October 27, 2017

Traveling internationally with only a carry-on bag

The first time I realized that I traveled differently was the first time I told someone that I only travel with a carry-on, everywhere. They couldn’t figure out how I made that work for overseas trips and weeks away. And from then on, I realized that I travel in a way that most people cannot fathom: I travel lightly. I travel for the purpose of travel, not the purpose of hauling my goods around the world.

Packing with purpose is really about deciding what you need, what you will actually use, and what your destination might already have available for you. I am going to tell you how I pack, give you some ideas along the way, and hopefully save you HOURS in life by not having to stand at baggage claim hoping your suitcase arrived with your flight.

But first, why? Why only a carry-on? Well, a few reasons.

A. I don’t like waiting at baggage claim, or finding baggage claim, or standing at baggage claim realizing my bags are in a different city than I am. Been there, done that.

B. It’s faster and easier. I grab my bag and waltz out of the airport. I can fit in any car, any uber, any train, any bus, whatever. I don’t have to wait for a van or suv that can handle my 10 suitcases.

C. It makes the days easier. Fewer choices make life less complication, and that is true on vacation also.

D. I don’t use half of it anyway. Every trip I take, I realize what I don’t use. I still have trips where I don’t use a handful of things, and I make a note of that for my next trip.

E. Cheaper. So many airlines have checked baggage fees now.

F. It opens up more options while traveling. If I get to Rome and don’t like it and decide to hop a train to Milan instead (true story), I can just wheel my carry-on into the train and be gone. No lugging around multiple bags through crowded cities and along unfamiliar streets.

So, how do I do it?

First, I make a list. A generic one.

We are leaving for London on the 26th, and here is my list:

  1. · 2 pairs of jeans
  2. · Pair of leggings (Maybe)
  3. · Boots
  4. · Sneakers or Sperry’s
  5. · 4 camis
  6. · 2 shirts or light sweaters
  7. · 3 sweaters
  8. · 8 pairs of underwear
  9. · 8 pairs of socks
  10. · 2 bras
  11. · 3 bralettes
  12. · Jacket
  13. · Toiletries
  14. · Hair brush
  15. · Ipad & Charger
  16. · Apple watch & charger
  17. · Camera and spare batteries with charger.
  18. · Protein bars and other easy snacks
  19. · makeup

It’s generic. It isn’t specific for a reason, which you will understand soon.

From here, I take my list and go to my closet. This particular list is designed for a cold weather trip, so sweaters and jackets might not be your normal beach vaca attire, but it gives you an idea!

The first thing I do is find my “airplane outfit”. And by this, I mean what I will wear on the largest legs of the trip. I have specific rules here: I wear on the plane whatever takes up the most room in my suitcase. In this case, I want to bring a pair of boots, and since those take up more room in the suitcase, I am going to wear them on the plane instead. I have TSA precheck, so I don’t have to take them off anyway.

I grab the bulkiest sweater I am planning on bringing, a pair of jeans and my coat, and put it all to the side. This is what I am wearing on the plane because it takes up the most room in my suitcase and therefore makes sense to wear instead of pack.

In my closet, I grab another pairs of jeans. I am there for 7 days, 2 of which are travel days. 2 pairs of jeans and 1 pair of leggings is fine. I have no issue re-wearing jeans for a few days.

Next, I go through the rest of the list.

I wear generic colors. I do not bring tops that are specific to one outfit. You know those cute tops or pants that can only be worn with ONE thing? Yeah, no. I usually only travel with white, black, grey and other neutral colors that I can mix and match. I don’t plan outfits in advance, so knowing that my colors all work with each other (and with the shoes) is important.

Underwear and bras go in separate little bags. I have one baggie that they go in, and one that is empty so that throughout the trip I can put the dirty ones in there to keep separate.   This is a must-do for me! I cannot stand the idea of dirty underwear and socks mingling with my clean clothes, so I immediately put the dirty stuff in the bag and it never mingles with the clean stuff!


Now that I have everything in one place, I begin packing. I use a roll-on carry-on suitcase with a hard shell case. I believe it’s a Kenneth Cole, which I bought on Amazon. Love it.

I pack one side with my clothes. Hint, roll your clothes to make everything fit better. Except jeans – they tend to be bulkier when rolled, so try to lay them flat.

The other side I try to leave sort of empty for souvenirs or other things I want to bring back. I don’t buy a lot when I travel, but I have been known to find a new pair of shoes or a nice coat that absolutely has to come home with me ! In this case, the side is packed with my camera gear and my spare shoes.  Normally my camera would be in the bag that goes under the seat in front of me, but in this case I had room, so I packed it.


A note on toiletries and etc:

I don’t bring a lot. I have learned that every hotel has a blow dryer and can provide you things that you forget or didn’t bring. So yes, my fancy curling irons and blow dryers stay home. I can make do for 7 days with a hotel blow dryer.

I use a Sephora TSA-approved travel bag for my toiletries. It’s easy and I only fit what I need. Typically, shampoo and conditioner (this is a must. I have sensitive hair and I can’t handle hotel shampoo and conditioner), Toothpaste, maybe perfume, lotion, floss, tooth brush, q-tips, bandaids (blister) and that is pretty much it!

Makeup is another challenge. I see SO many ladies who dump their entire makeup bag in a travel bag and bring it. You’re on vacation. Be real with yourself – will you use ALL of it? You need ALL of those mascaras? EVERY foundation you own? No. and No.

I typically keep all of my makeup stored in a big bin, and when I apply my makeup for the day I take out what I am going to use. I do the same thing when planning travel. I take out what I would use to apply that days makeup, and that is what comes with.

Camera Gear:

I travel light. I bring my body, (a 5d Mark III), a 50mm lens, a spare battery and charger, and 1 or 2 SD cards. That’s it. Unless I am going for a photo shoot specifically, and then it’s different.

So, that is pretty much it! I don’t do anything special, or anything revolutionary.  I just travel with less and try to coordinate outfits that match so that I can wear things over again or mix and match with jeans and a pair of boots.
Hope this helps with some of the questions I get about how I travel and how I do Europe on one carry-on bag for over a week!

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