Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Savvy Packing With Only A Purse

You probably all know by now that no matter how long I'm on the road, I don't check luggage. Everything, from my very complete first-aid kit to my high-performance clothes -- that can take me from the beach to the bar, from walking tours in Istanbul to biking trips in Norway -- goes in my carry-on bag from Mountainsmith. And my personal item is a Mountainsmith fanny pack that converts to a shoulder bag -- it contains my camera, notebook, tape recorder, reading material and so forth.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that, as of August 1, 2010, Spirit Airlines will be charging $45 for a carry-on bag. I was determined to never travel on Spirit. That lasted until I just was forced to buy a ticket on Spirit for an assignment in Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. I was going to be traveling before August, so there was no chance of them hitting me with a carry-on bag charge. But I took this as the opportunity to do a test run: pack everything for a five-night trip in a purse. Yes, you read correctly: a purse.

In August, Spirit will allow you to bring a personal item that measures no bigger than 16"x14"x12" on board for free. To me, that could easily translate into a purse.

And already, there's been plenty of advice in the media on how to pack like a pro.

1. The New York Times provided a slide show showing a flight attendant rolling her clothes into a small carry-on bag. (In the accompanying article in the New York Times, other advice from flight crews included bringing a lot of black items and carefully deciding what you really need on a trip).

2. SmarterTravel recommended:
• wearing clothes with lots of pockets
• packing clothes that don't wrinkle
• forgoing lots of toiletries that you can get at your hotel anyway
• using compression bags

And there are travel writers and bloggers that I admire for, among other things, their savvy packing strategies, like Andrew Evans who recently traveled for 10 weeks by bus from Washington, DC to Antarctica. Here's what he packed.

But my goal was to only carry a purse. I dug out one from my closet that's simply constructed, contains several pockets, is made of almost indestructible material and measures 15"x14"5" so it would work with the Spirit Airlines personal item criteria. And, because, clearly I couldn't get five nights of clothing and accessories into just a purse, I would wear the rest of the clothes on board. It sounds comical, but I was able to do it so successfully that if you were sitting next to me, you'd never know that I was wearing seven tops (plus a vest) and two pairs of pants. Actually, it's not a whole lot different from the many layers of clothing women wore every day in the 18th century. Check out this slide show of how they did it.

Watch my slide show that documents what I packed, what I was wearing when I boarded the plane and the multitude of outfits I had for my five-night trip. (Actually, there were plenty more mix and match options than I provided in the slide show.)




I have to admit that carrying only a purse was quite freeing, because it forced me to be even more thrifty with what I brought, paring everything down to the bare essentials that would still allow me to look somewhat stylish.

Many of the items I packed were wickable, quick drying clothes that didn't wrinkle. Among the pieces of high-tech clothing that I especially depended on are manufactured by: Mountain Hardwear, ExOfficio, SmartWool and Icebreaker which I've blogged about many times before.

Everything I wore was in a neutral color, which makes it easier to mix and match. And the materials were all light-weight. I love the dresses I bought at a small New York City-based boutique called Pookie & Sebastian. No, the fabrics are not high-tech, nor were they made of merino wool, like the Icebreaker dress I adore and blogged about. But the dresses are light weight, they pack small, they don't wrinkle and they paired well with other high-tech items I brought along. Plus, they fit with my color scheme. And, because I love clothes that are convertable, e.g. pants that become shorts or long sleeve shirts that become short sleeve, I especially loved the black dress I packed that transformed into at least three different dresses as well as a blouse that I could wear with my tights.

Another item I can't live without is my XUBAZ, a scarf with hidden pockets -- another item that I've blogged about. It's light weight and works well whether it's warm or cool outside and, because it has pockets, it doubles as a hidden purse, of sorts. After all, who would steal a scarf?

Having a multitude of pockets in my clothes is key to carrying a lot of gear. And I had a total of 18 pockets in the clothing I wore on the plane: 8 pockets in my photo vest, 4 in my scarf, 1 in my Mountain Hardwear hoodie and 5 in my Mountain Hardwear pants. So, in case I wanted to remove some items from my purse and carry them on me, there was plenty of room.

My itty bitty black purse that I packed with my clothes contained my notebook, pens, credit cards, money, and camera. (It has several deep zip compartments that fit all these items.)

The three zip lock bags you see in the slide show were divided this way: one contained liquids such as shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first aid gels/liquids like cortisone cream and anti-itch ointments; one contained makeup (a luxury for me but I had room, so why not), and the third had vitamin supplements plus non-liquid first-aid supplies/toiletries, such as band-aids, blister pads, gauze, toothbrush, and dental floss.

Given that the spring weather in Atlanta and the surrounding areas would be cool at night and warmish during the day, I had layers that would work for almost anything: from hot days to even cold nights. (I carried a small, light weight Mountain Hardwear rain jacket draped over my arm in case of rain -- but this isn't pictured in the slide show.) And, because I'd be running around the cities during the day, visiting museums, parks and gardens and meeting public relations people, and going to nice restaurants and bars at night, I had clothes that worked for all these occasions.

