Take a load off your summertime travel plans

Today we welcome the phenomenal Monica Ricci as a guest author on Unclutterer.  A professional organizer hailing from Atlanta, we’re happy to have her share her uncluttering wisdom with our readers.

With the escalating cost of jet fuel, airlines have had to make service cuts and are trying desperately to improve the bottom line wherever they can. Unfortunately, to this end, most airlines are now charging for every checked bag. I’ve had a long-standing policy of not checking bags anyway, so this new rule doesn’t affect me, but if you’re reluctant to pay the extra baggage fee, here are some tips I find handy for packing light.

Use a consistent packing checklist. I have used hand-written lists in the past, as well as the LobotoME Pack-Me List (pictured). Your packing checklist should be a standard template, not a fresh list each time. This helps you standardize your packing, which means less thinking and fewer on-the-spot decisions.

Plan your wardrobe around a limited color scheme and choose your neutral first. I typically choose either black or brown, and then plan the rest of my clothing around two other colors such as blue and tan. This way I can mix, match, layer and create a bunch of different outfits without needing a ton of items.

Use your shoes as containers. I can get three pairs of socks and my sports bra into my sneakers! Men’s dress shoes are roomy too, as are some ladies shoes. Plus when your shoes are stuffed it keeps them from getting crushed. Bonus!

Call your hotel ahead of time to see what they offer in the way of conveniences to save space in your luggage. I never need to haul a hair dryer, steamer, or iron because most hotels will provide them at no charge if you ask.

Leave home any inessential toiletries. Airlines restrict the liquids and gels you can carry on, pack only the toiletries that are unique to your situation and leave shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and mouthwash behind. Most hotels are providing those items as standard now (and usually good brands at that!). You can also pick up travel sizes at a local shop at your destination.

Get yourself a couple of Pack-It Folders! These folders keep your clothing in a nice tight bundle, reducing movement thereby reducing wrinkling.

If you carry a purse, don’t make it your second carry-on bag. Change out your purse to a small one just for the trip, and bring only the bare essentials in it. Then stuff the whole thing inside a larger carry-on bag or your laptop bag. Poof. No checked baggage.

If you just have to have that second pair of shoes, suit jacket, or your workout clothes and they just won’t fit into your carry-on luggage, ship them to yourself in advance.

Bring shoes that will serve more than one purpose rather than a specific pair for each outfit. Ladies’ shoes with a low to medium heel can usually serve multiple functions and are a great compromise because they can dress up or down depending on the outfit. This saves you a ton of space in your luggage. The same goes for a comfortable pair of men’s leather lace ups.

Keep your travel size toiletries full and packed at all times. Refill any travel size containers as soon as you get home from a trip. This way, you’re already good to go for your next trip, and you won’t risk forgetting something important.

These are some of my favorite tips for traveling light. Be sure to check out Unclutterer’s post on the One bag travel website for folding help. How do you travel super light and avoid checking luggage? Do you have any great tips or secrets to share?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

29 Comments for “Take a load off your summertime travel plans”

  1. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    Monica, as always your tips are great! I’ve never used the packing list but will in the future. Thanks for that tip.

    Here is one more for everybody: If you plan to fly, it’s no secret that the price will drop two days after you buy the ticket. I highly recommend YAPTA.com, which is an airlines fare-checker. Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant (YAPTA) is a free-of-charge website that helps you check airfares for various airlines. It will automatically send you a note if/when the fares drop. (You purchase the ticket on your own.) YAPTA.com installs free on your computer. The best news is that it continues checking the fares even after you buy your ticket, and you may be eligible for a refund. (Again, you contact the airline and negotiate the refund on your own.)

  2. posted by Steph on

    You can have a carry-on and a purse (or briefcase/laptop bag).

  3. posted by kristen on

    I tend to not bring toiletries at all. once i reach my destination, I go out to a drug store and buy the travel sizes of my regular brands and then I don’t need to worry about size regulations, spillage or forgetting them! I simply toss them at the end of my trip or if I still have a reasonable amount, I’ll take them home with me.

    Making a packing list also works wonders if they lose your luggage! Having to fill out the missing luggage forms can be a pain- but even more if you don’t remember what you put in there! I bring the list with me so that I can also cross reference when I’m packing back up for the flight home.

  4. posted by Fit Bottomed Girls on

    This is a good list! I’m going camping in a few weeks? Have a checklist for that, too, by chance? 🙂

  5. posted by bostonewe on

    As adorable as those little checklists are, you could just type up a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel (or a similar program) and then put little “x”s in the next column as you pack. Since I almost always travel with a laptop, I never have to print my list; I can just recheck the spreadsheet when I’m leaving my vacation destination to make sure I haven’t left anything behind. It also allows me to customize the list if I need to (a trip to Denver in April might call for hiking boots that wouldn’t be necessary on the beach in August). If I needed to, I could print the list.

