Carry on, carry-on, with the travel capsule!

It’s the holy grail of travel. How do you pack for an extended tip, look fresh and fabulous every day, and never have to check a single bag?

It can be done! I recently packed for a 10-day, 4-city trip (for both business and pleasure) for which I packed — you got it — only carry-on!

The secret is the travel capsule.

A lot has been written in recent years about the advantages — and joys — of a capsule wardrobe. If you’re not ready to take the plunge at home, the same fundamental principle — mixing and matching —will still help you to pack light on a trip. And isn’t that what we all aspire to?

The Travel Capsule

To successfully mix and match, you’ll need to choose a core color such as navy or grey — or color scheme. From a classic black and white to something more adventurous, like leopard print and brown tweeds, as long as everything goes with your primary color or color scheme, you’re off to a good start. Now you’ll be able to create a surprising variety of looks from a relatively small “capsule” of clothes.

Now that you’ve chosen a core color, remember that your shoes, jewelry, and purse must compliment everything. Shoes can be a challenge, so limit yourself to one pair of flats, one pair of heels, and cute athletic shoes that work both at the gym and walking around the city. (Not to mention, running to catch your plane!)

What does this all look like, in practice? Something like this (click the link for more detail and inspiration):

My packing list, from that 10-day, 4-city trip:

  • Leather knee-length jacket
  • Plum wrap
  • Multi-blue/white tweed jacket
  • Navy pant
  • Navy skirt
  • 2 Navy dresses
  • Teal non-work dress (could have left out)
  • Blue sweater
  • Black jeans
  • 2 white blouses
  • White tank top
  • Black leather athletic shoes
  • Navy flats
  • Black pumps
  • Black wide belt
  • Colorful silk scarf
  • Cross-body wallet-purse
  • 2 long sleeved white T-shirts
  • Athletic clothing
  • Unmentionables

This was perfect for the cool weather in San Francisco, and would work almost anywhere in the world for at least three seasons. In hot climates and in the summertime, feel free to eliminate heavier jackets and swap out sweaters for shells. (But make sure to bring a wrap, no matter the weather! A good pashmina can be used as a makeshift blanket, shade, or cover-up in intense air conditioning.)

You can probably envision 17 different outfit combinations with just a glance. Even with this limited “capsule,” I found I had more than enough options at varying levels of formality and function. Don’t forget that a jacket, even if it’s part of a suit, is fair game for a casual outfit, and may look great with a pair of jeans or leggings. Likewise, a pair of business casual pants looks great with a twinset or a funky blouse!

What if your wear is menswear?

All the same principles apply to you!

Choose a color for suits — black or navy, one solid and one with a pattern. Then add in extra dress pants and use one or both suit coats as a sport coat. Travel in one jacket and a pair of extra trousers and pack the rest. If you still wear ties and pocket squares, bring a variety that will work with each combination. Like necklaces and earrings, they’re small and will add variety to your look. You may want to have shirts cleaned and pressed at the hotel on longer trips instead of packing additional ones, so plan and pack accordingly.

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

And regardless of gender — don’t forget to wear your biggest pair of shoes and pack socks in the shoes you pack — every little bit of space you save keeps the extra checked baggage charges at bay!

More Tips, Tricks and Carry-On Hacks

Packing light doesn’t end with a capsule wardrobe!

One of my favorite travel tricks is the wallet purse. It works for business and for pleasure and is not much larger than a standard wallet. It saves space while increasing functionality because it has room for a phone, lipstick, and the like. During transit I wear the wallet-purse under my coat for easy access to money, I.D. and my phone and to avoid running afoul of those pesky rules limiting the number of carry-ons. The wallet purse also fits nicely in my business tote if I don’t want to carry it.

Image by STIL on Unsplash

A word about carrying-on liquids. Yes, it is possible to pack all of your liquids in a one-quart bag. You use a lot less in a week or two than you think, so don’t pack liquids in their original containers — purchase and use small leak-proof jars and bottles. Ask for samples of your favorite products and pack those. On longer trips, I know I’ll need more of certain items such as toothpaste, which I purchase at the local drug store. Although I am very particular about my various beauty creams and hair products, believe it or not, I can still fit all my liquids for a 3-week trip in a one-quart bag by being ruthless about how much of each I really need.

Putting It All Together

You may be wondering how this all fits in a carry-on. My secret weapon is Glaser Designs — the ultimate purveyors of luggage. In 2009, my husband and I went on safari and were limited to soft-sided luggage smaller than a U.S. carry-on. Wheels were not allowed. We asked Myron and Kari Glaser for their help. They custom created our “Square Duffels” which we continue to use precisely because they fit easily into an overhead even on older or smaller planes. This is because the Glaser bag holds more than a traditional wheelie even though it is smaller and — drum roll please — it’s completely soft-sided so you’ll confound flight attendants and fellow travelers with your ability to fit your bag into the smallest of overheads.

How you ask? The secret is to use Insiders Organizers. Insiders harken back to the days of traveling with steamer trucks that had drawers; they hold your garments, keeping them compact, neat, and unrumpled. The packing cases must be made for the bag to carry the maximum. And, the key to fitting your bag into the ridiculously small regional-jet overheads, is to remove a single Insider from your bag if necessary — and because you’ve packed in Insiders you can do so without showing your travel companions your skivvies!

They also keep your clothing organized at your lodging. To save your back and shoulders, Myron will suggest the best collapsible cart (which is not an additional item, per carry-on rules!) and you’ll be all set.

One last suggestion: use Insiders Cord Organizer to keep your cords, plugs, glasses, and other items organized and to make the most of space in your smaller carry-on. Because the organizer stands upright, it maximizes the use of vertical space while ensuring that you can find travel items easily. I use different colored organizers while I am traveling so I can easily lay my hands on a power cord, reading glasses, or pen without fumbling and losing items.

And as soon as I land, I am off to my destination — no waiting or lugging (or paying for) checked baggage!

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