If you’ve been following our CVV Staff Picks over the past month, you’ll notice my tendency to skip town. I spent three of the last five Wednesdays abroad: one in New York City, the other two in a little surf town outside of Manzanillo, Mexico. If there’s one lesson I’ve taken from my last four years as backpacker and a travel writer, it’s how to pack a great bag.
My secret is this: I travel carry-on whenever possible. This speeds up airport transfers and guarantees that I arrive with all my gear in the same place. And, most importantly, through trial and error, I’ve learned to squeeze within the 25 x 43 x 61 cm limit without compromising my personal style.
Introducing Travel Well: a series on how to see the world in effortless style.
Travel Well #1: Flying South for the Winter
Sunny vacations are a packers dream: minimal outerwear and footwear necessities, few socks, and the relaxed dresscodes inherent to warmer weather. Nonetheless, it’s always better to overdress than under dress. So here’s my advice on what and how to pack for a 1-2 week beachfront vacation.
1) Know the Carry-On Rules:
When travelling carry-on through the good ol’ U.S. of A., the TSA website is your best friend. Knowing the rules won’t only guarantee a speedy trip through customs; it will allow you to confidently carry what the more naïve passenger might avoid (the right disposable razors and scissors with under four inch blades, for instance.)
The hurdle here is how to pack an ample toiletries kit, given the notorious 3-1-1 [3.4 ounce (100mL) bottles, 1 quart sized clear plastic bag, one bag per flyer.] Invest in a couple 80 mL Nalgene bottles and keep them stocked with the essentials—shampoo, facewash, moisturizer with SPF, and a shave balm. Bar soap is available for cheap or free just about everywhere and when you’re in and out of the water this often deodorant shouldn’t be an issue (plus, it attracts bugs). Most colognes and pomades are already available in sub-100 mL containers, so all you need is a comb, a travel sized toothpaste and toothbrush, and you’re set.
2) Less is More:
The perfect wardrobe is one where just about every piece interchangeable. When everything matches, getting dressed in the morning will be mindless. You’ll be able to transition from the beach to the bar with a few minor tweeks.
Although sticking to neutral-coloured basics is one option, louder patterns aren’t off limits, if done right. My advice: isolate your flashier pieces to a single garment-type; I choose to keep my tops plain, and my bottoms patterned.
Notice how I’ve managed to stretch three pairs of shorts, one pair of chinos, three t-shirts (one long sleeved), and two button-ups (one long sleeved, one short) into over 20 potential outfits. And that doesn’t include what I’m wearing on the plane. Really, the only article of clothing worth packing a full week’s worth is underwear.
3) Leathers and Metals—Pick One and Commit:
I’ve never been one for prescriptive style, but if there’s one standard worth repeating it’s this: never let your leathers and your metals clash. With regard to Rule 2 (above), it’s best to pick one tone of each and commit. This should be dictated by the piece you’ll get the most wear out of (I’ve opted for brown and gold, given that my Ray-Bans are the only garment I plan to sport daily.) When in a pinch, navy blue leathers straddle the line between black and brown.
Your travel outfit should:
Be interchangeable with the other clothing you’ve packed.
Be comfortable enough to wear for the duration of your travel
– Wear slip-on footwear and go beltless to navigate customs with ease
– An unstructured blazer and worn-in jeans can be as comfy as sweats but will have you looking far sharper, both in the airport bar and upon arrival
Be versatile enough to transition between climates
– Err on the cold side and layer—you can always strip down
– Scarves can be stashed away without wrinkling and double as a blanket or pillow (cardigans are nearly as versatile)
Wear your largest and heaviest garments to assure your baggage remains under weight
5) Don’t Compromise:
Everyone has something they can’t travel without. Here are some of mine, and how I make room for them all:
Running Gear: Invest in a pair of lightweight sneakers and stuff your athletic clothing inside them (the larger your feet, the easier this is.) Be sure to use a shoe bag to keep your clothing clean (in a pinch, the free showercap in your hotel room will work.)
Photography Kit: A camera bag filled with lenses and memory cards can serve as your “personal item carry-on item” and, once emptied at the hotel room, can double as a day bag for the beach.
Reading Material: Technology is your friend. Tablets are the future. End of story.
Writing Material: With the right apps (for me: Google docs, and Dropbox) your tablet can pull double duty. (Although, the purist might opt to bring a laptop bag as their second piece of carry-on instead.) Don’t forget a good old-fashioned pen and paper; asking your neighbor for a pen to fill out your customs form sucks. The cover flap on that seemingly ratty Moleskin is also the perfect hiding spot for your passport and a bit of extra cash.
6) Personal Strategies:
A) Roll everything but your shirts. Put underwear in shoes, socks in your camera bag, etc.
B) Those doughnut pillows sold in airports are goofy and unpractical, but blow up pillows do come in more versatile shapes. Avoid any suede or fabric options; that way, it can pull double duty while you lounge at the beach.
C) Always carry a water bottle to fill up post customs and remain hydrated on the plane.
D) Sanuks: Not quite as ‘suave’ as the rest of my attire, but I’ve put one-too-many pieces of coral through my foot to afford such vanity. I also have disproportionally long toes, which makes thongs a tough fit. Weight-wise, these things are negligible and they work as slippers around the hotel.
E) Invest in a cheap dopp kit to hold your wires and smaller electronics. Include a calculator for currency conversions and unconventional tipping percentages.
F) Not all fashion choices should be serious ones—you’re on vacation after all. Swim trunk and towel designs are both low risk ways of letting loose.
7) The End Result:
-Moisturizer with SPF
-Lipchap with SPF
Clothing and Accessories:
-7 pairs of underwear
-5 pairs of socks
-3 pairs of shorts
-1 Pair of chinos
-1 Pair of jeans
-1 Tie + Tie Bar
-1 Card Case w/ Cards
– 2 Bracelets
-1 Pair of Loafers
-1 Pair of Sanuks
-1 Pair of Running Shoes
-1 Dri-max Shirt
-1 Dri-max Shorts
-1 Swim Trunks
-1 Shoe Bag
-1 Ipad 2 w/ Stylus
-1 Camera Bag w/ DSLR, Point and Shoot, 2x Lenses
-1 Cable Bag w/ adaptors, Chargers and Calculator
-1 Travel Pillow
-1 Water bottle
Total Luggage Weight
Suitcase: 19.45 lbs
Camera Bag: 6.42 lbs
– Jeff McAllister