Six Things I Learned From My Packing Challenge

It is time to start packing for another adventure.  Anyone wondering whether I am now a firm believer in One Carry On (OCO) packing?

The short answer is–it depends.  My one month packing experiment taught me a thing or two and  I am happy to share everything I learned.

  1. Climate matters.  Big time. OCO is much easier when the weather is consistently warm because those clothes are SMALLER and lighter weight.
    It gets challenging when the weather at the destination is changeable.  Sometimes warm, sometimes cold, like our upcoming spring trip to Yellowstone.  Yes, yes, I know. Dress in layers.   Still, when the weather is expected to fluctuate between 33 and 75 degrees, with the possibility of thunderstorms and even snow, it becomes tricky.  I can wear my waterproof hiking boots on the plane.  My parka?  I don’t think so.
  2. Self knowledge is powerful.  I learned I really hate doing laundry in hotel bathrooms.  It wasn’t bad during my two weeks in Portugal, because I was in the same hotel the entire time and had my own room.  So, draping my underwear from every available surface didn’t inconvenience anyone else.  When I met up with my husband in Spain, however, and shared space, I was glad that I had used the laundry service in Beja, arriving with everything clean, so the need to do laundry was limited.
    Another insight?  At home, I wash clothes far more than I need to.  Because I have access to a washer and dryer, I wear something once, then toss it into the laundry basket.  Why? It isn’t as if I spend my days mud wrestling or cleaning sewage ditches.   Okay, work out clothes and underwear are “one wear” items, but my black travel pants?  I discovered I could easily wear them two or three times with no ill effects.  Better for my clothes, and much better for the environment.  I’m now doing “multiple wears” at home.
  3. Traveling solo is different from traveling with a group.  If I am on my own, as I was getting from Portugal to Spain–by bus, plane and taxi, then OCO makes sense.  The hassle of doing laundry is much less than the hassle of lugging a bigger bag when moving from one mode of transportation to another.  If I am on a group tour, or traveling with family, then once again, it depends.  Why carry on, if you have to wait for others held up at baggage claim?  On our group tours, our bags magically move from outside our hotel doors to the van or bus.  So easy.  On family trips, I have my personal baggage handler, who never expects a tip.  Still, if we are only spending two or three nights per hotel, it is so much easier if your wardrobe choices are limited.
  4. The airline may make the decision for you. Just because you PLAN to carry on, doesn’t mean the airline will ALLOW you to do so.  If the flight is too full, the airline may force you to gate check your bag.  Bonus discovery–if you gate check, your bag is one of the last ones on the plane and one of the first ones rotating around that baggage carousel.  Not a bad deal.  I’m not sure how it works with connecting flights.  THAT could be problematic, especially on international flights, if your bag is not checked all the way through.
  5. Planned activities are an important factor.  Will I need a “dress up” outfit?  If so, then I will need the appropriate footwear.  Sneakers or Keens just don’t look right with a dressy outfit.  Normally I limit my footwear to two pairs (one worn on the plane, the other packed-and jammed full of small “stuff”).  If I need something dressy, sandals are a good option, don’t take up space and can sometimes be good for walking.  And yes, I either use the hotel’s shower cap or a plastic bag from the fruits and vegetable section of the grocery store to protect my clothes from my shoes.
    Will we be using a pool or going to the beach?  Fortunately flip flops don’t take up much room, and bathing suit coverups can sometimes do double duty.
  6. Packing skills can make or break OCO.   There are those who swear by packing cubes.  I’m not one of them.  I find that zip lock bags work better for me.  I can see what’s inside, the bags weigh next to nothing, and they can be smooshed to fit into odd spaces.
    A combo of rolled and flat methods allow me to maximize space, with small things tucked into any available space.
    For long trips, I find compression bags helpful (except I seem to keep losing the little closure thingy.)  Sometimes kneeling on my zip lock bag achieves the same effect.
    I LOVE my hanging toiletry bag, especially when traveling with my guy.  The hanging bag allows me to let him have the space by the sink, which is usually too small for two.  BUT if I am doing OCO, I will give up my beloved hanging toiletry bag, and revert to zip locks in a plastic grocery bag, which I can hang over the bathroom door knob.  (Most of the time I use cloth grocery bags, but for the few occasions when I end up with plastic, I save them for this purpose.)

