Check a Bag? Hell’s No!

21 Jan

I travel a lot less these days, since I’ve only been working part-time for the past seven months, and before that I was unemployed for a year. But I have traveled a lot in my time, for work and for fun, so I thought it might be helpful to share how I roll.

My #1 rule is: Never Check a Bag. Never. Just don’t do it. Because checking a bag means that you’re okay with never seeing the possessions in that bag ever again. You may think I’m being overly dramatic, but according to, airlines lost 3,000 bags per hour in 2009.

Three thousand. Per hour. That’s insane. If you’re like me, you’re traveling with some of your nicest stuff, because you’re going on some fun weekend vacation, or you’re heading to a work-related tradeshow and you want to look good. I like my stuff. A lot. So I’m sure as hell not taking my chances.

So how do you pack for a week with just one roller bag and your purse/backpack/duffle?

Planning and coordination.

Know what events you’re probably going to be attending, what the weather is like at the other end of your flight, and whether you’ll need to bring any “special” equipment (like a GPS, a computer, or tradeshow crap).

I try to stick within one color family, (like blacks and grays, or browns) mixing in lightweight pops of color when I can. I live in New York City right now, where everyone mostly wears blacks and grays, so this is a little easier for me, but you can do it too. Then I can stick with one or two pairs of shoes, either blacks or browns, depending on the clothes I pick, plus one pair (the heaviest ones) that I wear on the flight.

Here’s how I build my travel wardrobe:

Determine how many days I’ll be gone, and what “special” outfits, if any, that I’ll need. For example’s sake, let’s say a three day, four night trip. For each bottom that I pack, I’ll match two tops with it. So…

  • One pair of regular, run-around jeans. Paired with one short-sleeved top and one long-sleeved top. Or one short-sleeved and a tank and cardigan.
  • One pair of nicer jeans (for dinner out). Paired with a nicer short-sleeved top, etc.
  • One dress. Depending on where you’re going, this can be more casual or more dressy. I try to pick something that matches a cardigan or jacket that I’m already bringing.
  • One nice jacket, blazer or coat, in a neutral color, that can be worn with most of my outfits. This past Christmas, I coordinated everything with a camel-colored blazer that I wore every other day. If the weather was a little cooler, I added a scarf. Very Parisian and pulled-together looking, if I say so myself.
  • Two or three extra lightweight tees or camisoles in solid colors, in case I spill on something or it’s colder than I expected.
  • Pajamas. And socks, in case the hotel room, or my relative’s house, has cold floors.
  • A bathing suit and wrap, if I’m so inclined. (I rarely am.)
  • One or two pairs of shoes. Again, think about what you’re packing and where you’re going. I always err on the side of comfort and versatility, so I normally pack shoes that can be worn with several outfits and that are comfortable enough for a good couple hours’ worth of walking. No five-inch hooker shoes. Sorry, I’m just not that kind of girl.
  • One pair of flip flips that get tucked into the outside pocket of my roller bag. They take up almost no room and they’re remarkably handy for slumming around your hotel room or running around for a few hours.
  • Enough underwear and bras to get me through the trip. My rule is a fresh pair of underwear for each day plus one, and half as many bras. I alternate wearing them, so with two bras, I can go four days.
  • My cosmetics and toiletry cases. I take all the liquid items and put them in a Ziploc for my purse, so this is usually the powdered and solid stuff, the feminine items, the Q-tips, etc. I use those freebie contacts lens cases for all my little face and hair things, like moisturizer, makeup remover, styling cream, and zit cream. One thing per little eyeball case. You can fit a surprising amount of creams in those little cases. I label the backs of them with a Sharpie so I don’t accidentally try to wash my face with styling cream.

I never pack a hair dryer. Any decent hotel has one, and I’m sure your mom or sister or friend can lend you one if you’re staying with them. I have stick-straight hair, so I don’t do anything fancy when I’m traveling. I do have a travel set of curlers, but they’re usually more trouble than they’re worth, so I don’t normally pack them.

