I’m off!



Today, I’ll be traveling from San Francisco to Saigon.

I have been traveling intercontinental since I was very young and over the decades have become a little OCD about packing light and in a certain way. I’ve tested lots of different methods and now I have my own little system down. Because I like to bring everything with me as a carryon there is a 15-pound weight limitation per bag, which is actually not that much so I have to be strategic. Here’s what I  do:

Disclaimer: this is what I do when traveling and staying in homes or hotels, NOT trekking, backpacking or camping, that’s a totally different ball game.

What to wear:

I’ll be spending two weeks away, which means that I’ll bring clothing for five to seven days and plan to wash while traveling. Each piece can mix and match, wash easily by hand and is uber-comfortable (to accommodate the bloating and strange transformations of my body when on a schedule other than “normal”. How embarrassing, but so true.) I also make sure that a few pieces can be dressed up enough to go to dinner, the theater, etc. For this trip I’m heading to a tropical climate, so I need to account for lots of rain; ’tis the season to monsoon.

  • 2 shorts, 3 pants (1 blue jean, 1 black, 1 khaki)
  • 5 tops (medium to long-sleeve, lightweight)
  • 1 silk/polyester top in white or beige (no wrinkle material; can be easily dressed up or down)
  • 2 tank tops (1 black, 1 white)
  • 1 dress (knit/polyester so it won’t wrinkle; can be dressed up or down.)
  • 1 yoga pant (black; can wear as pajama with tank top or as lounge wear)
  • 5 panties, 5 socks, 1 bra
  • 1 super packable rain jacket
  • 1 pair walking shoes
  • 1 pair flip flops
  • 1 pair cute flats (I’m digging these little foldable ballet flats, which I have in snakeskin … again, they’re easy to dress up and down)
  • 1 large scarf (at least 48″ square)
  • 1 day bag/handbag (something lightweight, stylish and fun)

From these items I’ll layer up an outfit with the warmest clothes, including the scarf which I use almost like a blanket, for the plane ride. (I’m always cold on the plane.) I’ll wear the walking shoes for comfort and to reduce the weight in my bag. Add to this wardrobe three pairs of fun (but inexpensive earrings) and I’m good to go.

Also, I fold and then roll most of my clothes. I find that they wrinkle less and pack more efficiently.


  • Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste
  • shampoo (also used as body wash)
  • deodorant, perfume (travel sized)
  • singlet travel eye drops
  • moisturizer (tinted w/ sunblock)


  • mascara
  • eyeshadow trio in browns
  • eyeliner (can’t live without it!)
  • lip gloss (can also be used on the cheeks)

When I pack, I love to have things separated in baggies. This is kind of where my OCD kicks in. If you’ve ever had to open your case at the baggage counter, for airport security or customs search, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say it’s nice to have things organized and easy to pull out or rearrange. My worst nightmare is to open my case and have embarrassing personals explode out everywhere. (Uhm, that has actually happened to me. Trust me, there is horror and much beating of the heart and then profuse sweating. It ain’t pretty.) Plus, if you’re over the weight limit it’ll be easy to readjust. I really like Eagle Creek’s packing system (been using it for years!), especially the medium cube and small packing folder. I use a mesh bag for my electronic components so that I can easily see what’s in there, little pocket zipper bags for things like lip balm and lotion or jewelry (things I don’t really want other people seeing), and I always have a stash of extra Ziplocks. I keep the toiletries/makeup in a Ziplock so that it’s easy to pull out and already in the “regulation bag” when you go through security.


In this 21-inch suitcase I’ve got everything discussed above (minus what I’ll wear on the plane) and it’s only half full, weighing 14.2 pounds. Not bad.


Now, here are the things that I take in my backpack, which is a regular-sized backpack that I use daily for school/work. If, for some reason I had to check my 21-inch bag then I still have the essentials in my backpack, which has a carriage for my laptop and lots of pockets (to keep me organized).

Here are my essentials—they’re all about relaxation and moisturizing:

  • kindle
  • silicon ear plugs (the foam ones hurt my ears after too long)
  • blow-up neck pillow (I MUCH prefer the blow up ones because I can customize the fit/fullness AND it packs down flat)
  • travel clutch (I keep my flight docs, passport, and a little money in here for easy access. The rest of my money, etc. I wear in a little pocket inside my clothes for safekeeping. And the clutch is cute enough that I use it as an evening bag once I’m in town.)
  • lip balm (Burt’s Bees)
  • gum (I like the fantastic flavors in the Extra line—holy cow, have you had the Dessert Delights?? Mmmm. Strawberry shortcake.)
  • water bottle (I love this collapsible one by Vapur)
  • cheap headphones (I’ll buy the airline’s that way I won’t freak out when I lose them or break them, which I’ve been known to do when they cost big bucks. Teeny ear buds don’t like me.)
  • hand sanitizer
  • lotion (my faves are L’annine or L’occitane‘s traditional shea butter)
  • Not shown: iPhone


Another essential: I always have a sketchbook on hand. Jack gives me a new one every year on our anniversary and I end up filling it with sketches, notes, letters, newspaper clippings and the like. It’s old school, but I love it. I started carrying a sketchbook everywhere in architecture school and it’s been a habit ever since.

