Packing tips for traveling light

I just flew in from North Carolina and boy, are my arms tired!


No? Okay.

In all seriousness, I went on vacation last week! It was very relaxing and I got to spend some quality time with a good friend – and the beach! I flew Spirit Airlines which is a phenomenal value for the price you pay. It was a truly minimalist vacation.

Your Ass + Gas

The motto of Spirit Airlines is “Your ass plus gas.” I was immediately hooked. The premise is simple: You get a no frills travel experience for a rock bottom price. You get a randomly assigned seat at check-in and can carry on a personal item. Not even a carry-on size bag – just the one personal item such as a backpack, large purse, etc. I used a Timbuk2 messenger bag. There are no free drinks or snacks. You want to pick your seat? You pay. You want a drink? You pay. You want more bags? You pay.

I love this model because I am capable of traveling very light and I usually don’t even take airlines up on their free food and drinks, so why should I pay for it? And if you want it, you can afford it because the tickets are so much cheaper by not pre-loading all the amenities for a plane full of people to all get a free drink and the opportunity to duke it out over exit row seating. It’s truly a win-win.

One might assume that “you get what you pay for” and that a cheap ticket (I am talking CHEAP – round trip from Cleveland to Myrtle Beach was less than $100) means terrible service and no leg room. There was average leg room and everyone was professional and positive. There were no sassy flight attendants.

Overall – I highly recommend Spirit Airlines. If my future holds more travel in it, I will probably go for the membership to save even more on my flight fares. I could make a weekend trip to go visit my brother in Florida for less than a hundred bucks (even less with the membership).

Those of you who remember my backpack for 5 days in Sevilla, Spain can probably imagine that a 4 day, 3 night stay at a friend’s house was easy peasy packing for me!

Benefits of Packing Light

There are a ton of reasons to pack light when traveling.

  1. The airline can’t lose your luggage. Nothing to check = no opportunity for the airline to lose your bag, leaving you stranded and underwearless in a foreign land.
  2. Everything is accessible. If the entire contents of your stuff fits under the seat in front of you, there’s no awkward shifting to rifle through your bag in the overhead compartment, and you don’t have to worry about it falling out and hitting you on the head when you open the door after landing. Nobody else can touch your stuff, because it’s with you the whole time.
  3. You can get around easier. It is much easier to get around your destination with only a small carry-on bag. You can walk around and get places not accessible to those who are taxi-bound because they checked a bag and it’s too big to walk with. The world is your playground when all your stuff fits into a small bag.
  4. You aren’t in a rush. You don’t need to check into your hotel to un-encumber yourself of your worldly possessions if you only have a small bag. Go do whatever you want, the hotel will be there when you are ready.

So now that you’re thoroughly convinced of the merits of traveling light, where do you even begin?

Packing Tips to Travel Light

  • Make a list. This is step one to everything in life.
  • Pack sockless shoes. No socks = more space.
  • Wear your bulkiest items on the plane to keep more real estate available in your bag.
  • Wear layers on the plane.
  • Pack multi-function items such as pashmina scarves, which can be used as a beach sarong, skirt, top, scarf, blanket, or pillow if you’re really desperate. Pack a bar of soap that doubles as a shampoo bar or laundry soap in a pinch (plus, no liquids-in-the-luggage rule to deal with!).
  • Wear your pajamas under your clothes on the plane, or resolve to sleep naked.
  • Evaluate the need to take something with you vs. your ability to purchase or obtain it once you are there. My friend graciously allowed me the use of her toiletries so all I had to pack was my toothbrush, rather than toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, etc. However…
  • Consider your destination. A beach destination may have higher prices on things like sunscreen, wide brim hats, and the like, just as a cold-climate destination may have inflated costs associated with gloves and scarves. Do a cost to space analysis and decide what gets priority in your bag based on how easily you can obtain it at your destination.
  • Roll your clothes to take up less space in your bag.
  • Use tools like packing cubes, space saver bags, Grid-It, and other organizers to better utilize your packing space.
  • Look at the weather forecast and decide if some items need to be added to or removed from your bag.
  • Evaluate laundry availability. If you can do laundry at your destination, you can pack fewer clothes. Fact. I don’t care if you wear the same outfit twice and nobody else does either.
  • Ladies: One word – dresses.
  • Use a backpack or other multi-functional bag that can be emptied and used while you are at your destination as a shopping bag, hiking bag, etc. (depending on what you’re doing – if you are going to be poolside for 48 hours and God himself could not move you from your reclining pool chair, then pack whatever bag you want).
  • Consider a lightweight waterproof jacket if you are going somewhere with unpredictable weather. It won’t take up much space and will be very useful for you in the event you are caught in the rain. (Did I ever tell you about the time I stopped in the middle of a hurricane to go to DINOSAUR WORLD?)

