Packing Lite 101

Packing lite is always prudent

Spa and beauty contributor Sheryl Kraft gets inspired about “packing lite” after she interviews a “Carry-on Queen…”

Try as I might, I’m not a carry-on kind of gal.

I look on in envy – and equal fascination – when I see someone skip the check-in line, confidently wheeling her neat compact luggage and tote right onto the plane.

I am in awe of the savvy person who trots off the plane, bypassing the pesky luggage carousel where the wait to retrieve your packed suitcase can oftentimes feel as long as the flight itself.

I try, I really do. Although the allure of carry-on is equal to my wanderlust, somehow I always fail. But there is a next time…

Recently, I reached out to New York City-based Susan Sommers of Dresszing for some advice. I know Susan as a lot of things – fashionista, closet organizer, professional shopper, former fashion editor, author and spokesperson. And after our conversation, I am crowning her “Carry-On Queen,” because she informed me that she was heading to Paris (part one of my envy) with just a carry-on (the second part of my envy).

Before you go 

Research the city ahead of time. Look at photos and guidebooks and notice the way people are dressed.

Susan says, “When I visit cities in the U.S., I dress the same way I’d dress in New York: a combination of skinny pants, sweaters and boots with a great scarf; pendant or necklace and a cool pair of gloves. And I always take an umbrella!”

Make sure you have the right bag.

TSA’s statement:

  • TSA will screen any “Carry-on” baggage that will fit through the x-ray machine; however, it is up to each individual air carrier as to whether the baggage fits the size restrictions for your flight.
  • Please check with the air carrier prior to proceeding through the security checkpoints. 

How she does it for a week-long city vacation:  Susan’s Tips 

  • Build your wardrobe around one color (an easy color is black, although any neutral is okay).
  • Pack your favorite outfits. You’ll feel good wearing what you love, and when you love something, you don’t mind wearing it over and over again.
  • Think in terms of separates.
  • Wear your most comfy pants to fly. It could be a pair of jeans in blue, gray or black.
  • Bottoms: Pants are easier than skirts or dresses, since you don’t have to worry about getting cold and worry about pantyhose, slips, etc. Pack three bottoms for a week-long vacation.
  • Tops: These don’t have to be black; it’s fun to mix it up with some offbeat colors like burgundy, lime or purple. Also include some tanks, which can be layered underneath a cardigan or shirt.
  • Accessories: They’re part of the total look and don’t take up much room. Use them!
  • Scarves: Pack a few long, thin cashmere scarves. A heavier one comes in handy on the plane to use as a shawl or blanket if you’re cold. Susan always brings one in a print (her favorite is leopard) and others that are bright with varying colors. Scarves are a great way to change and accessorize your outfits and give you a ‘pop’ of color.
  • Necklaces and pendants: They’re fun and add interest to any outfit. Stick to one tone (either silver or gold) and two different lengths; this way you can wear them together or separately.
  • Handbag: Bring a soft bag that you can fold up and put inside your tote (which can serve as your second carry-on bag).
  • Outerwear: All you need is a cardigan and a coat. Wear your coat on the plane and pack your cardigan. Remember, if you’re cold you always can add a scarf (see above).
  • Shoes: A comfy pair of boots for everyday walking (wear these on the plane – Susan wears heavy socks underneath and removes her boots while flying), plus one pair of shoes or a second (lighter-weight) boot for the evenings. “I don’t pack sneakers unless they are super-chic looking,” Susan says. “You don’t want to stand out as a tourist.”
  • Cosmetics: Pack trial sizes. And no need to worry about running out. Hotels have toiletries. Cities have pharmacies and stores. You can always find items once you arrive or if you run out.

Okay, the challenge is on…my next trip is coming up in January. Though I’m not traveling to a city, I’m heading to a Mexican beach resort, where I should be able to pack light (although that doesn’t mean an itsy-bitsy-bikini. Those days are long gone!)

Check back in with me and I’ll tell you if I did.

Or didn’t.

So are you a carry-on type of person? Have you mastered the art of packing lite? Any tips to add to the list?

About the author:

Sheryl Kraft writes about health, nutrition, fitness, lifestyle and healthy travel for a variety of major magazines,websites and blogs. She is the contributing spa writer for More Time to Travel and also blogs at My So-Called Midlife and is a regular contributor to You can follow her on Twitter @SherylKraft.

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  1. I went on a 12 city book store with my carry on and laptop bag.
    I don’t know what possessed me last week to check a suitcase when I flew to Florida in an emergency. My suitcase was lost for 3 days.
    Headed home today with a ccarry on and laptop bag.
    I get a kick out of watching people try to carry on huge suitcases..

    1. That’s awful. So sorry to hear that! I once had a bag of mine picked up off the carousel by someone who thought it belonged to them – and rather than try to locate me, they simply brought it back to the airport after THEIR trip was over. Nice, huh?

  2. It’s a tough choice — lugging around suitcases and waiting for baggage, or squeezing it all it. I obviously travel quite a bit and I’ve made the decision to check 90% of the time. I feel that travel is my life and I want to be as comfortable (in a choice of wardrobe) in my road life as in my home life. I also want my cosmetics and make-up and a choice of shoes and tops.

    I think it also helps make the decision when you have airline status. Your bags are free and they get to baggage quicker.

    Just my two cents. Now, off to pack!

    1. Well, that’s why I’ve checked my bag all these years…I want to have all my “stuff” and want to be comfortable. Yet I can’t help but be intrigued by the ease of carry-on, and having a lighter load in general.

  3. Great ideas!!! Especially with federal airline fees going up, going strictly carry on is going to be a must!!! I am totally a carry on fan. My husband and I went to Europe for 9 days with just carry on baggage. Good thing because our first flight was late and we missed our connector. If we had checked our baggage we would have been in deep trouble.

  4. I’ve never been a carry-on kind of gal, either. The last two conferences I went to, though, I *did* do carry on. Surprisingly, it all worked okay (until I tried to bring home some of the swag).

    These are excellent tips I’ll put to use next time. Enjoy your January beach resort vacation! I’m so jealous. 😀

  5. I traveled to Los Angeles last week without carry-on luggage. It felt blissful to not have to carry anything. Checked my new suitcase for $25 on Virgin Airlines.

  6. I am about to start packing for a 4 week trip in southeast Asia that includes both 2 weeks of overland travel and a two week cruise. I am contemplating trying it with a 20 inch carry on. Upside: I don’t need a winter coat. Downside: I may be delusional.

  7. I understand why people want to take carry-ons but the suitcase is often too heavy to too big to fit into an upper bin easily. These people often need to get a flight attendant or some nice strong person to help and it takes longer to get to a seat.

    1. I agree, Karen! I’m startled by the size and weight of some carry-ons people bring aboard. Whether it’s a passenger or crew member, someone can really get a shoulder injury if they are too heavy.

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