« It's Official! | Main | Mailbox »

Travel PornMay 3, 2013

I travel lightly, so lightly that I now actually use a half-sized suitcase. (I AM SO BRAGGING RIGHT NOW -- I LOVE that I went to Italy for 18 days with so little. I think I've been training toward this Olympic-level packing my whole life.) 

You asked for it! Here you go, the Traveling Lightly List. 

I bought this suitcase, but it's sadly unavailable now. This gives you an idea of it, though. 17 x 10 x 13 inches. 


Boot for scale. 

So here's my method: 

1. Pack one small roll-aboard suitcase. (Pictured above, red.) 

2. Carry an empty bag. (Pictured above, the black and white one.) 

3. Inside that bag, place your everyday travel purse/messenger bag, fully packed. (Below, in umbrella picture)

There! You just defeated the "one personal item/one piece of luggage" rule of traveling carry-on! They tell you what you can bring on board, not what you can take off with you. As soon as you step on-board the plane you can toss your suitcase overhead, throw what you don't need in your purse into the extra bag and heave that up, too. (Pro-tip: Always wear your heavy coat/sweaters on board. There's plenty of room under your seat to shove those things, or put them up top with your suitcase. Or in that empty bag!) 

I happen to think that after a lot of research, I have the best travel bag EVER. It's the Pacsafe Citysafe 200 Gii, and I got the herringbone color. 

(Strangely, the only picture I could find of me wearing it. And I wore it ALL the time.) 

A gadget I now find completely necessary and wonderful is the Travel Bungee. The best $15 you'll spend, it secures your extra bag (or purse or coat or small disobedient child) to your suitcase, like this: 


So. Let's break it down, for those of you who, like I do, get off on lists. 

For a winter trip of any duration (did I just blow your mind?), here's what I take and why. 

To Wear on the Plane: 

Jeans - I like the option to put things in my pockets sometimes

Black V-necked t-shirt - can be dressed up or down

Black cashmere thin sweater - I never travel without cashmere. Hello, fiber snob. But it's soft, very lightweight, completely smooshable, and can be used as a pillow. I got my new one (tags still on) on eBay for $25. 

Handknit sweater - I wear this onto the plane because it's a little bulky. I use it as a blanket or pillow.

Wool socks - Handknit, of course. Take off your shoes as soon as you sit down. Your feet will thank you.

Cowboy boots - Your mileage may vary, but damn, I love my boots. 


To Pack in Carry-On: 

Black dress - Mine is stretchy, 3/4 sleeves, from Travelsmith. Easy to dress up and down

2 nice t-shirts - I brought one extra black one and a green striped one. Good to sleep in, wear with jeans, etc.

2 pair thin black socks - These are what I wear under my boots for lots of walking. 

1 extra bra

2 extra pair underwear 

Black down jacket 

2 shawls - for variety. I brought one green, one red. 

Black boots 

Merrell barefoot sneakers - I packed these on a whim, and I'm so glad I did. I had one day of blisters, and I wore these the next day and they basically fixed my feet. They weigh almost nothing and take up almost no room.

2 pair tights  - one red, one black. 

That's it, folks. Even on the coldest, rainiest day of our trip, the cold couldn't penetrate my t-shirt, cashmere, handknit sweater, and down jacket, topped with a cashmere scarf. I did forget a hat and gloves, so I had to buy some. (Unless you're trekking to Outer Mongolia, you can buy what you forget to bring. Don't overload on Band-aids and neosporin and Tylenol and tampons--that's all available where you're probably going.) 

Also, remember: No one cares what you're wearing. Well, if you wear the big yellow shirt covered with parakeets and the jingly-bell necklace, and you wear this outfit twice in three days? Maybe the guy at the corner store will remember, if you're in town that long (but probably not). If you're in mostly black? NO ONE WILL KNOW you really only have two basic outfits. No one cares. 


A pop of color goes a long way.