Recommended Products

Here are some products that I love and/or intend to try out and find out if I love them:

  • Timbuk2 – I personally guarantee that you will love anything you buy from this website. My boyfriend and I both have messenger bags, and their backpacks are phenomenal.
  • Packing Cubes – I haven’t tried them, but I am assured that I would love them. These are likely going to be a purchase before my next big trip.
  • Grid-It – These are GREAT for keeping small items organized and collected. Perfect for earbuds, charging cords, pens, small notebooks, etc. They allow everything to be organized in a flat plane rather than in a pile at the bottom of your bag. We have approximately nine million of them. (That’s not very minimalist. I think we have about four).
  • Plug adapter for international travel – I had to buy one at a small electronics mart in Spain. Buy one online or somewhere in the land of your native tongue for the least stressful experience.

The Fun Part – With Pictures!

So… what did I take on vacation? I started by laying out all the things I wanted to take with me, which included:

  1. Pink striped dress
  2. Purple dress
  3. Brown dotted dress
  4. Pashmina scarf
  5. Bathing suit
  6. Tee shirt
  7. Gray shorts
  8. Black capri pants
  9. Underwear x4
  10. Pink tank top
  11. Black tank top
  12. Black tank top
  13. Sports bra
  14. Coaching program notes
  15. Book
  16. Notebook
  17. Pen
  18. Essentials from purse
Tips for packing light, how to travel light with a carry on bag

Cat not packed.










I then decided what I would wear on the plane (the capris, one black tank top, the tee shirt, and the scarf) and rolled the rest up:

Roll your clothes to save space in your carry on bag when you pack light

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…






When everything was rolled up, I packed it into the bag:

Rolled clothing takes up less space in a carry on and allows you to travel light

All packed!











But then I decided that I didn’t super love the pink dress, and I could probably get away with not packing it. So I took it out. I also opted to take my Kindle (which my boyfriend charged up for me, and he also downloaded some choice titles for me to read) instead of the paperback book. I did take my coach notes and a notebook, though in retrospect I would have survived without the notebook as I made plenty of notes on the printouts. Pen, always useful. From my purse I included $40 cash, my debit card, and my driver’s license. I pre-printed my boarding pass and checked in online so I stuffed that in the bag too.

And of course I had to pack my healthiest meal of the day, so I scooped a few servings of my Shakeology into a zipper bag and tossed that in on top. My toothbrush went in after I had brushed my teeth the morning of my flight, and the same went for my deodorant. Naturally, I also packed a phone charger and Kindle charger, and my boyfriend loaned me a portable battery which came in very handy!

Tips to pack light and travel with a carry on - roll everything and be ruthless in your decisions about what to pack!

All packed up and ready to go, the morning of my flight!











All told, I packed roughly 25 things for my trip, and it was the exact correct amount of clothing. I wore everything once, except one pair of undies and my sports bra. I am getting much better at packing. I also read two books on the Kindle and got a decent way through a third one! Good call on the Kindle.

Tell Me About Your Travels

Where have you gone lately? What are your favorite packing tips and tricks? I have caught the travel bug, so I need everything you can teach me!

What’s in my suitcase?

