10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great- Part 2

Last week, I started my list of top 10 tips and tricks for traveling light. I proposed five major considerations:

  • Destination: The Culture and Climate
  • Activities: The What
  • One Carry On: A Single Bag
  • Capsule Wardrobes: Oh, The Clothes!
  • Underwear: The Nitty Gritty

This week, I’ve got five more tips and tricks for you, Dear Reader. So, without further delay, let’s get back to packing!

6. How to Pack: Packing Cubes, Rolling, and Travel Size Containers

10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great

Packing Cubes: The Best Invention Ever!

Packing cubes may well be the travel world’s best invention. Ever. Basically, packing cubes are small individual pouches that act as your “drawers” in your backpack or suitcase.

Mom and Dad get 3 packing cubes each. One cube gets the undies and socks. Another gets the tops and the third gets the bottoms. Some people pack a cube based on an outfit.

If traveling for more than 2 weeks, we add a fourth cube. We use the fourth cube for host and hostess gifts, for example, or if there is a fancy event (like the Kiki Hamann party we went to), then the fourth cube gets the fancy stuff.

These cubes are a huge space saver. You only get to take what fits in the cubes. This avoids taking that extra t-shirt “just in case.” The cubes also help keep your items under control: you only need to pull open one “package” instead of your whole suitcase to get to what you are seeking.

To really take advantage of cubes and ensure you are not wasting any packing space, roll your clothes. It’s a great trick for maximizing space. Rolling clothes also helps keep wrinkles at bay and make packing (especially in the cubes) a breeze. Place the clothing item on a flat surface, fold in any sleeves ( if a top), and then simply roll the item into a tiny tight “sausage.”

Hint: For bracelets and watches, use the rolled clothing and place the bracelets or watch around them. This saves space and  stops your bracelets (or hair bands) from getting tangled.

If it isn’t packing too many clothes, then it will be toiletries that will get you into trouble. Nine times out of 10, you can get what you need duty free or on location, so why pack it? Granted, it may be different if you are going to a third world country, but generally, you can make do with much less than you think.

You may have a really special face cream you love, or like Mom, a hair product you can’t live without. Identify your non-negotiables, transfer them to small travel size bottles, and just pickup the rest once you’re there. Sunscreen? Body lotion? Shampoo? Honestly, most of this is just a waste of valuable packing space.

10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great

Travel Containers ROCK!

For what you do take, reduce the size! Travel size containers are a marvel.  Mom loves the entire range by human gear.  She has done a lot of traveling and over the years, these are, hands down, no contest, her recommendation. They are the best she has ever used. She especially loves the little suction cup on the larger bottles. So often – especially in Europe – bathrooms have no counter space at all. Being able to use the mirror or shower to suction her bottles to has made life easier more than once!

Human gear bottles are also very flexible and have no corners. This means you can always squeeze out the very last drop. And because the opening is larger than the usual teenie travel bottle opening, you don’t need to use any messy funnel or anything like that (I mean REALLY?) to fill the bottles up. You can also get your finger in to scoop product out if needed.

Don’t think a travel size container will last 3 or more weeks? You would be surprised how little product you actually need. On a day to day basis, we tend to over use products. Don’t believe me? Read the instructions on your shampoo bottle and tell me you are not using at least twice the recommended amount. I thought so.

Hint: Still worried you might run out? Here is a simple way to test things out: if you are travelling for 3 weeks, transfer all your products to the small travel containers three weeks before departure. Now, at home, use your travel containers. This way you can confirm if you have enough and ease your mind. If you do run out, you can toss in a supplemental travel bottle for topping up.

As for makeup, keep it down to a minimum. Ladies, you are beautiful as you are and if you must wear makeup all the time, then treat yourself to a nice brand new compact pallet that has everything you need. Almost every cosmetic brand makes one. Keep it in neutral tones for travel. Mom enjoys a super simple routine when she’s traveling: four basic tones of eyeshadow, mascara and lip-gloss.  If you have a fancy event, just get a makeup artist to handle that and leave the bags of stuff at home.

