Carry On, Traveler
Packing to avoid checking luggage
By Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman | Illustration by Steven Salerno
Westways June 2011
Q: You recommend traveling with only carry-on luggage. How can I do that if I’m going on a cruise or a long trip to Europe?
A: Traveling with only carry-ons allows us to have greater flexibility on the road and means that we avoid the fees most domestic airlines charge for checked baggage. Plus, we never have to worry about lost luggage. Sure, it sounds like a daunting challenge when you’re packing for a long vacation. But if you keep a few rules in mind, it’s actually easy. Here’s how we do it.
Choose your colors.Pick one basic color, such as black, navy, or brown, for your skirts and pants. Almost any shirt or blouse you pack will match, meaning you can mix-and-match for several different outfits.
Pack three to four shirts, blouses, or T-shirts.Make sure the styles are simple and classic, and you’ll be able to dress them up or down with accessories like scarves or lightweight belts.
Wear a good-looking jacket or blazer and a comfortable pair of trousers on the plane.Pack another pair of trousers, plus either a skirt or one more pair of trousers.
Pick three pairs of shoes or boots, and wear the heaviest ones on the plane.Pack the lighter-weight or dressier shoes in shoe bags (to protect your garments).
Choose lightweight fabrics.Patagonia and ExOfficio offer trousers and shirts that are sturdy but feather-light.
Choose washable fabrics.You’ll need to wash a few items in your hotel room (or, if you’re lucky, in the hotel’s laundry room) every two or three nights, so it’s best to go for garments that dry quickly and don’t need ironing. Tilley offers socks and other clothes that dry fast. Bring some detergent in a small plastic bag or use hotel shampoo.
Layer.If you’re traveling to colder climates, pack lightweight thermal underwear available at sporting goods stores such as REI. No matter where you’re going, pack a lightweight but warm sweater, and keep it easily accessible on the plane, which might get chilly. Trench coats with zip-out linings are also great.
Make things do double duty.A casual T-shirt can double as a swimsuit cover-up. A makeup bag can serve as a small purse. Gym shoes can be your walking shoes.
Don’t take a hair dryer or a travel iron.Most hotel rooms have them; if they don’t, housekeeping will usually bring you one.
Pack for the plane.Airlines typically allow one carry-on bag and one personal item, such as a briefcase or purse. Make sure your suitcase adheres to the airline’s size limitations (the standard size is 45 inches total: height plus width plus length) and is light enough that you can lift it into the overhead compartment. Also, to comply with today’s TSA security rules, pack liquids in containers of 3 ounces or less in a single 1-quart plastic bag. For longer trips, refill on the road. (Unless you’re traveling to the wilderness, your destination should have drugstores; even cruise ships have shops that sell toiletries.)
Don’t rest on formality.“Formal nights” on most cruise ships aren’t as dressy as they used to be, but here’s how we handle special occasions on sea or land:
Paul’s secret. I wear dark pants and a jacket with a tuxedo shirt and bow tie. I’ve actually received compliments on my “tuxedo.”
Elizabeth’s secret. I bring along a lacy camisole to wear with that good-looking jacket and either a skirt or trousers and dressy shoes.
Once you get used to traveling light, you’ll never go back to lugging big, bulky bags. Enjoy your newfound freedom.