Traveling Light, Traveling In Style

View from the Trocadero. Paris, 2012.

View from the Trocadero. Paris, 2012.

I love to travel, and planning what to pack is part of the fun. It only took a few overseas trips to convert me from a chronic over-packer to a carry-on-only traveler. Last month I posted about selecting items for a capsule travel wardrobe; this time I’ll show you how I pack and some of the tools I use.

Last year for a two-week trip in April to Provence and Paris, this was my 12-piece capsule wardrobe:

12-piece, two week travel capsule

12-piece, two week travel capsule

My carry-on suitcase is a rolling 20″ from the “Tarmac” line by Eagle Creek. I chose this bag as it’s under or at the maximum carry-on dimensions for almost every major airline. Some people prefer non-wheeled bags, duffels, or those that convert to a backpack; it’s all a matter of taste and personal preference. I find a wheeled bag most convenient, and so am willing to sacrifice a little bit of interior space and added weight for the telescoping handle. Having used both open interior bags and those with built-in compartments, I’ll opt for the open interior when every cubic inch of space is precious.

As most of my travel clothing consists of knits or other fabrics that don’t wrinkle, I’ll roll most of my clothing items individually. Small items like underwear, tank tops and socks will go into a soft packing cube.  These are also great for staying organized if your travel plans include multiple destinations requiring frequent packing and unpacking.

Look for ways to use every iota of space. I stuff my shoes with socks, jewelry, my Clarisonic, whatever will fit. Avoid using hard-sided toiletries kits or other pouches. Anything that can squish into an irregular nook or cranny will save space. I do pack my Clarisonic and battery-powered toothbrush for longer trips, but don’t bother with a blow dryer (most hotels provide) or any hair styling tools (one of the advantages of a very short hairstyle!) or any other appliances. Here’s how my little suitcase looks with a two week travel wardrobe, shoes, accessories and toiletries.  Room to spare!

Packed and ready to go!

Packed and ready to go!


With limits on carry-on liquids still in place, toiletries can be a challenge. Some people bring none and rely upon products provided by hotels, or purchase upon arrival. This can be tough if you have sensitivities and don’t know how you might react to new products, or if you just don’t want to have to spend valuable sightseeing time shopping for toothpaste, moisturizer, shampoo, sunscreen, etc.  I prefer to bring my own products, which I decant into travel-sized bottles and jars. You can pick these up just about anywhere, but big box stores generally have a good selection. Also look for travel-sized versions of your favorite products. Here’s two week’s worth of my liquid toiletries, all ready to whip out to show the TSA.

TSA Approved Liquids

If you use a lot of makeup in liquid form, you’ll need to take into account for your “quart sized container” limit of carry-on liquids. I don’t bother with a lot of makeup when traveling, but stick to mostly non-liquid products. (I’ve heard conflicting advice on whether mascara counts as a liquid, but on a couple of occasions I’ve forgotten to move it to my liquids bag and passed security without question.)

 travel makeup

And finally, to accommodate those souvenirs that are just too good to pass up, I pack a folding duffel bag  (folded up into it’s own small pouch), which I’ll use as a carry on for the flight home and check my regular suitcase. We often buy wines, mustards, vinegars, olive oils on our travels, and these go into a sealed wine skin in the checked bag for a safe ride home.

Do you have any tricks or tips for packing light? Do you bring everything you think you might need, or do you shop along the way?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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Already Pretty contributor Une Femme is fifty-six, married to the same wonderful monsieur since 1995, the mother of a special-needs teenager and two hooligan dogs, a full-time administrative professional, a coffee-holic, Paris-obsessed, native Californian, and a petite and curvy femme d’un certain age. She believes that personal style is an essential form of self-expression, and started her blog, Une femme d’un certain âge, in 2007 hoping to start a conversation about style for women over 50.


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28 Responses to “Traveling Light, Traveling In Style”

  1. Ksaunm

    If it’s just a short trip, I take shampoo, lotion, & conditioner bottles from a hotel from a previous trip, and either use them as is, or fill them with my brands. Thye’re usually a lot smaller than store bought travel size bottles.
    I also take my ready to toss undies and socks, and toss them the last time I wear them on the trip- makes more room for souvenirs.
    Skip jammies and wear that days’s Tshirt to bed.
    Take the amount of clothes I need for 4 days, and hand wash them if needed after wearing. This stretches out to a week’s worth of clothes…actually, months, as long as you’re not sick of those clothes!
    I always bring a large cotton scarf. It’s great for extra warmth, to change up or formalize an outfit, for modesty when visiting cathedrals or mosques, etc.