I'm sure you know this already, but roll your clothes. It makes them tiny and prevents wrinkles. I lay out my biggest piece (the dress) and lay everything else on top of that, then roll it into a clothes-burrito which I shove into a medium packing cube. I carry all my toiletries/medications in a small packing cube. Chargers/converters get their own little sack. I tuck extra knitting in the suitcase, also, because . . . you know.


In My Purse - Everything else

MacBook Air, kindle, iPhone, knitting, notebook, pens, duct tape (wrapped around half a chopstick, great for blisters!), earphones, eyemask, earplugs, snacks (Lara bars and nuts), corkscrew, GPS unit for geocaching, water bottle, umbrella (I never bring one but always end up buying one). That purse up there? Holds all this plus room for shawl/hat/bottle of wine. It's a great bag.

But What About Clean Clothes? 

Dr. Bronner's Soap. I keep half a bar in a ziplock bag and I use it both for bathing and clothes-washing. IT IS NOT HARD TO WASH AS YOU GO, friends. When you wash your face, throw your socks and underwear into the sink, rub 'em with soap and rinse. In seconds, you're done. T-shirt? You really only need to wash the pits and where you dropped the spaghetti. Jeans? Wash them once on the trip. If that. No one will know. 

To dry: Wring out the clothes the best you can. Then lay your towel on the floor, doubled long-ways. Lay your clothes on top of it. Roll tightly, and then stand on the roll. Your clothes will be almost dry when you take them out of the towel, and they'll dry overnight unless you're in the tropics, in which case, you're just wearing a bathing suit anyway, so who cares? 


Coming Home

Put your souvenirs and gifts in that extra bag you brought and check it (or check your clothes and carry-on the gifts). I don't mind if my luggage gets lost for a while on its way to me when I'm comfortably at home, but I prefer not to have that happen while I'm on the road. 

 Then get home and do what we all do! Leave all the bags in the corner for a week because you can't stand to touch them anymore (I actually love unpacking, too, but sometimes it takes me a while to get the energy back.) 


Last Random Thoughts

Instead of washing undies, bring your old worn-out ones, the ones you've been forgetting to throw away. Wear, and toss! It feels delightfully decadent. 

And of course, this whole list is absolutely thrown out the window when I go someplace like a writing convention, when dressing up and networking is actually part of the game plan. In this case, I take a normal-sized carry-on suitcase, and I still manage to not check a bag -- I still roll my clothes and I just make sure my most fabulous Fluevogs match most of my outfits. 

What are your favorite tips for packing light? I'm dying to know. 


I can get a full week's worth of clothes, no repeats, in a carry-on. I take small things - bras, panties, socks - and put them in a gallon ziplock, sealed airtight. That makes it flat as a pancaked and no room is really taken. I also wear skirts so I place the shirt I want to wear on top a skirt that is folded (side to side, top to bottom) and roll them together. One universal shawl/wrap that matches everything, one pair of walking shoes that matches all outfits and boom. The suitcase is done. Toiletries are in the front pouch of the suitcase and I wear flip flops on the plane. When I pack, it looks like seven little rolls of pretty sushi with one little bit of white/cream rice... lol.

Brilliant. I was just thinking about some trips I have coming up and stressing about the packing situtation. You've eased my mind.

I am the worst packer so I love reading this. Love the little thing that helps you to attach a small child to a suitcase. I could probably find other ways of where to attach mine, haha! When I went to Prague, we rented an apartment and hung our washed clothes on the patio. When we came to get it, it was completely covered in pigeon poop. So from now on I'm drying the clothes per your advice!

Oooh, could have used this before I left!

Love this! You are a genius. I am the anti-traveling light type, though I would love to be as minimal as you are. Any suggestions on your toiletries and how you deal with the 3oz, 1 quart rule?

You are a World-Class Enabler. Yes, I had to have the Merrells. I *never* pay that much for shoes, but there's an Alaska cruise in the near future and comfy shoes are a must.

Guess I should check out Travelsmith, too. Haven't shopped there in quite a while. Crap. There goes the budget. lol

And my knitting for the trip will probably be a sideways shawl. Or socks.