Beloved readers, I am in Spain right now!  I left on Thanksgiving Day to travel across the ocean with my mother on a grand five-ish-day adventure.

You may recall that my mom had initially planned to check a bag for this less-than-a-week vacation (we’ll be back on Wednesday), to my extreme befuddlement.  I am pleased to announce that I rose to the challenge of traveling with only a carry-on, and since I like to write about what people pack, I decided to show you all what went in my suitcase.  Er, backpack.

All my stuff that’s going to Spain!










  • To wear on the plane: Jeans, black tank, purple sweater, purple scarf.
  • Grey Cozy sweater and silver bangle
  • Brown button down
  • Black v-neck tee
  • Grey tank
  • Socks (6 pairs)
  • Underthings (6 pairs)
  • Bra
  • Toothbrush
  • Deodorant
  • Laptop and charger
  • Kindle and charger
  • iPhone (not pictured, as it was taking this photograph) and charger
  • International phone (not pictured, as it is currently in my sister’s possession) and charger
  • Journal/notebook and pen (in case I want to write or do work with written words instead of on my computer)
  • Camera (not pictured, because I forgot it for the picture) and probably some batteries
  • Water bottle (not pictured, because it’s in my car)

You know you’re living simply when that list looks like too much.  However, I would use all that stuff if I was staying at home for five days, so I really shouldn’t worry too much.  Though I don’t read on the Kindle often… but that plane is going to get boring.  I also plan to pack some snacks.

You may have noticed that I did not pack toothpaste or shampoo.  I plan on buying a box of baking soda when I arrive in Spain, problem solved on both counts.  If I had experience using it as deodorant I’d do that too but I don’t want to try that out without backup deodorant. I also didn’t pack a hair brush, because I am planning on borrowing a comb from my mom for the trip, which will be less cumbersome than my bulky hairbrush.

All in the bag, with room to spare.


What’s in your suitcase, Jess?

Note number one: My sister is leaving for Spain. On Wednesday. For four months. I am seeing her off at the airport.  I will die inside a little and probably cry.

Note number two: I asked her to write a blog post for me about what she packed for a semester abroad, and here it is!

Note number three: If you like making lists and you would like to send me a guest blog about what’s in your suitcase, I would love that!  Email some details about your trip (destination and duration) and what made the cut for your suitcase to

A few months ago, I was approved for a study abroad program in Spain. A few days ago, my sister and I packed for my trip to Spain. Let me tell you, it was an interesting time.

My original packing list included items that I wouldn’t really need. Three hoodies? Twenty pairs of underwear, makeup, 5 t-shirts, 15 tops, the list goes on. My host mother will be doing my laundry once a week. I don’t need such an abundance of clothes. I’m not quite as minimalist-ey as Caitlin, though, so I didn’t want to pack just one week’s worth of clothing. I ended up packing only clothing that was extremely comfortable, easy to wash, could hang-dry, and actually looked good on me. I have already decided to only take the jewelry I wear on the plane (friendship bracelets, the necklace with my sorority’s letters on it, one pair of “nicer” earrings and my plastic ear plugs), not take any make up, and to minimalize my amount of “sentimental” items (1 stuffed animal and 1 small photo album).

I ended up packing:

  • 1 dressy tank top
  • 1 cami
  • 1 casual tank top
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pullover sweater
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 5 nice tops
  • 2 t-shirts

For a total of 13 tops

  • 1 skirt
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 1 pair biking shorts (for wearing under dresses and skirt)
  • 2 pairs of capris
  • 2 pairs of leggings
  • 3 dresses
  • 1 pair pj pants

For a total of “10” bottoms (leggings won’t be worn without another bottom and pj pants won’t be worn during the day)

I am also taking

  • 10 pairs of lightweight underwear
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 3 bras
  • 1 zip-up hooded sweatshirt
  • 1 lightweight raincoat
  • 2 scarves
  • 2 headbands
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 towel
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 1 stuffed animal (that I’ve had since I was 4)
  • 1 small photo album
  • And one change of clothes to stay in the bottom of my carry-on/backpack for the whole trip as a just-in-case while on a day-trip or while hiking


  • 1 pair of dressy flats
  • 1 pair of water-proof, all-terrain hiking sandals
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 1 pair of converse (to wear with any of my dresses when I’m not being fancy)

Jessica’s checked baggage.

