I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. Even now, my cloudy-gray canvas carry-on isn’t much to brag about. But the amount of time I’ve spent with this beat up suitcase has shown an unbreakable bond, despite how much he’s been tossed about in tiny jets, shipped across rowdy seas, or simply put under my feet for a somewhat comfy nap at the train station. For me, buying luggage was a right of passage into adulthood, something I probably gave more consideration than necessary.
Then again, it was a significant sign of independence. Since time and money are my (and probably yours, too) limited resources, I knew I had to figure out how to make traveling as simple and convenient as possible. Spending $50 for a checked bag? Hell no, I will gladly leave my full-size Jergen’s Glow lotion behind. After taking numerous lengthy trips using just my carry-on, I’ve pinpointed my secrets for packing all your ‘necessities’ into a 1×2 canvas box while still lookin’ cute (no promises on controlling the humidity though, #sweathappens).
Since I’m currently packing up for a nine day journey through New York City, Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, and Barcelona, here’s my packing plan in real time.
Do The Research
Because I’m traveling in early spring, I’m expecting the weather to be a bit cooler than a summer vacay. This means I have to be extra particular on what to bring since I’ll have some heavier items with me, such as pants and rain jackets. After doing some background reading on these cities, I’ve taken into account what this culture considers ‘respectable dress’. I’ll be leaving my short-shorts at home in favor of longer dresses, casual pants and scarves (to cover my shoulders, especially when visiting cathedrals and sacred sites).
Roll, Don’t Fold
The rumors are true: tightly rolling your clothes not only saves space, but prevents your clothes from wrinkling. I also shove socks into tiny crevices and fold my bras in half so they keep their shape. I try to organize my suitcase into categories, such as grouping all workout clothes together and all day clothes together to make it easier to find things. This is not totally necessary, but the organizer in me refuses to do it any other way.
On to the good stuff. So what am I actually packing in my carry-on?
Two light jackets, one of which I’ll be wearing on the plane and using as a blanket/pillow/tent (trust me, I will make a tent in my airplane seat for a moment of privacy to catch some z’s).
I’m bringing one pair of dark jeans and a couple pairs of black pants cough fancy leggings in addition to two dresses, one short and one maxis. By bringing basic items, I can wear them each a couple of times with a different cardigan or jacket to change up my look. I’m also bringing a casual button down, two light sweaters and three neutral tank tops to pair with my other items. I’ll wear the dresses and sweaters with my fancier sandals for nights out. My airport outfit, typically leggings and a loose T, double as pajamas.
Since my favorite way to explore a new place is during an early morning jog, I always bring a lightweight pair of sneakers (airplane footwear) along with workout capris and a couple quick drying tops. These take up limited space and can double as adventure outfits. Since I can expect these clothes to get sweaty and I most likely won’t have access to laundry, I’ll quickly rinse these clothes in the sink (or step into the shower with them on before I wash…seriously) and hang them to dry while I’m out for the day. Just make sure it’s sweat-wicking material and not cotton, which stays wet for hours.
Along with my running sneakers, I’m wearing my casual Converse on the plane and for exploring. I have a personal vendetta against wearing heels on vacation. Whether I’m on sand or cobblestone, that nonsense’s not gonna fly. I prefer to pack a pair of fancier sandals or ballet flats for dressier evenings and bar hopping.
I try to avoid bringing any unnecessary items that aren’t very functional, such as belts or extra jewelry. I keep small studs in my ears and wear a single bracelet (a compass bracelet that I now consider my good luck charm). I refrain from bringing any expensive items that aren’t needed. Looking at you, Fitbit, you’re spending the trip on my dresser back home. I carry a small zippered messenger bag while out and about. Stay away from anything that’s easy for pickpocketers to reach into, so no open purses or backpacks you can’t see when wearing behind you. I’ll be the first to admit the fanny pack is making a name for its self and I’ve been lucky to have mine when I needed my hands free (such as when zip-lining through the jungle, no Michael Kors bag would survive that).
The Boring Stuff
Luggage locks are a must, as well as bright luggage tags to ensure you don’t have a suitcase mix up. (I keep a luggage tag on my tote bag too, but more about that in another post). I also keep copies of my passport and license in my bag for emergencies. In the outside compartments of my carry-on, I store plastic bags to put dirty laundry and muddy shoes.
As much as I’m all about the Save space! Pack smart! Be Selective! when it comes to packing, I can’t leave home without my denim vest. Does it fit easily? No. Not even a little bit. But I like throwing it over strapless dresses or a t-shirt for warmth, so I tend to always bring it with me regardless. We all have those items that bring any outfit together. If you’ve rolled and squished and squeezed everything else you need, then either wear it on the plane or stuff it into your tote.
While these are the item you’ll find in my actual carry-on, look out for another post on what I’ll be bringing in my tote bag for the 7+ hour flight across the Atlantic!
What’s your must-bring item when traveling that you don’t necessarily need?
Along with my compass bracelet and denim vest, I always have an extra book or two. I’ve found reading to be the best way to pass time while in transit or before going to bed at night. I’ve never regretted making the room for an extra novel!