I got a great roller suitecase a couple of years ago at the AAA travel store (some AAA offices sell travel stuff). It is about the size of a large backpack. It has a lot of pockets, really durable wheels so it doesn't flip or tip over. Even the flight attendants noticed it and complimented it the first time I traveled with it. It fits under the seat if needed but it gives me plenty of space for clothing.

I did a quick search for an online AAA store but couldn't find it so I can't give you name brands. Sorry! But if you have a AAA office near you that has a travel store in it, check it out and you may find the bag. It rocks.

The week before I leave for a place I wear only the clothes I love, wash it the day before, and then pack from the laundry basket. I save time by not having to search the house for favorite items, no putting away the laundry, and I know I'll have a weeks worth of stuff.

You are a road warrior!

I taught myself to travel light years ago, but you travel even lighter than I ever have! Congratulations...Well done!! I've already have added the travel bungee to my wish list ~ thanks for telling us about it. I smiled when I read the title of this post, but laughed when I actually read it. Why? Because I kept thinking about Lindsey Lohan packing 270 outfits for a 90 day stint in Rehab.

Fantastic information, Rachael! We have what we used to call "England Rules" - meaning as little as possible. I once read in a travel guide - "Half as much will take you every bit as far." Pack your suitcase and then take half of everything out. Definitely true and leaves more room for souvenirs or must buys. The travel bungee looks really useful. Will print out your list. Have a great weekend.

My problem is shoes....I can never figure out exactly which ones I might need and which ones I wont....I always want to wear the sneakers cause they are so heavy; but they are a PITA to take off and on at the airport. Question: how did you get away with a corkscrew in carry on luggage???????

Thank you! I have the Merrell shoes already, and the cashmere sweater. The bag (a version of it, no herringbone left to find) is winging its way to me as I type.

Okay, now I have a MAJOR crush on you.

I absolutely hate packing, even though I'm thoroughly organized and I have separate packing lists for summer and winter trips, ones for road trips, air travel and various destinations (beach, ski, etc). A tad much, I know, but this is the only way I can reduce the stress and anxiety that comes from having to figure out what to pack while trying not to take EVERYTHING. I hate over-packing and though I can't figure out why, something about over-packing depresses me. Odd, I know, but it's true.

Your post will ease my pain next time I have to pack for a big trip! And your love of packing light is quite contagious, I might actually approach packing with a better attitude next time. Thank you!

One thing I always pack in my carry on -- I take a pair of disposable chopsticks and a fork, roll various sizes of Ziploc bags around it and secure it with several rubber bands. I get a lot of use out of these items, especially when traveling with kids.

I'm a veteran traveler, and your post is awesome! I have a green hard case like the one in your photo that I got 6months ago and it's gotten me to the next level! You can not squish stuff in that thing to overpack to save your soul! But I do mostly business travel, so I have to use a "garanimals" approach (dating myself a bit!) A bungee would be awesome. Also use the "bag inside a bag technique" and sometimes check bags on the way home. You confirmed the feeling that I was having a slightly brilliant practice after seeing it on your blog!

Love the tips! Now to save enough to actually go somewhere.

When I took Daughter and Kid the Younger to Paris several years ago, my one rule was that they had to be able to carry their own bags. I didn't monitor what they packed at all (they were 14 and 10 at the time). We didn't check our bags at all, and Daughter survived a week without every pair of shoes she owned (I think she ended up taking 3 pairs total)

My hubbs is our family packer and his technique has rubbed off on my girls. So much so that we were able to take an extra (empty) suitcase for our recent 2 weeks Florida trip for the gifts and clothes we always buy in the US.
Glass objects can be packed in hold bags; just roll up socks inside the glasses and then burrito them outside.
Simon was able to get 6 cocktail glasses and 4 champagne flutes home from the Carribean that way on our honeymoon.
We still use them 23 years later...

