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My short list of practical packing tips

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

Open suitcase full of just packed items.

(Note: I was so smug writing this post at home in my studio without having even started the packing process. Considering how unsmooth the process went this time, I felt necessary to add some amendments to the original piece in order to acknowledge that I am not in any way an expert on packing or travel. Enjoy.)

Nothing delights me more than people-watching at Hartsfield Jackson Airport. Maybe it’s judgy (it's totally judgy), but I love the circus of travelers. Women will walk around wearing two hats on their heads. Neurotic families rush around with a cluster-f*%k of strollers, diaper bags, luggage, and screaming toddlers. Non-neurotic teens drag around duffle bags with half their items falling out and trailing a fleece blanket behind them. The judgy part of me is like, “These are organization issues.”

I am an organization and structure queen. I love packing. Each trip I try to fit more in the bag or streamline what I consider are my essentials. One of my life goals is to fit a week’s worth of clothes in a tote bag instead of a suitcase. I don’t like checking bags at the airport, I don’t like lugging a lot of things with me, but I also don’t like skimping on my needs.

Here are some of my packing tips.

  • Whenever we go anywhere, I use my hard case rolling carry-on-sized suitcase from Amazon Basics. I have a Longchamp tote for the flight. If I can’t fit everything in these two pieces, then I don’t need it. (And this is where I made my first error this time. Weather at our destination was cooler than expected, so I had more layers to fit in my suitcase. On the day we left for the airport, I am returning a sweatshirt to my closet because I cannot fit it in along with the sweater I needed. I ended up folding a denim jacket and wearing the sweater for ease of packing and ended up too warm in the airplane and too cold when we landed. The packing stress is still real.)

  • The key to fitting (almost) everything I need is in the folding. I will konmari the f*%k out of my clothes. It’s important to me to make sure everything fits. Tight, tight little squares for all my T-shirts. It absolutely sparks joy.

  • I plan out my outfits before I pack. One of the beautiful things about a capsule wardrobe is I don’t have to worry about matching or forgetting an essential piece of an ensemble. Since most of our trips include so much walking, I make sure I don’t pack anything that cannot be worn with a pair of Birks. I can and have packed my boots for nicer dresses at dinner, and I also have dressier sandals. But I figure out my outfits beforehand helps me determine if I need to pack one or two pairs of shoes.

  • Let's talk about shoes for a second. I wear Birks because they have the best arch support. I bought some flat Adidas sneakers for travels becuase they also go with many different ensembles. But even so, the brick and cobblestone streets have defeated me time and time again. Consider how cute you really need to be, how much public transport vs. car services you will be using, and whether where you are going has "charm", "historic appeal", or advertises as "rustic". Bad shoe choices can ruin the mood in an instant.

  • Dresses travel easily but you must hang them when you get to the room. Also, if you are curvy you know that shorts under dresses help avoid the dreaded thigh burn, however, when I forgot mine a few years ago on a trip to NYC, I ran into the closest Duane Reed and purchased a travel-sized Gillette Cool Breeze Clear Deoderant and applied it to my thighs. I didn’t have a chaffe issue at all. (Dresses weren't going to work on this trip. I needed leggings and pants. Luckily leggings -- whether stylish or not -- fold up super tightly in a carry on case. It wasn't until I was in the truck heading to the airport before it occurred to me, TIGHTS! I could have worn tights under those dresses and they take up minimal space in my luggage. Get your head in the game, Brandi!)

  • Speaking of travel sizes, I hate making separate travel-size purchases for everyday toiletries. Mostly because not everything I like comes in a travel-size package. I have three reusable travel bottles – one for face wash, one for conditioner, and another for body wash. (Smug me forgot to check my toiletry bag before heading to Target for last minute essentials. If I had, I would have remembered that I left my body wash bottle in a hotel room in Louisville. I was not going to go back to Target again, so I am taking a risk on the hotel body wash, hoping it does not smell like bamboo, aloe, or any other scent the chain claims is "zen".) Everything else I use already comes in tiny bottles. But also, I have to be judicious about what are essentials. I need an SPF moisturizer. I don’t necessarily need to pack Retinol if I’m only going to be gone for a few days. I have a clear toiletry bag that is always packed with toothpaste, brush, and travel bottles, and I fill in the rest with what I feel is necessary.

