To check, or not to check…

Your luggage when traveling.


Galway, Ireland. Summer 2012.


So I’m sure we’ve all read many (and probably have talked through/written plenty) how to pack for your vacation posts; we’ve seen the pins on pintrest and followed links to unrelated posts or pictures or, sometimes, when we are lucky, we get a walk through article on how such and such person picked their travel wardrobe. Trust me, I’ve read more than my fare share.

That being said, here’s mine:

Start with a few basic questions: where am I going and how long will I be there? If it’s cold, you’ll need warmer and, therefore, thicker layers which will take up more room. If you’re going for longer span of time, you may want a few extra pieces or up your bag size (maybe, but we’ll get into that). Are you going for a specific event and does this require specific clothes/items? Sometimes a professional meeting means a set of clothes in a garment bag which will have specific travel criteria or a ski trip for a few days may require packing your full gear which takes more space than a week or twos worth of beach vacation clothes. How are you traveling and how often will you be moving your “home base”? If you are going to be walking to each place, you need to consider if you will be able to carry around a duffel (weight wise) or if wheels are a better choice. But, then again, depending on the floors you’ll be traveling over, wheels can be a really, really bad idea—not to mention what happens when they break. But, again, we’ll get into that.

Once you have your answers, you’ll have a jumping off point.

Let’s start with your carry on.

We’ve all heard it before: pack a full second outfit in your carry on, just in case. I’m serious: Do it. In fact, pack a full outfit, light pjs (like shorts and a tank that takes very little room), about a week’s worth of underwear and wear good, useful layers on the plane. When it comes to anything else you may want to pack in your carry on, think about anything you won’t be able to travel without; electronic chargers, your travel book (one or two depending on size; personal reading and/or guide books), your travel folder and/or notebook, your camera, and any other necessities. Basically (and this really goes double if you have an event or something), if you’ll need it right away, carry it with you and never pack (carry on or check in) anything you cannot replace.


Here’s some packing math. Above is a picture of the clothing my sister and I each wore and had for the first four days of our vacation a year ago. We (despite all the advice and the passing thoughts) did not pack spare clothes in our carry on. So all we had for those first few days were one pair of light jeans, one pair of dark jeans, a light red v-neck, a grey undershirt/tank top, a off white baggy sweater, a jean jacket, a plaid jacket, two hats, a belt, a pair of ankle boots and a pair of tennis shoes. We were lucky enough that we are about the same size in everything but shoes so this was like having a second outfit except that there was only one night (rather than a day and night) to air everything out. So basically we had two bottoms, three tops (tank, tee, and sweater), two pieces of outerwear (which we could wear as shirts (and did) as needed), and accessories to mix in. When we did the math, it turned out that we could mix and match what we had to make about 36 outfits, more if you get creative with layers (72 and more if you can switch shoes and we’re not even getting into belting options!).


Flipping Coins into River Corrib, Galway, Ireland. Summer 2012.

So now, seeing that 12 items got us so many options, the question begs an answer: to check or not to check?

Remember, most airlines allow you to bring a carry on and a personal bag as long as one fits under the chair in front of you (and you aren’t in the front row where there is no other chair). This means that you can really bring a good amount on your plane with you. You should also layer up for the plane ride. You can always take heavy layers off once you are seated but wearing the layers allows you to keep your bags smaller and more likely to fit as a carry on.

My basic clothes (for both carry on and check in) packing list consists of:

one or two pairs of pants

five tops

a sweater

a jacket

two pairs of shoes

an easy dress

one or two pairs of shorts (balance this with your trip length and weather conditions)

a pair or two tights or leggings

a few accessories

All these pieces should be easy to wear together and can be layered in many different ways to keep your clothes interesting. I like putting in a dress as an easy outfit or a skirt choice if you layer it up and something you can grab and (literally) dress up if you end up going somewhere nicer than you originally planned. The numbers can change a bit depending on your suspected weather, ie double up on sweaters if you are expecting to be cold. Make these pieces as versatile as you can and only pack what you know you’ll wear (so the pieces that you wear on a weekly basis (not including your work wear unless this is a work trip) and that you have experience in styling, are the pieces you should be putting in your luggage), and you won’t have to pack all that much.

Everywhere has laundromats or places where you can do a load or two of laundry, so you don’t have to bring your whole closet or pack enough clothes for every day you are gone. I’m not joking; one night (and I mean ONE night), we met a girl who roomed with us as a pit stop on her European vacation (she was basically doing the speed tour, one country every two days tour) and she had 4 bags: two large oversized and stuffed tope bags, a backpack and a wheeled bag that could fit an entire human being in it. This is so much that she was not able to ride public transportation with all her stuff. This is never a good option; stick to keeping things small and you’ll be fine.

When my sister and I packed, we didn’t think these things through and ended up dragging 18 pound bags all over the UK. We knew we were going to walk so we went with duffle bags (a really good choice) so there wasn’t any issues with broken wheels (which my mother did end up having to deal with) and bags we couldn’t lift or bags flipping and causing havoc on bad roads. If you’re not planning to walk or using public transportation—for example, if you are renting a car—this isn’t really an issue and you can really over pack as much as you want. Just remember, too many choices can be just as much of a problem as not enough.

So to check or not to check? This is something you’ll have to consider for yourself, but for now on, I’ll be avoiding the hassle of the check in.

If you have any questions or any other advice, comment below.

And until next time,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

To check, or not to check…

4 thoughts on “To check, or not to check…

  1. I vote carry on only 🙂
    I use a skort instead of shorts (versatile) and I carry a scarf. Other than that my clothing choices are almost the same. Don’t forget that you can layer tops over the dress for a skirt/top look too.

    1. I’m very much with you. I’ve lost too many bags so from now on I’m traveling light! I can’t believe I forgot about scarves!! A definite a yes–usually two for me.

    1. I love your post. I haven’t managed a trip all by myself but I may be moving to another country next year for grad school and definitely am looking forward to some solo adventures, mostly for all 10 of your reasons! Trips can be as scary or as exhilarating as you are willing to make them so, for me, making safe choices is key but traveling alone if you are prepared can be just as great as traveling with a buddy–more since you can see and do what you want to do (like you said)! I really can’t think of anything else. I think it’s all about keeping flexible and being really open to the experience.
      Thanks for the comment and the read!

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