You are my hero and an inspiration! I knew I had sunk too low when I checked a large suitcase for a 4-day trip a few weeks ago; of course, I did not need or even use most of the stuff I took. But I am so ready for your approach! I'm loooking forward to your summer packing list:) Please?

I read this post out loud to my husband because we're talking about another trip to England. Last time we went, our biggest hassle was hauling heavy suitcases on and off of crowded trains. Ever since, we've challenged each other to pack smaller and smaller.

My go-to for travel is a wool-blend tweedy jacket that goes over t-shirts, mock-necks, and my favorite no-wrinkle skirt. It dresses up jeans beautifully, especially with a scarf. But I love your recommendation for black; I'll start looking for a tweedy jacket that looks good with black (my current one goes with browns).

My favorite souvenir and bring-back gift? Bookmarks. Everybody can always use another bookmark, including me!

Awesome post!!! I'll be basing my trip packing for Mexico in June on this. If you have a summer packing list that differs I'd like to see it.

The umbrella photo is so wonderful!

I thought of this post as I read the newspaper today. There was a big article about theft from your bags by airport employees. By only having carry-on luggage, you can avoid that problem.

And I thought I was a light packer! You definitely have me beat.

Thanks for the tips. With two trips to Europe this summer, I need all the help I can get!

I love your list! Rolling clothing is key. I learned this from my Dad (he's retire Navy & can damn near pack a house into a sea bag). I also LOVE packing cubes. I'm not sure why they work, but they are also essential to packing well. In recent years, packing light (but still having everything I want/need on the trip) has become kind of a sport with me. I try to out-do myself with every trip. I love your clothing (and washing) tips & plan to start using them!

Great post. My husband will be so glad you taught me how to pack lightly. Now...to actually follow it...I'm one of those people who, when packing, think to myself "But I MIGHT FEEEEEEEEEL like wearing ______ one day. I better pack it too" It might be a lost cause.

Travelling on a motorcycle for 2 weeks and with only one saddle bag for clothing has taught me to pack light!

My tip that I got from a friend: shop at thrift stores and buy cheap but still nice looking clothes. Throw them away as you go and need room in your suitcase. I washed items night before I checked out of the B&B, then left them folded on the bed or table, hoping the maid would know someone who could use them. No undies, mostly shirts, one pair of pants, one pair of shoes. This also works well if you will be in different climate zones. Ditch the ones you're done with.

Another reason to have a small suitcase is that airlines within Europe have a smaller bag limit.

I just finished the blog. Really very helpful. Thanks for sharing such an amazing blog.
Stone Split Face

I love lists, any kind and this one is the best to keep. It's going to be so helpful for future trips. thanks.

I just got back from RT and I packed WAY more than I should have. LOL But that was a business thing. When I go somewhere like Europe or on vacation somewhere my rule of thumb is I can wear everything at LEAST twice. Some things (like camisoles and jeans) I can wear multiple times. Socks and underwear I take as little as possible, because you can wash and go. Shoes I take 1 pair of sneakers/walking shoes and 1 pair of black flats, like ballet flats. Those two pairs of shoes will go with absolutely anything no matter where you go.

I always pack an umbrella (I have a tiny foldable packing one) and in my purse i have a little black Coach wristlet. Inside the wristlet is a small card holder for a few cards (ID, 2 credit cards), cash, inhaler, epipen, phone, camera. This can double as an evening purse, and also makes things easy to find in my larger purse.

At one time I packed a week's worth of clothes for a professional convention, clothes for a week-long vacation, AND 20 paperback books into a small carry-on roll-aboard and its matching duffle.

Also, i have one of Tom Bihn's zipper pouches which holds my charger for my iphone, ipad, camera cord, and camera adapter for the ipad. Small, light, and fits easily in my purse.

It helps that I'm the queen of Tetris. I make anything fit. LOL. And the packing cubes. I never go anywhere without packing cubes. Makes things SOOOO much easier.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I'm taking a trip very soon, and was about to spend the next week shopping for a dress and skirt that can pack in a suitcase, plus try to find a secure purse/bag for traveling. Thanks to your recommendations, I managed it all in one fell swoop at TravelSmith, saved some money through their dress sale, and don't have to go to the mall today. Win, win, win!

