One Bag Travel: Tips For Packing Light For The Holidays

One Bag Travel: Packing Light for The Holidays - The Calm Collective

Can we all just agree that packing is an art form? I wish I could say that I’ve always packed light, but that just is not the case. For years (and years and years) I would always check my bag. Now that I think about it, i’s actually shocking that I’ve only had an airline lose my luggage a total of one time. I had always been the typical “better safe than sorry” packer – and someone who thought paying $75 for an overweight bag was totally worth it.  Because at least I had all of my “things”… you feel me?

But then something happened that shifted my way of thinking entirely. well, two things to be exactly. Let’s start with number one.

One Bag Travel: Packing Light for The Holidays - The Calm Collective

1. The airline lost my luggage. The was a few years ago when I was headed to Florida for new years. Mind you, I was flying the day before New Years Eve which was so stressful in itself. (Please never do this if you don’t have to) The airport was packed with people, and what made matters worse is that the weather was awful and so not only my flight, but almost all flights out of O’Hare were cancelled.  However, I had already checked my bag (along with the rest of the airport, it seemed) so I had to wait in a three hour line (three!) only to be told they couldn’t recover my luggage due to the overwhelm of people, so they would send it to me within 3 days. Well, I didn’t receive my bag for a total of 7. :)

Harsh lesson learned, my friends. Harsh.

The good news is that I did end up making it to Florida (after returning home for the evening & repacking), and vowed to never check again if I didn’t absolutely have to.

2.  I started dating Chris.  A year ago, I fell head over heels for a whiskey maker who also happens to be a seasoned traveler.  Within the last 16 months, he’s visited 16 countries.  16!  But the coolest part? He’s never checked a bag to any of them.  This perplexed me, because it’s not like traveling abroad is just this weekend stop over. You’re staying for a week+ at a time! How in the heck are you packing everything into just one little suitcase? I decided to find out for myself when I went to Ireland, and it was amazing. Yes, I’ll tell you right here and now that I ended up borrowing a few things of my mom’s (I didn’t think to bring essentials like a long-sleeved shirt, extra socks, etc) But it’s all through trial and error.

Chris has hands down been my biggest reason for packing light, bringing only what I need (not what I think I’ll need), and focusing more on the experience at hand rather than what I’m wearing.

So many of us are traveling for the holidays (we’re headed to Florida tomorrow to be with my mom and grandparents – and we’ll just so happen to be frequenting the place we had our first “date” :) and so I thought this was the perfect time to dive in to talking about packing light.

The holiday season can be stressful enough on it’s own – so if we can eliminate any and all stressors from your travel experience, lets go ahead and do that, yeah? I’ve got you.

One Bag Travel: Packing Light for The Holidays - The Calm Collective

First thing’s first: The best bags for travel

Hands down, the best packing tip that I can give is to tell you that you want a hard case roller bag that’s TSA approved for carry on.  There are quite a few out there on the market, but my favorite is the Away bag (I have it in navy – pictured in this blog post!) My friend Jess swears by this one (it’s so pretty). Chris has this one, which is amazing for how small it is, and I have another friend who doesn’t travel anywhere without this one. (the price tag doesn’t hurt, either)

The main things that I need in a carry on are that it has to be light weight when it’s empty, the pull handle has to be some-what long, the wheels have to turn 360* and that it has to have a hard shell to protect anything I may have inside. I also love when carry on bags have zipped sections (i.e the left side has a top that zips everything securely)  So basically, the Away bag had my name written all over it.  I also love that the suitcase is battery operated, so you can charge your phone, iPad, etc.  Major bonus and it’s definitely saved me more times than I’d like to admit ;)

If you’re more of a duffle bag type person, here are some great options: (I have one that’s similar to this that I got while I was in Italy and I love it – I actually have it with me now on my trip to Austin, Florida & Asia!)

How to pack a suitcase efficiently

I swear to you I feel like I’ve tried everything, and though I know most people swear by the rolled items method, it’s just not really my packing game and I actually found that it made my clothes more wrinkles rather than having it reduce wrinkles. I ended up falling victim to the trick my mom taught me years ago, which is to lay everything completely flat, and use EVERY nook and cranny you can find.  Oddly enough, this is the only trick that’s kept my clothes wrinkle free and gives me the most space in my suitcase to work with. One of the biggest questions is generally how to pack shoes. My suggestion? The part of your suitcase that has the pull handles (you’ll notice it’s uneven on the base), that’s the pest place to pack your shoes since they fit perfectly into the gaps.

Here are some more tips for packing

  • Wear your bulkiest items (a sweater, your jacket, your pair of boots, bulky socks)

    Fortunately airports are generally chilly, so you’ll stay warm.  Worst case, you have a lot of pillow options once you get on the plane!

  • Lay your clothing flat

    The best way to pack clothes is to lay every single clothing item completely flat on the side of your suitcase that doesn’t have the pull handles. One item on top of the other.

