Send that checked bag packing for a better travel experience
For me, packing for a one- or two-week vacation is often a tug of war. The desire to pack light competes with the temptation to fill a jumbo suitcase with a variety of outfits and accessories, plus some “maybe” ensembles (those that may or may not be worn to that trendy eatery you may or may not encounter).
After decades of long jaunts with my family, not to mention work- related travel, I can say with certainty that over-packing introduces chaos to a trip, especially when said getaway involves multiple destinations. I know it sounds odd, but having fewer options is liberating.
Case in point? I spent four weeks in Japan, racing from Tokyo to Kyoto, over to Naoshima and up to Hokkaido, with only a carry-on and a tote bag. Packing essentials with dress-it-up pieces made all the moving around effortless.
Here’s why you should ditch that suitcase for a carry-on, what to put in it and how to pack it.
Why only a carry-on
• You won’t lose your luggage: Although odds are low that your bag will go astray (there were about three cases per 1,000 customers in 2018, according to Airlines for America, a trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines), when it does happen, it puts a cloud over your vacation.
The last time I checked a bag, I ended up on a river cruise in Provence with no togs in tow. Between two flight cancellations and quickie connections, my checked luggage did not make it. I wasted much of the following four days shopping for essentials at port and following up with the airline instead of enjoying France.
• You’ll have more flexibility: If your flight is canceled, a carry-on allows you to hop the next flight to your destination. With a checked bag, a canceled flight means the airline dictates your re-booking. And even then, your bag may be lost.
• They’re easier to maneuver: If, like me, your travel plans involve trains, boats and buses, a massive bag is a nuisance. It must be lugged through narrow aisles and won’t fit in overhead storage.
• They save you time: Too many options complicate dressing. With scaled-back choices, getting ready takes mere minutes, maximizing time to explore.
What to bring
The key to a lean, mean, on-the-road wardrobe is knowing what to pack and how to pack it. This requires discipline; each item needs to matter. With core essentials that can be dressed up with accessories, your suitcase can supply an arsenal of fashionable looks.
Of course, where you are going dictates the essentials. Think about the destination. Check the weather forecast. Then, pack only pieces versatile enough to wear multiple times in multiple ways. Basic pieces in a neutral palette (cream, white, black, gray) work best for mixing and matching.
To be sure choices can be reworked into a variety of looks, lay each item out with accessories and create a few different looks.
Aside from pajamas, underwear, a bathing suit and cover-up, a beach vacation calls for a goes-with-everything dress, one pair of jeans, a few pairs of shorts, a long skirt that can be dressed up, one evening look, a few tops and lightweight sweaters or wraps.
Footwear can pose the biggest challenge. The rule: three pairs maximum. For both kinds of trips, low-heeled, open-toed sandals work for day or night, along with slip-on flats. If you really must have a heel, make it a low one that is easy to pack.
Accessories such as a statement necklace, a jangle of (fake) bangles, dangly earrings and a colorful, gauzy scarf will add zip to a basic look. Pack in tiny pouches inside a master pouch.
How to pack
The key to successful packing is in the preparation. Invest in a sturdy wheeled suitcase. For domestic travel, 22 inches is the maximum size for in-cabin luggage. For international travel, it’s 21 inches.
• Set out the suitcase before packing to visually enforce restraint.
In addition to the carry-on, you are permitted one personal item. Don’t waste this opportunity on a purse. Bring a larger tote bag (which should neatly perch on top of the wheeled carry-on) and tuck a lightweight, pliable purse inside the tote, which also will house books, computer, snacks, plugs, toiletries bag (if you want to access it on a long-haul flight) and an extra sweater.
• Start the packing process five days before the trip. Why? Last- minute packing encourages poor choices. Set items out on a sofa or dining room table so you can see what’s what. Then, really consider what you need vs. what you want.
• Opt for travel-size grooming products or transfer your products to small plastic containers. Another tip: Stock up on samples of face cream, vitamin C serum and cleanser at department stores during the year.
You can also score samples of shampoo and conditioner from your hairdresser. Place all of these in the smallest toiletries pouch possible. For makeup, two-fer palettes and mini mascara are space savers. Medications, too, can be streamlined. Place what you need (plus a few ibuprofen tablets) inside a snack-size, zip-top bag instead of schlepping multiple pill containers.
Through ridding yourself of that sartorial albatross known as a checked bag, you’ll effortlessly zip from place to place, spend less time at baggage claim (or filing lost-baggage claims) and get going more quickly each morning.