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I am incapable of flying with only a carry on bag

Categories: beyond 9 to 5



I’m flying to Chicago tomorrow, for two and a half days. I was determined not to check a suitcase, because two days! How much stuff could I possibly need?

Yeah, I’m totally checking my bag. I can’t figure out how to make it all work otherwise.

I am a minimalist traveler. I wholeheartedly believe that “one carry-on bag” should mean one bag, not one bag plus your handbag (you know who you are). If you can’t get it all in one bag, you do not need it on the plane. Period. We flew to China a couple of years ago and I carried one bag on the plane with me, and had everything I needed for the entire flight.

Somehow, though, I cannot manage to apply that approach to my actual suitcase.

This was probably not the best week to decide to go carry-on only; my husband is also traveling right now, and he took the smaller of our two rolling suitcases with him, leaving me with the big one, which may — or may not — be carry-on size. And I do not want to be that idiot trying to jam a too-big bag into the overhead compartment. So I’ve already got that going against me.

In addition, I am five weeks away from my first half marathon (eee!) and will need to run while I’m in Chicago, so I don’t die on the day of the race. Which means that I’ll be taking my running shoes and two sets of workout clothes. (And before you even think about suggesting it, no, I cannot repeat workout clothes; I sweat too much. You’re welcome.) Before I’ve even started to think about what to take for the actual conference, my bag is already filling up with things I cannot wear to speak on a panel. Excellent.

But it’s not like I’m planning to toss my whole closet in the bag. I’m trying to only take one other pair of shoes, something that I can wear on the plane and to the conference. Of course, that means curating three days worth of outfits that all work with the same shoes, which is doable but is also a gigantic pain. And of course, those shoes have to be comfortable enough to walk in, because I’ll be wearing them to travel and because I’m not taking a cab the four blocks from my hotel to the conference center (or the .9 miles to the Zara store).

Additionally, I need three days of business casual attire, which in theory is easy — except that we’ve been warned by the conference organizers that the mics for our panel need to hook to the waistband of our clothes, which rules out the dress I was planning to wear that day (no waistband! woo!).

I’m already exhausted and I haven’t even gotten to the toiletries yet (but the idea of three days without my razor makes me itchy — seriously).

So dish, people — how do you get organized to travel with only a carry-on bag? What am I missing here? Or do I just need to acknowledge that I’m someone who always checks her bag? Because that seems kind of lame, really.


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14 comments so far...

  • Bringing workout clothes is a challenge unto itself. I’ve been bringing my minimalist running shoes, which are super light and have very little material, so they smoosh down to the soles pretty well. Plus, they’re cute enough to wear with jeans for travel. Otherwise, it’s the same old trick — bring one dress/pair of pants/etc. that you can change up with scarves/sweaters/jewelry, and maybe even wear on the plane. And it’s still a pain in the ass, even after you have the perfect outfit, so, there you go. Have fun!

    Kristen  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:25 am

  • Not an option for you because you are so close to the marathon, but I got a pair of lightweight running shoes from NB that I can do ~2miles in while I travel and they take up a lot less space. And because I’m only doing ~2 miles, I do reuse running clothes. That said, I start with the shoes and work my way up. One pair of heels allowed (I usually go with the cole haan with the nike air. well worth the price tag IMO). no more. and a pair of flats that are really flat. like the gap ones that fold - good for walking. and then build layers that you can reuse. the tshirt I wear under my sweater on day one becomes my lounge/sleep shirt the rest of the trip. the cardigan I wear on day one, I reuse day 3 or 4 with a bold colored scarf. I just did a 3 day trip that combined business and pleasure in NYC and included running shoes in a 20″ carryon suitcase that way.

    Kate  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:27 am

  • I disagree with you a bit on the one carry on bag thing. Most airlines state one carry on bag plus a personal item. The way I see it, I have two slots of space assigned to me on the plane, spot in the overhead compartment and under my seat. Absolutely agree that one bag in the overhead is the max (side eye at you 3b with your rolling bag, plus your shopping bag, plus your coat in the overhead). For the actual packing part, rolling clothes works incredibly well. Also adding things to my under the seat bag. I can usually cram a pair of pajamas or a couple of thin t-shirts/camis in my purse. Wouldn’t want to wander around with them but for home -> airport -> hotel, isn’t too inconvenient. Socks can be rolled and shoved inside of shoes, same with some accessories/non liquid toiletries. You could wear the same pants on day 1 and 3, or use the same cardigan with difference brightly colored tanks for outfit variation. Good Luck!

    duchessbelle  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:31 am

  • IMO, these are hideous but they are about the weight/style I have. I really wouldn’t do more than 2 miles on them but they are good for that or the bike/elliptical in the hotel gym.

    oh, and I roll everything up. It seems to pack tighter that way.

    Kate  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:34 am

  • Dutchessbelle, I agree with you about two TOTAL carry on bags; what gets my goat are the folks with a carry-on suitcase, a laptop or whatever bag AND a purse. My math says that’s THREE bags, not the allotted two.

    I was hoping to do suitcase plus messenger bag; in theory, I can get all my stuff into that combination. IN THEORY. Sigh.

