Most of the travel blogs I read show these amazing remote locations with the most insta-worthy photos I have seen. They make going to that private island in the middle of nowhere look so easy! We are lucky in that most of our travel has been simple with almost no delays. So lucky that we got a little cocky when it came to packing…
We used to pack huge suitcases maxed out to the weight limit on almost every flight. We never worried about losing our bags because… duh it has never happened to us so why would it happen now??? I’m serious when I say we packed EVERYTHING in our checked bags… toiletries, any change of clothes, books, games, etc. Well, that all changed on our most recent trip to Europe. Our bags were lost multiple times throughout our 10-day trip. Not only were our bags lost, so were we! A flight that was supposed to have only one stop in New York turned into a several day, country-hopping, airplane-chasing adventure. We actually traveled to 5 countries in one day!
When we finally reached our unexpected destination of Athens, Greece (we were initially supposed to arrive in Venice, Italy), our bags had been left behind in Croatia. After our crazy travels, we were just happy to be off a plane. We had been wearing the same clothes for 3 days without brushing our teeth or showering (sorry to anyone that sat next to us during that time!). No big deal… we were now in Athens, surely we will find clothes and toiletries in this metropolis!
We went shopping at a local mall that had a ton of stores, one of which was H&M. Easy-peasy, right?! It turns out ALL the Summer clothes were gone to make room for winter clothing despite it being over 80 degrees outside. We each only had one clearance rack to shop from with European sizes. Let’s just say my butt was not made to be shopped for in the EU! We both walked away with 2 awkwardly fitting outfits, but we were just happy to be in new clothes.
We spent the next 6 days in these two outfits – 4 of those days were on a cruise where we stood out A LOT during formal dinners. This whole crazy whirlwind of an adventure taught us a very important lesson – you don’t need much when you travel. Carryon bags are the way to go, and packing efficiently makes all the difference.
Now, we are able to pack everything we need in this tiny duffle bag that we use as a super easy carryon. This article will take you through 5 easy steps we use to pack efficiently (there’s a video at the bottom if you just want an overview).
Choose the outfit you are wearing on your travel day
Most people pick this last because they use whatever clothes they have leftover. However, you should wear your bulkiest clothing items on the plane/train/car to save space.
Here are two examples of my travel outfits. The first is for a warm location; the second is if I’m going somewhere a little cooler or where I’d want hiking boots (I would wear a real jacket on over this outfit if needed).
I choose compression leggings to help blood flow and stay comfortable on long flights.
Now.. time to pack everything else. About 6 months ago, I bought the Ultimate Travel Dress that converts into 20 outfits so that I don’t have to worry about formal nights ever again and I’m able to save even more space. This solves a lot of headaches. If you want to pick up one for yourself, use code RLLS10 for 10% off! I plan the rest of my outfits to be super comfortable (typically athletic wear) that have multi-purposes.
Most of my main clothing items are black so that they match anything; my fancy/unique items have patterns that easily hide wrinkles. One of the biggest space-saving tips is to pay attention to the materials of your clothing. While cotton is easy and comfortable, it takes up a lot of space. I love athletic wear on cruises because they hardly take up any space thanks to the thinner fabric. All my dresses and tops are also very light fabrics that take up small amounts of space
TIP: Bring loose clothing as well. After eating a ton on a cruise, you just want to feel comfortable. It’s not fun to feel like you’re squeezing into every outfit. I also bring a one piece and a two piece swimsuit so that I can do athletic activities as well as get a good tan.
Plan your outfits
Here’s the clothing I pack:
- 2 swimsuit coverups that can also pass as casual dresses
- 1 travel dress for formal nights and loungewear (or Travel Pants) – code RLLS10 for 10% off!
- 2 nice but breathable shirts for nice dinners
- 3 tank tops for excursions or workouts
- 2 pairs of shorts for excursions or workouts
- 1 pair of athletic capris
- 2 t-shirts for sleeping (multipurpose because Mike can wear them if he needs to)
- 1 athletic shirt that I can wear on excursions or while surfing
- 1 bikini
- 1 one piece
In order to fit everything into a small carryon, packing cubes are a must! I personally use eBags since we got them as a Christmas present from my mother-in-law (thanks, Mary!). However, there are always great deals on Groupon or Amazon for off-brand packing cubes.
Everything pictured above as well as socks, underwear, and sports bras fit into these eBags:
Now, onto toiletries! For women, this is often a struggle because we just have more stuff to lug around with us than most men. When I am on vacation, I do not wear makeup. I bring mascara just in case I feel like wearing makeup, but I am a makeup-free vacationer!
I know that’s not the case for everyone. If you do bring makeup, try to save space by bringing travel makeup brushes. They have shorter handles and are more versatile. I picked up a great set from Ross. Try to also bring makeup that is multipurpose. For example, an eyeshadow that can also be used on your brows or as highlighter. Some of you may be thinking *gasp* that is so against how makeup should be used! Boxes and containers that makeup comes in really take up a lot of space! Only bring what you need, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
The whole purpose is to make sure you don’t need to check your bag. This means you need to make sure you abide by whatever flight restrictions there are in the countries you are visiting (For the US, liquids must fit in 1 qt clear bag with each item 3 oz max).
Lastly, travel shoes. Many people wear heels on formal nights of cruises, but I opt out of these for comfort and to save space. I wear my bulky tennis shoes on the flight (pictured above) and usually pack two pairs of shoes that are easy to fit in any bag – 1 pair of flip flops and 1 pair of nicer sandals. I wear the flip flops every day and the nice sandals during the cruise dinners. They are super easy to pack and get a ton of use, which you can see from how worn they look in the video below.
These shoes are my go-to for all vacations… from cruising to Vegas to short Mexican getaways. I really don’t need anything else. The only thing I might sub out is the nice sandals for Tevas when I go to places like Costa Rica, need traction in my shoes, and know that I won’t be going to nice dinners.
Put it all together
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