Oh, and the pens … I’m weird about my pens. The only pens I bring are Sharpies—they don’t leak (due to altitude) and the fine points are my favorite to sketch with plus they’ll write on anything. You should never really ever be without a Sharpie—they’re the best pens on the planet—and a little duct tape (for when you need to bust a MacGyver.)

And since I’m a magazine junkie I never get on a plane without 2 or 3, which I’ll end up giving to the flight attendant to add to their inventory once I’m done with them.


Here’s one of my absolute favorite items to tuck in my backpack or purse. These Olay face cloths have soap already dried into them, all you have to do is wet them and they’ll suds up in seconds. They’re wonderful! After 13 hours on a plane, it’s absolutely lovely to wash your face or hands and feel clean. With these you can easily wash your face sitting in your seat (as long as you have a clean napkin to dry your face with.) A box of 33 is about $5. I tuck about 10 cloths in a ziplock bag and stow them in my backpack, they are so versatile. They are a MUST HAVE!


And finally, I ALWAYS make sure that I’ve got some photos of home and loved ones to share with people I meet while traveling. I have found that people love to learn about you as much as you them. You can stow photos on the memory card in your camera or on your phone. Either way, make sure to “pack” a couple pics. I cannot express enough what a nice reciprocal gesture it is when traveling.

I know that many of you travel quite a bit. What are your tips?


10 responses »

  1. My flying has been to SBBB friend’s over the years. Charlotte, NC was last year.

    NEVER wear anything with buttons or buckles that can set off the security – plus as you said after sitting on a plane/airport for hours it’s a lot more comfy. Slip on shoes for easy on and off going through.

    I always send my suitcase – usually with a well wrapped bottle of Crown Royal in it. Must have’s travel in small bag plus my purse.

    Q?? How are you getting the liquids through security?? Have they stopped banning them??

  2. Since we had our first child, I never go anywhere without wet baby wipes. They clean anything instantly, not just baby butt and dirty hands. Also stains in your cloths, dusty shoes, camping gear (plates and cups) and the more than dirty tray tables in planes. The list is endless 🙂 (cleaning OCD) The cheap ones are good enough. Make sure you do not grab the oil or lotion type. You don’t need water, because they are already wet.

  3. Hey, I guess I’m a tad OCD with packing, too. I like your list cause it looks oddly, like mine. The Olay things are great! But, I have found the pre-moistened ones, even some of the other brands, when opened and put in a ziplock, are awesome to remove make-up. No water required and the baggie keeps them wet. Flip flops are also a must have, regardless where I go. Enjoy your travels!

  4. I’ve learned to pack for 10 days of wintertime in Europe in just a carry-on. It really is an art, isn’t it?Rolling is definitely the best. I’ve also put the big ziplocks to use to “unbulk” some heavier items—roll/press out the air and seal. It’s like those things on TV only much cheaper! I also find that a pair of compression socks helps if it’s going to be a long flight. Might help with some of that “bloating.” 🙂 Happy trails.

  5. Fantastic post Mic!!! Once again you inspire me to really examine how and what I pack. I love the Eagle Creek system and you can stuff LOTS of stuff in one of their suitcases. Have fun on your trip!!

  6. Pingback: cost to backpack through europe

  7. Great information here. This information comes in handy even when you’re traveling 4 hours away by car. Packing light and smart goes a long way. I love all the tips you offer here. I’ve never rolled my clothes, that’s new to me and will try it next time I hit the road. I used to work at Target so I fold everything the way I learned it while there and that seems to work but rolling clothes sounds like a space saver. Thanks for all the links. Never heard of or seen a collapsible water bottle. I love that! The Olay face clothes – I LOVE those. Great post!

    Safe travels!

  8. Your list could be my list – except for the collapsible water bottle. I do travel with more toiletries- LASIK has helped in getting all my crap in the miserly little ziploc. (When can we go back to carrying water and shampoo?) I actually cut most of my Olay dry cloths into quarters – they’re totally refreshing either in the airplane or airport bathroom to do a quick wipedown. I sometimes have the damp ones, but dry is easier in these crazy days.

    I travel with much the same stuff you do, but it seems to take up twice the space, even using space bags. And you’ve seen me doing the beached whale thing to flatten them out. It works great. I find ziplocs puff up and don’t hold the vacuum, but the vacuum bags keep things from wrinkling, mostly.

    Well, off to pack for thanksgiving!

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