Though I once was unable to travel to the beach without two checked bags in tow, I’ve since learned the fine art of packing my entire life into one small (rather pink) carry-on. Last August I did just that. I was traveling to, among other places, blisteringly hot Israel in August, delightfully mild Germany in September, teeth-chatteringly cold Poland in October and incessantly rainy Holland in November – so I needed my small bag to fit, not just four months, but four seasons worth of clothes.

Forever the penny-pincher, I knew that I had to fit all of my belongings into a neat 21.65 x 15.74 x 7.87 inch box so that it would comply with even the stingiest of European carry-on allowances. By the time I flew back to the States, pink suitcase in shambles from its added mileage, I had learned a few nifty tricks to packing a bag that I could easily slide into the tiny overhead bins. Sure, there are a couple of concessions, local purchases and tearful abandonments – but, on the main, packing light is the way to get around. Not only does it make airport departures speedier, it also makes staying in hostels, riding trains and not looking like a complete tourist much easier, too.

Get The Largest Carry-On Size Allowed

If you’re traveling within the States or on mainly larger international flights, you can (generally) get away with an overstuffed bag with a care-free smile and strategic suitcase-to-body placement while scanning your ticket. The suitcase that I usually bring is so maxed out, the security people always skeptically eye me as I wheel it in. But I just put it up on the conveyor belt with a look that says, “I dare you,” which has worked so far, because I’ve never been questioned. When I have an extra backpack or large purse to carry the stragglers of my belongings, I try to keep it effortlessly perched in the crook of my arm with a large jacket hiding its much-larger-than-regulation size.

Roll Your Underwear (And Everything Else)

Rolling, rolling, rolling. It makes such a difference! When I roll, it seems like I can fit so much more than when I just fold (or throw haphazardly as I run about my room). So do it. And don’t ask questions. I like to also find nifty ways to utilize all of the space in my bag – like stuffing mugs and other trinkets with socks and underwear. This makes sure there are no bubbles of wasted space!

DIY Laundry

Why waste space with a plethora of underwear, socks and basics when you can do a little scrub-a-dub-dub every couple of days and come out with freshly washed and dried laundry? All you need is some soap from the hostel bathroom (or, if you’re a more refined traveler than I, a travel-sized jug of laundry detergent), a sink, a place to hang it and you’re in business! I’ve also found that wearing my semi-wet clothes dries them out in about thirty minutes – it’s not as bad as it sounds, I swear. (Warning: don’t try that in the winter).

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

And by that, I mean get creative and don’t be afraid to wear the same outfit a couple of days in a row! I’ll often change the look of a dress or shirt by wearing it backwards, pairing it with unexpected partners or simply wearing it twice in a row because who really cares? If you’re staying in hostels and like making friends, try exchanging clothes with people – either temporarily or make a permanent trade – to make your suitcase’s fillings last longer. Another trick of the trade is asking your hostel if there is a box to leave unnecessary clothes behind in. When I left Israel and the summer months for autumn in Eastern Europe, I left behind my sandals and some summer clothes for some other traveler to put to good use.

Be Real With Yourself As You Pack

Let’s be honest, I never ever wear or use all of the stuff that I pack. If I haven’t worn a shirt at home, I’m not going to wear it abroad. As much as I like to think I’m a sophisticated and stylish traveler, on most (read: all) days abroad, I opt for comfort over style. But who’s to say those are mutually exclusive things? I prefer to pack outfits that are simple, sophisticated and interchangeable (think: Ann Taylor Loft super sale) so that I appear somewhat stylish while maintaining my comfort. Because I am decidedly not able to walk on cobblestones in stilettos, as much as I may dream. Keeping a firm stance in reality while packing is integral to making it across the pond with a pack full of stuff you’ll actually want to wear once you’re trekking across cities every day.

Do you have any other packing tips that I missed here? Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

9 Responses

  1. Randal Hergesheimer

    Mailing things to yourself is very helpful. Unless you are not traveling much, cheap luggage costs more in the long run. It is better to get polycarbonate luggage, as it is nearly indestructable. I use Rimowa brand aluminum suitcases, but they can attract unwanted attention from thieves.

    • Mary Zakheim

      Randal, I agree that investing in long-lasting luggage is money well spent (and saved, down the road, as you say). Thanks for adding to the conversation!

    • Randal Hergesheimer

      Yes! I wear boots on the airplane, and pack tennis shoes. Often I go where it is cold or raining, so the boots are necessary. If the airplane crashes and I survive I want more on my feet than tennis shoes.

  2. Ramandeep Bajwa

    Article is great. My experience says. Don't carry your large shampoo/ conditioner or moisturizer bottles, carry them in small travel bottles. Mostly you will get all this stuff in hotel but in case you don't get or don't like the quality..
    Carry basic colored jeans and shoes like blue or black, it would match with any kind of tshirt and can be worn in all the seasons.
    Flat shoes occupy less space and are light weight generally. A sandal and shoe would suffice.
    Don't carry anything costly, be it watch or shoes or dress so in case there is a need to empty your suitcase, u can dump some stuff.
    Always carry an inner pouch or purse which holds your passport and some extra money, do not leave it in hotel.
    I always prefer a hotel with hairdryer so I don't have to carry mine(unless u are not bothered about messy hair).
    You can always buy some essentials from local market(unless you are brand freak) which stay for some time and don't cost a bomb. Infact the place where it is needed most will have all high and low cost variants. Like umbrellas, raincoat, warm jumpers, boots etc.

    Even if you roll up things and fit it in suitcase, weight constraint always stays. So try to pick as many reusable clothes as you can and only the stuff which you cannot live without. Happy travelling !!

    • Mary Zakheim

      Thank you for this comprehensive and detailed list, Ramandeep! I always make sure to only bring items that I won’t mind losing if worst comes to worst, like you said. We appreciate you continuing the conversation with your comments!

  3. Linda Mayer

    Stuff shoes with things that can roll up small. Fill a hat with rolled T-shirts and hat will keep its shape. Bring the tiniest umbrella or $1 plastic rain cover that fits in your back pocket

    • Mary Zakheim

      Thanks for the added tips, Linda! The hat trick is especially helpful – nothing worse than a ruined hat and a sunburnt face!


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About The Author

Content Writer

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch. Mary is a content writer at Fareportal and likes annoying her coworkers with weird GIFs throughout the day.