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Packing Tips For One-Bag Travelers

This is so dorky, but, um, I like Rick Steves. Yes, he comes off as a little earnest in his travel show, but his website is filled with great ideas. He's a big advocate of traveling with only one bag, and that's just what I'm doing next month. For two weeks, I'll live out of this carry-on bag. A couple of versatile black dresses and a few grooming essentials should keep me in biz-a-ness. I've assembled some of my favorite travel-friendly tips, just in case you're planning to get out of Dodge, too. Check them when you


Don't pack everything. I know it's tempting to pack three lip glosses and acne cream and that restorative hair treatment and, and, and... but don't. You will probably use only the basics, so why pack anything else? (In my case, the only makeup I pack is tinted lip balm, tinted moisturizer and concealer.)

Downsize. Forget full-sized products for a short trip. Instead, use a few small travel containers to hold just enough product. When space is at a premium, every square inch counts.

Restrict your liquids. I'm not checking baggage, so any liquids have to be in containers that hold three ounces or less. Since I'm already downsizing my packaging that should be easy, but when possible, I like to use items that aren't liquid at all. RareMinerals Renew & Reveal Facial Cleanser is great for traveling; it's a powder cleanser that mixes with water, and if I add just a little bit of water, it doubles as a light facial scrub.

Shop at your destination. The next time I am lucky enough to go to France, I won't pack sunblock — because I know that my favorite, unavailable-in-the-States sunblock is cheap there. I always stock up, so I'll just use what I buy there. (And then I ship the rest home because I am a weird hoarder when it comes to this.)

Any other travel tips? Share them in the comments, and be sure to check out my buddy Dorothy's travel site, Jauntsetter. It is filled with travel ideas galore.