Hint: If you can afford it, ladies, eyelash extensions last up to 3 weeks (4 if you’re careful!) and have many advantages. They don’t run, smudge or give you raccoon eyes. And, you don’t need to pack your mascara. You roll out of bed or come out of the ocean with perfect long lashes!

A Word on Pharmaceuticals – This is Not Good!

Instead, make a list and take a photo with your phone.

And put the pharmacy in the palm of your hand!


7. Accessories: All That Little Stuff Adds Up! 

Scarves, a stylish pair of sunglasses, a fun headband, jewelry and a hat will often give you that little extra splash of fun and color you are craving, but you have to be smart about your choices. This goes for men too!

Find a hat that can be packed easily. This is especially true of a summer hat. Mom loves large brimmed hats and found one that you can roll up and put in a suitcase. In the winter, choose a fabric hat over a stiffly shaped hat. You want to be able to shove the hat in your carry-on once at the airport and on the plane.

Make sure any jewelry – necklaces, earring, etc. – work with ALL of your items of clothing. For example, ladies, the length and color of your necklace has to go with all of the necklines of your tops and dresses. Also, your accessories should also be interchangeable. It works if your metallic accents all coordinate. For example, if you bring a silver belt, make sure your earrings and rings are also silver. Men, check that watch, rings and belt buckles coordinate. White shoes = white belt. Brown shoes = brown belt. And so on.

Together and Tangle Free!

Hint: Want to keep your jewellery from getting separated?  For matching up earrings, use buttons. Use the button hole the way you would your earlobe piercing. One button: two earrings. You will always find BOTH earrings at the same time!

Are your necklaces always getting tangled? No problem! Get some straws!  Just open the chain, feed one end of it down inside the straw, draw the other end of the chain back up the straw on the outside and close. (Leave the pendant on.) The straw will keep the chain from tangling with itself or others. Simple! Same for link and chain bracelets: cut the straw in half and apply the same technique as for necklaces.

Ladies, ladies, ladies: the accessory that often takes up way too much space? Purses. Only one purse! Make sure it can go from day to night and coordinates with all your clothing items.  Mom has a lovely wallet that is so elegant it can double up as an evening clutch in a pinch.

Finally, it’s all in colour with accessories. Although your clothing can focus on black and other neutrals, remember that your accessories should not. Mom believes that choosing a metallic (silver, pewter, gold, copper) is your best choice for travel. Or if you have a signature color, that too is an option.

Hint: If blending in is important to you, keep these things in mind: a backpack (for men or women) is not an appropriate accessory for most of Europe. A backpack is considered an option for day-to-day city use only in North America and Australia. Using a backpack elsewhere will peg you as a foreigner – not just the worst example of “American tourist” but also a target for pick-pockets. Running shoes, baseball caps, clothing with sports logos, hiking and yoga clothes are similar fashion and safety faux-pas.

8. The Big Question: Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!

This is often the toughest choice for most people. Yes, even men! What shoes to take? You want comfort and style and “packability.” Is that possible?

The greatest tip Mom shared for ladies is, go metallic. Metallics go with everything. Instead of one pair of shoes for light clothing and another pair for your dark clothing, metallic shoes will work just fine for any color scheme!

Mom wears a lot of  “mile high” heels during her day to day life. She loves the way they make her legs look. She loves shoes – not as much as she loves me, but sometimes, I think it’s a pretty close second!

10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great

Exhibit A – Mom’s Summer Heels!


10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great

Exhibit B – Dad’s Got the Shoe Bug Too!


But when heading off on vacation, leave the heels at home!  A gorgeous pair of silver, pewter, copper or gold ballet slippers looks fantastic – casual with a pair of jeans or dressy later in the day with a skirt. A pair of metallic strap sandals will look great with a skirt or shorts. Skin tone or a signature colour is also a good option. It’s a bonus if your shoes have a bit of detail. Mom’s sandals have some crystal bits on them, which makes it easy to dress them up for a nice dinner out.

