When my husband was interviewing for medical school, we were travelling across the country almost every other weekend for several months (and usually to multiple states within each weekend). In that time frame, I learned a thing or two about how to pack everything I need into a carry on because let’s be honest…I hate checking bags! It’s a total time-suck and I have places to be and things to do. When we decided to take a 3 week trip between Iceland and Sweden, I managed to pack all of my goods into a carry on bag then, too! If you’ve ever wondered how people travel light and still look stylish and put together, read on!
1. The Bag – Small Northface Base Camp Duffel
This is the most critical item when it comes to packing light. I have had all sorts of rolling carry on’s over the years and one of my greatest frustrations with them is how difficult they can be to maneuver when boarding and deplaning. Whether it’s rolling down the aisle and getting caught on the seats, bumping into other passengers, or even just fitting them into the overhead bin, they are frustrating. After much searching, I decided on the Small Northface Base Camp Duffel; it’s essentially a duffel bag with backpack straps. Because it’s a soft bodied piece of luggage, it easily conforms to potentially tight spaces in the overhead bin the way a normal structured carry-on can’t. The Small size works as a carry on internationally (I’ve never had any problems with it fitting). Also, because it’s a backpack style, it easily swings on while deplaning and doesn’t get caught on everyone and everything on the way out. The zipper to the interior compartment of the bag is also the part that rests on your back, meaning you aren’t likely to have theft issues when you’re wearing it. This particular duffel is lightweight and extremely durable; it’s constructed with waterproof material so your clothes won’t get soaked if you’re caught in a downpour. While this isn’t exactly the most glamorous piece of luggage ever, it is the easiest piece of luggage I’ve ever traveled with! I ended up getting one for my husband, too. Yep, we’re that couple with matching bags when we travel. Absolutely adork-able.
2. Multi-way Clothing and Apparel
When traveling with one small bag, it’s imperative that some of your garments are multi-purpose to save space. Clothing that can be worn various ways like the Encircled Chrysalis Cardi are ideal pieces since they perform as multiple garments from just one item. Oh how I wish I had this piece when we were traveling non-stop! I also love Turkish towels for their multi purpose uses: they are lightweight enough that you can wear them on a plane as a scarf, unwrap to use as a blanket also while on the plane, use them as a throw on a sandy beach, a cover up at the pool, and a quick drying towel. I’ve bought all of my Turkish towels here. Leggings are also a must since they can roll up tight and small, again saving space. They also aren’t likely to wrinkle, and you can wear them with big coats, tunics, t-shirts, etc. Dresses are also a great choice because as one solid piece you don’t have to pair them with additional pants.
I opt for simple jewelry like a pair of small sparkly earrings or pearls that won’t take up much room but will look polished with everything.
Depending on the type of trip, I stick to 2-3 pairs of shoes. If it’s a warm weather trip that usually means a pair of sandals, flats, and heels. For colder weather, I opt for rugged winter boots or booties and a pair of flats. Bonus if the flats can fold in half! The bulkiest shoes get worn on the plane to save room in my bag, too.
When packing for somewhere warmer, you can usually fit more into your bag which means you don’t have to be as scrutinizing on what gets packed since it’s typically lighter weight clothing (and smaller items like tank tops, swim suits, sundresses). For winter/cold weather travel though, I highly recommend Merino wool pieces as they can be worn more than once due to their natural deodorizing properties. Merino pieces are also typically thin and lightweight yet warm knit garments which make for a less bulky bag, meaning more space to pack other items. Favorite brand for Merino? Smart Wool.
3. Self Care Items & Toiletries
Glam on the go is easy with multi-purpose capsule palettes like the Elate Capsule Palette, or the Fitglow Day/Night Palettes. What you really want is something that has multiple product pans all housed in one palette meaning you pack less individual products. I try to stick to around 2 lipsticks and 2 glosses which allows for some mixing and matching for a variety of daytime and nighttime looks. I also always travel with a heavy lip balm like the Fitglow Night Serum. Pack it now, thank me later.
Speaking of the liquids bag, one of the greatest tricks I’ve learned over the years is to use contact lens cases for things I need small amounts of! Eye creams and serums decant really well in these – you get the perfect amount for a few days or a week depending on how much you need, they’re leak proof, and compact! Another great option is to save sample containers from online orders because they’re smaller than most travel containers you can purchase. I also recommend a set of reusable silicone shampoo and conditioner bottles if you don’t have travel sized bottles of your normal shampoo. I’ve also been known to save foil sample packs from orders for travel.
If your regular perfume takes up too much space in your liquids bag, Sephora makes a great atomizer to fill with your favorite perfume. A rollerball is another option, too.
Kahina Giving Beauty makes this great travel set for skincare. Plus, the argan oil can double as a hair oil, too! Smooth those tresses, sister.
4. B.Y.O.B. – For water, that is.
In the spirit of sustainability and reducing waste, I highly recommend traveling with your own water bottle. This saves you from purchasing overpriced airport water bottles, not to mention most places will have water once you arrive and you can refill over and over. Simply have an empty bottle while going through security and fill at the local coffee shop once in the terminal. Also, if you ask really nicely, most flight attendants will gladly refill your bottle for you rather than using the plastic cups on the plane. My personal favorite bottles for traveling have been the Swell bottles (they fit well in most purses and backpacks), however a self filtering bottle would be a great idea also.
There are certain oddball items I’ve found extremely helpful for travel over the years. One of which is an eye mask – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found our sleeping accommodations to be brighter than expected. Couple that with jetlag, and it makes for one cranky mama, so an eye mask has become a must! Next line of business: earbuds. These are helpful not only on the plane, but much like the eye mask oftentimes our accommodations have been noisier than expected, too. These are so tiny and take up minimal space, so highly recommend. I also never travel without a small pair of nail clippers and a file. A busted nail constantly snagging on everything is a surefire way to put me in a sour mood. I’ve also found a teeny tiny reusable travel size razor that takes regular sized blades. My trusty pint-sized Mason Pearson brush also makes the cut. All of these items just stay in my travel bag, always ready to go. Also an essential: sunglasses. Do you know how many times I’ve kicked myself for not bringing a pair or caved and bought a cheap pair? TOO MANY. So now I make sure to grab a pair on my way out!
6. International Travel Essentials
A passport is a given for international travel, but there are a few things that are also handy during trips across the pond. One such item is an electrical outlet adapter. Different countries have different wattage and voltage so it’s important to have the equipment to use your electronics. Make sure to check ahead what type is used in the country you’re visiting to plan accordingly. Most smartphones have a built in adapter so you don’t have to worry about blowing your phone up. Other items like hair styling tools, you’ll want to check beforehand that they’re dual voltage. While many people like to travel with a physical camera, I opt for using my phone as it’s a high quality lens and one less thing to pack. Something that’s been helpful (namely on our journey through Iceland when we didn’t have immediate access to an outlet) is a power bank that you can plug any USB devices into. A large majority of them have the capability to charge multiple devices at once which is super helpful.
These are all my favorite travel hacks. Whether you’re taking a weekend trip, or a month long vacation I hope these tips and tricks are helpful!
Have a favorite travel hack not mentioned above? Spill it in the comments!