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Travel and Packing Tips

July 16, 2011

Hi friends! We’re knee-deep in packing over here—I think the boxes have been fornicating.  They seem to be multiplying.

Our meals have been pretty boring lately, so I thought I’d blog about something else that has been a huge part of our life lately—packing.

Not this kind:

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This kind:

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Something you’ve probably noticed on this blog is that Ryan and I travel…a LOT.  One of the great things about working in academia (as we both do) is that you never have to give up the long breaks.  We essentially get a month off at Christmas, four months off in the summer…plus a fall and spring break!

It’s rough. 

We’re big travel-lovers, so if we have more than a few days off, we almost always try to plan some sort of trip.  Since moving to Pennsylvania two years ago, we’ve done some smaller trips to nearby areas—New York City, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, DC, Baltimore— which has been fun.  On our more lengthy breaks, we’ve taken some larger trips as well—Key West, Nantucket, Croatia, Italy, France, and the Bahamas. In addition to this, we routinely travel to Louisiana and Seattle to visit our respective families.

It can be a lot, and I’m almost always glad to be home when the trip comes to an end.  But—traveling is one of our favorite things to do…and right now, without kids, we really do try to take advantage of the freedom that we have to roam.

Over the years, I’ve become a pretty good packer—but that hasn’t always been the case.  Five years ago, the thought of carrying on for a trip that was longer than a weekend would have terrified me.  Actually, the thought of carrying on for a weekend trip would have probably freaked me out as well.

But, the more I travel, the more I become a fan of light packing. It makes the trip easier, it makes getting ready easier—in fact, the only thing that isn’t easy about light packing is learning how to do it.  In my opinion, it’s kind of a trial-by-error thing.  The more you travel and only carry-on, the more you learn what you need…and what you only think you need. 

Here are some of the tips that have helped me to become a carry-on queen: 

Know Thyself…and Thy Trip

The first key to light packing is to really think about what you’re going to need and use.  Running shoes take up a lot of space—and so, before I travel, I really sit down and think about whether or not I’m going to use them.  Am I really going to get up at 7am and run in Paris?  The answer, for me, is no.  For our France trip, I just knew that the chances of me actually running were pretty slim—so I left my shoes behind.  I did make sure to bring sturdy walking sandals though—and that was the right choice.  My Merrell sandals were much lighter than running shoes, but they carried me through many hikes and days of walking 10+ miles. 

On the other hand, when we traveled to the Bahamas and Nantucket, I knew I’d want to run.  And so, I sacrificed the space in my bag and brought the shoes along—again, definitely the right choice.

Just think about what it is you’re going to be doing.  Instead of randomly throwing a ton of clothes in a bag, really consider what kind of trip you’re taking.  Are you going camping?  Then you’re probably not going to need a *just in case* cocktail dress…or five.  Really be honest with yourself about what you’ll need and what you’ll wear.

And speaking of what you’ll wear…


When you’re packing, try to coordinate colors and outfits.  Don’t pack a pair of pants that will only go with one specific shirt.  Be sure that all of your tops and all of your bottoms can mix and match, and you’ll have many more outfit combinations.  The same goes for shoes—never pack a pair that only goes with one or two things.  Bring neutral-colored shoes that you can dress up or down– flats are good for this, as are certain sandals.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When I was a heavy packer, I’d pack five pairs of jeans for a five day trip…which is absolutely ridiculous.  When I’m at home, I’ll wear a pair of jeans ten times in a row before washing them…and when I travel, I can double that.  Unless you’re on an extremely physical trip, like backpacking or camping, your clothes probably aren’t getting all that dirty after only one wear.  When we travel, I re-wear everything but my underwear—shirts, pants, skirts, dresses and socks are all game for two, three, even four wears. 

Even so…

Do Laundry When You Need To

If you’re traveling for more than a week and want to carry-on your luggage, chances are you’re going to need to do laundry at some point in your trip.  If you’re staying at a house or condo, this isn’t a problem.  Some hotels offer (insanely expensive) laundry service, but it’s also pretty easy to find a laundromat in most places.  When we were in Croatia, we found a place that washed, dried, and folded our laundry while we were out exploring Split—all for about 10 bucks!

Don’t Forget the Little Things

Don’t ever underestimate the way a pair of sunglasses and a scarf can pull together any outfit.  Accessories don’t take up much packing space, and can really add some polish to even the more boring travel outfit.  When we travel, I don’t take any of my nice jewelry—but I always pack a few fun, statement piece earrings and necklaces to give a little oomph to my outfits.  Places like H&M and Target sell really cheap jewelry that can add some flavor to your wardrobe—and you won’t be kicking yourself if you lose an earring during the trip.

