9 tips for quick trips – what you need to know about packing light

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Now that most airlines charge to check bags, the words “carry on only” are becoming more attractive.

When packing for a trip, I’m in the “less is more” camp.  My packing tips fit my comfort zone and the kind of traveler I am.  Will they work for you? Here are a few things to think about when deciding whether or not packing light is for you:

Time saver

Carry on only saves time.  You can give the baggage carousel some “talk to the hand.”  Who likes being elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of pushy shovers scrambling for the black bag that looks like your black bag? That just gets take-your-earrings-off ugly and no one likes that.

If it can go wrong…

…then it will.  Yes, I mean the two words that strike fear in to the heart of travelers everywhere – lost luggage.  If your unmentionables, contact lens solution and whatever else you can’t live without away from home is in your carry on, well…the airline can’t lose it.  Seriously, anyone who has ever spent the first couple of days of a business trip wearing their travel clothes or hastily purchased Wal-Mart crap is nodding their head and saying “oh yeah.”

But just how high maintenance are you?

No judgment from me if you consider your flat iron and seven hair products “essentials.” However, that stuff takes up valuable luggage space.  Unless you score travel sized hair products, you risk losing your stuff at security.  If your plastic baggie of liquids and gels exceeds whatever quantity Grumpy TSA person has has pulled out of his butt that day then you lose it.  Something to ponder:  why don’t they let shiny happy people work at airport security?

On a scale of ten being the highest of high maintenance and one being “I don’t give a shit what I look like” I’m probably a solid seven. If space is a factor, hair stuff is the first thing I cut, but I’m cool with ponytails and ball caps.  If your vacation will be ruined if your hair isn’t perfect, you might not be ready for minimalista packing.

9 tips for quick trips - how and when to pack light|Packing tips|Packing ideas|travel|

Brand loyalty and more high maintenance stuff

My bathroom at home is overflowing with fruity bath and body products and a gazillion varieties of hair stuff.  Do I really need body wash, body scrub, body spray, body powder, and body lotion?  Do I have to have facial moisturizer, toner, night cream, day cream, eye cream, and anti-aging serum?  Well…yes. High maintenance girl that I am, I can easily pare it all down when traveling.  Most hotels offer decentish toiletries.  Body wash, shampoo, conditioner and lotion are standard issue.  Some places have more amenities (particularly in Europe and Asia) and some will give you additional stuff for the asking (just pretend you forgot your toothbrush.)  Yes, I prefer my own brand of shampoo but for a short trip, me and my hairdo can deal with what the hotel stocks.

I have a small cache of stuff I pull out for trips – mini hairbrush, travel toothbrush that folds up and travel sized toothpaste, deodorant and perfume.  I carry one kind of face cream in a little sample pot I got at the beauty counter years ago; I just refill it when it’s empty.  This fits in the airline approved plastic baggie while it’s a departure from my everyday routine (ahem, copious amounts of girlie things) it’s good enough.  Probably worth it to ask yourself a second time “how high maintenance am I?”

But what-if…

If you travel prepped for any and all possible scenarios, rock on.  Sewing kit?  Check. Rain gear?  Check.  Mini pharmacy containing everything from Midol to Malaria meds?  Check. If you are that person, minimalista packing might not be your thing.  I travel with a couple of Tylenol in a baggie and a bandaid.  If I need something else, I’ll buy it there.

I make adjustments if I’m traveling with kids or to remote areas where I might have trouble finding something Walgreens-ish. I travel with an umbrella, which practically guarantees no rain anywhere I go, ever.  If rip my pants, I’ll deal with it.  I like to live on the edge like that.  I pack what I’m certain I will need.  There's not a lot of “just in case” with my packing. If you're interested in my post on packing for an adoption trip, read it HERE.

Are you okay with a little funk?

For long weekends, I’ll pack one pair of jeans, four shirts and something else (usually a skirt or a dress).  I pick stuff that I can mix and match and prints that hide spillage. I’m totally fine wearing the same jeans several days in a row.  Unless I spill something or they start walking by themselves, I just don’t wash jeans often.  Maybe that sounds a little gross, but I’ve never had anyone refuse to sit by me on the bus because I smell.

I’ll pack a tide pen (if I remember) but honestly, I’m okay with taking the risk of spilled Merlot or getting splashed by a mud puddle.  It probably won’t happen, but if it does, I’ll weigh the cost of hotel laundry service against my sink washing options.

Ease & Speed

Sprinting for the gate, stuffing your bags in the trunk of a cab or navigating subways and railways are much easier if you’re not loaded like a pack mule. For short trips (i.e. long weekends) traveling light means traveling fast.  You can get where you’re going and start having fun.

Your mileage may vary

If you must carry medical or baby supplies, minimalista packing may not work for you.  A child in diapers sucks up your packing space pretty quickly. Although traveling with small humans is a definite game changer, “buy it there” might be an option. Diapers and wipes take up tons of space.  If you’re a mom and your trip is more than three days, odds are you’ll be drawn toward Target like a homing pigeon.

It’s your trip

If you need three “just in case” outfits, eyeliner for all occasions and backup reading material for a weekend getaway, then take it.  I’m all about challenging myself to get outside my comfort level but for many of us, our comfort level is…well, comfortable and maybe we don’t want to rock the boat.

A reversable skirt is a great travel piece!

For a weekend trip, I usually take a backpack and some sort of crossbody purse. This is plenty of room for my stuff with room to spare, which allows me to bring back crap I don't need…err…things to memorialize my trip that will be ever-so-useful.

A word about snacks – I make it a point not to travel places where they don’t have food.  If my kids are with me, I’ll take a few things to increase our odds of getting to where we need to be without meltdowns, but for hubs and I, I limit it to a few munchies.  I like Pringles, jerky or trail mix for snack packin’.  This stuff doesn’t get squished and hey…Pringles just rock.

Minimalista packing has taken some getting used to.  I once was that girl who took two checked bags for a weeklong trip.  This works for me and allows me to have a little bit more of a “live the simple life” outlook than I do in my day-to-day. I hope you’ve found something you can use…or at least make fun of.  Have a great tip or a story about packing light?  Let’s hear it!

Thank you for reading!

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  1. I LOVE the reversible skirt idea. How have I made it this far in life without owning one of those?

    I’m definitely going to look into getting one for my next trip.

  2. These are great tips. My only problem is I NEED all my beauty products and since I make most of them, or for the ones I buy, I MUST have very specific ones due to my highly sensitive skin. The little go tubes at Target are an absolute LIFESAVER for those reasons. I’m all carry-on all the time!

  3. What? A reversible skirt? Have I been living under a rock? I’m with you: less is best. I actually take a maxi dress and use it as a skirt, dress, you name it. Multi-purpose is my middle name. Oh, and packing cubes, can’t live without those.