Join The Conversation
expresso14 expresso14 8 years
I am a one bag traveler too - make life so much simpler (especially since I always seem to be running from one end of the airport to the other with a tight connection). Alpine backpacks are comfortable and tend to fir well in the overhead bin. My slightly weird tip for packing and making sure I have extra room for souvenirs is to pack old t-shirts for sleeping in (unless it's a romantic get away) that I will just leave/trash in the last hotel. If I know I will be jogging on a regular basis I pack my oldest running shoes and discard them as well. I've heard about people packing and then throwing away their oldest undies, but that's pushing it for me!
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 8 years
I roll my clothes when I go away. I'll lay out a whole outfit, from underwear to the hoodie, roll it all up as tight as I can and secure it with a hair tie. I also don't bother with perfume and take a little roll on deodorant, and some soap from Lush to keep me smelling good.
kitaloclef kitaloclef 8 years
I do the carry on only thing as well, but I usually have two bags: one big shoulder bag/backpack/messenger for under the seat and my ebags roller for the overhead bins. I usually have my laptop in my shoulder bag, but for Europe I also need to bring my DSLR. That should be interesting! I'm a pretty good packer, but I also face margokahl's problem. I'm 6' tall and wear size 11 shoes. Fitting shoes in is a pain in the arse! I generally just bring one extra pair of shoes, usually the flattest comfy ones I can find and roll the rest. I love compression bags too, they help!
Ladytron7000 Ladytron7000 8 years
J'adore Rick Steves! he's on the board of norml, fyi. Last summer, I did the same thing with the La Roche Posay lait 50. A slice of mac stick in a little pot does the trick as a concealer and a foundation. one mascara. one eye shadow, and tinted spf lip balm (alba garnet). voila. and a mini clinique bar soap for body and face. do not use a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner if you have long hair. I borrowed my sister's conditioner the whole time. and rolling clothes is way better than cubes. cubes are just more stuff. one birkies one clarks closed-toe. The first day of my trip last summer, a waiter dumped a whole beer down my back when I just got to the restaurant. After dinner, I washed my clothes in the shower.
Quirks4me Quirks4me 8 years
Well I travel a lot but I am still the worst packer. I actually prefer checking bags because it's like :yay I don't have to carry around or think about my luggage any more!" I am notorious for overpacking, the joke always being that I always end up paying the extra money for overweight bags. I think it's ridiculous now that they have you pay to check bags at all. Anyway, thanks for the tips, because I am trying to pack lighter, although I think I'll always check my bag.
Beauty Beauty 8 years
Oh, Advah. I am going to have nightmares. (Then again, you might have snake-smell nightmares. Sorry.)
emalove emalove 8 years
Oh, and I agree about the rolling technique--that saves SO much room and actually seems to prevent wrinkles in my clothes.
emalove emalove 8 years
I so need to learn how to be a one-bag traveler...I have only traveled once with just my carry-on, and I was so proud of myself. I usually load up my carry-on AND a huge suitcase with tons and tons of clothes...of cousre, I don't end up wearing half of them! If I go away this summer, I'm going to try and improve my packing skills.
Advah Advah 8 years
Bella - apparently they can get in through the car air fans. And I won't say anything else on that or the snake smell (EEEEK!!!) because I want to feel like putting my feet back on the floor is safe and that no reptile is going to appear from under my chair. *breathe deeply* Thanks for all the travel suggestions folks, that's really useful! I do the samples, big purse and layering things (years of flying bloody Ryanair!) - Tidalwave I agree, the rolling clothes technique saves loads of space! I usually fold my jeans/dresses/skirts/thick tops flats, but roll camisoles to stuff in the corners of the bag. I keep socks and underwear for the end, roll them, and stuff them in tiny spaces inbetween other clothes (there's always space I couldn't see before!). I'll def look into those cubes though! One last thing: I always bring with me a couple of folded, flat paper bags, and use them for any dirty clothes I'll have to carry around. That way I don't keep mudy jeans or dirty socks next to clean tops, they don't smell funny (sorry for the detail) like when you keep them in plastic bags, and since most of the time paper bags are square, they're easier to organise in a suitcase.
TidalWave TidalWave 8 years
starangel82: I do the purse thing too! That way I can have my book, ipod, medicine, journal, camera, etc all in one place and just stash a wristlet in there to use if I want to go out without lugging the big purse around. You can even fit a thin sweater. Oh, speaking of which, I also layer my clothes on the day of travel. I know this may sound silly but wearing a cami and a t-shirt and a cardigan means two of those things are taking up less space in your bag. graylen: I save room for souvenirs but not putting anything in my front pockets. My luggage has the main suitcase area then two pockets on the top. I make sure to leave these empty or put maybe one thing in there; so if I do buy things, I will definitely have a place to put them. But usually when I travel the thing I accumulate the most is photographs :)
telewyo telewyo 8 years
Oh and don't forget a Tide Pen too...when we went to the Vatican we got chocolate gelato at 10 am that melted down the front of my white skirt and we had no time to go back to the hotel. I wiped it off with some tissues and then went at it with the Tide Pen and it was almost like magic how well it went away! You can't even tell it happened in the pictures!
telewyo telewyo 8 years
I'm a big fan of packing cubes as well. I got the generic ones (and if you get them in pink they donate to breast cancer!) for really cheap...under $15 for 3 and then you can go to and usually find a coupon for at least 15%-20% off or free shipping or something so they're super cheap. I use one medium in the bottom of my suitcase and 2 smalls width wise (in a carry on size 21" suitcase). It keeps me organized and you can pack and unpack so much easier!
