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Packing for short(ish) trips

In the past six weeks, I’ve traveled to Denver, northwest Arkansas, Portland, and Italy, all in varying lengths of time, yet on each trip, I’ve heard the same statement over and over: “Wow—is that all you’ve packed?”

I’ve found that barring a few degrees’ separation of weather and season, I tend to pack the same clothes for just about anywhere (in fact, for some of these trips I never even bothered unpacking in between). A few basic separates, all matching, and I call it good. And everything fits in a carry-on backpack.

Everyone wants to know what and how we’re packing for our round-the-world trip, and I’ll show you soon—but in the meantime, I thought I’d share what I like to pack for a basic trip, whether it’s a weekend in the next city over or for a week in Italy.

First, a few packing rules.

1. No one cares what you wear as much as you do.

When you believe this, packing becomes insanely easier. Remember that time you were on that one trip and that one person wore that one outfit? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Not only do other people not really care what you wear, so long as it’s appropriate, but people flat-out don’t even remember.

Don’t be afraid to dress simply, dress repeatedly, and dress in what you like best, because that’s what you’ll enjoy wearing most. Dress for the occasion and the location, yes. But beyond that, don’t sweat what other people think.

2. Quality over quantity.

Back in my younger days, I’d prefer five almost-nice shirts over one perfectly-fitting one. My, how times have changed. Pack the stuff you love, what fits you best, and what you’d wear in your normal life.

People often fear underpacking, sure they’ll need that one extra shirt, but nine times out of ten, the opposite holds true. Stick with your tried-and-true, love-how-you-look-and-feel favorites, and bring some laundry soap. Rinse and repeat.

3. Go capsule.

Pack shirts, tops, and accessories that all work together. Yes, this takes practice and a bit of trial and error, but after awhile, you’ll get the hang of it. Called a “capsule wardrobe,” when you stick to basics in your favorite colors, you’ll be surprised how many different outfits you can create.

4. Look decent.

You don’t always have to pack a little black dress and heels, but err on the side of overdressed over underdressed, because there’s not much more uncomfortable than wishing you looked more put together than you are. Americans are known for looking casual, too, so this holds especially true if you’re traveling internationally.

This doesn’t mean fancy, mind you. I’m not fancy. But I make sure my clothes are relatively wrinkle-free and up-to-trend, decently-accessorized, and generally thoughtful.

tips for packing light on short trips

My basic packing list

This is more or less what I packed for all four trips I’ve taken this summer, from four days in Denver to twelve days in Italy—everything wrinkle-free, all easily packable:

• basic black pull-on dress
• black pull-on travel skirt (love the hidden pocket)
• patterned pull-on maxi skirt
• thin shorts to wear under the dress or skirt, or for sleeping
• pull-on Bermuda shorts (these are the best; super-fast drying)
• black travel pants
• skinny jeans
• dolman shirt (much more comfortable during travel than a regular shirt)
• regular t-shirts (about three)
• button-down blouse
• cardigan
• form-fitting camisole
• wire-free bras (two)
• travel underwear (four)
• one pair of socks (mostly for cold airplanes and hotel rooms)
• swimsuit
• pajama pants and tank top, for sleeping
• various slip-on shoes (about three, except for the weekend trips—then I only took two)
• simple, inexpensive necklaces in varying lengths (about three)
• one gold and one silver pair of earrings
• sunglasses
• lightweight scarf

Along with my simple toiletries, laundry soap, foldable travel purse, laptop, phone, Kindle, earbuds, and cords, this is about it. And so far, this list hasn’t let me down.

(Look for a post soon with more details about the why behind some of these items.)

My favorite travel bag in the world

Tom Bihn recently sent us some gear, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with their Tri-Star bag (along with all the other little organizing bags that fit inside). I’ve never had a bag so well made—I seriously think this bag will keep up with me the rest of my life.

My favorite travel bag is the Tom Bihn Tri-Star

This video shows how the bag works:

I especially dig their Travel Tray for holding my cords; because it stands upright, I can keep my cords in one place while using them. It’s hard to explain, so trust me here—all my cords stay coiled inside while I pull out the end to plug and go. Super helpful in crowded spaces like airports. Brilliant.

Use a Tom Bihn Travel Tray

Kyle and I might take a set of Aeronaut bags from Tom Bihn on our round-the-world trip (depending on if they’re big enough). Hooray for ethically-made, beautifully-made travel gear!

The packing list above also includes my core essentials for this next year, adding just a few more items. But really, there’s not much more.

Keep packing simple, I say. Travel is so much more fun that way.

(Affiliate links used)

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30 Comments

  1. Sarah m

    We do the same–just fill a backpack and go minimal. It’s such a hassle to check baggage. I honestly think the last time I did was over a decade ago. I just recently came across these under-the-dress shorts, and I’ve heard good reviews! http://www.jockey.com/catalog/product/mini-skimmies-slipshort

    Sarah M

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Nice! May have to check those out.

