him. Big mistake. While that soft sided bag looked lightweight, it definitely wasn’t when full. And you don’t hand carry-ons off at the ticket counter, but lug them through security, to your gate, to the bathroom, to the Hudson News to buy trail mix, and everywhere else you go.

I knew all of this in my head of course, but somewhere around mile 10 of the Denver airport, it really began to sink in. When I got off the plane in Kansas City, I handed Tom my bag and kissed him hello in that order. My arms were about to fall off.

Leave a litte room for growth.

I didn’t buy anything on this trip, but I came back with some conference swag, including three books. Carrying on while going home was definitely trickier than while going. But at least it didn’t involve a trip to the UPS store, like last year’s conference trip did.

Do you carry on or check bags? Do you have any packing light tips to share?

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

16 Replies to “Packing Simplified: Carry-On Luggage”

  1. Julie, I pack much the same way when I travel. People are always amazed when I tell them I could do 2-3 weeks in England in the winter with just a carry-on! It really does make traveling easier and stress free when you travel with less, especially now that the airlines are charging for luggage!

  2. I traveled to my sister’s wedding this past June and my husband and I were able to just take a backpack for each of us and one oversized personal carry on. We shipped my husband’s suit ahead of time, then threw it in the larger personal item (a very large canvas shopping bag) on the way back. It was great not having to deal with checking luggage, and much faster too.

    1. Oooh, shipping ahead of time. That’s a great suggestion, LH. My husband has considered doing that with golf clubs a time or two, although we haven’t tried it yet. Thanks for sharing.

  3. While I’ve never tried this, I like this idea. Take with you some clothes that you are ready to let go of. Then leave them at the hotel with a note that the clothes are to be donated or given to staff. That way if you buy souvenoirs (or get conference things!) you have room for them on the return trip!

    1. Interesting, Teresa. I did leave some swag behind (a tote bag, a t-shirt) in the hotel room, but I didn’t think to leave a note. Good idea.

  4. I don’t fly very often but I do try to pack “small” whenever we travel. I use Space Bags inside my suitcase or duffel to keep the volume to a minimum. This helps tremendously if you’re packing bulky winter clothing. I’m usually able to pack for 2 people in one bag this way. We are a family of 6 so vacations can easily mean no line of sight out the back window of the SUV if we don’t consolidate things. Remember, I said I try to pack “small” which does not necessarily mean “light”, although this method will save space. Julie, I love the tip about cleaning out your purse before traveling. There’s no need to bring a huge set of keys or envelope full of coupons you won’t be using.

    1. Space bags…I was wishing I had some of those when packing to come home. Great tip, Bestmommy! Do you just “roll” the air out of them when you’re packing to come back and don’t have access to a vacuum cleaner?

      1. Yes, no vacuum needed. Just sit on them and squeeze out the air….rolling also works. I actually use them more for traveling than storing things at home. They were a lifesaver in helping my daughter pack for college too.

  5. I’ve always been a fairly good packer, but when they really started enforcing the weight thing, I got serious. and now that they charge, it’s more important.
    Shoes and running gear are the worst culprits, but I have to take them! I try to wear the heaviest/bulkiest items and shove the smaller things into my shoes..The latter also has the advantage of holding them in shape. I usually keep socks and undies to a minimum and wash them by hand.
    Another great tip is to stick to one general backdrop colour Ie. brown, black or gray that can coordinate with others. This helps cut down on the need for multiple pairs of shoes and bottoms.
    Lastly, I try to use the largest carry-ons allowable; they’ll often be stowed anyway if the plane is too small.
    I’m still working on the make-up. . Love the two-to-one tip!

    1. Teresa, I love all your tips and especially the one general color rule. Such a good point about the coordinating shoes, etc. And I’m smiling because I always overpack on undies. I hate to run out!

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