Anyone who has struggled with hauling luggage onto a train or up or down a flight of stairs — where suitcase wheels don’t help all that much — knows the value of packing light.
It’s just that — if you’re like me — you also struggle with knowing what to leave out when you travel. As a friend, Jade Chan, just wrote me in response to a recent post giving tips on how to pack light:
“I can totally relate to you being a heavy packer when travelling. I try to think of every scenario possible, so I’ll pack everything that I think I’ll need. Although I pack only two pairs of footwear, it’s the ‘everything else’ that weighs down my suitcase. My backpack is quite big too. So I always marvel at how backpackers and those who travel light are disciplined enough to pack so lightly!”
That previous post was a compilation of general tips, meant for anyone. The watchword: “If in doubt, leave it out.”
Now, after consulting my wife, daughter, and some female friends, I’d like to offer some tips specifically for women on how to trim your luggage size down to carry-on only:
Bring only shoes that you absolutely need. Despite her packing difficulties, Jade Chan has this one down, bringing “only a pair of sneakers/sports shoes and a pair of sandals (which double up as bathroom slippers for hostel/ B&B stays). I will only bring another pair of nicer looking shoes if the occasion calls for it.” That means that most times, she only has to pack a pair of sandals because she wears her sneakers on the plane.
If you need hiking boots, consider wearing them — or any heavy, bulky shoes — on the plane. A nice pair of sandals can double as “dress-up” shoes in warm weather. But one of my friends notes that one good pair of comfortable shoes that look nice with pants as well as skirts may eliminate the need for any extra shoes on some trips.
Pack mix and match outfits. Three outfits can equal six if you are able to mix and match three tops with skirts or pants. One or two long, medium-weight scarves or shawls don’t take up much room, but they can help change your “look” from one day to the next, and if you wear one on the plane, you can use it as a blanket or pillow. A lightweight sarong can prove invaluable: serving as a skirt, beach cover-up, or an evening wrap. “Bring solid black or blue pants, shorts and skirts to mix with colorful scarves and tops,” says Melody Moser, a travel writer and blogger at Journeys Near and Far.
Take advantage of “miracle” fabrics that can be washed out and dry easily overnight. This one was listed in the general tips post, but it bears repeating. If you can wash out clothes as you go, you can pack light even on an extended trip. (Pack a small container of laundry detergent or use shampoo if necessary to wash clothes in a sink.) A travel-size “stain stick” can remove any stains you may incur, thus saving a piece of clothing that would otherwise take up space.
Use compression packing bags. These are bags you fill with dirty clothes — or clean clothes, too, if you like — and then roll them up as a one-way valve pushes out the air, forming a flattened pack that takes up much less space and keeps your dirty clothes separate as well. Here’s one brand.
No compression bags? Then roll up your clothes anyway, which uses less space than laying them down flat in the suitcase.
Wear any coats or sunhats onto the plane. You can also stuff the coat pockets as needed with gloves or other items that might take up space in your suitcase. A waterproof lightweight jacket or windbreaker can prove useful just about anywhere, including the tropics — where it does often rain. (Collapsible travel umbrellas will usually fit in a suitcase pocket.)
Bring a small purse. Rather than lug around a big purse throughout your travels, and have it count as your “personal” carry-on for your flight, bring a small purse that can be tucked inside another bag that will fit under an airline seat. Leave all non-essential credit cards or other non-essential items you normally carry in your purse at home. Use the larger bag for carrying your cell phone, chargers, adapters, tablet or laptop if you’re bringing one, Kindle (much lighter than books), camera — you can get compact, high-quality, inexpensive digital SLRs these days, like this (unless you’re using your smart phone as your camera).
If you’re hiking, you may want to dispense with a purse altogether. Here’s a money belt that converts into a small purse for evening wear.
Pack a small fold-up bag. These can easily be squeezed into a corner of a suitcase. When you reach your destination, unfold the bag, which can serve as a beach bag, a day pack, or to carry additional items (souvenirs, gifts, etc.) you may pick up in your travels. If the day pack is full by trip’s end, you may have to check your carry-on size suitcase on your return flight. (But if the airline misplaces your suitcase on the return flight, it’s much less of a problem than if they misplace it at the start of your trip — when you won’t have to check a bag if you start with only two carry-ons.)
Travel writer-editor Nila Do Simon (@nilado) suggests a variation: bringing a foldable, water-proof purse/bag that’s easy to pack — “I bought one at Banana Republic 12 years ago and still use it because it’s also fashionable,” she says.
Minimize jewelry. Nothing, big, heavy, too flashy or valuable, unless you’re willing to wear it on the plane and, at some point in your trip, make yourself a potential target for thieves.
Forget the hair dryer. Most hotels and cruise ships provide them.
Bring some handy (but small) stuff. My daughter, Lia, recommends dry shampoo, which comes in powder form — better than the aerosol kind for taking on planes — in travel-friendly sizes. Here’s one that “revives and refreshes hair without water.” (This comes in handy especially if you’re out hiking or camping for several days.) Lia also recommends cleansing/makeup remover wipes instead of face wash (using wipes also means you don’t have to worry about leaks in your luggage). Lia adds: “I also buy SPF 50 Cetaphil sunscreen in travel size — I want something that can do double duty as a sunscreen for both face and body, and Cetaphil is gentle enough for facial use where many high-SPF sunscreens aren’t.”
Nila Do Simon suggests that “to change up an outfit, put on lipstick, which happens to be very lightweight to pack, and a bold lipstick can be considered another accessory.”
Get creative. Packing light can be especially difficult if you’re going to two completely different destinations in one trip. Here’s how Lia handled a long trip that started with stays in Istanbul, a Greek island, and Paris and ended with a long hiking trip in Spain:
“Buy a cheap duffel bag, bring clothes you’re not super attached to — most women have at least one dress and pair of shoes that they like and that are fine for a night out but that they don’t wear very often and that just haven’t made it to Goodwill yet. And then I just brought lots of inexpensive T-shirts. I’m sure most destinations have donation bins somewhere, so at the end of the first leg, you can just drop off what’s no longer needed and be on your way, with a lightened load.”