      And honestly, I used to be a bag-checker until the past year or so. I never did that gate-check thing; I figured if I was gonna bother packing enough stuff to not bring it on, I’d rather the airline deal with it throughout the airport. But I think having the right gear helps tremendously for packing light in a carry-on, along with plain ol’ experience and trial and error. I feel like after years and years of travel, I’m finally getting the hang of packing just the right amount. 🙂

      • Sarah M

        The gate-check thing would always happen to us by accident. We’d pack our backpacking packs, (so…not just an ordinary backpack size) and squeeze them down so they’d fit in that ‘example size’ at the airline desk. Once we got on the plane, though, which was usually just 3 seats across (we lived in the midwest–smalllll airports), we’d have to gate check it because it wouldn’t end up actually fitting in the overhead bins. It is very nice to just grab your bag and go! We just got used to the ease of it.

  2. Stephanie S

    Perfectly timed! I’m packing for a 3-day weekend trip for myself and my 2 daughters. I feel like I pack pretty minimally; it’s the kids who always seem to have so much. They’re 2 and 5, so I’m hoping the amount of stuff lessens as they get older.

  3. Seth

    I really like point #2 and could not agree more. I’ve nearly cut my wardrobe down by 1/2 and only kept quality(ish) stuff that matches well. Sure it lasts longer, but it also cuts down the number of decisions I have to make in a day. I like less decisions. 🙂

    Great advice here.

  4. Marie Leduc

    Capsule Wardrobing all the way!
    I live on this principle every day, not just for travel.
    I sell Jockey Person to Person, comfortable, stylish ladies’ wear designed around capsules. You really don’t need many clothes, just clothes you can wear many ways. Check out our collection at http://www.myjockeyp2p.ca/marieleduc to see our capsule concept, which we call a style solution.
    Great bag-I’m going to check those out!
    Marie

  5. Amanda Criss

    This is such a nifty and helpful post, Tsh! We travel a lot, and I always feel so scattered and unorganized. I love your ideas and your clothing suggestions. Thank you!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      So glad it’s helpful, Amanda!

  6. Heather Ledeboer

    Thanks for your advice about which bag you use. This year everyone in our family is getting travel backpacks for their birthday. My husband picked this one http://www.minaal.com/products/minaal-carry-on-bag but I like the Tri-Star that you mention here and it may end up being my birthday choice come October :). It has more front pockets and I prefer the way it opens. His has a rain cover but I am guessing that won’t come in handy very often to be a deal breaker.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes, I’ve heard good things about Minaal! Let me know what he thinks about that one; I’m curious. So far, I’ve been happy with the Tri-Star. 🙂

  7. Library Momma

    Tsh,
    What is the fabric your skirts, travel pants, and skinny jeans made out of? I ask because I have most of the items you listed, but I always feel like when I travel I do look like a wrinkled mess. I am just curious if you made a specific investment in travel cloths? I also think Americans are very hung up on our hair, makeup, and this might sound strange but being overly cleanly. Most Europeans own few but very well made pieces that they wear over and over, and they don’t usually think twice about wearing an item more than one time per week without a formal washing in between. I don’t even travel any more with earrings unless they are a simple post that I can leave in my ear the entire trip, just one little thing not to have to worry about. Love both of your blogs and can’t wait to keep reading about your adventures. Are you blogging from your Kindle? Take care!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes, the skirts and pants are specifically made for travel, so they’re wrinkle-free. I go out of my way to only pack wrinkle-free items, and if I’m in one location longer than a few days, to air it out by hanging.

      And yes, Americans are more hung up on cleanliness, but I find it depends on where in Europe how we compare to hair and makeup. Even when I took time to “do” my hair and makeup in Paris, for instance, I still felt underdressed. 😉

      And we’ll be blogging on the road, but from our MacBook Airs!

      • Library Momma

        I agree, when I was in Paris everyone looked so chic, and like they never had a hair out of place or worked up a sweat, how do Parisian women do that?!

  8. Sharon

    Love this post- thanks for the links, too. Just done with grad school and hoping my family and I will be doing more traveling.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Awesome! Enjoy.

  9. Jennie G

    Do you only pack slip-on shoes?

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yep. But that’s the style of most of the traveling we do—no major hiking or anything.

  10. tacy

    Wow! Only ONE pair of pajamas. Only ONE dress. YOU ARE AMAZING Tsh. This is so.very.inspiring. Imma save a bunch of moolah following this awesome advice, no lie! I buy *way* too many cute pj’s for a person to be normal. I know a few people who do a capsule wardrobe (my sister) and I have so much respect for people who do it well.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Ha! Well, thanks. I get the appeal to cute PJs, but I’ve learned I’d rather have one cute pair and go see the Colosseum. Our finances are limited, so we just choose to channel them towards experiences over things. 🙂

  11. Judy@Mommy Today Magazine

    Great tips!
    I like to travel light these days, but used to pack 2 suitcases full of clothes I would hardly wear. A capsule wardrobe is my go-to staple and mot just for travel, but during the week. It comes in handy when your time poor.

  12. Jennifer

    Your tips are very helpful as I am planning what to pack for our family’s upcoming trip to Ireland this fall. I am determined to keep it simple… traveling with twin nine year olds and an 11 month old will be an adventure. I would love any tips you might have on jet lag… how to deal with it as a family. My husband and I are prepared to go with the flow and have low expectations on how much we will see and do the first few days. I’m looking forward to following along on your family’s upcoming adventures!

  13. Raquel

    Love that bag! I always want to carry on but I usually fail on the toiletries. I can never get everything in that small bag:(

  14. Jamie

    I’d love to see what Kyle packs too! My husband travels a lot and needs some better (not ballooning, but still wrinkle free) options.

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