  • Utilize the layout of your suitcase

  • Pack clothing on one side and your accessories, shoes and undergarments on the other.
  • Pack your socks into your shoes

    This speaks for itself ;)

  • Come prepared to do a little laundry

    Purchase this in order to easily do laundry in your hotel room (bonus points if you’re going somewhere that has laundry) and this to decipher what’s clean and what’s dirty.

  • Be selective

    If you have a capsule wardrobe (yay!) you won’t have to worry too much about narrowing down your entire closet which will make packing so much easier.  My rule of thumb? I pack 2 outfits for each day I’m away.  (5 days = 10 outfits)

  • Plan it out ahead of time

    If you have a versatile wardrobe, that’s okay! Try using this free worksheet I created towards your packing list to help streamline what it is you’ll really need, and don’t be afraid to mix and match.

  • Only bring one pair of pajamas

    No, really.

  • Organize your toiletries

    It’s worth getting something like this in order to bring what you need yet still have it pack flat. I love this thing as it’s made my life a lot easier, and I bring it with me every single trip. Another great option that a friend of mine raves about is this.

  • Embrace packing cubes

    If you’ll be gone for a long time and know you’ll need to pack more than usual, then I would opt for packing cubes. I have this brand and it’s been a savior for those longer trips. I’m also super Type A, so I like to keep things categorized wherever I can :)

One Bag Travel: Packing Light for The Holidays - The Calm Collective

Don’t pack this: 

Let’s get real here for a minute, because I totally get the whole “do I need this or nah?” Struggle when you’re packing. I still go through it every single time!  The key is to pack what you think you need, and then literally eliminate half of what you laid out. I guarantee you, you will not need it. And if for some strange reason you come across that issue, you can always buy what it is you need wherever you are. The key is to be in the right frame of mind when you’re packing. I always pack the day before after all of my laundry has been done.  I never (ever) pack while laundry is in the works, or the day of my trip. That’s a surefire way to get real stressed, real fast.  I also almost always try to make a list, but now that I’ve been dressing with a capsule wardrobe, it’s not as necessary since my wardrobe (per season) is down to 30 pieces.

Here are some routine things we think we need, but we really don’t: 

  • A hair dryer

    Just, nope. It’s silly. You don’t need it. Also chances are wherever you’re staying has one.

  • A large hairbrush

    Just bring a comb. It does the exact same thing but takes up 1/4 of the space (and weight)

  • Full sized anything (shampoo, conditioner, toiletries, etc)

    Though it’s unlikely you’d be bringing this anyway since you’re carrying on (right?! ;) if you’re on the fence, just don’t do it.  You can get reusable bottles that are travel sized, and you can also look into seeing if your favorite products are sold that way (like my favorite skincare line) 

  • Leave perfumes at home, or get samples from department stores 

    I’ve recently switched to wearing oils (my favorite is this one – it’s seriously like crack and every single person who hugs me mentions something about it!) which are great for traveling because they come in tiny little bottles.

  • Multiple pairs of pajamas

    Because, why?  Depending on who you’re rooming with, maybe you don’t even need any.  But just in case, bring a pair (something super light weight like this) — but stick to just one.  You sleep in them, that’s it. You don’t need to fill up your suitcase with something you’re simply catching dreams in.

  • All of your bras

    Just bring one regular bra, one strapless, and one sports bra. That’s all you need.

  • Multiple pairs of shoes

    My rule of thumb (depending on the weather): sneakers, short heel/wedge, ankle boot.  Try to only bring one pair per occasion that you’ll be involved in (i.e. hiking, brunch, sight-seeing, etc)

  • Multiple things of the same color

    I’m a repeat offender when it comes to black, white and gray. But when I’m packing I won’t bring four black shirts, five gray shirts, and five white shirt shirts. Rather I’ll choose a couple of my favorite white shirts, a few of my favorite black shirts, and my favorite gray t-shirt. (and I always ensure at lest one of those is long sleeve in case it’s chilly) Even for those of us who don’t have much of a versatile wardrobe, you can still get creative with your jewelry.

  • More than one jacket  

    And while we’re on the subject, definitely get a packable down coat. There are so many good options (I have this one), and they make traveling during the cold so incredibly easy.


    Lastly, if you’ll be traveling for Christmas, DON’T try and travel with your gifts!

    Such a headache. Instead, opt for having them shipped to wherever you’ll be celebrating and wrap them when you get there or you can gift out experiences instead (things that can easily fit inside of a card)

One Bag Travel: Packing Light for The Holidays - The Calm Collective

So there you have it! I hope this helps, because I know it’s something we all struggle with.  It might sound cheesy to say it, but my attitude towards travel (especially holiday travel!) has changed SO much since I learned how to pack more mindfully, and rest assured that it’s a privilege to even have clothes, and that I don’t need all that much to survive during travel.  Try and keep that in mind when packing for the holidays, yeah? See how it changes your approach from here on out. xx

PS: This is the best travel wallet (which I use as my every day wallet too, because I love it so much)  I have it in black (though there are so many color options) & get asked about it all the time!