  6. posted by Tiffany on

    The freakin’ toiletries are my Achilles heel. I’m really high maintenance and picky about my shampoo/conditioner (it’s a fancy brand that isn’t available everywhere), so I’m constantly bringing that, and when I’m packing for a trip, I suffer from the delusion that I MIGHT NEED that makeup that I don’t wear but three times a year, so I pack it, and then of course completely fail to use it.

  7. posted by Chica & Jo on

    We made up a kit for travelling that fits inside a small pencil size pouch and meets all TSA standards. It has everything you need for a plane flight. We have everything listed here for you to make your own: http://www.chicaandjo.com/2008.....ravel-kit/

  8. posted by Sarah on

    Shampoo bars work well. They can double as a body bar, and if you use an all-natural one, you might be able to get by without conditioner. Plus, you can bring as much as you need on the plane.

  9. posted by Sue on

    1. I guess I am low maintenance, but I use mineral foundation and a refillable compact that holds 2 eye shadows and a blush, and that is more than enough for a typical trip.
    2. My packing list is ListPro and is on my TiltPhone/PDA, and I categorize items (toileries, camping, business, etc.)
    3. I wear my heaviest shoes (that slip on and off easily for the security sweep) on the flight, and pack the lightweight ones, stuffed with socks.
    4. I remove everything from my wallet and purse that I don’t need on the flight, and stash them at home.

  10. posted by Jill on

    Quick-dry undies and ultra thin, packable fabrics from places like Travel Smith http://www.travelsmith.com/ and some camping/hiking/outdoor stores make packing light easier.

    Rick Steves http://travelstore.ricksteves.com/ has a great travel bag that you can carry on and is very pack-able. He’s a champion traveler.

  11. posted by Harper on

    Don’t be afraid of handwashing. I forgot this on a two-week train trip a couple of years ago and my luggage was much too heavy. I was worried that since I was staying only one night most places I wouldn’t be able to wash things and have them be dry the next day so I brought more clothes than I usually do AND I still ran out of clean clothes (August in Boston — couldn’t do my usual wearing clothes several times due to stinkiness). If I had stuck to my washing things out nightly I would have felt cleaner and lighter. I might have had to wear damp clothes a few mornings but unless it’s winter, they dry rapidly with body heat. Also, after you rinse your clothes, roll them in a towel and stand on it — gets out an amazing amount of water.

  12. posted by Jill on

    If you forget your shoes or find you don’t have appropriate shoes once you arrive at your destination, order them from zappos.com and have them shipped right to the hotel – they almost always arrive the next day. I have ordered as late as 10pm and had them by the next afternoon.

  13. posted by Lola on

    That packing list is nice, but I created my own list in Google Docs about a year ago and love the convenience. I also include the typical To Do list for the things that need to be done before I leave.

  14. posted by Michael G on

    I don’t carry a purse, okay sometimes I do carry a murse, but I love the smaller bag in a larger bag trick. I used to use a pretty large Eagle Creek backpack as my carry on, but didn’t want it taking up all of my leg room. So I’d stash another much smaller bag inside it with my airplane essentials, book, magazine, iPod, etc. and pull the small one out right before I stuffed the big one in the overhead compartment.

    Also I love the Eagle Creek envelope dealies for folding and keeping shirts wrinkle free. They make them take up less space. The big plastic form makes the shirt folding go much easier. Highly recommended.

    @Kristen I like that toiletries idea. That makes a lot of sense, and likely prevents a lot of soiled or even ruined clothes from oozing bottles (they can even make it past the protective ziplock at times).

  15. posted by infmom on

    Put undies in your shoes? YUCK! Do you really want to smell like the inside of a shoe when you reach your destination? Ew! Makes me cringe just thinking about it. I pack shoes “face to face” in plastic bags, precisely so there’s no chance my clothes will have that wonderful Essence of Shoe when I get there.

    LUSH Cosmetics should be everyone’s one-stop-travel-shop if there’s a store nearby. Not only do they have things like shampoo bars, they will happily give you a sample of anything in the store, and since all their products are of the “a little goes a long way” variety, one sample bottle is plenty for most trips. I got samples of my favorite shampoo and conditioner before my last trip (about a week away from home) and still had half the container left when I got home even after showering every day.

    On one of my recent trips I folded up a small fabric purse inside my Victorinox messenger bag, so when I got to my destination I could move the essentials to the small purse and didn’t have to carry the big bag with me everywhere. My most recent trip, I used the occasion of upcoming travel to justify buying a nice new purse from the Travelsmith catalog, which turned out to be a reasonable size for just about everything. I also carry a CPAP machine in its own bag, and the bag is big enough to carry reading material, papers, etc inside or in its pockets. Medical devices fly free.

  16. posted by Erika on

    I can’t remember the last time I stayed in a hotel room that had a working hair dryer. Fortunately, I’m fine with air drying (most of the time).