A pair of flip flops is a good idea for the beach, but not for walking about in Europe. Walking European streets in flip flops is frowned upon, especially if visiting churches and museums. If taking flip flops for beach wear, aim for metallics (again) if you want your flip flops to go with more than one swimsuit. (Taking two suits for a beach or diving vacation is a good idea so that a dry one is always available.) Men can keep colours for summer travel shoes close to their skin tone.  A pale beige or tan is always a good option. In any case, avoid rubber flip flops: even if vacationing where flip flops are acceptable in town, rubber flip flops don’t go from beach to town so well.

Bottom Line: If you plan on walking a lot, bring appropriate shoes. Do, however, remember that only in North America is the running shoe considered an option for walking around town or wearing in public. Elsewhere, running shoes are only considered appropriate if you are at a gym or actually … running.  So what do you do? Dad wears a nice pair of dress Puma’s when walking around Europe (one pair in white for hot months and another pair in brown for colder months). Mom has a comfortable pair of ballet slippers – in silver – that are actually intended for walking. She also has a pair of metallic blue dress Pumas. Tieks are a fabulous option for the ladies. Mom has her eye on the pewter coloured pair!

Hint: If you are really hiking (such as the mountains of Nepal), then make sure you’ve broken those boots in completely before your trip. And wear your boots on the plane. This will save room in your carry-on.  Those suckers are heavy and take up a lot of space!

Mom’s Summer Travel Shoe Contenders!


What Went to Greece and Bulgaria! (3 week trip!)


9. Electronics: A Wiry Mess!

Once upon a time, other than the camera, the bipeds never packed any electronics. Unfortunately, the reality is that this is becoming harder to do and sometimes you do need certain items. Especially when you write a travel blog.

Multi Plug & USB

Hint: Many small hotels (especially in Europe ) offer only one outlet in a room, and that outlet is usually taken up by the lamp on the nightstand. So try and avoid anything you will need to plug in. Consider investing in a multi-plug and USB unit for the electronics you do need to take.

Most hotels have hairdryers, but check the hotel’s website or call ahead. If you must bring a hairdryer, invest in a miniature version. Same thing applies for flat irons to straighten your hair. But honestly, Mom suggests you have a little fun and let your hair be.  It’s only a vacation and not a fancy event.  Now might be a good time to try a new look.  Mom always lets her hair be curly on vacation and just lets it air dry. She realized a while back that the only person who thinks you need super styled hair is … well, you!

Think about it: if you plan on spending your days on the beach , it might not really matter all that much what you do with your hair. A pretty fabric head band or hat can freshen up your look in no time. So really think it over. If you have a special event on a specific night, just go to a hair salon and get them to wash and blow dry your hair for you instead of packing all you’ll need. Make the trip to a salon part of the luxury of being on vacation.  There is room for vanity but be smart about it!

As for computers, smart-phones, tablets and so on, try to bring as few as possible. Every item also comes with an  annoying cable and charger  and these all take up space. Instead of weighing yourself down with all the gadgets, ask yourself if you really need each one. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need an item. I can’t tell you how often we have heard people lament bringing multiple cameras or both laptops and iPads only to realize they needed only one of the two … or three or four.

And here’s a concept: UNPLUG! Spend your time on the beach, talking to people and relaxing. Get an old fashioned notepad and use pen and paper for a change instead of a computer.  Listen to the ocean instead of music. Engage in conversations, read a good book, sketch or take long walks with your dog rather than watch a movie. Connect with your environment and disconnect from your electronics. It will do you good – we promise.

If you will really need access to a computer, find out if your hotel has a business center. If they do, that may be the only computer you will need to just check email. Or you might find an Internet café (or friend) available for a little computer time. If your destination does not provide you with computer access, then consider a Netbook or iPad instead of a laptop.