Toiletries were where I splurged and probably packed more than I needed…

  • 1 each travel shampoo and conditioner
  • 1 box feminine products
  • 2 packages of baby wipes
  • 2 travel Kleenex
  • 1 deodorant
  • Contacts
  • 1 bottle contact solution
  • 1 face wash
  • 1 moisturizer
  • 1 bottle sunscreen (I burn unbelievably easily)
  • 4 packs of travel-friendly soap leaves (each pack is just a bit longer than a matchbook)
  • 1 shower-scrubby
  • 1 tube toothpaste
  • 1 toothbrush
  • Glasses cleaner
  • 2 bottles of shave cream (the only brand I use)
  • 2 body-sprays
  • My medications
  • A small first-aid “kit” in a sandwich-size Ziploc bag
  • 2 razors
  • 1 can bug spray

All of the toiletries fit into 3 Ziploc bags, a small cosmetics bag, and 1 small lunchbox which I will use once it isn’t full of face-cream and toothpaste.

Jessica’s toiletries

Jessica’s toiletries, all packed up nicely for compact placement in the suitcase.

Everything listed above has been packed in one  28’’x18’’x10’’ suitcase and one 26L backpack that will be my carry-on. I still have room in both pieces of luggage (for gifts for the host family, room for things to bring back, etc.)

Though some of these items may seem a little excessive, remember that I am a student with very limited funds about to study abroad in a foreign country. I am taking over a set amount of money and I have no extra money that can be sent to me, etc. So I am packing some toiletries to last me the entire four months that I will be in Spain. The clothes all work together. That camisole can be worn under any of my tops, which can all be worn under my black cardigan. When I land in Spain it will be in the 90s (the temperature, not the decade.  I’ll have running shoes in case the Doctor shows up though). I’m not taking many warm clothes, but I am taking easily-layered clothes. On a cold day I can wear my leggings under my jeans, a sweater over my shirt, and a jacket over that. The reason I am taking a small photo album is so I have something physical to hold and to share with my host family and others that I meet while abroad.

Caitlin’s addendum: She’s also packing a netbook laptop computer (and charger), Kindle (and charger — a gift from me and my partner preloaded with 600+ titles so she doesn’t get bored on the planes), and two American-to-European plug adapters.

Follow Jessica’s journey in Spain at

What’s in your suitcase, Mimi?

A friend of mine recently accepted a position in Juneau, Alaska, and she had a very quick turnaround from the offer to her move.  I asked her to write about what made the cut to go with her in her suitcases before her family joined her later.

“I know it’s a long shot, but would you consider a position in Juneau, Alaska?”

Would I ever! I’ve lived a lot of different places, but one thing I hate is a hot and humid summer. When the call came, I was living in Southeast Virginia, and while I have friends and family there, the summers were killing me. But Juneau has a mild climate very much like Seattle (only a little colder); I knew I would love it there.

After accepting the job, my biggest issue was what to pack. We were cash-poor, so whatever I took with me would be all I’d have to wear and use for three weeks, until I got paid and my husband could start sending me things; packing the right stuff was crucial. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and normally I just throw a few things in a bag and go, but I decided to take several days with this project.

The first decision involved what bags to use. Usually when I travel I take a laptop bag or backpack and a large duffel. However, I needed three weeks’ worth of toiletries, plus a variety of clothes, so I knew I would be checking one bag. I also wasn’t absolutely sure, until I got there, if I was going to need to take a bus from the airport to my hotel, or where I would be staying after the first couple of days. Therefore I decided that I would take a shoulder bag (the LA Police Gear Tactical Bailout Bag, which I got as “swag” at an infosec conference, was my bag of choice) to act as my “personal” item, plus two soft-sided rollerboards, one of which was overhead-compartment-sized, as my suitcases. As an added bonus, the two rollerboards could be strapped together if necessary. In addition, I took my CPAP machine in its own bag; as it is deemed “necessary medical equipment”, I am allowed to take it as an “extra” carry-on without being penalized. I managed to fit a few extra small items and a beach towel in the CPAP bag.

