Planning for two days in New York--including a night at the theater and a lot of sightseeing--a 7-day transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2 with at least two formal nights, and then another three days hoofing it around London before flying back home, made packing--especially in a small suitcase--a challenge. I had to pack a gown and cocktail dress for the ship’s formal nights, a raincoat for the changeable English weather, and the right combination of comfortable shoes and clothing for a variety of situations. And I was determined to fit it all into my 21-inch Travelpro carry-on bag.
Having chased lost luggage on a multiple-destination trip before, I’ve become wary of checking my bag, especially when I’m going to be on a cruise and my shopping options to replace lost clothing will be limited.
Fortunately, I've figured out a packing system that lets me get a lot in a small bag.
Here’s what I took along: One evening gown, one cocktail dress, two pair of black microfiber slacks (hand-washable,) one linen blazer (also hand-washable) five blouses, two long sleeve t-shirts, one lightweight cashmere sweater, a raincoat and tiny umbrella, a lightweight fleece, yoga pants, and PJs. I added a folding tote bag and a compression bag to create space for any souvenirs I wanted to bring home.
Here’s how I did it:
Hang Ups: My dresses, including the evening gown, are jersey. They can be rolled tightly in my suitcase but after hanging a few hours and a spritz of Downy Wrinkle Releaser be ready to wear when the occasion arises. I don’t know how the wrinkle releaser works, it just does. I keep a travel-size spray bottle in my kit. The shirts were packed fresh from the dry cleaners, still in the thin plastic bag which prevents wrinkles.
Cube Control: Everything is sorted into Eagle Creek packing cubes (purchased at REI) which make living out of a suitcase easier. I know right where to look for what I need, no need for digging through a messy suitcase. On the ship I put the dresses, blouses and slacks on hangers in the closet and put the rest of the cubes on the closet shelves for both privacy and organization.
Happy Feet: The right shoes can make or break a trip. I brought along one pair of dressy heels, my black Clark’s booties (the best travel shoes I’ve ever owned,) one pair of day-to-evening black flats, and one pair of lightweight Ecco slip-on walking shoes.
The Little Things: My makeup, lotions and toiletries were all separated into see-through mesh pouches. My petite travel flatiron (for taming my hair in the humidity) comes in its own travel pouch. Since my clothes are usually neutral--black plants and white or beige shirts- and a natural linen blazer for summer-I always pack five or six folded silk scarves in a plastic zip bag. This lets me add color to my wardrobe without any additional weight.
Tools of My Trade: I usually travel with my laptop, and/or my iPad, my iPhone and a camera (sometimes two cameras.) All the various chargers, cords, batteries and accessories are sorted into more see-through mesh bags and everything (including my purse, to meet the “two pieces only” airline carry-on regulations) goes into a lightweight rolling backpack.
As it turned out, I had everything I needed for the two-week trip, but was still well under the luggage weight and size limit. My husband had no qualms about checking a bag so (full disclosure) I knew I had room to expand if absolutely necessary, but I’m proud to say I was able to make my small-bag system work.
Note: New airline carry-on luggage size restrictions went into effect this spring. To avoid having to check your bag, be sure it does not exceed a maximum of 14 inches wide by 22 inches high by 9 inches deep.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org