If you’re one who packs half their wardrobe for a weekend, checks a couple bags and endures the hassles of baggage claim – there is no shame in that. To each his own, I say. But if you’re looking for ways to limit the bulk, inconvenience and expense of checked luggage – I offer myself as your humble packing minimalist and happily welcome you into my semi-OCD world of carry-on hacks. Whether away for a weekend, or to Europe for 2+ weeks, I haven’t checked a bag in a dog’s age – I travel entirely by carry-on. With this comes a sense of serenity: for even if some of my plane’s checked bags go to Ouagadougou, when my plane is going to Honolulu, I know I’ll still be wearing my own underwear the next morning. Remember, too, that this is a timeshare blog and, as such, the timeshare, itself, plays a role – because timeshare units have washers and dryers. Therein lies the first secret: pack for a week – even for multi-weeks trips – because you’re going to wash and reuse everything.
With cost, convenience, certainty, and laundry addressed, let’s get down to mechanics. Full disclosure: none of this is new. I see similar tips in many travel articles. I’m just here to tell you, from experience, that it works. Three elements, in my opinion, are critical: (1) roll, don’t fold; and, (2) invest in a set of packing cubes and (3) vacuum bags (the kind you can manually compress). These factors will exponentially decrease your bulk. From there, learning not to over-pack is basically trial-and-error. In my earliest attempts, I’d routinely not wear at least half of what I packed. Over the years, though, I’ve gotten pretty good at this. My methods may be too austere for some, but after a few trips you’ll get the idea and find your own packing Zen.
– Use the “largest” bag that still qualifies as a carry-on. I recommend the (slightly smaller) International standard.
– Use as light a bag as possible for that size. Carry-ons do have weight limits, so a heavier empty bag is not your friend.
– In addition to size/weight, consider a spinner for optimal maneuverability in narrow aisles.
– I complement with a weekend bag that sleeves onto the spinner. My bag of choice is literally called “The Weekender” and can be found on eBags. It also converts to a back-pack; for short trips, it may be all I take.
– I pack one pair of my nicest jeans. They suffice for casual, but become dressy (enough) with a nice shirt. Similarly, I pack one pair of shorts. For certain destinations, consider a pair of pickpocket-proof pants/shorts. I found mine at clothingarts.com.
– Don’t forget to count what you’re wearing as part of your inventory. Don’t pack jeans or shorts or pickpocket pants if you’re already wearing them.
– Pack one or two each of a versatile long- and short-sleeve shirt that will work with the bottoms you brought. Trust me – nobody notices you’re wearing the same things every other day.
– Undergarments and socks are easy to over-pack but I would again remind you about laundry. I count the undergarments I’m wearing, and pack one more set of each.
– Pack a comfortable shoe that doubles halfway decently for dress. I wear my comfy runners, and they double for my work-outs. Bottom line: I rarely pack more than one pair of shoes.
– Packing for variable climates, the secret is layering: with a thin, light “Under Armour” type garment, a compact-able rain layer (e.g., “Mac in a Sac”), and a warm layer (e.g., Columbia’s “Omni-Heat”) you’ll be amazed how much weather you can adapt to. Light gloves, scarf, and beanie complete the ensemble (head/neck warmth is too often overlooked).
– Downsize your toiletries as much as possible. I carry the tiniest versions I can find of the things I need – eye drops, cologne, etc. Consider packing toiletry samples. In the “TMI” category, I recently experimented with pre-moistened deodorant pads (check Amazon) instead of bulky sticks. A few dozen pads in a zipper bag take up very little space.
– If you take medicine or supplements, buy mini zipper pill bags and load your daily supply into one. Here again, a few dozen of these take up very little room and will fit into the “negative space” between clothes.
– Lastly, don’t be a packing hero: consider buying some incidentals at your destination. Just one example: why pack bulky flip-flops that you can buy for a few bucks and throw away when you’re done?
As always, space makes it challenging to list everything. One “first timers” challenge for you may simply be to pack like you normally would, then step back and challenge yourself to leave behind half. Repeat that over the course of a few trips and you’ll be a proud member of the carry-on club.