Every year it’s the same thing…AICI Conference in May and every year, I think very carefully about what to pack and what I’ll be wearing to show who I am and even to enjoy the fashion parade (just a little). This year, I seriously considered bringing a larger suitcase. Then I remembered what I’d been saying every year since I’d been going to Conference. “We teach people how to travel and pack efficiently, how come we don’t do it ourselves?”

My husband could tell you stories about my past lives of over packing, taking way too much stuff, not using even half of it and then trucking it all back with things I’d bought on the trip. Once we even bought a new bag in the Calgary airport because it was cheaper to repack everything than to pay the extra weight costs! Yikes.

Since I’ve been travelling more for business, I’ve discovered that a large suitcase is a pain in the butt. In fact, if I can get away with not checking any bags, I’m a happy camper. I’ve had to learn the hard way to pare down my packing habits to suit my ‘let’s do this as efficiently as possible’ new mindset. I’m working hard to avoid the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ double standard in consulting*.

*Before I get slaughtered by my lovely colleagues who say, ‘Hey, it’s just my style’ and before we jump into the nice and simple (but not necessarily easy) guidelines for travelling carry on, a note on personality style…if you’re a Dramatic personality type that loves the show, or Creative, that loves all the choices or Romantic, who owns more beauty products than clothing (you know who you are, my BFF), you may be especially susceptible to the multiple bags and over packing nightmare.  While I honour your unique personality style and realize you might love to bring a bunch of stuff just to bring the stuff, I challenge you to see if you too can pare down and relieve some of the drama, stress and extra baggage fees.

Okay, here goes – the step by step to travelling with carry-on luggage…

Prepare – get thee to the drugstore and buy one of those little kits that carry all your toiletries in the appropriate sizes. Even if you use a nickel sized dollop of product, one of those small ones will still last about a week or so. If you are going for longer, experiment before going – how little product can you use and still make your skin smooth, your hair behave and your face made up?  Also, try to find one of these kits inside a ready-made single bag too, so you can just whip it out at security.

Decide – here’s where you get a little ruthless. For a week’s trip, you won’t need more than one or two wardrobe modules to get by. That’s one jacket, two bottoms and three tops per module. (6 pieces of clothing). Even if you pack ten pounds of accessories (one of my favourite options), you’ll have plenty of variety. For my most recent trip, I chose clothing that could be easily rolled or folded (and even took some stuff I knew I could iron at the hotel). I also chose items that worked with all the other items in my bag. To be fair, it was hot at the destination, so things were a bit lighter than if I was travelling say, to Edmonton. I also went with a different module structure and chose two sweaters plus the one I wore, four tops plus two tanks for layering and four bottoms. I had to ruthlessly cut one of my favourite jackets because a) it was too bulky and b) it would have been too hot to wear it anyway.  Be ruthless! This combination of pieces gave me almost 48 different outfits I could have worn, way more than I would ever need!

Here’s my shortlist of what I packed in my carry on suitcase:

  1. Light sweater in a taupe weave.
  2. Blue tencel silk jacket.
  3. Taupe/net asymmetrical long tee.
  4. Cream silk flowing top.
  5. Purple/white open shoulder top.
  6. Gray sleeveless top with ruffled front.
  7. Green tank (for layering)
  8. Light lilac tank (for layering)
  9. Blue cotton jersey knee length dress.
  10. Gray cotton jersey maxi dress.
  11. Rose taupe bloomers.
  12. Green satin knee length knickers.
  13. Khaki cotton funky capris.
  14. Gray cotton skirt with zipper detail.
  15. Green wedge sandals.
  16. Pink and taupe leather floral heeled sandals.
  17. Flat pewter gladiator sandals.
  18. Flat tasseled loafer style shoe.
  19. Ten pounds of accessories (scarves, necklaces, bangles, rings, etc.) (okay, maybe not ten…five?)
  20. Makeup and toiletries.
  21. Underwear.
  22. Swimsuit.
  23. Nightwear.


Get packed!

    • Wear your bulkier items for travel. I wore a pink ruffled sweater for travelling (knowing it was the bulkiest thing I had, a gray mullet top in silk jersey and taupe snakeskin patterned skinny capris and comfy walking sandals.
    • Roll, stuff and fold! I packed my shoes first, inside plastic bags. This took up one-quarter of the case. In all the possible spaces in and around the shoes, I wedged my underwear (who cares if that wrinkles?), tank tops, other silky or knit pieces that could stand a little squishing. In the remaining space on that side of the case, I rolled up and stowed the jacket, dresses and other tops that wouldn’t handle squishing as well. On the other side of the case, I packed the paper stuff I would need, plus the remaining bottoms that did better in rolls. I left room for my toiletry case and hair stuff. Over the top layer, I laid out the last pieces. I fastened the inside straps and closed the case easily, knowing that I might need the extra zip out room (my carry on has an extra zipper that allows the case to expand another two inches in width if needed). Voila! Packed!
    • Carry a big purse (or briefcase/backpack) This had room for my laptop, e-reader, a book, passport, a few basic toiletries and my hat/wallet, etc. I also packed a water bottle and some small snacks. If you decide to check your carry-on, you’ll have a few things with you to carry you over. This will give you just two pieces, preferably one that can go over the shoulder, and one you can roll behind you. Ideally, this second piece fits well on top of your rolling carry-on so you can put the whole thing together and handle it with one hand (leaving your other hand free for Starbucks!)

You might be wondering what happened at the other end…I unpacked and only had to iron three pieces. I even shopped on the trip (new pants, platform sandals, silk shirt, denim jacket, flowing top, pink tank and a few extra accessories, not to mention four large bars of my favourite French soap) and I always bring back the conference book, adding an inch or so of paperwork to my luggage.

Did I have to use the zip out then? Only to get the main zipper closed and then I rezipped it so it was the same size on the way back as on the way in (and I wore the platform sandals and denim jacket home, since they were now the bulkiest items!)

I had more than enough choices to wear and was even complimented on my style once or twice! I encourage you to follow the guidelines of Prep, Decide and Pack (roll, stuff, fold and wear) and give it a try for yourself.  If this seems insurmountable, try taking just a little less on your next trip and continue to do so until you too can travel with a carry on. Good luck!