So, there you have it.  Before each trip the pros and cons are balanced.  Sometimes one carry on makes sense–and other times, my large duffle does the trick.   How about you?   any packing insights you want to share?

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I am intensely curious, with a spirit of adventure that is tempered by my very strong aversion to anything with potential to cause pain. I love travel, photography, reading, gardening, yoga, music and propelling myself through space (biking, dancing, walking, dancing while walking). I've never considered a lack of proficiency in any of the previous activities to be a hindrance, counting on abundant enthusiasm to make up for my shortcomings.

10 thoughts on “Six Things I Learned From My Packing Challenge”

  1. You get away with bringing just two pairs of shoes???!!! I’m in awe. Shoes are the most difficult part of packing for me. Like you, I always wear my heaviest pair on the plane, but for sure I have at least two additional pairs in my luggage (and more if I can sneak them by my husband). And a hanging toiletry bag… yes! I can’t believe that it took me so long to buy one of those.

    Have a marvelous time on your trip!


    1. I’ve never been able to indulge in cute shoes because my feet are so bad. I always have to go with comfort. Sadly, I was wearing “old lady shoes” in my 20’s. I WISH I had to agonize over which shoes best complimented my travel outfits! I’m jealous of anyone with the shoe “problem “.


  2. Such good tips. I’ve been reading your blog and trying to catch up on older blogs, you are truly and inspiration in every possible way. Steve and I live vicariously through yours and Mike’s adventures.


  3. Now you have it! The answer to packing for a trip is “it depends”. There is no one size fits all… It all depends on how many ‘seasons’ you’ll have to be in, what your modes of transportation are going to be, whether you’ll have to get ‘dressy’, etc. Each trip is unique.

    And packing cubes are my latest love! I’m amazed at how much I can get into them. When we were in France for 3 weeks and staying 4 days or longer in each place, it was so easy to lift each cube out and put it in drawers – I just opened the cube I was ready to go. I never actually ‘unpacked’. And they really came in handy in our teeny tiny cruise stateroom in January that had no space at all in the closet. And for some odd AGMA reason I love that they have handles on them!

    And I honestly have never been on an international flight that made people gate check their bags. My educated guess would be that if that ever happened that they would return them at the gate area and not at baggage claim? I dunno…

    Finally (and most importantly) shoes…I have a pair of trusty black flats (almost like ballet slippers but a bit sturdier) that I take if I think I’ll ever have to get a bit dressy. They are compact, take up very little space and go with everything darling….


    1. I saw a travel hint that suggests cutting up old pantyhose (and yes, believe it or not, I have held on to a bag of panty hose from my working days) to use to hold your rolled up clothes together. I tried it out with my parka and I was shocked to see how well it worked out. It was like having a giant rubber band around the parka. So carry on for this trip–but Iceland I will definitely take my duffle, and for that, packing cubes MIGHT make sense. Although the jumbo zip lock functions much the same way.
      My size 9 feel have narrow heels, wide toes, a longer second toe, high arches, a bunion on the OUTSIDE of one foot, and a tendency to develop bone spurs, I have so much trouble finding good, comfortable shoes. I WISH I could find some trusty black flats!


  4. I have nothing new to add because everything I have felt proud of myself for discovering, you already know. Plus some. Packing is any art, one I’m still trying to master. I think part of my problem is when where I live is bone-chilling cold, it’s hard for me to believe where I’m going will be warm.


    1. While I was away, I tried to respond to your comment, and I got a message that my comment could not be posted. That was weird! And it just happened again! After all my efforts to do carry on only, I was forced to gate check every time. It seems United HAS After all my efforts to do carry on only, I was forced to gate check every time. It seems United HAS made the allowable carry on size smaller. 9″ deep – and my bag is 11″ deep, without anything in the side pockets. looks like I’m going to have to use a small duffel whenever I want to be positive my carry on really DOES get carried


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