Alex Jimenez started the hugely popular website Travel Fashion Girl in 2012 to help other travellers learn the art of ‘carry-on only’ packing. Alex firmly believes that travelling with only a carry-on bag is the way to travel and her website is full of handy tips and packing lists to assist other travellers no matter where in the world they are travelling to.
I stumbled across Travel Fashion Girl via social media and last year bought Alex’s book “Capsule Wardrobe Essentials” which I found very handy. I recently e-met Alex via a blogging group we are both in and asked her if she’d be happy to help my lovely readers (that’s you!) with some tips on carry-on only packing.
What made you decide to embrace ‘carry-on only’ travel and how has it changed the way you travel?
In 2010 I was approaching my third year of traveling and I was tired of picking up my backpack each time I went to a new destination. It was a drag - literally - and negatively impacted my travel experience. Inspired by travelers with smaller backpacks, I set off on a mission to minimize my gear. This was the beginning of Travel Fashion Girl, which documents the strategies I learned from the experience, as well as interviewing minimalist travelers on the road.
I usually travel to Europe for six or eight weeks at a time and I’m yet to attempt the ‘carry-on only’ concept. Is it possible to take just one small bag for a holiday of this duration?
Well, I travel full time so I'd say yes. It's possible to travel carry-on for a trip of any duration. Packing for two weeks doesn't differ much from packing for two months or even two years. It's just about strategy, research, and planning.
Here’s a look at what I packed for my European vacation last year - can you make any suggestions as to what I should change next time so that I can just take a carry-on bag?
Looks like a great mix and match ensemble! The main change I’d make are I’d switch out the cargo shorts to dressier shorts or capris and instead of packing black and neutral sandals, I’d go with a pair of tan sandals because they go with every color.
For quantity, I’d pack 5 tops (remove two red and one navy), 3 dresses, one shorts, one skirt, (maybe in tan, khaki or navy to match all), and one jeans. For outerwear, I’d go with one cardigan in beige - it matches all colors. This combo gives you eight days worth of outfits without washing. What do you think? (I think I need to go shopping - but who's complaining?!!)
I always travel with a laptop, camera and small handbag, too. What about all the gifts and souvenirs I buy whilst I’m away - where will I fit them?
As someone that started traveling before iPhones, tablets, and Facebook ruled the world, I always advise travelers to leave the laptop at home unless they're working. You can use a compact smartphone for basic Internet access. A phone like Samsung Note 3 also replaces a point and shoot camera. Downsizing electronics is an instant way to lose weight and gain space.
As for souvenirs you have several options:
- Leave your suitcase half to one-third empty
- Bring a packable bag you can use to carry items back home
- Buy an extra bag or suitcase at your destination - mail stuff home (my preferred option), especially for long trips
Shoes are always a bugbear when I’m sorting my holiday wardrobe. What tips do you have about footwear?
Unfortunately comfort trumps fashion when it comes to shoes (ah, we are definitely on the same wavelength here, Alex!). If your feet are in pain from choosing cute but impractical shoes this may prevent you from fully enjoying your trip. You won't be able to walk for long periods of time and enjoy sightseeing. You wouldn't want to spend your dream trip to Paris or Machu Picchu sitting down the whole time would you?
I suggest focusing on a chic wardrobe to make up for less than stylish footwear. Even if shoes aren't 100% stylish it's better to find a semi-circle pair of shoes that are comfortable than buy a pair of clunky trainers in desperation at your destination. I saw this in Rome.
Last year I used packing cubes for the first time and I have to say, I loved them. Are they still a good choice if travelling with only a carry-on bag?
They're the only way to travel in a carry-on bag! Packing cubes are what helped me make the leap from oversized suitcase to carry-on. Not only can you use them to organize but I use them to compress and maximize space.
Apart from packing too much, what is the one mistake that you commonly hear of people making when they pack for an overseas holiday?
The biggest mistake is packing "just in case items". Consequently, this causes people to over-pack. Pack for your plans not for things that might happen. If you unexpectedly need something while you're traveling it is more than likely that you'll find what you need at your destination.
Have you ever been caught short and wished you’d brought a particular item with you on your travels?
This happened to me last year when I was living in Thailand. I decided to go to the Khao Sok national park and I didn't realize I'd need trainers or outdoor sandal-type shoes to go caving and hiking up a treacherous mountain. In the end, I wore my flip flops to go caving which was fine because they have ankle straps and I wore my Birkenstocks to climb the mountain. Not the most practical footwear but I'm not going to carry extra shoes that I might wear once a year. You get on with it and manage. I could have also purchased outdoor shoes there if I really wanted to.
What three things could you never travel without?
My three things aren't very glamorous but they're a necessity for long term travel: my sleeping liner, travel towel and Nars multiple makeup stick.
And finally, in your opinion, what makes the perfect carry on bag?
For a suitcase, the perfect carry-on meets international requirements, is light, has sturdy rugged wheels, a strap to pick up easily, especially in Europe, and opens in the middle for double compartments. Delsey had one that I really like l. It's the Helium International but I’ve forgotten the model number, sorry!
As for a backpack, the perfect carry-on has rip-stop water resistant material, padded straps, internal compartments, is a side zip not top loader. Osprey Farpoint 55 (40+15) is pretty close to this, although the carry-on dimensions won't work for all airlines. (Note: if you plan on flying on low-cost airlines in Europe or the UK ensure you check their luggage and hand luggage size allowances well in advance.)
The 30 Day Travel Fashion Challenge
Alex recently launched her 30 Day Travel Fashion Challenge which she kindly gave me a copy of and I have to say it is amazing. The 'course' comes as a downloadable PDF and is a step-by-step guide to planning the perfect capsule wardrobe for your travels. Realistically you can take as little or as long as you like to complete the challenge and the great thing is, you have it to keep forever. In the 30 Day Travel Fashion Challenge, Alex covers everything from determining the weather in your destination and what activities you plan on doing, to choosing a colour palette that's right for you and where to shop for the ideal wardrobe items.
As I'll be heading back to Europe in June and July this year (European summer), I was particularly interested in Alex's packing list for hot weather travel. Her recommendation of four tops, three dresses, two bottoms, one cardigan/jacket and a bathing suit (plus a few accessories) has really got me thinking. Of course, every item has to mix and match with the other items to earn its place in my travel wardrobe so I can definitely feel some serious shopping coming on - look out credit card!
Head on over to Travel Fashion Girl to find out more about the 30 Day Travel Fashion Challenge. I'm determined to pack light this time and with the steps I've learned from the 'challenge', I'm sure I can do it. Wish me luck!
Are you a carry-on only traveller? What are your tips and tricks for travelling light?
UPDATE: Since I published my original European summer packing list I have published another. You can read my new packing list for a month of summer travel in Europe here.
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