Pack Hacks for Your Vacation

Have you ever known anyone that packs three large bags for a two night trip?  I admit I used to be that person. I would pack outfits and back up outfits for every day, shoes out the wazoo, hairdryer (cause I like mine better than the ones at the hotel) and an insane amount of toiletries. I didn’t stop packing until it took at least two people, sometimes three to close the suitcase. Crazy!

Unless this guy has the luggage for the entire family of 4 or more it is safe to say he has drastically over-packed

Being a little bit like a squirrel preparing for winter,  I usually have enough food tucked into one of those bags to survive a week in the unlikely event that every restaurant and pizza delivery in such cities as Denver or Chicago suddenly offer nothing to eat.  Good heavens, travel is supposed to be a chance to explore new things, places and FOOD.

For those of you that remember back when the airlines allowed two carry on items I would have the largest bag possible that was still within the guidelines, my large purse and my full size pillow.  I know that is three items but I got away with it for years and if a fuss was made I reasoned I could shove my purse into the pillowcase and deem it one item.

I am proud to say that I have completed a full 360 degree turn around when it comes to packing and as a result I enjoy traveling more than I did when I was weighed down with all my stuff.  Several years ago I flew to Chicago for a half marathon and mini vacation of 4 days and 3 nights. My traveling companions and I decided we would not rent a car and would use the L (Chicago’s train/subway) and our feet to get from the airport to our downtown hotel.  I knew whatever I took I would carry or roll for a good distance. Fellow runners will understand that this trip required me to pack bulky items like running shoes, a hydration belt and gels. I used a carry-on considerably smaller than what is allowed and I managed to take not only everything I needed for race day but everything else I needed to be comfy cozy including my lightweight house slippers (I get germophobic about hotel carpet among other things).

Imagine this bag in bright yellow and you will have a good idea of the size of the lemon I lugged all over Europe.

That trip made me realize that some extra time spent carefully packing the proper items for the trip’s activities added the the enjoyment during my hard earned vacation.  I wish I had learned this lesson before my trip through Europe when I packed a ginormous (bright Yellow) suitcase. I didn’t think past getting it from the car to the airport check-in and ended up lugging the heavy, over-sized “lemon” up and down escalators, on and off the Metro and the bullet train I even had to tote the monster on and off a Ferry.  When I got home I gave the lemon away so that I would never make that mistake again.

Here are some hacks to help you pack light, yet have what you need:

There are various brands space saving bags. I like the ones that you roll to remove the air. They are easy and can be reused multiple times.

If you are not using the bags that compress and push or suck out all the air then you must stop reading right this minute and go buy some.  Yes, go now! They are that good and if you fold everything carefully your clothes will have far fewer wrinkles than if you just fold or roll the items and didn’t use the bags. 

First print out your itinerary.  Place it one your bed then pick out a full outfit for each day.  You should only have one outfit per day except rare exceptions when the days activities demand certain attire such as a formal dinner or an athletic activity.  For example; Once while in Puerto Vallarata I spent an amazing day zip-lining, hiking and even repelling down a waterfall. That day half way qualified for two outfits. What I mean by half-way is that by the time the adventure ended and I showered and went to dinner I only had outfit number two on for a few hours and in air-conditioning. I wore outfit number two again for the trip back home a few days later.

Group clothes by outfit and take extra care in folding before placing them into space saving bags. Comfy shoes that coordinate with all the outfits are another space saving perk.

Don’t group your clothes into stacks of shirts, shorts, socks etc, group them by what will be worn together. See the example in the picture. Here is three day’s worth of outfits including my fav denim jacket. Note that the outfit on the right is a Tunic/dress that will work with or without the leggings (leggings are a great versatile piece that can multiply your choice of outfit while taking up very little space in your bag) depending on the weather and if needed that denim jacket can be layered on too.

