I’m a big believer in packing light, no matter the trip. With long trips by plane, I’m even more ruthless with my packing strategy. Besides the money saved on checked bags (for some airlines at least), you save time by not having to wait at baggage claim and stress by not having to worry about lost baggage. Plus, I love being able to quickly and easily grab my things and go. I like the feeling of packing “my life” into a neat little package rather than being literally weighed down by multiple large bags. I’ve written about packing light in the past, but it’s been a long time so it was high time I revisit the topic!
Over the years I’ve been conscientious of traveling light, I’ve definitely improved my strategy and have managed to cut down my packing to less and less. I’ve downsized from a rolling carry-on and large tote to a smaller duffel and purse.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Ireland to sightsee with friends (recap post here). Including travel time, I was away from home for a week. I packed everything in my purse and duffel with room to spare. Here’s my actual packing list and how it worked for me.
For my “personal item”, I brought my Caraa studio bag. I used to use a large shoulder bag for traveling, but I haven’t been using it lately since it’s rather bulky. The studio bag is much smaller, which is great for everything except carrying my laptop. My laptop went in my duffel instead.
The biggest reason I wanted to bring my studio bag was because of its backpack capabilities. Since I knew I’d be walking a lot, I wanted to go easy on my shoulders. The locking zipper pulls were an added bonus since it meant that even though I carried the bag behind my back, I wouldn’t be an easy target for theft.
In addition to my everyday essentials, I carried a paperback book, my camera (not pictured because, well, I had to take this picture), an alternative lens, a mobile charging brick (CRUCIAL), and some snacks. Right before my trip, Caraa sent me their starlight case as a gift, which ended up being perfect for this trip. I used it to wrangle my most important things like extra cash, my passport, extra camera batteries, extra memory cards, camera lens filters, earphones, camera and phone chargers, and a small notebook and pen. The case has little pockets which was perfect for the batteries and memory cards. It’s actually pretty spacious for being so small, so I had room to spare even with all that tucked inside.
Between the starlight case and the pockets on the bag itself, my bag organization was locked up. I would definitely repeat this purse set-up for a future trip.
My first priorities for choosing an outfit for the plane are comfort and warmth. The next most important consideration is space, i.e., wearing my bulkiest items to save space in my bag. My travel time was 20 hours to get there and 25 hours to get home, so a good plane outfit was vital! I ended up wearing my thickest sweater (with my free to be serene bra), a cozy cardigan, thick leggings, wool socks, and rain boots.
The rain boots weren’t the best option for the airport, since the laces make them a huge pain to get on and off at security, and they’re not as flexible and breathable as sneakers. But, there was no way I was stuffing these in my duffel, so I decided to just suck it up. Recently, I’ve gotten hooked on wearing wool socks under my shoes for plane rides, since they’re cozy and warm, plus they don’t stink during/after the flight. That last point is essential, because yeah, if I’m traveling for that long, I’m gonna quietly slip my shoes off while I try to curl up in my seat and sleep.
Packing list: 3 technical layering tanks, long sleeve tee, light/medium sweater, medium/heavy sweater, warm cashmere cardigan, light technical long sleeve, thermal technical long sleeve, thermal technical half zip
Strategy: I chose tank tops for layering or wearing on their own if it happened to be quite warm. Every shirt I brought was a different weight, which meant I could choose whatever was weather-appropriate. Having the tanks, cardigan, and rain shell (see below) meant that I could use those layers to make each top warmer as needed.
Packing list: 2 full length technical tights, full length thick leggings, skinny jeans
Strategy: I always bring more tops than bottoms on a trip because in my view, it’s easier to add variety with tops. I brought mostly active bottoms and just one pair of jeans, but I could’ve gotten away with just one pair of technical tights if I wanted to.
Packing list: 2 warm hats, running shoes, packing cube of personal essentials, rain shell
Strategy: I brought my Brooks running shoes because I figured I’d be running at least once. And as silly as I feel wearing athletic shoes with jeans, it works in dire circumstances if I needed a backup shoe. I ran in them once and then wore them walking around the city, but every other day I wore my rain boots.
I considered bringing my Allbirds runners, since they pack down well and are very comfortable for long days of walking. Because of space, I ended up nixing them. That said, it was too wet for them to have worked well so I wouldn’t have really worn them.
I like using a packing cube for my personal items like pajamas, socks, and underwear. I packed a mix of regular bras and sports bras since I brought a mix of tops. Putting a small pouch in my packing cube (which came with the set) means I can segregate my dirty socks and underwear from the clean ones as my trip progresses.
Hats are absolutely essential in slightly chilly weather, since they add a LOT of warmth for virtually no space. If there’s even a tiny chance I’ll be cold, a hat is the first thing I pack.
I also brought my Arc’teryx Beta LT shell for bad weather. Besides being waterproof, you can see that it packs down into a nicely compact burrito for space savings. I wore this jacket every single day (minus the days I was flying) since we got rained or misted on pretty much every single day.
How did I do?
Overall, my packing plan worked very well. I never felt like I was missing anything, I could dress appropriately for every occasion, and I was able to wear something a little bit different every day.
My biggest challenge with this packing plan was that I had to plan for a range of possible weather scenarios. Namely, based on the forecasts, it could’ve been anywhere from 60 and rainy to a balmy 75 and sunny. Before my trip, I looked at my packing list and tried to imagine how I would dress in each scenario and everything in between. I knew that if the weather ended up on either extreme, some items wouldn’t get worn much if at all, but I wanted to be prepared.
In reality, the weather was mostly on the colder end of what I planned for. As a result, I gravitated toward the warmer items in my bag–my jeans, herringbone leggings, thermal tops, and thicker sweaters. I don’t see this as a mistake or a planning problem, since the whole point was to be prepared for a range of scenarios. I’m counting it as a success!
A few details
Since most of what I packed is out of season or very old, I don’t have links to many of the specific items I packed here. Instead, here’s info for a few of picks from this trip that are currently available.
Caraa Studio bag
Caraa Starlight case
Everlane cashmere cardigan – on sale!
Lululemon free to be serene bra
Sorel Conquest Carly boots
Arc’teryx Beta LT jacket
REI wool socks – if you have small feet, get the kids version to save $$