The next step was deciding what clothes to take. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Seattle at different seasons, so I knew which clothes would be most appropriate, weather-wise. However, I wasn’t exactly sure what the dress code at the office would be. Therefore, I took a lot of nice light and medium-weight tops, several pairs of capri pants, and several skirts of both the broomstick and pencil style, and I packed two pairs of my Skechers mary jane “biker” shoes (which are sport shoes and great for walking but can make it as casual office shoes). I also packed one nice dress and a couple of suit jackets, plus a couple of light cardigans for layering. I packed several pairs of socks, all homemade, because they’re small and can cushion fragile things, even though I wasn’t packing the shoes that I would normally wear with them. I figured if my feet were cold I could put them on and they’d be comforting.

After deciding what to take, I packed all my other clothes, with the exception of heavy sweaters, really fancy dresses, and company-logo polo shirts into USPS medium-size flat rate boxes for Chris to mail after I got paid. After that it was time to turn my attention to toiletries and electronics.

I have really sensitive skin, including my scalp, so I can’t use just any old soap and shampoo. Therefore, I packed several tubes of shower gel, my dandruff shampoo (which is coal tar and not always easy to find), and conditioner, plus all my lotions, using large ziploc bags because I knew from experience that during the plane ride there would probably be leakage. I also packed a container of wipes, which I use to remove makeup. I took a lot, but not all, of my makeup, which mostly consists of foundation and eyeliner, and because I have long hair I also took a lot of scrunchies and hairbobs of various sorts, plus the jewelry I wear most often.

For electronics, I took my laptop and my smartphone, with chargers of course, and I also took a couple of “passport” hard drives so that if I was required to set up a virtual lab I could do so. I didn’t take any of my small game systems (such as my DS) and I haven’t missed them yet, but if I thought I couldn’t have them mailed to me in a few days, I would probably miss them more.

To wear on the plane, I chose a light tunic-length tshirt, a pair of knit capri-length pants, my Vibram Five Fingers running shoes (the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned), and carried a cotton scarf and a fleece hoodie, since summers in Juneau can get down to mid-40s at night. Lastly, I took a double-walled metal water bottle (empty, of course) to fill inside the airport securiity area, since I was flying cross-country and knew I’d get dehydrated, plus some snacks.

In retrospect, I would have changed a few things. I’ve been borrowing my roomie’s car, which is a Ford Expedition, for the past couple of weeks, and the step to get into the driver’s seat is really high, which means that I can’t decently get in and out of it in my pencil skirts. I had taken a couple of pairs of business-casual pants out of my bags at the last minute, and I should have left those in and taken the skirts out. Also, I didn’t bring any books or any of my knitting with me, and I’ve been a little bored from time to time. I’ve been borrowing books, and I did buy some needles and yarn when I got here, but I probably should have tried to pack books and knitting.
However, all that can either be sent or can come with my husband when he joins me this winter, and I feel that with my shoulder bag and my two suitcases, I did a pretty good job. I am not sure what I would have done if I’d only had the ability to take one bag, because of the toiletry problem, but I probably would have cut the volume of clothes in half, abandoned the wipes, and put the toiletries in travel-sized bottles. I’m actually used to traveling with just a carry-on and a shoulderbag, so I probably could have done so. However, given that I had to survive with just what I was bringing with me for three weeks, I’m glad that I didn’t have to make that choice.

In general, when packing for this type of trip, unless you know for sure that temperatures at your destination will be one extreme or the other, it’s best to do as I did and pack layerable clothes and a warm but not bulky jacket. Shoes, too, should be of the type that can go either casual or business, like the Skechers I packed. And for goodness’ sake…always know where your towel is!

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