starangel82 starangel82 8 years
TidalWave and pharm_chick - I save my samples too. They are great for traveling! Another trick I use depending on where I am going, is I use a HUGE purse as my carry-on since your purse doesn't count. I'll put some of my toiletries I might want on the flight or while waiting (makeup/lotion), a book, my medicines, etc. Then I pack a smaller, more portable purse for went I get to my destination. Also, if you take everyday meds like me, get a old lady pill divider. Count out your pills plus two days (for emergencies) and leave the bottles at home. The bottles take up a ton of space. Just make sure you have a list of meds in your wallet in case something happens to you on the trip. (Which you should have in your wallet at all times anyway!)
Beauty Beauty 8 years
OMG ADVAH. They can get into CARS?! Oh god. Don't TELL me these things! One of the worst moments I've ever had traveling involved a guide at Tikal asking me if I smelled something. Yes, I did, I said. "That's snakes!" he said. "Snakes were here last night!" I was terrified. Side note for the fellow members of the LLRS (Ladies Love Rick Steves) Club: He did a great interview in Salon last month. That's actually what made me look into his books and site more, and I realize now that I had him all wrong. Cool guy!
Advah Advah 8 years
Tx, I've just booked my holiday for next month and I'll only have hand-luggage - much needed tips! I'll try to get that sunscreen if it's less than 100mL too! And Bella, you're not crazy re snakes. I have a huge snake phobia, and ever since I decided to take a road trip with my friends from Texas to Utah, I've had crazy nightmares. :( I'd decided my friends would be in a tent and I'd sleep in the car, until I found out snakes can get into cars. :sick:
graylen graylen 8 years
Wow... "weighing" down my bag! Also, don't forget to leave room for buying things! I wish I'd left a little more room. I hoard pashmina scarves ;)
graylen graylen 8 years
LOVE LOVE LOVE Rick Steves... and I'm only 25 ;) We used his books in Italy and Switzerland and were amazed at the time saved- particularly at museums and attractions. I just tore out the sheets that pertained to the places we were going so that I didn't have to have a huge book waying down my bag. I will admit that I was a little bit of a Rick Steves doubter at first, but now I'm sold! After deciding that we were only doing carry-on for our Italy/Switzerland trip, I made the best purchase I have ever made: PACKING CUBES. They make the hugest difference. Rick Steves has them on his site, though I recommend these from Magellan's... The packing cubes give you so much more space and keep you ridiculously organized. I pack my pants in one, shirts in another and undies/socks in the last one. I buy these for everyone I know and now they are addicted, too! I also really love this bag from REI: It has been the perfect day bag. You can fit a ton in it. It can cross over your chest, or become a backpack. This makes me want to travel again!!
KWM KWM 8 years
"KWM, you are not old" Thanks Bella!
margokhal margokhal 8 years
I really really REALLY try to not check bags (especially after this last trip - $15 for the first checked bag both ways!), but try as I might, and even following all these tips, everything I actually need will NOT fit in one bag, or I will need liquids that a) can't be used in any other container but their own; or b) I will need more than 3 oz. of the stuff, and I can't buy it where I'm going. For example, I must wrap my hair with lotion that comes in a foamer bottle [I have Black hair, and this is the *only* way that I have found to take care of it that will keep my hair from falling out]. I found a foamer bottle that was travel-sized after looking for TWO WEEKS - and it STILL did not actually foam, leaving my hair very limp and kind of hard. There's not much else, other than some oil [another liquid!], that I can use to fix that. I also need hairspray [oil, not water!], and I cannot find one that isn't water in a travel bottle. I did finally find a no-water volumizing mist but it's in a pressurized can [can't transfer it!] just SLIGHTLY larger than 3 oz. Also, my clothes are somewhat bigger than the average person's - even if I roll them, stack them, put things in my alt. pair of shoes [see! I only take ONE other pair of shoes!]. they still take up too much space. I figure I just need a bigger carry-on (mine's a 20", though you can get away with a 22" expandable on the plane). Or else I'm going to look kind of trashy on the trip {totally NOT reasonable}!
Beauty Beauty 8 years
FashionableTB — It's La Roche-Posay Anthelios Lait SPF 50. I think a FEW places in the States have it, but it's crazy expensive. Something like $40 or $50 here, but about 8 Euro over there. Tidalwave, I will have to work on rolling my clothes. I am already a bit nervous that I will overpack, so as soon as the bag arrives, I'm going to do a "test pack" to see how it goes. I know a lot of people also like those packing cubes, but I haven't tried that.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
This makes me want to go away, and stat!
pharm_chick pharm_chick 8 years
ooh thats awesome!! my thing is that i have tons of shampoo/lotion samples that come in the mail so i save those till i travel somewhere.
TidalWave TidalWave 8 years
I'm with starangel82. I never check bags and always get by with one bag. My super trick is: rolling your clothes This saves soooo much room! I bring two pairs of shoes, one of which I wear and the other I am able to fit in the bag. I only bring the essentials of make-up stuff and I wash & save all of my sample containers (i.e. when Sephora gives me free samples) so I can just transfer whatever I use into the smaller pot. Also, Lush has some great travel items like their Shampoo Bars so you have one less liquid to worry about.
fashionableTB fashionableTB 8 years
What is your favorite sunblock that's not available here? :)
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