As far as shoes, the only ones I had were the ones on my feet, by Keen and, again, ones I've blogged about before. (I wore them in black, of course.) They're comfortable for lots of walking during the day and they work well at night too.

In case you're wondering if I was hot on the plane wearing seven tops (plus a vest) and two pairs of pants, the answer is no. I'm always cold anyway unless the temperature is above 75 or so.

This was only a test run to see if I could easily get around the Spirit Airline carry-on charge. I don't ever intend to fly on Spirit again -- aside from carry-on fees, their new planes have seats that don't recline at all -- but at least I know that if I'm forced to travel for five nights, in a pinch, a purse makes a great carry-on bag for me.

43 comments:

marthaandme said...

Wow. This is impressive. You don't have a problem carrying pills not in the original bottle? I am always worried I will get stopped as a drug smuggler.

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

I am in awe. Truly. I could not do it. You are my packing hero.

Andrea said...

Oh my god, AMAZING!! These are the best packing tips I've ever read. I never would have believed you carry get so many (cool!) outfits in just a small bag. Thanks for the tips!!!

JTravel said...

Hi marthaandme, I've actually never had trouble bringing pills in other their original bottle. And I do so on all my trips. But I have heard of others having this problem, though.

JTravel said...

Hi Roxanne, You're sweet. Thanks for that. Glad I could be your packing hero!

JTravel said...

Hi Andrea, Glad you liked the outfits and my packing tips. You never know what you can fit in a purse!

kerry dexter said...

Jeanine,
you do not travel with a computer?

JTravel said...

hi kerry, no, I almost never travel with a computer. I never have a problem finding internet cafes or a business center at a hotel. And I've even, in a pinch, have been given access to the hotel's computer at the front desk where I tweet, check email etc late at night. I find carrying my Mac just weighs me down.

Alisa Bowman said...

I am in awe.

JTravel said...

Hi Alisa, You're kind. Thanks for such an enthusiastic comment.

Lisa Bergren said...

Jeanine, you're amazing! Inspired by you, once again...

JTravel said...

Hi Lisa, Thanks sooo much. You're really sweet. And to think that it was all inspired by frustration.

Sheryl said...

For someone (me) who can't even manage to pack without overweight charges, I am in total awe mode. I am going to study this carefully...very carefully.

JTravel said...

Hi Sheryl, Glad I could help. It's really all about lots of pre-planning and sticking with mix-and-match light weight items. Plus, I think it's a matter of what you're accustomed to. I only ever carried a backpack and a handbag, so that wasn't much to begin with. But if you often have overweight charges, I'd start with small changes to lighten your load rather than going all the way.

Jennifer Margulis said...

You rock, girl. I'm TOTALLY impressed. I'm also a pack-very-light kind of person (hard to be when you are traveling w/ cloth diapers and small children). Sheryl, I'm surprised you get overweight charges. For a woman who doesn't ever finish everything on her plate, you strike me as someone who would bring just the essentials!

Christine - Origami Mommy said...

Wow, this is so inspiring! As a frequent traveler - and someone who *needs* to pack lightly since I am traveling with so many children - I need all the tips I can get. Do you ever forget where you put anything, with all the pockets?

Katherine Lewis said...

This is hysterical! And I thought I was a light packer. This is definitely the best response to an insane airline policy I've ever seen. You go girl!

My one trick is to bring along a foldable bag and then unload things into it once I'm on the plane. You could've undressed into that bag. :)

Melanie Haiken said...

Love this post! I too never check luggage, even for long trips, and have wowed my fellow travelers with my small carry-on. I was originally inspired by a blog called "Diva In a Carry On" with the tagline "Real Women Don't Check Luggage." (I'm not sure it's still active, but you two would be kindred spirits.) I especially love the slideshow of outfits; you tech-savvy gal, you!

JTravel said...

Hi Jennifer, That's so cool that you can pack light even when you're traveling with children. Now that's very impressive!

JTravel said...

Hi Christine, It's funny you bring up about the pockets because I have a friend who always forgets which pocket contains what. That doesn't happen to me, though, because I have a method to my pocket madness: certain things always go in either left- or right-sided pockets in my clothes, as well as other items only are in my pants pockets vs in my photo vest. I spend little time searching for anything I need.

JTravel said...

Hi Katherine, I have to admit that when I walked on the plane wearing all these clothes and carrying just the purse, I had to surpress giggling that I subverted the system, so to speak. And especially when I had just seen so many other passengers checking (and paying for) huge pieces of luggage at the check-in counter.

JTravel said...

Hi Melanie, So great to know you're a fellow light packer. And I will totally look for the "Diva in a Carry On" blog. What a cute name! I'm glad the slide show worked out.

Colleen at Travel Mamas said...