  • Lightweight jackets or sweaters are key. Regardless of the season, sometimes you can find yourself in a place, room, restaurant, or car that’s cold. Sometimes you can find yourself in a place that’s too hot, so you don’t want to commit to a long-sleeve shirt or turtleneck. I always pack sleeveless or short-sleeved shirts. If you don’t need it, cardigans can be folded down into a tight square and fit into a tote. Also, a denim jacket goes with every outfit. (This has turned out to be most true statement.)

  • I have a lightweight shawl that I keep in my flight bag. It’s the size of a pashmina, but it’s a jersey cotton weight. I got it from Bleusalt. It’s a soft pillow on the flight or a blanket if I get cold. Often Behr downs ice-cold soda too quickly and gets chilled to the bone. So he wears it more than I do.

  • One hat can be packed in a hard case suitcase. If you are packing more than one, my question is why? A hat shaped like a fedora can be placed in a suitcase upside down. Fill the hat with socks or underwear, but don’t overstuff it. It will help it keep its shape. Then pack around the hat, careful not to squish it. Flat-brimmed sunhat packs with the brim down, but be sure to stuff the inside with socks or underwear.

Open Suitcase Full of Hats

  • Pack pajamas last. No matter how many times I tell my boys to unpack their suitcases when we get to the room, they never do. Now I make sure they pack the pajamas last so it’s the first thing they see when they open the suitcase. It reduces the size of the hotel room clothing explosion from their bags.

  • One crossbody bag. I love bags. But when I travel, I don’t like to fuss with swapping out purses per outfit. Especially because when I travel I don’t really need much. I have a tiny camera bag crossbody that’s just big enough for the essentials: a collection of cards, a cell phone, lip gloss, a hand sanitizer, and a tiny umbrella. I have carried my Kate Spade chain strap purse and looked really cute, but that chain weighed down on my shoulder at the end of a busy travel day. I can look cute without it.

  • The Totes company makes a tiny umbrella that can fit in the front pocket of a mini backpack. I don’t care how cute the Disney World ponchos are with the Mickey’s printed on the front, just the thought of sweating under that plastic makes me feel gross. And the tiny umbrella is smaller than the poncho. And even though the rain is part of Disney World culture, so is hiding in a nearby shop until the rain blows over.

  • Remember that everywhere you go has stores. I try not to pack for any trip like I am going camping. That eases my worry that I might “forget” something. Hubs likes to hit up Walmart or a grocery store when we arrive to purchase things for our room, but I feel like it cuts into my vacation time. But it’s nice to stop somewhere and grab seltzer, sodas, Cheese-Its, and chocolate for the hotel room.

  • I always keep my medication with me in my flight tote. I use a clear pouch (from my Cloth and Paper sub-box!) that fits my daily supplement case and all my other drugs. I also buy the Olly travel packs of Stress and Sleep gummies in case I need to be calm or get to sleep. They are a great size and slide right into my pouch. Luckily, these little travel packs are also sold at most drug stores in case I forget them.

  • Charger Cords and electronics go in my flight bag. I use a small Stasher bag for charger cords. Unless I am heading to a conference or writers' retreat, I leave my laptop at home. My tablet slides right into my tote. My phone is essential.

  • Shopping totes are the best. On our first trip to NYC, everyone had a tote. Some were full of groceries. Some were empty but ready to be filled. It wasn’t just a “mom” thing there. (Seriously, some stores charge a bag fee to reduce the number of plastic bags in the world, so having a tote handy can help you avoid that) A tote is a great way to gather all the souvenirs in one place and makes for easy carrying of snacks back to the room. They also fold down into tiny little squares that can fit in an interior pocket of a suitcase or tote bag.

  • Leave room to buy stuff. On our last Disney trip, the boys stayed behind for a few extra days. I flew home alone. When it came time for Hubs to pack everything, he couldn’t fit everything in the suitcase for the return. As a result, he had to go to Walmart and purchase a duffle bag, which he then had to pay to check at the airport. Don’t let it happen to you.

Remember that the whole point of getting away is to get away. While I get incredibly jazzed over the perfectly packed suitcase, it's impossible. People go on vacation to see some new stuff and try some new stuff. And sometimes not having what I needed has resulted in some happy accident purchases -- hats, sweatshirts, blankets, beauty products that are not available where I live. The point is to have fun.

Read books. Wear boots.




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