Travel Packing Tips

I was not born to pack light.  I’m a gal who likes to have everything I need, or might need, at my fingertips (what if I go to Mars and it turns out to be chillier than I expected?).  But, this past few months on the road has changed me.  I’ve morphed into a gal who hates extra luggage fees.  Plus, lugging a bunch of STUFF around is a drag.  It makes the traveling life far more complicated than it needs to be.  So I’ve adjusted.

Here is what I’ve learned:

1.) Make each clothing item multifunctional (to the extent possible)

I wear a running skort and tee from Title Nine to go on a long sightseeing trek; the next day it serves as my workout attire (this cuts down on the washing as well).   A soft cotton Prana dress doubles as a nightgown.  My long-sleeved, Ripcurl swim-shirt (for open water swimming or water sports) serves as my cool-weather biking jersey.   The more you can double-up on functionality, the fewer total items in the suitcase.

2.)  Sports brands make the best travel clothing

Brands like Lululemon, Title Nine, Athleta, and Horny Toad sell clothing that is comfortable, versatile, takes abuse, and is easy to hand wash and drip-dry.  Plus, many of the tops and dresses come with a built-in bra (which means you don’t have to pack one).  Some examples:

3.) Underwear is actually important

I’m not a big fan, but it keeps things cleaner for longer (i.e., less washing).  Go for the drip-dry kind, not cotton.

4.) Packing cubes are the money

I’m not a big fan of a lot of extra things you apparently need in order to help you pack efficiently.  Its just more stuff, right?  But packing cubes are the exception. Packing cubes keep things organized in your suitcase so that you don’t have to pull everything out to find the one item you need. They come in all sizes, so you can literally compartmentalize everything in your suitcase. For example, I keep underwear and socks in a single cube (small cube) swimsuit, goggles and coverup in another (extra small cube), etc.   I bought several different colors so that I can quickly locate the right cube and grab what I need.  This makes it easy to grab a quick change at the airport or to stop at that beautiful beach RIGHT NOW and go for a swim.

5.) Good layering skills are critical for coping with different climates/varying weather

You don’t need to bring a separate wardrobe for variable climates.  You just need to bring items that turn your hot weather clothing into cool weather clothing.  For example, a pair of stockings turns this Athleta skort into an outfit that is as warm as pants (Use footless stockings if you want to wear sandals).

6.) Leave jewelry and toiletries at home

Jewelry is heavy and if it is expensive, it shouldn’t be put in a suitcase anyway for security reasons (I’ve even lost expensive jewelry going through security in DFW airport.  Somewhere, a TSA agent is wearing my sapphires.).  Buy two pairs of cheap earrings that go with everything and leave the good stuff at home.

The same applies for shampoo, lotion, conditioner, etc.  It just doesn’t make sense to lug bottles of liquid and creams through security.  No, you won’t have your favorite hair conditioner with you, but you’ll live.  Hit a pharmacy as soon as you arrive, get what you need, throw the rest out as you leave.

7.) Wear your heaviest items en route

Yes, it is easier to slip off flip-flops as you go through security.  But the 50 pound weight limit on your luggage gets eaten up fast.  Wear your heaviest shoes, the sweatshirt, etc. on the plane (layer appropriately for the inevitable hot flash).

8.) Don’t carry it.  Buy it.

This is a lesson I have thoroughly enjoyed learning.  If it turns out that you need something you didn’t pack, GO SHOPPING!  It’s the best excuse ever to buy new clothes (or shoes, or jewelry).  You might even spend less than the extra bag fee you would have paid for being over the limit.  You can always make it part of your layered travel outfit on the way home, or carry it on.

9.)  Limit the shoes

Like jewelry, shoes are heavy.  So, wear the heaviest pair on the plane (running shoes for example) and pack the others.  I carry three additional pairs of shoes (which is probably too much):

— Platinum sandals with a little heel (the color goes with everything and transforms a day-time dress to a dinner dress);

— Comfy flip-flops;

— These Noat walking shoes that are actually kind of pretty.

10.) If you travel extensively, invest in a travel purse

If you made me choose one item that I cannot live without, it is my purse.  It has a built in wallet (which makes it a lot less heavier to carry around) and several zipped compartments inside the bag.  The one I use isn’t available anymore, but this one is similar.

You will notice that the one piece of advice I did not give is the oft-heard warning to “know your airline’s baggage fee policy up front.”  Nonsense.  You could memorize your airline’s baggage fee policy word for word and still run the risk of a very big, very expensive surprise at the airport.  Part of this is because so many flights have more than one carrier and they either have to duke it out for whose policy applies, or worse, the traveler gets charged on each leg that is being serviced by a different carrier.  And, part of the problem may very well be that airlines have discovered a new profit-center in baggage fees; they charge what they can get away with as you are checking in.  What are you going to do when you discover that your extra piece of luggage is going to cost an additional $150?  Leave it behind?  When you arrive at the airport, they’ve got you.  The very best way to cope with the baggage fee game is to pare down and be strategic about your packing list.  I promise — you don’t actually need all the stuff on that list anyway!





  1. Susan Kilday says

    Excellent and timely advice, Nan. Thanks for the tips. Hopefully we won’t be wearing the same things at the same time. LOL.

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