You crack me up! I could never manage. I can't even manage to pack just a carry-on because I am too busy (lazy) to pack & re-pack everything into 3.4 oz. bottles. Plus, I like options (esp. when traveling with little kids!). However, I admire your accomplishment! Bien fait!

JTravel said...

Hi Colleen, Yeah, I guess I'm kinda compulsive about backing small, the smaller the better. And I love those tiny bottles. Loved your comments. They made me laugh.

sarah henry said...

Terrific post. I need to clip and save this before my next trip. Seriously.

Oh, and buy a whole new wardrobe.

Inspiring -- and kind of hilarious too -- thinking of you wearing all that gear on board. Well done you.

JTravel said...

Hi sarah, love your comments. and, I agree: it's definitely a kick getting on the plane with all the clothes, especially that no one could tell I was dressed any differently than they were.

jessiev said...

one word: incredible. WOW!! we have to carry computers and medical equipment. BUT!! this is so inspiring. AND you are so very fashionable! WoW!

thetripchicks said...

You go, girl! Now if only our
sumo-packing clients could learn how to follow your example. Wundebar!

JTravel said...

Hi jessie, thanks so much for your kind comments. Glad you liked the mix and match outfits.

JTravel said...

Hi thetripchicks, I'd love to give classes on my "packing in a purse" strategies. It'd be a lot of fun.

backpack45 said...

This in impressive! I love the way you took on this challenge.
As a backpacker, I often have to travel light and it's no problem getting everything I need for multiple weeks on the trail into my backpack.
But, the one thing I have not overcome is the requirement that I check hiking poles when we fly to Europe because, as we all know, hiking poles are often used to attack people and bears (only kidding!).

JTravel said...

Hi backpack45, I agree: the hiking poles are always a problem. I've started not carrying them on the plane. And, instead, fashioning a couple of tree branches I find along the trail as hiking poles. Certainly not the same, though.

backpack45 said...

When I started using "sticks" (20 years ago) I, too, would just pick up something in the woods, but now our European hikes are in the 100-200 mile range and I've gotten spoiled with my carbon fiber poles (so much lighter!).

Susan Johnston said...

That IS impressive! But I wondered if wearing that many layers and stashing things in pockets slowed you down in the security line? Pretty lame of Spirit Airlines to impose that kind of restriction. Hopefully other airlines don't follow suit.

John said...

That's great! I thought I was a light traveler doing 18 days to Myanmar and Thailand with a day back and small messenger bag. You've beat me by a mile! My goal is to use no bags, just the pockets on a pair of cargo pants, and a vest. Keep up the good work! John@TravelChocolate.com www.TravelChocolate.acom

JTravel said...

Hi Susan, Good question: When I approached security, I simply too off the photographer's vest and the black merino wool sweater that I had tied around my waist. They didn't ask me to remove anything else. And I made sure that I didn't have anything metal in my pockets. So it wasn't a big deal at all.

JTravel said...

Hi John, It's funny you brought up about "packing" everything in pants and a vest. I've been thinking of doing the same thing. I think it's a great idea! Glad to meet another savvy packer.

backpack45 said...

J Travel and John,
You two are going to end up looking like Michelin Men or Women! Hope the airlines doesn't start weighing the clothes we are wearing! LOL

Got a question regarding carrying pills not in the original bottle--which I almost always do (tho I sometimes write the med's name and dosage).. Question is, since you've heard of people having a problem, did security just toss them in the trash, or did it/could it become a bigger issue?

John said...

Hi BP45, I fortunately have not had to carry much by the way of pills, just Malarone for Malaria, and Advil which I kept both in original bottles. I suspect having copies of a doctor's prescription might help reduce trouble with security, although I don't have any direct experience. I did have security in Ecuador take a 3" sewing needle from me, even though I got through the US, and Guatemala with the same needle with no problem. Go figure! John

JTravel said...

Hi backpack45, It's a good point you bring up regarding bringing along pills in unmarked containers. I do so on every trip -- they're actually mostly supplements but they are still in pills form -- and have never ever had a problem. But I've heard of others that have had problems. If in doubt,particularly if you're bringing along medication, I'd bring along a physician's prescription for the pills both to prove what they are and in case you need to get more on your trip should they be confiscated.

JTravel said...

Hi John, Funny and weird that they took your sewing needle in Ecquador. I had a similar experience in Guatemala recently where they took my tiny safety pins, which I've traveled with all over the world. Apparently some South and Central American countries have a huge binder of odd items you are not allowed to bring through security and these items are on the list.

What a Trip said...

Jeanine,
This is the packing post you were tellling me about. You are a packing ROCK STAR!
As I pack for Norway - I will think of you.
What a trip

JTravel said...

Hey Nancy, thanks so much for your enthusiastic comment. Really appreciate it. And hope you enjoy Norway as much as I did. It'll be super fun, for sure, even if you're carrying more than a purse. :-)