For my fellow runners and other folks that can’t fathom a vacation that doesn’t allow time for their favorite sport or exercise, consider taking running/athletic clothes that have seen better days. You know the ones I am talking about.  The shorts that never ride up or cause chaffing that you have loved for a long time, but are, if your honest, worn out. Take them on a final vacation run and then throw the nasty stinky things into the trash. Viola! You have just made a little extra room in your bag and the sweaty mess won’t stink up your bag for the remainder of your trip.  This also works with socks, undies or whatever you decide.

Next, pick out your shoes.  Shoes take up a lot of space in you bag so be very discerning.  Perhaps your peach colored sandals look great with one of your outfits but your brown sandals match every outfit. Put the peach ones away to wear when you get home.  The brown sandals go into your bag. The same concept applies to jackets and sweaters, for me the denim jacket is a go to piece.

Athletic shoes take a lot of space and are heavy.  Consider wearing them on your travel day instead of packing them.  If you must pack them utilize the space inside the shoe for things like electronic chargers, socks or items that need extra protection to avoid being damaged.  I have had baggage bruttaly abused by various airlines but have never had anything damaged that was packed inside my shoes.

I like to save up trial size toiletries for travel, but you can also buy these just before the trip if you aren’t pinching pennies.

You can save space and reduce the weight of your bags by limiting your toiletries.  You don’t have to take every lipstick and eyeshadow you own. Pick a color of each that goes with everything and leave the rest behind.  I like my hairdryer better than the ones the hotels provide but I can make do with their dryer for a week or so ond not lug mine around. Besides, if you are going out of the country there is a good chance yours won’t work there anyway.  

I save the little tubes of toothpaste, floss and the toothbrush the dentist gives to me when I have my cleanings for travel.  They are the right size for a trip up to ten days and if there is a smidgen left when it is time to go home I can throw out what is left with only a little guilt about being wasteful.

Leave fragrances at home.  Besides that you don’t want to risk having a bottle of cologne break or explode inside your bag the people seated around you may have allergies and will be glad they don’t have to breathe in the perfume you love.

Make sure you have the necessary documents, passport, government issued ID, plane tickets…then go through your wallet and remove unnecessary cards.  Two credit cards at most. If your wallet is lost or stolen it is much easier to cancel and replace two cards than it is 15.

I recommend a small to medium cross body bag while traveling.  It frees up your hands to deal with luggage and is less tempting to pick pockets and purse snatchers.

A flipbelt holds more than an old fashioned fanny pack and is 100x cooler and much more secure.

Sometimes I opt for a tour package rather than staying in the same place for the entire vacation.  This fall I will finally see the colors of New England. It will be my first journey to this part of the country and I want to take in as much as I can in the eight days. By booking a guided tour I only have to fly to Boston International and then someone else will drive the luxury bus, ferry and train while I relax. This also means that what ever luggage I take will move with me every day as I travel Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. There will be no lemon this trip! I will take a slightly larger than carry on size bag to check and my carry-on will be a back pack.  They are super handy for this kind of travel because I can have my journal, snacks (limited quantity), water bottle (empty of liquid for the plane but flavor packs such as Crystal Light tucked inside) and other comfort items, including a compressed travel pillow while leaving room for whatever I decide to buy along the way. The backpack can go along with me when I explore the towns and sites and I will still have both hands free. A small combination lock (TSA approved) helps deter pick-pockets but my credit cards, ID and cash will either be in a cross body bag or my flip belt.

Not familiar with a flip belt? Runners use them to hold things like keys, lip balm, ID and more.  You can purchase one from a specialty store or online from any number of places. They can be worn over or under your clothes (for those that are trying to not look like a tourist).

Finally, check out the pictures above which show three plus days worth of clothes, carefully folded and sealed up in compressed bags.

Bon Voyage, Happy Trails and Godspeed, until we meet again. Please share your packing hacks or a few lines about your favorite vacation spot.

Thank you to those that graciously provided pictures; Anastasia Ostapovych, Nicole Harrington, Jason Leung and yours truly, Suzanne Pogue.


  1. Great tips. I am an over-packer as well! I so enjoy reading your blog on Sunday.
    Can”t wait for one in early August.



  2. So you’re the person who had the overhead bins so stuffed I couldn’t put a soft sided briefcase in them..

    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device


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