  17. posted by jen at vickyandjen.com on

    Awesome tips! Where can we get the shampoo bar? And if I ever fly again, I am checking out YAPTA.
    Get more from Monica Ricci on our podcast series with her – The Big O: Organization. She is hilarious and full of great tips. Go here for our first show: http://www.vickyandjen.com/podcast_022.html and our newest release for this week (on Wednesday) will be travel – imagine that!
    Happy travels,
    Jen at vickyandjen.com

  18. posted by Jack on

    infmom: I rarely travel with more than the shoes I’m wearing, but in general, my shoes don’t smell enough that I’m worried about it. I think it’s a personal preference matter.

    As far as packing goes, I carry my everyday messenger bag and a backpack for most trips of a week or two. Not checking bags is such a stress reliever.

  19. posted by Kris on

    I spent a three day weekend in Chicago recently with just a backpack. I was staying with friends so didn’t need to worry about toiletries or a hair dryer, but even hotels have those so I never pack them anyway. I don’t wear much makeup and it’s summer so some lip gloss is all I need as I’m fairly tanned. I packed lightweight tshirts and capris and undergarments .. and rolled them to store them. I have a wonderful full length rayon skirt that I can wear as a skirt anytime or as a strapless dress simply by pulling it up and belting it with a scarf .. that I use as a sarong when I’m swimming. I bring a pair of sandals and a pair of sneakers. I wear the sneakers on the plane. I bring old underwear and just toss it when I’m flying/traveling home. Fabreze will turn any odorous shirt into a sweet smelling one overnight. I put some in a small spray container and bring it with me. Works wonders.

  20. posted by Susan on

    I’m ADD and thus a compulsive planner/doer of things that automatically idiot-proof my life.
    I always keep my make-up, a round brush and a set of travel-sized toiletries in a hanging clear-front travel roll/organizer hanging from my mirror at home. That way when I need to travel, I just take it down, roll it up and go. Otherwise I’d forget everything.
    Love the Fabreze idea!

  21. posted by Lawfrog on

    I bought this toiletry organizer at The Container Store and I LOVE IT: http://tinyurl.com/2bpptd

    They say it’s a weekender bag, but I’ve used it for long trips and it worked out well. I purchased some 3oz travel bottles that fit perfectly. It’s been great for me with short and long trips.

  22. posted by CrimsonCrow on

    Jen at vickyandjen.com asked:

    “Where can we get the shampoo bar?”

    Check out these two spots:




  23. posted by leslie hope on

    Magellan’s pack it cubes. cosmetic samples packed in the small eagle creek Pack-It Cosmo Pouch. pac safe antitheft backpack from Magellan’s–fits under most airline seats.eagle creek inflatable lumbar pillow. for a purse I use the eagle creek undercover neck pouch. It’s nice enough to wear anywhere and fits under your clothing if need be. I can carry passport, money, glasses and my digital camera in it for day tripping. Puma has a really light weight pair of running shoes. Magellan’s has a wallet for medications.

  24. posted by Babs on

    A couple of things I would add to the to do list.
    (1) Turn off the water supply to your washing machine hoses & toilets
    (2)unplug TVs & computers.

  25. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Infmom, you can pack your undies and socks into either Ziploc baggies or wrap them in that slippery plastic that comes over your suits from the cleaners before putting them inside your shoes. :O)

    Steph, let me clarify… you are allowed one carry-on and one “personal item”. My carry-on is my small rolling suitcase (usually the ZUCA Bag) and my “personal item” is a small rolling laptop briefcase. But I *also* have a purse. So that’s THREE.

    The way I get it down to TWO is by bringing my SMALL purse, which stuffs inside the laptop briefcase. Voila! Now I’m in compliance with the two bag rule, even though I actually have three bags, because one bag fits inside the other.


  26. posted by Marc R on

    My partner and I traveled around the world with just a day pack (25 liters for her) and slightly larger pack (35 liters for me).


    That really taught us what we really need to get by. No clutter either.

  27. posted by Angie R on

    What a great list! Thanks for the tips and the link to the most perfect (and cute!) packing list.

  28. posted by Melissa on

    Here’s a list-making idea that has always worked for me:

    I organize my list: “HEAD, SHOULDERS, KNEES, TOES, EYES, EARS, MOUTH, (I don’t use nose)”.
    Everything you put on or in each part gets listed under each catagory. For example, I’d put deoderant under SHOULDERS. iPod under EARS, Razor under KNEES, Makeup under eyes.

    This may be too general for most, but I always forget things if I catagorize by “CLOTHING, TOILETRIES, etc…”

    I dunno, it’s just how I roll!

    I like the advice, particularly learning how to do the neutral wardrobe idea—I always pack way too many items of clothing, lol.

  29. posted by Kathryn on

    I rarely travel by plane, but I do go on retreats several times a year and the odd long weekend away with my husband. I have a list on my computer for these with groupings of toiletries, clothing, bedding (some retreats I’ve had to take my own), misc (eg. laptop, hot chocolate), quilting, and misc sewing needs. I print out the list every time I go away. I go through the list crossing off things I won’t be needing, and then adding more for the particular projects I plan to do. I cross things off the list as I place everything on my bed before packing. I don’t think I forgotten anything yet.

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