Remember, America Isn’t the Only Place that Sells Shampoo

When I was a heavy packer, practically half of my bag went to toiletries.  I’d bring regular-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, face wash, lotion, hair products, make-up…basically everything. 

As a carry-on traveler, I now basically pack my facial moisturizer and the bare essentials for makeup (powder, concealer, mascara, lip gloss, and eye liner)…and leave the rest up to chance.  Almost every place we’ve stayed, hotel or otherwise, has had shampoo, conditioner, and soap.  And you can always buy whatever you need when you get to your destination.

and finally…

Cut Yourself a Little Slack

You know, I look pretty rough in some of our travel pictures.  But the point of traveling isn’t to look perfect all the time—it’s to soak up your surroundings and enjoy the experience.  If you want to be a light packer and easy traveler, you have to accept the fact that certain things you’re able to do at home—straighten your hair, wear wrinkle-free clothes, shave your legs every day—might fall by the wayside when you travel.  But when you think back to your memories of the trip, you won’t be thinking, “Man, I wish my hair had been straight.”  You’ll be thinking about how awesome the trip was…and where you want to go next.


Whew! Long post!

And now…I have to go pack.  We’re leaving for Oregon bright and early tomorrow morning, and heading to Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Do you have any packing tips?  Are you a light or heavy packer?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2011 2:49 pm

    I love that you guys get to travel so much. I really wish we could travel more. Love your tips. I’m a terrible packer, but getting better.

  2. July 16, 2011 3:23 pm

    Such great tips! The past two trips I’ve taken (to NJ & to MN from SC) I’ve only carried luggage on. The checked bag fees are out of control! I follow a lot of the things you wrote about, although I brought my running shoes to NJ but didn’t use them. 😦 Oh well. Have fun on your trip! So jealous you get to travel so often!

  3. July 16, 2011 4:56 pm

    Great tips, thanks! So try on light packing, it makes traveling much easier. So jealous of your time off and awesome travels! One day for us. 🙂

  4. July 16, 2011 7:16 pm

    I have done a travel tips post but not specifically one that pertains to packing. I love this “Remember, America Isn’t the Only Place that Sells Shampoo”–and so true! And I am a big fan of doing laundry on long trips. I mean it’s key to just find a place and figure it out and do it!

  5. July 16, 2011 9:42 pm

    These are great tips! I used to be horrible at packing and I still pack a little more than required sometimes, but I’ve gotten so much better! Good luck on packing up the house. We are going to Atlanta next week to move the final round of stuff, which sadly enough is the bulk of the house.

  6. Jane Olsan permalink
    July 17, 2011 4:18 am

    I’m not sure I’ve seen a rough picture of you yet but maybe there is one to come! Good tips on packing…it’s the old “less is more”theory….but in packing it really isn’t. Good luck on y’alls packing!

  7. July 17, 2011 5:58 am

    Excellent advice! I can relate to the last tip the most. We lived in Europe for two years, and often camped during our travels which definitely led to me looking rough in photos 🙂

  8. July 17, 2011 12:40 pm

    I’m trying to get better at packing light. One tip – there’s a huge industry built around travel clothes now. So many tee shirts that you can just wash in the sink and hang to dry and wear the next day. I think you could literally pack a couple of those, a pair of jeans and a black skirt and go with it (not that I’ve done this yet!) Have fun in Oregon.

  9. July 17, 2011 9:06 pm

    We definitely have done our share of traveling too! In fact, my first job out of college required me to travel 5 days a week, every week. To be honest…I never got good at packing light! I just always like to have everything I might want or need. A little nutty…but I love it 🙂

  10. July 18, 2011 12:57 pm

    I am such an overpacker and so is Keith. We’re hopeless when we travel! Hopeless!

  11. greensandjeans permalink
    July 18, 2011 1:10 pm

    Traveling is definitely an art form. I have gotten SO much better at traveling and packing the more I do it and my bags have slowly gotten smaller and more efficient

  12. July 18, 2011 9:06 pm

    I am definitely a heavy packer, but I’ve gotten better!! There’s hope… 🙂

  13. July 19, 2011 1:27 am

    Great tips, Anna! I used to be a heavy packer but with all of my trips to visit Bri (and lots of traveling in general) I’ve learned to streamline. Though sometimes I am still guilty of packing my running shoes and not using them 😉

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