I’m off to Italy next month, so all-things packing have been on my mind for the last few weeks. I’m one of those insufferably obsessive people who plans their packing a stupid amount of time in advance, and whether it’s a month travelling from one end of Vietnam to the other, four-weeks road-tripping from San Francisco to Whistler, a month growing large on tapas in Spain, or a week driving around New Zealand’s south island, my packing process for overseas jaunts is always the same: no checked baggage, just carry-on. Now, I know it’s not much, and I know that a heavily edited approach to packing isn’t necessarily going to suit every traveller/destination/climate/activity. It also takes a lot of forward-planning, self-discipline, and excellent tetris-style skills to achieve, but for me, it’s the only way to travel.
So why don’t I just check-in a suitcase like a normal person? Firstly, when my plane lands the last thing I want to do is spend more time in the airport – I’m a grab-my-bag-and-go kind of gal. But more importantly, the carry-on only approach encourages a level minimalism I covet when I’m on a break from regular life. For me, holidays are one of the few times I can genuinely switch off, and get real with myself about what is important to me and what I truly value. Travelling light is necessary for me to achieve these things, and knowing I can live out of a backpack (if only for a month) is a really quite liberating way to go about it.
So how do I even do this? Well, here are my 5 rules for successful carry-on only travel:
1. Know your uniform. Avoid buying “travelling” clothes, and instead wear what you have and what you know. For me, that’s a neutral palette of black, white, navy, and grey, spanning several practical and versatile pieces. My travel wardrobe for my Italy-in-Autumn trip will look a little something like a chambray shirt, black skinny jeans, a couple of t-shirts, a dressy black jumpsuit, a black-and-white striped dress, a smart black blazer, a hoodie, a long-sleeved striped top, a pair of black silk shorts, a lightweight coat, leggings, sandals, low-heeled ankle boots, comfy trainers, and, rather optimistically, a couple of exercise bits. It may not seem like much, but it’s what I’d be wearing at home, and realistically, it’s all I need.
2. Adopt a triple-threat luggage system. Consider a main piece of luggage, a smaller handbag or backpack to cart around everyday, and something fancier to take out at night. My main weapon of choice is a 35-litre Mountain Designs pack, purchased 5 years ago for a mid-uni south-east Asian trip, lovingly carted around the world for 10-months post-uni, and taken pretty much everywhere I’ve travelled to since then. It’s big enough to fit everything I need, and small enough that I don’t run the risk of over-packing. As the rules of carry-on dictate that you can also bring on board a smaller handbag or laptop bag, I entrust my go-to in-flight items (iPad, camera, tech cables, purse, phone, eye mask, specs, headphones, sunglasses) to my trusty Country Road leather sling bag. It has an adjustable strap so can be worn cross-body or shortened to regular handbag length, and it also houses my pleasingly roomy Mimco travel wallet, which doubles as a cute clutch for nights out.
3. Consider your liquids. You only have a 20cm x 20cm bag to fit your 100ml-or-less liquids and aerosols into, so use it wisely and pack small. My liquids bag (which is from Sephora and has a picture of a lipstick shaped like an aeroplane on it ♥) invariably contains mini versions of my favourite cleanser, foundation, SPF moisturiser, facial oil, deodorant, and two mini hair products (see below), as well as naturally compact items like concealer, a mascara, a rollerball perfume, a liquid lipstick or two, and a lip balm – I’m hazy on whether lip balm is actually considered a liquid, but in the interest of avoiding having my trusty Blistex confiscated, I err on the side of caution. Much to his bemusement, I also tend to appropriate some of my boyfriend’s liquid space for transporting my more gender-neutral product such as toothpaste, hand-sanitiser, and contact lenses solution.
4. Be real about makeup/hair stuff. The struggle is real here for a makeup enthusiast like myself, but it pays to be prudent and curate your travel stash with care. I don’t want to risk any spillage, leaking or breakage when I travel, so will only go for beauty items with practical and hardy packaging. Joining the bits in my liquids bag will be an eyebrow pencil, an eyeliner pen, a pressed powder, a blush, and an eyeshadow palette. Will I use all of these everyday? Absolutely not. Will I go to the first Sephora I see in Rome and stock up on makeup brands unavailable in Australia? You can bet on it. I’m fairly low-maintenance when it comes to hair and will gladly get by on hotel shampoo and conditioner, but will bring along a mini-sized texturising spray and dry shampoo, a Tangle Teaser, and my GHDs (while my inner 23-year old backpacker cringes at what I’ve become). Also going into my make-up bag will be a mini First Aid kit, because as anyone who knows me well is aware of, I have a tendency to walk into things, fall over on escalators, and generally get hurt by stuff on a regular basis.
5. Don’t fill it to the brim. Arriving in a European city with enough room and weight allowance for a couple of trips to Whistles/COS/Sephora/Muji is a no-brainer. Enough said.