I can’t believe I am writing this post. Just a year ago, I struggled to pack only a carry-on for a weekend bachelorette trip to Paris and Barcelona. Since then, I’ve been practicing my packing and travel-wardrobe-decision-making-skills. I’m happy to report that I am much more comfortable traveling with only a carry-on these days, and have done so during all of my recent trips – both domestic and international!
Since it is vacation season, I want to share my packing tips in the hopes they help you if you struggle to bring a carry-on for a trip longer than ~5 days or so. I’ve also created a downloadable checklist to make packing a breeze!
Define a color palette.
The first thing I do before packing is define a color palette for my trip. In doing so, I know all the items I bring will be able to mix and match. I learned this lesson a few years ago, when Matt and I visited the Dominican Republic and I filled my suitcase with bright colors and bold patterns, none of which complemented one another. I had so many clothes that I had to bring the largest suitcase we own, affectionately referred to as “The Condo” due to its size being comparable to a small home, ha! Since then, I’ve tried to stick to only a few colors and one pattern in my suitcase.
Start by picking a patterned piece you like (for me it’s usually stripes, but sometimes I go for polka dots or flowers) and go from there. I like to start with a patterned piece because it offers a good base for the colors to include in the remainder of my wardrobe, and ensures your travel capsule isn’t too basic.
I may bring black and white stripes or navy and white stripes, and then I know that creams, whites, blacks, navys and maybe some complementary pinks will work for my trip. Or I may bring a polka dot top like the above, and then I know creams, navys and olive greens work well.
Pack clothing that is easy to wear.
This is a tip that seems obvious, but most people fail to actually do. Don’t pack tops that require all different sorts of bras, or pieces you don’t wear a lot. If you don’t like to wear it at home, you won’t like to wear it while traveling. You may also want to consider items that can easily be worn multiple ways. Many wrap tops and cardigans are now designed to be reversible, but you can also make many of your existing tops reversible simply but cutting out the tags!
Most of all – pack what you are comfortable in.
Ditch the toiletries.
Toiletries can weigh your bag down, and those carry-on-sized ones also generate a lot of waste. Most hotels now have full-size shampoos, conditioners and body washes attached to their shower walls. And, of course, they all have bar soap. I only pack, in refillable containers when possible, the must-have items: my makeup, toothpaste and purple shampoo for my blonde hair. I never bring things like lotions or body washes. If they aren’t available at my hotel, only then do I buy them at my destination.
Bring a travel steamer.
A steamer does more than just smooth your clothes – it also refreshes garments that you’ve worn previously. At home, I wash my clothes after almost every wear (even jeans!) because I tend to sweat a lot. This is beyond unrealistic when traveling. Hotel laundry services are expensive, and if your Airbnb has a washing machine…well, who actually wants to spend time doing laundry on a trip? So now, I just steam everything after wearing! Steaming your clothing helps to deodorize it and make it appear freshly laundered. I swear by this one.
Be discerning about shoes and accessories.
I still struggle with this (the shoes!) but too many accessories can make your luggage heavy and you likely won’t even wear everything you bring.
I usually wear sneakers on the plane, and then depending on my destination I bring one pair of sandals or flats and one pair of heels or boots. Generally, it’s one pair worn, two pairs packed. For example, sneakers, sandals and heels for a warm weather trip.
For accessories, I bring one silk scarf, one pashmina, and a few pairs of statement earrings to mix up my outfits. I wear my wedding rings, stud earrings and either a necklace or bracelet on the plane.
Get my travel wardrobe checklist here.