  2. LK

    The clear bags are a must. I use to fly from Laguardia Queens NY to Ohare in Chicago IL. Saved me hours by being able to put all my liquids and medication into a clear bag and send it down the belt. Otherwise, I would have to wait for them to rummage through my stuff.

    Always pack a cardigan. You never know when the weather will be a lot cooler than you think. And be courteous to your fellow passengers. Some airlines still allow two carry-ons. Don’t take two suitcases, its rude. I remember one flight for Christmas a family with 4 small kids got on. Each kid had their own suitcase (they were all under 6. They don’t need their own) plus backpacks for under the seat and both parents had two suitcases each. So many passengers had to put their stuff under the plane because there just wasn’t enough room!

    • Shay

      Don’t judge other travelers, you have no idea what their circumstances may be.
      I live in another country that has none of the amenities I can find and buy for cheap in the US. You can’t imagine the nasty looks and under-the-breath comments my family has to deal with because we each have a carry-on and our two checked baggage maximum. It isn’t full of luxurious clothes and shoes. We have medications we can’t buy here. We have contact saline solution in many bags because it’s so expensive here on our non-profit salaries we couldn’t afford it.
      The world is bigger than you seem to know.

      • Halo

        No matter your circumstances, you should realize when you are inconveniencing other people and they have the right to be annoyed about it. You don’t know their circumstances, either, and travel is really difficult for everybody. Scolding somebody for pointing out that we should be mindful of others is really not a productive activity. I’m sure LK meant her comment to be helpful.

      • JB

        Shay, I think LK was specifically referring to people who try to carry on more bags (or larger bags) than allowed rather than checking them. I fly frequently and see this happen all the time. But it sounds as if you and your family are not like those people.
        Another pet peeve of mine is when people have two carry-on items and put both in the overhead bin instead of putting one under the seat. If you are six foot five and need the leg room, that’s one thing. But often that’s not the case.
        Personally I usually check my suitcase and put BOTH my laptop bag and my purse under the seat in front of me. I hope this buys me some carry-on karma points for those few occasions when I absolutely have to carry on!

      • rb

        There are rules about carry-ons. If people violate the rules, then others can’t carry on. The OP is right that the airlines should enforce the rules, and this has nothing to do with your situation.

        • LK

          I’m referring to what JB and Halo said. 9 times out of ten people who go to excess with carry-ons are not in Shay’s situation. And so many people bring on suitcases that are bigger than the standard carry-on. Its good to be courteous of your fellow passenger’s needs.

          I’m sorry Shay that things are so expensive in your country. Maybe a great solution for you would be to FedEx/UPS purchases home and then you wouldn’t have to drag all those suitcases. I’m not suggesting this due to the baggage on the plane, it just seems like it would be more practical for you in general. You’d probably be able to buy a whole lot more than you can fit in your suitcases and international shipping is cheaper than the price they charge to take baggage on the plane. However, if that is not an option then I understand why you need all those suitcases.

          • LK

            Shipping in general is a great travel solution! I’ve shipped purchases multiple times to avoid checking them on the plane. Always cheaper, and more reliable than baggage service. Can’t tell you how many of my suitcases have gotten misplaced in transfer.

  3. Virginia

    All these packing tips work for car trips as well. There is something very freeing about having everything you need in one bag. A focused, well planned capsule wardrobe leaves much more time for relaxing, sight seeing, and generally having fun. Especially for those of us who have passed through the baby bag stage. It’s almost like being a kid on spring break again. But with better shoes.

  4. Eternal*Voyageur

    I travel much lighter. 3 tops, 2 trousers 8not jeans, as they are too heavy), one cardigan, one pair of shoes was what I took the last time I was travelling for two weeks.

  5. Osprey

    I take only one topper, re-wear my pants and wash my “smalls” & shirts along the way. The bonus is that there will be less laundry to do back home!

  6. Anna

    Wonderful suggestions in the post and the comments. As a one-time backpacker, I always pack minimally but still invariably return with a few unused items.
    Reading material! A paperback, a magazine, a kindle.
    It’s worth linking to une femme to see today’s illustration of flying attire and gear back in the day: hat and gloves, vintage Samsonite luggage, early jet flown by Pan Am (“leaving on a jet plane” indeed!).

  7. Sue

    I will use this as inspiration for our next trip to the UK in June! I will be putting a case in the hold though, as we are going to a wedding and I will have a dress, jacket and shoes for the wedding that I wouldn’t normally be packing for a holiday. Last year we went to Madrid and Paris for my birthday and I deliberately packed light, planning to wash some undies and tops in Paris. Sadly one of my tops blew off the balcony and nobody handed it in! I bought a replacement but it wasn’t as nice as the original!