    Susan  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:37 am

  • You can take your razor in your carry-on, provided you’re not doing your legs and under arms with a straight razor. You always look so fantastic in dresses, I can’t imagine you going for three days where you cannot wear one!

    Jamie  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:38 am

  • Jamie, the straight razor comment made me laugh. Ha!

    Susan  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:42 am

  • I know you said that you wanted to bring two sets of running gear, but if you wear the tech fabric stuff that dries really quickly, you can wash it in the shower with some body wash or shampoo, hang it up, and it should be dry by the next day. It’s not ideal, but it’ll get enough of the sweat out that you might be able to re-wear it.

    I’d also recommend you have your other pair of shoes be flats, pack those, and wear the running shoes on the plane. Not exactly a fashion statement, but running shoes take up a lot more space than flats. I’d also bring either a black skirt or black pair of pants that you could wear two out of the three days - boring enough that no one will even notice you’ve already worn it. If you want to wear the dress, I wonder if you could belt it and clip the mic onto that.

    Also, you can totally pack your razor (assuming it’s your standard Venus or something like that) in your carry on. I do it all the time.

    stephanie  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:48 am

  • I will add that when I carry-on, I have my suitcase and my laptop bag. My purse must fit into one of those two, so I typically downsize to a small cross body bag that is pretty flat. I am also eyeing the person in 3b with all of their stuff!

    When my husband and I flew to CA for a wedding recently, we checked our bags as we both had too much to fit into a carry-on (he stayed for a week of work after the wedding; I had a maid-of-honor dress). As we were boarding, the flight attendant was announcing it was a full flight and please put your smaller item under the seat in front of you (duh!). As we approached our row, my husband went to put his laptop bag in the overhead. I couldn’t believe it and told him no, he wasn’t allowed to do that, he needed to put it under the seat! He looked at me strangely and I told him that it was rude to take up that space with a laptop bag! (Which he did get into during the flight to get out his ipod and book; did he plan to get up to do that if it were overhead?!)

    Jamie  |  October 17th, 2011 at 11:48 am

  • duchessbelle, the only problem with your logic is that there isn’t enough space in the overhead bins for everyone to get a spot there. My approach is to carryon two bags - my small roller and my tote. The small roller is not jammed full so it is about to burst. It easily fits (key point 1) if space allows. If there is not space over my seat but space further back, I use that. Then, I wait until those behind me have deboarded to get it (key point 2). When seated in 3B with a bag over 16D, you do not get to hold up the deboarding to get your bag. Waiting for the deboarding, you still end up ahead of where you’d be if you checked your bag. Which brings me to key point 3, if the bins are full, you may not under any circumstances give the flight attendants a hard time about checking your bag. Do it graciously. And that means, lock it before you board and don’t put anything valuable in it or anything you need during the flight.

    Kate  |  October 17th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

  • Does FedEx-ing your stuff to yourself break the rule?

    sue  |  October 17th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

  • I travel constantly forr business and I like to think I’ve become a bit of a packing superstar.
    *I pick a colour theme/combination and stick with it for the trip (ie: navy/cream or black with puncuation of colour, etc) this makes the shoe/handbag issue simpler.
    *Instead of my usual pj’s, I take a tshirt and yoga pants, both that can do double duty as an extra outfit in a pinch
    *I’ve resigned myself to wearing the exact same outfit on the plane both ways.
    Remember, half the amount of clothes and double the money (especially with Zara so close :)

    Caroline  |  October 17th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  • IDK…but I NEED that red bag in the picture!
    I know what you mean though. I went to Thailand for a week with one small backpack but I can’t go for a weekend in Phoenix without a big suitcase. Shoes are the killer for me. They take up too much prime space!

    carrie  |  October 17th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  • I can go for a week and only carry on. But I do have two items - a rolling bag plus my tote/laptop bag. The rolling bag goes overhead, the tote in my foot space.

    I pack one pair of shoes and wear one. I organize my wardrobe around a color theme (black, gray and ivory or brown, ivory and apricot, for instance) and will absolutely re-wear any suiting separates I bring along.

    I bring a pashimina to use as a blanket on the airplane and to add little bit of color for my very neutral outfits. If we go out to dinner, which we usually do, bonus, it’s a pretty stole/shawl thing.

    I don’t pack a handbag. My tote is my handbag all week long. I do have a very flat clutch bag I usually throw in my suitcase. This is great for going out in the evenings when I don’t want to haul my big tote along.

    I did have a Mycra Pak crushable raincoat, but I lost it on my last trip to NYC. Sad! But those things are great for taking along.

    And toiletries - I have a quart size ziploc bag permanently packed with minis and decanted little containers of my necessary products. I am perfectly happy to use the shampoo and lotion provided by the hotel, but I definitely bring all my facial skincare stuff along. And don’t forget the mini-toothpaste. The ziploc goes in my tote, right at the top, so it’s easy to whip out at security/TSA.

    It all fits and then I don’t have to wait at the luggage carousel. After a 6 hour flight, that’s the last thing I want to do!

    rb  |  October 18th, 2011 at 9:44 am