And if you are taking some electronics, remember that the country you are visiting may have different electrical voltage and a different shape plug. This means that bringing electronics also requires a converter/adapter for all your chargers. We bring extra memory cards and a small two-in-one adapter/converter to re-charge the camera batteries. Other than that? We are happy to switch off.

Hint: A good place to pack those chargers and adapters is inside your shoes. And for everything else, bags with built in compartments (like the Kelly Moore bags) are a must!

10.  Your Canine: Don’t Make It A Dog’s Breakfast!

It is surprising to me how much “stuff” people will pack for their dog. A multitude of outfits may well be something you enjoy on a day to day basis at home, but the reality is your dog likely does not care if he or she has to wear the same harness for a week or two.  Apply all the rules above to what you pack for your pet, even if your pet is a fashion hound! Don’t let the fact that the items are small encourage you to bring more than what you need.

I have written about this before and I encourage you to use my Canine Packing List to help you remember what you might need to pack for your dog depending on your destination. But bear in mind that the list is intended to be a guide – feel free to thin things out (but not add on more)!

Hint: As a rule, for both humans and canines, lay out everything you want to bring and then … remove one third!

In the end, Mom can share all her tips and tricks with you but you have to want to travel light for any of the tricks to work.  Too often, vanity (yes … vanity!), insecurities or just lack of experience makes people bring far more than what they need.  We also live in a society that values abundance, oft-changing fashion and commercialism.  This makes us want to keep up with the Joneses and worry about looking the part.   All Mom can say to this is, Please, try not to fall into those traps!

Do you have any tips and tricks you want to share? Please do in the comments below!

16 Comments on “10 Tips to Packing Light and Still Look Great- Part 2

    • There are different ones out there. I will have to get back to you on the brand we use – drawing a blank this moment. They are about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. Best thing ever and this trip really confirmed it. Especially on the sailboat! With everything always in motion, the cubes had the added benefit of keeping our things safe even when out of the backpack and onto the shelves in our tiny closet!

  1. Yay for part two!
    I will get the packing cubes and leave the laptop at home…..

  2. Great info again!!!
    We will try to pack light for our trip but it is going to be a long trip and will be driving, in a large pick up truck. We have the advantage of a bed cover and will pack a rubbermaid tote with extra jeans, jackets, and shoes and each have one bag to take into the hotel each night.

  3. We love the packing cubes from http://www.ebags.com and they come in so many colors and sizes. I am writing a post about them now with a giveaway. I absolutely do not travel without packing cubes. They save the day and all our stuff. 2 grownups, 3 kids and very long trips. I love your other tips, especially the one about necklaces and the tip not to wear flip flops some places.

    • Oooh let me know when and where your giveaway is and I’ll share the link!

      And I am glad you found something interesting! and WOA!! that is a lot of packing cubes I bet!

  4. I did it! Thank you Montechristo.
    One adult, one teenager, one dog and one carry on bag for two weeks in Germany. Nobody missed or noticed that we had only two pairs of shoes, one of them flip flops that went in the bin for the whole time. Shoes are usually my downfall….no crazy Miami international luggage carousel for us!
    You are a great inspiration .

  5. I love the idea of using the buttons to keep earring sets together, and also the straws to keep necklaces untangled. You’re right – silver, gold, or pewter are wonderful versatile choices for shoes, especially! A very well thought article! Thank you!

  6. Pingback: Tips For Traveling With Your Dog!

  7. Hi Monte,
    I read this post before, but I just read it again just for the hell of it. 🙂 Ever since I met you three, I have been trying to minimize my baggage, and I am doing MUCH better now. I actually always lay out way too much stuff while packing, but on the last trip, I removed half of the stuff. I was so proud of myself. Even that was way too much stuff….again. I have not used some of the stuff at all, and I thought I was doing so well before the trip! LOL…well, I won’t stop trying to improve for sure. One day…ONE DAY….I shall become a packing expert as your three are.
    All the best,
    Michaela, Oliver, & Chloe

    P.S.: the toiletries and shoes are the worst for me

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