Leavin’ on a Jet Plane — what to pack and how to pack it.

I have been traveling a lot which means lots of packing and unpacking so let’s start with some advice.

There are two types of travellers, those who pack lightly and those who wish they had.

When I have to drag my bag up a couple of flights of stairs or hoist it into an overhead bin and I remember why miserly packing is a good idea.

Princess Diana arrived in America with 18 trunks, but she had an entourage to manage it all and the international press was focused on her wardrobe. If you are reading this, you probably do not share those circumstances. Typical vacationers need only comfortable shoes and clothing that does not wrinkle. Once you accept that you don’t have to dress up for complete strangers, traveling lightly is very liberating.

I have a great admiration for my travelling brethren who roam the world with only a pair of clean knickers, a microfiber tank and a reusable water bottle in order to save room in their backpacks for various electronics. Sadly, I am too old to look really good in gym shorts and hiking boots and swilling martinis in a rooftop bar is not nearly as much fun without getting at least a little dolled up.

I’m packing for an 8 day trip, two of them travel days. The weather is likely to be warm so I will bring only a small carry on, but I don’t know whether I will need to dress for a roadhouse or a Michelin starred restaurant. I prefer a more tailored approach to travel fashion but I refuse to sacrifice efficiency and convenience.

Rule Number 1: Stick to a Color Scheme.

My basic pieces are black and white and I bring one or two things in another color. Then I mix and match it all, Garanimals style (remember those with the tags that helped kids match their clothes?) adding accessories to camouflage the fact that I have worn pieces of the same outfit multiple times.

Rule Number 2: Everything Must Do Double Duty

I have a lightweight knit tank and cardigan style jacket that is my in flight uniform. Yeah, it resembles a twin set so it is the least bit “Janie Junior League” but it also washes in the sink and doesn’t wrinkle. For long flights, I pair it with slouchy pants and for short hops it goes with jeans. Then I can pair it with a skirt or nice trousers and add a scarf or chunky necklace if I need to dress up.

Rule Number 3: Accessorize

The over-packers I know rationalize that they don’t want to wear the same outfit in all their photos. A nice necklace or scarf can change up a look without taking up too much valuable real estate in your luggage.

Use a beautiful necklace to add color to the black tank and jacket.

Rule Number 4: Stay Organized

I’m kind of fanatic about packing cubes. I have several sets and each type has its merits.

The first ones I got were Rick Steves Brand. The travel guru knows all about lightweight packing, and I like that I can see through the mesh on all sides. I found, however, that my suitcase looked like a black hole because it was filled with black packing cubes full of black clothing.

I picked up some of these packing cubes from Amazon. They come in assorted colors and are very sturdy but still lightweight. I find packing in different color cubes helps me find things more easily. I usually roll everything but this time I packed some things flat.

Ok, this looks like a lot of stuff, but wait. It all fits in a carry on.
Packing is done with room to spare.
This is enough for a week or a month. It includes chargers, toiletries, a bathing suit, sleepwear, etc.

Rule Number 5: Be stingy 

I have streamlined my makeup and skin care into a tiny makeup bag.
I usually only take two pairs of shoes but I needed heels on this trip. I wore black flats on the plane.

I only bring a few basic makeup items and tiny containers for cleanser and moisturizer. I spray perfume onto a cotton ball and put it in a ziplock bag.

Jewelry and scarves allow me to create lots of outfits from a few basic pieces. This time, I had to take a pair of heels and a dress for a more formal occasion but it all fit nicely. I also brought a small handbag that fits in my suitcase so my backpack style camera bag serves as my personal item.

Accessories dress up a black dress.
A colorful cardigan and the same funky necklace lend a little pizzazz to a simple black dress. The cardigan can also be worn with the blue shell.

That’s what’s in my suitcase. What are your favorite travel packing tips?



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane says:

    Had fun reading this as I am in the process of packing now. Thought I was done but forgot my scarves until you mentioned them – thanks!!!

    Good suggestions. Thanks again.

    1. smasonnc says:

      You’re always packing to go somewhere. Hope it’s someplace great this time!

  2. Laura says:

    wow, you are organized and fashionable for your travel! thanks for sharing Sharon…now I want to see some pics from that trip 🙂

  3. mintnoti says:

    Great tips! I like sticking to a color scheme and packing basic as this makes it quick and easy getting dressed each day. Thanks for sharing!


    1. smasonnc says:

      Thanks! The hardest thing about packing lightly is mentally moving into the idea that you don’t need all that stuff. 🙂

  4. I loved reading this! So many great tips. I’ve gotten better with packing over the years but there’s still room for improvement. I try to bring clothes I can mix and match, and layer as well to save space. Most of the time I wear jeans & a t-shirt (or nice top) so that part makes it easier as I don’t have too much variety. But I always bring a nice skirt or dress (and nice shoes) for those times it’s almost mandatory to get a little more dolled up. My biggest problem is that I bring too much every time! It doesn’t help that I’ve been on a few trips such as like Banff, Alberta where we got a snowstorm (15cm +) in the middle of July. Most of my fellow travellers only had shorts and flipflops, but being the pack rat I am– I had my jeans, a fleece sweater and a winter shell, which saved me from forking out big $$ at the ski shops. So I still usually pack a bit of everything for that reason. I guess it depends where you’re going as well, and how far. I was MUCH worse when I was first started travelling years ago but you learn as you go, right? It’s great tips like these that really help pack rats, like myself 😀 Thanks again…great post!

    1. smasonnc says:

      Thanks! Glad you liked it! The easiest way to pack lightly is to imagine dragging your bags up a couple of flights of stairs. I still have a tough time packing for changing climates.

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