With the ramping up of airport security following the attempted Christmas Day attack over Detroit, a less-is-more approach to travel packing is more important than ever.
Between enhanced screenings — both on your person and in your luggage — crowded airports and longer wait times for international flights, getting in and out of an airport with your baggage in hand is more stressful and time-consuming than ever.
"Checking your bag, ma'am?" Not anymore. Nearly every airline now charges fees to stow your suitcase in the hold. Also, consider this: A 2008 report from the Transportation Security Administration reveals that in a three-year period nearly 42,000 travelers have reported lost items from their luggage at an estimated value of more than $31 million. Common items reported missing include medicine, laptops, clothing and jewelry.
"There are only two types of luggage," says Doug Dyment. "Carry-on luggage and lost luggage."
Dyment is a former computer technician and creator of OneBag, a travel blog that offers advice on what and how to pack. His perspective on single-bag travel is evangelical, and his commandments are based on the simple premise that a bit of forethought can alleviate the stress of packing, getting through the airport and navigating unfamiliar terrain with unwieldy luggage.
"I travel over 100,000 miles a year and have never checked a bag," says Andrie Mitsakos, a PR executive from New York who boasts Paris Fashion Week and a three-week stay in Southeast Asia among the travels she's managed on one suitcase.
Ashley Harris, a special-events planner based in New York, shares that, while her many trips involve almost no suitcase-lugging — she's normally whisked from airport to hotel by cab or car service — there was a particularly harrowing trip to Barcelona that led her to swear off over-packing forever. "I was dragging my wheeled suitcase through the Plaza Catalunya at 5 a.m. because my taxi hadn't arrived, and I had to catch a shuttle to the airport," she begins. "Between the cobble-stoned streets and my gigantic, shoe-heavy suitcase, I nearly fell three times — before I actually did into a pile of garbage. I swore I would never again travel with a suitcase that I can't carry."
The primary tenant of Dyment's travel-light policy is a packing list. "The packing list," he says, "should be considered a contract you make with yourself that says 'I promise I will never put anything into this bag that is not on my list.' Consider it a blueprint for packing, and you'll save yourself many a headache."
Once you've decided what to pack and made your list, the question is inevitably how to pack it. Veteran travelers often have tried-and-true systems for wrinkle-free packing that involve rolling, tucking and wrapping garments in all manner of protective covering — from tissue to dry cleaners' plastic — all of which provide an important buffer layer between garments to avoid squashing and creasing.
Harris suggests that in special cases — she occasionally needs a formal dress when traveling — it's OK to carry on a garment fresh from the dry cleaners that's still on a hanger. "The flight attendants are usually nice enough to hang it in the front of the cabin, it doesn't suffer any packing abuse and it doesn't count as an additional piece of luggage."
It's the last-minute add-ons that make much of the difference when packing for carry-on. "For women," says Dyment, "a particular concern is the weight of products, especially cosmetics. It's important to be conscious about the amount of water you're carrying in your products — not just to make it through security, but to save yourself the extra ounces."
This seemingly minor weight might make the difference between carrying with ease and spraining a shoulder, so he suggests looking into solid forms of your usual products. Powder foundation travels better than liquid (and doesn't run the risk of exploding all over your cashmere sweater) just as dry shampoos work great for short trips. "Tooth powder may scare people off, but it gets the job done just as well at a fraction of the weight of a tube of toothpaste."
As every professional woman knows, a little attention paid up front can save time and money in the long run. Dyment wants travelers to understand that organization is the key: "There's no big secret to traveling light. It's a very large number of very small things."