If I’m staying in a hotel, I don’t pack shampoo, conditioner, body lotion or soap either. They’ll have them. So the only things that go in my Ziploc bag are: contact solution, eye drops, toothpaste, foundation, lip gloss, a razor, deodorant, and my lotion-filled contacts cases.

I also never pack workout gear. For one, I’m not a workout person. And number two, if I’m on vacation with CityBoy, he’s going to drag me around to every somewhat-interesting historical site around. So I’m getting plenty of exercise just walking.

I lay everything out while I’m packing, so I can see everything that’s going in my bag. I usually use our couch for this. This helps me to see if I’m over- or under-packing and to make sure everything coordinates.

Here’s how it goes in the bag:

Those two plastic-wrapped things in the bottom corners of my bag are my shoes. I’m usually traveling to California or somewhere else warm, so these are usually sandals and walking shoes. I flip them so that the soles are facing outside, one shoe up-side and the other down-side, and then I smoosh them together. I wrap them in plastic bags to keep them from smelling up my clothes and to compress them into as small a package as possible.

All of my other lightweight clothes, tees, dresses, pajamas, get rolled up into two-piece rolls and then get fitted, jigsaw-puzzle-style, into the first layer of my bag. Any nicer clothes (ie, anything that will wrinkle) gets laid on top in neat layers.

My crazy animal print cosmetic case and any other toiletries (or electronics I’m not going to use on the plane) go on the top half of my bag, like so, with another plastic bag on top to hold everything in place:

I find the extra plastic bag on top helps to ensure that none of your stuff is going to get snagged when you zip up your bag, plus it’s much more presentable-looking if you get searched by airport security. And it’s another layer of protection in case it’s wet and rainy where you’re going.

Underwear and bras get tucked into the side pockets of my bag:

As you can see, I always travel with extra books, so I lay these out on top of my bag to save on lugging them in my purse.

This is how my bag looks fully packed:

It is one stuffed tamale, and god help anyone who gets beaned in the head when I’m lifting this out of the overhead bin, but at least my stuff stays with me. Every step of the way.

In case you’re wondering, the outside pockets hold any magazines I’m reading on the plane (in the long pocket – or my netbook if I’m traveling with a computer) and my Ziploc bag of liquid toiletries in the top pocket (once I’m through security – who wants to keep that potentially leaky stuff in your purse?). I also carry extra tissues and an eye mask.

As soon as I get to my destination, I unpack everything. This helps fluff out anything that’s been crushed en route, and I feel more “at home.”

This is part of my usual traveling outfit:

A lightweight coat or jacket, a cardigan or long-sleeved shirt with matching tee, and a cute scarf. I wear the most comfortable pair of jeans I have onboard, as well as the heaviest pair of shoes I need for my trip.

You have to have a scarf. It helps add “pop” to your outfits and doubles as a blanket/pillow inflight.

As for jewelry, I wear simple studs and a watch (which I tuck into my purse as I go through security) while traveling (I have to know what time it is), and then a few extra earrings and necklaces that I tuck into a box with my bras in my roller bag.

In my purse, I always have: ID and flight info, iPhone and charger, wallet, cosmetics case, a book, sunglasses, snacks, tissues, lotion, eye drops, and whatever else I can’t fit in my roller. If I’m coming from California, I usually have some homemade fried rice courtesy of my mom in a little plastic container with a screw-on lid (no spills here, sister!). She is an excellent packer and taught me everything I know.

Now that I’ve gotten a Nook for Christmas, I can cut down on even more stuff. I know it’s a little anal-retentive, but you have no idea how much pleasure I take when I zip off the plane with my roller bag and purse and head straight for the exit doors. No baggage area for me. Which adds a few precious hours, and a lot more well-dressed enjoyment, to my travels.

You have any tips or suggestions? Bring ’em on.

Rock on, people.


One Response to “Check a Bag? Hell’s No!”

  1. KimberlyRose April 7, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    That is such a good idea about using lens cases for your toiletries. I’d never have thought of that, but I’m going to make good use of that tip!

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