Most airlines are now trying to minimize the amount of luggage a person can carry on board in order to save on fuel, others are even talking about weighing passengers! So what is a traveller to do?

First of all, lets examine what most people have in their suitcases:

  • Clothes. Some even go back home without ever seeing the light of day during your trip
  • Shoes of all colours to match the outfits
  • Toiletries
  • Even Starbucks Via coffee to make mornings in Europe feel right at home (true story of two americans travelling in Scandinavia from Seattle)

Second, let’s see what most travellers cannot do without:

  • Passport
  • Camera
  • Toothpaste
  • Clean underwear (although we all know that some backpackers turn their underwear inside out)

Putting the two together I have come up with a system that will guarantee that you look good, feel good and most of all you can travel with just a carry-on luggage for up to two weeks abroad (regardless of season and destination).

Step 1: Creating the Plan

Instead of starting your packing by going to your closet, picking outfits you like or think would be appropriate or handy on your trip, you should make a list of all the places you will be visiting and activities you will be doing over the duration of your vacation. This will give you a pretty good indication of what types of clothes and accessories you will need. It will also help you consider if you need the “extra’s” such as iPad, conditioner and 5 books that you may get to on your one week trip.

Step 2: Picking Clothes

Most people pack by going into the closet and say, “That’s cute,” or “I may need it”, etc… They can end up filling their luggage with the entire contents of their closet, most of which will remain untouched throughout the entirety of their excursion. I try to pack clothes that do not get dirty quickly. I always try to avoid white clothes since it can easily get dirty from the stains and dust that are magnetically attracted to it. I also try to mix and match as much as possible. You can usually get away with only taking one or two pairs of jeans/pants and a few t-shirts. which minimizes your luggage.

The fabric of the clothes also matters. Certain fabrics are better for travel, such as hiking pants, while others are light but can get wrinkled fast, such as silk. Different fabrics can also be folded more and subsequently will take up less space in your luggage. Try to keep all this in mind when choosing garments.

It is also important to note that certain destinations will not allow short shorts, a lesson many tourists learn when trying to enter the Vatican during a hot summer day in Rome. Other destinations require a bit more dressing up if you are planning to blend in. For example. a mini skirt is a big no-no in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Step 3:  Shoes

The shoes are supposed to be comfortable for walking but also match the local style of the people. For instance, in Russia most women wear heels so wearing sneakers will make you stand out.  While in Brazil, most women wear Havannas or Ipanama flip flops making it an essential piece of your wardrobe.

If you are planning a beach vacation only, you may only need to bring two pairs of shoes. I try to pick shoes that match most of my clothes and one pair of dress shoes for going out that are comfortable for walking as well. I tend to fly in my most heavy shoes as to save room in the luggage for other clothes.

Step 4:  Toiletries

I’ve noticed that half of people’s luggages are their shampoos, conditioners, cleansers, etc… Your best friend is trial sizes! When you buy perfume, make-up or any other item at beauty stores ask for samples, they will usually give you some that match exactly what you bought or what compliments your skin tone, etc… I tend to keep a box with all of them so when I am ready to go on vacation, I have a wide range of products to choose from.

If you are lacking samples, it is worth investing in a small container with which you can fill in your favourite products therefore substantially lowering the weight and space needed. Also, there are many things that you can live without such as soap, shampoo and moisturizer especially if staying in a hotel. While the quality may not be up to your standards, a weeks worth is not going to permanently damage your hair. If you are staying in hostels, you can buy local cheap brands and share it among your travel party.

Step 5: The essentials

Your essentials should be packed in your second carry-on which in my case is a handy day pack. Items include:

  • Camera + Charger
  • Passport
  • Money+ Credit Cards + Loyalty cards
  • Phone + Charger
  • Pen
  • Medication
  • Travel Documents and Insurance

Other helpful tips:

If you choose to check in your luggage, I would recommend making a copy of your passport/visa’s and your itinerary and placing it there (including hotels you plan to stay in) this way in case they misplace your luggage they have a way of identifying you and your destination. Also, it would save you trouble in case your passport or travel documents gets stolen or misplaced.

Alternatively, you can take a picture of your passport on your smartphone. I also like to put an extra credit-card and some US Dollars for emergencies in my luggage to hold me in case something goes wrong.

Coming back with souvenirs:

Most of us usually end up with heavier and larger luggages then we left with, even if you throw out your toilitaries and itineraries. Therefore, my trick is to get a carry-on which is expandable and only expand it while at the destination. Worst comes to worst you can always check in your luggage on the flight back and take the extra stuff in a bag as a carry on.

Forgot Something?

It is not unusual to forget something that you can live without. One of my friends now compulsively calls me hours before our trip to remind to bring a sweater, as I tend to forget one and then freeze at my destination, especially when its hot during the day but temperatures drop during the night.

Other times you may forget a toothbrush. This actually happens to more people then they admit. In these cases, most hotels usually have a complimentary replacement at reception. Other times, you can pick the essential items at the airport or a store. If you are in a developing country, you may be able to find the item that you forgot at a much lower rate. One of my friends came back from Malaysia with 20 pairs of what she called, disposable shoes, in every colour and style imaginable.

Now you can shock people with your mini carry-on while others strain their backs trying to drag their large cumbersome luggage over cobble stones, grass, and mud.