(I hate clothes shopping!)

Now it sounds like all that's left to do is find some travel cubes for packing.

My absolute rule for any travel anywhere is to bring a second pair of shoes. They can be ratty flip-flops, but they need to be packed. You can fill shoes with your tights/socks/underthings/shirts so they basically don't take up any room at all. There will always be one day when the thought of putting on your primary shoes makes you want to die. Bleeding blisters don't improve the trip.

Second rule is to pick ONE neutral and go with it (black or brown or red). This means that everything in the case needs to go with my 2 pairs of shoes (in whichever neutral), one belt (if necessary, matches shoes) and any other accessories. Bonus points for making sure that all the tops/bottoms/dresses can be worn with the same undergarments (i.e., don't need a nude and a black, just one or the other, nothing blows like only having the white shirt clean when the nude bra is still dripping on the shower rail).

Third thing is if the weather is at all appropriate for boots, bring them. And wear them at the airport. They zip or slide on and off making the security nonsense as painless as possible and will keep your feet warm and dry through damn near anything. (Bonus: boots will not slide off of your feet if you are at a bar and your legs don't reach the foot rail. Flats and any sandal without an ankle strap will totally do this. Bastards.)

If you want to be all fancified, you can bring some scarves/pashminas/cheap and cheerful jewelry and you can change up your look for minimal space/weight.

Total aside for travel in summer: If you are planning on visiting a place with a ton of beautiful old churches, make sure that you have something that will cover knees and shoulders. Skirts/dresses are pretty brilliant for this (pack body glide or some talc (which will explode, put it in a ziploc) and you won't die of thigh-chafe). A pashmina or a cardi for the shoulders will let you wear tank tops.

Our secret is silk underwear. Wash in the shower (I use shampoo), stomp in a towel as per your instructions, and will be dry in the morning. This is especially essential for men's underwear. I can't believe how much smaller silk is than cotton. And a pair of silk longjohns is about the same bulk as a pair of pantyhose, but will keep you warm without being sweaty because it breathes, so is essential when changing climates.

OMG! You're a Fluevog girl! I just knew I liked you for a reason. I actually MET John Fluevog last year at a fundraiser. Nice person and generous! I have always loved Fluevogs since the 80s and I just bought my first pair this year. This is a great post. I'm going to try this for my next trip! I've been using the towel drying trick for years! Thought I was the only crazy one standing on my towel/laundry rolls in the hotel bathroom.

Long time lurker, first time commenter (making my way through the archives actually, fun reading those are). :)

Another great way to carry some duct tape (cause that stuff always comes in handy) is to use an old credit card (or something similar) and wrap maybe a quarter inch of tape around it. It is super flat and will fit in a tiny pocket. I like the chopstick idea, but I do wonder if one could get more tape on a card. I might have to try. :)

Do you have any camping packing tips, or "must have" items for camping? My daughter & I will be tent camping at the Assateague State Park campground in July, so I'm preparing my lists & getting the things we'll need. I have a car (with a decent sized trunk), so I want to pack as efficiently as possible.

Wow! Fantastic tips. I would never have thought of the bag in a bag "trick" - absolutely love this idea.

When I've geocached with my kids we have just used my daughter's iPhone (we can never get a gps unit to work properly!). Though using an iphone kinda seems like cheating as it's "you're getting warmer" and not take these coordinates and try to navigate towards them like proper explorers would do. But I like to have fun with my kids and not stress us all out!

PS You do have a fair number of bags don't you?! I'm recalling your video of various bags and the appropriately sized pet that fits into said bag! Hilarious and still makes me smile when I think of it! Thx :)!

Um, I WANT those boots!!! Red cowboy boots!

Orlando airport confiscated my little freebie corkscrew. The jerks.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.


Subscribe to Rachael's mailing list

knitting projects

DSCN13632.jpg Email me