Bicycle Peddler with piles
A Well Packed Man, near Ton Le Sap, Cambodia

Who do you consider the most fashionable women in the world? Did you answer the French? The Italians? Would it surprise you to know most American women carry more clothes and shoes on vacation than the average French woman owns? It’s true.

No judgments here – I used to be that way. I would go to St. Barth with 2 bathing suits per day – about 10 in total! An outfit for every day, an outfit for every night, with cover-ups, shoes and bags to match. It was ridiculous. Meanwhile, French friends were wearing the same bathing suit and 1-2 outfits for the entire week. No one noticed or cared.

Long before the airlines ever imposed luggage fees, it hit me that it was crazy to haul around so much stuff. It’s one thing if you’re staying in a ritzy resort or on a cruise ship where formal dinners are the norm – or you need bulky gear for specific sports like diving or skiing. Otherwise, the lighter you can travel the better. When you come from a family genetically predisposed to lost luggage, you become a carry on traveler. I am not going to attempt to force my carry on-only (unless fins are involved) style of travel on you, but you will be so much happier with less to carry.

My best packing tip for anyone checking luggage is to be sure to have clothing you need for a day if your luggage doesn’t arrive. For small islands where the only option is a tiny plane that dictates your luggage will be on a later flight, or if you are arriving at a huge resort hours before check-in, it’s always a good idea to have a bathing suit and cover-up in your carry on. For comfort reasons, I always have a skirt to change into on the flight before landing in a tropical locale. And, there is always a clean pair of underwear shoved into the bottom of my bag.

When you’re considering the carry on or checking choice, also consider your size and destination. As a somewhat Rubenesque woman, I know I’m unlikely to easily find clothes in countries where my bones are larger than most of the women.

Remember the carry on liquid restrictions for flights to/from and within the United States and Great Britian. If you plan to carry on, be sure to have your cosmetics in containers smaller than 3.4 ounces, that will fit in a 1 quart Ziploc bag. See this post if you’re not familiar with 3-1-1 USA liquid restrictions for air travelers. If you’re checking a bag, be sure to wrap liquids well to prevent leakage.

Choosing Luggage

Carry on only items that meet the airline’s restrictions so you are never forced to gate check any oversized bags. These restrictions vary, so always check the airline’s web site for details. Usually, the maximum bag size is 22”x 14”x 9” and the personal item is listed as a handbag, briefcase or laptop bag. And, by the way, those bag sizers many airlines use (AA for one) is much smaller than 9″ and I have to beg to get my legal carry on that always fits past the bag-sizer sticklers.

Some overseas internal flights have tiny overhead bins and minimal room under the seat. If you know you will be connecting to that sort of flight, minimize the size of the carryon containing electronic items/valuables so you aren’t forced to runway check it.

When I carry on, I use 1 of 2 styles. For business or city vacation trips, I always use my 21” Briggs and Riley expandable rollaboard and a large Hayden & Harnett laptop tote bag. This works when I am bringing a point and shoot camera.

For most vacation trips, I bring the Briggs and Riley rollaboard and a small-ish EMS daypack that is always considered a personal item by airline personnel and security. My Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home camera bag fits in the daypack.

I chose the Briggs bag because at 21” it should fit in every overhead compartment and the handle is housed outside the bag, making the bag roomier and easier to pack. Unfortunately, this style really makes the bag 23” and it has to be turned around wheels out to fit in the overhead. I’ve come to peace with this because of the sturdiness, quality and features of the bag. If you’re buying new luggage, it’s a good idea to measure it top to bottom in the store. As I was embedding links for this site, I noticed that Briggs rereleased the model I have as a 20″ bag – probably due to repeated comments.

When I’m going on a trip where I will be snorkeling daily in my own fins, need suntan lotion/insect repellent, and there’s not much to do at night, I check a bag. In March, I will be road testing a 25” Eagle Creek  (expandable) Tarmac, and will report back on the features and foibles of the bag.

Whatever brand bag you choose, it should be good quality and sturdy. I strongly advise buying the best bag your budget will permit, because the better the bag, the longer it will last. But, don’t buy expensive looking luggage for security and practicality reasons.

As a shopper, I look for expandable luggage with sturdy sides. Checking nut oils or Champagne back home in a soft-sided duffel bag probably isn’t the best idea.

Packing lists

The key to traveling lightly and efficiently is to make and edit packing lists. When you return, delete any item/s you brought and never used. I have 4 different packing lists, since packing varies by type of travel and destination.

The basic lists can be easily adjusted for climate, your personal style and the particulars of the destination. Clicking on any of the below links will bring you to the packing list.

The beach/adventure vacation (carry on) list

The beach/adventure vacation (checked bag) list

The City Vacation List

The Business Trip List

Weekend Getaway Packing post

The primary difference between business trips, city trips and other vacation trips is how I pack. If I’m bringing business attire, or going to a major city, my clothes are carefully packed to insure I’ll arrive ready to go, unwrinkled. For a casual beach vacation, or to countries where I will be visiting multiple destinations, climbing ruins or walking through jungles I’m more likely to bring my moisture wicking, non-wrinkling travel clothing. In those cases, I pack everything in Eagle Creek cubes. The Eagle Creek cubes allow me to be organized, live out of a suitcase, or quickly unpack and repack.

Next > Beach Adventure Carry-on Packing List