How to Travel with Only Carry-on Luggage and Still Look Great

Travel Tips — By Victoria Gutierrez on December 17, 2008 at 4:21 pm

As a rule, I refuse to check luggage if I’m traveling for one week or less. It’s becoming increasingly expensive to check luggage, and I always find it a hassle to wait in line at the airport to drop it off only to have to wait longer at the destination to claim it at the baggage carousel. Sometimes you’re required to pack light: when I traveled to Costa Rica, I flew on a plane so small that I was limited to 15 pounds of luggage (and ended up looking chic while hiking for a whole week with just 12 pounds of stuff). Packing so frugally gets pretty tough considering that I like to travel with a lot of clothes, a lot of shoes, and my Chihuahua, Elvis.

It can be done well with a few rules, some simple planning, and a hefty dose of self control:

  1. Success is in the Suitcase: The first key to packing within carry-on restrictions is to have a good bag. I recently got a great Tumi rolling suitcase. It’s a sturdy bag with a lot of interior room, several different zippered pouches for easy organization, and a special sleeve that keeps dresses, suits, etc. relatively wrinkle-free. If I get a little crazy with the souvenirs, I can expand the suitcase to a larger, but no longer carry-on, size.
  2. It’s all about the Shoes: Planning a travel wardrobe starts with the shoes. You’ll want something very comfortable for lots of walking, something dressy for dinners, and something in between. The biggest trick is color-coding: if your dress shoes are black, you’re going to have to plan your dressy clothes around that. Really try to keep it to just three pairs of shoes… unless of course you have one of these lying around!
  3. Layers, layers, layers: Stretching the amount of clothing that fits into a carry-on over 3, 5, 10 days of walking, eating, etc. requires strategic layering. In any climate, it’s smart to have short-sleeve tops, long sleeve tops, a light cardigan, and a scarf or two. These should all be within the same color scheme (bringing all black can simplify things even further). I’ll also pack a dress that can be worn multiple ways. With coordinating pieces that can be worn in a variety of combinations, you’ll be able to eke out a large number of options with a fairly small number of key pieces. It also helps if you get friendly with the Laundromat nearest to your hotel.
  4. Toss the toiletries: The quart-sized Ziploc that we are required to pack ends up occupying valuable real estate in your roller bag… and finding 3 oz. bottles of anything can be a pain. For most people, buying toiletries at the destination can be even cheaper than paying to check a bag. However, there are always a couple of things you need to bring (for me, it’s the hair product and facial moisturizers). The Container Store sells effective and affordable containers for what you need to bring… but the way I see it, you’re on vacation. The beauty regimen can go on vacation too!
  5. Fly bulky: It’s okay to want to bring big items on a short trip. The catch is that you have to wear them. If I’m bringing boots, I wear them on the plane. Same goes for winter coats. If you see a crazy lady in a big straw hat walking around SFO this December, it’s just me on my way to Kaua’i.
Tags: carry-on luggage, packing, Tumi


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  1. NileGuidance: A Travel Blog » Blog Archive » How to Pack like a Pro: 5 Packing Tips for Squeezing it all into your Carry-on - December 28, 2008