  8. LinB

    Remember, too, that your purse does not count as luggage, and you can bring a large purse. I put my “liquids” and make-up and any medicines in there, so they are easy to access and easy to show to screeners (plus a change of underwear). Reversible tops, skirts, dresses, coats, and slacks are another trick to expand your travel wardrobe without taking up more space in your suitcase (easier to accomplish if you sew). No more than two pairs of shoes, including the ones you wear! Wear your sweater/coat onto the plane! Never pack more than you can carry by yourself, when it comes time to pick up your luggage and schep it on to the next site.

    • LK

      Some airlines will count a purse as a carry-on if it is over a certain size. I had to put mine in my suitcase on a flight with United because they said it was too big to qualify for a purse. It was a medium sized hobo. Big enough to fit a digest size book or a kindle.

      • LinB

        Dear Gussie! I flew to Italy with a small wheelie (checked), a small backpack as my carry-on and a computer briefcase as my purse, but that wasn’t United. Perhaps the airlines would be happier with us if we all practiced nudity, all the time, in every place. Icky, but it would solve the luggage problem.

  9. Janice

    I would like for you to name the 12 items you used. I am having a hard time telling exactly what they are. I love to travel, too and am always looking for ways to take less. We do a lot more since we have retired. Thanks!

  10. Ignorant Awareness

    Any tips for packing for a 3-6 month trip from the UK to Brazil? Obviously I can’t fit it all in one carry-on, but I want to travel light- which is hard when you’ll be working as well as sightseeing, in a climate totally different to your own!

    • LK

      Do you have a central location? Like are you staying in one place? I’d ship a box of stuff to the location. Cheaper and more reliable than checking a bag.

  11. rb

    I travel way, way too much for work and agree with all of this.

    One tip I would add is that if you travel to the same place all the time, see if you can leave some items there. I leave some shoes and an extra laptop charger at my company’s office in NYC. Shoes are the worst to pack so if you can minimize them in any way, you can bring a lot more. (This is hard for a shoe girl like me – I don’t really want to wear the same pair all week but I also don’t want to check my bag.)

    I just bought a hard-sided rolling carry-on bag from Tumi in the Tegra Lite line. Highly recommend. It only weights about 4 lb and I can stuff the bejeezus out of it.

  12. Sonja

    A tipp that I got from Fashion for Nerds, I think: Pack losely on the way to your destination and don’t open the zipper that makes your bag bigger, this way you’ll have some extra space for souvenirs and clothes you might buy during your stay. A personal tipp from me: Bring your old raggedy underwear, pyjamas and layering tees, things you should have thrown out some time ago, thus you can leave them behind and gain space on the return.
    When it comes to the capsule, I recommend choosing the shoes first and only bringing along pieces that go with all the shoes you’re packing. I had to learn this the hard way, believe me, you do not want to see the pictures of my summer holidays that were unexpectedly hot and forced me to wear my only breezy bottom -a cute little skirt – with either chunky sneakers or do several hours of walking and sightseeing in the heels I had brought for going out in the evening.

  13. Thursday

    I am actually just returned from a seven week trip to the US and Canada, West coast to East, which was the most challenging trip to pack for yet! It included warm, humid spring in New Orleans, as well as snowy, below zero, snow-not-melting-just-yet Ottawa, and everything in between! After underwear, my wardrobe consisted of five long sleeve tops, three short sleeve, three camisoles, two pair of jeans, two skirts, a nice (jersey) dress and three pair of tights, a light cardigan, nightdress, walking shoes and ballet flats – and a warm jacket. The trick is to make sure everything goes with everything else (except walking shoes rarely match the nice dress!) – choose your colours wisely. And you’ll learn to layer like a pro. Tights take up less space than thermals, and as long as it’s not hardcore cold, do a great job of keeping you warm when worn under lighter trousers. I also pack a medium-weight wrap that functions as a scarf, shawl, blanket…

    Tolietries tip: packing bottles in zip lock bags, inside your toiletry bag in your checked luggage, has saved my kit quite a few times. Disaster is averted if a bottle pops open in transit!

  14. Annette

    Very interesting, post, thank you!
    I travel a lot but still I am not able to pack light 😉
    Here in Europe you have to be prepared with all kinds of weather and my suitcase always reaches the maximum weight…
    I always try to avoid heavy and bulky handluggage though.

    Lady of Style

  15. debra

    One way I found to leave room for the essential purchases in Italy (oil, vinegars, etc). I took “throw away” clothes. Things that were at the end of their useful life- and discarded them, leaving room in my luggage for bring home goodies.