The Check-free Luggage Challenge

First of all (in my defense), it was 1983, my first trip to London, and I was having a Princess of Wales moment.

In those days, the airlines let you check two bags and carry on one more – no charge. Which is how I ended up with one (large) suitcase filled with nothing but shoes. And received a hard lesson in why they call it “luggage.”

Thirty years later, one of my favorite games is to see how minimally I can pack, so the airlines don’t get any more of my money than is absolutely necessary. I call it the “Check-free Challenge.” The goal is simple: to pack everything I need for a long weekend (or even a week) in a rolling carry-on that fits in the overhead, and a shoulder bag that goes under the seat. Sound impossible? Not if you follow a few simple guidelines:

1. Pick one color. Neutral is best (black and navy are personal faves), but if you have a particular color that comprises a lot of your wardrobe, go with that. The key is to make it a color you can coordinate. Establishing a base color simplifies everything – right down to your accessories.

2. Keep the coordinates simple, too. If you have navy pants and a navy skirt, you can mix in tops in lots of other colors: white, red, turquoise, hot pink. Pick one or two and go with them. Stripes or prints add interest. Knit tops pack small.

3. Pack items that do double duty. A swim cover-up can work as a dress, a knit tunic or even a nightgown.

4. Keep the footwear assortment simple. Wow – typing that is hard. But I got it down to three pairs of shoes on my last trip – from the full suitcase of years ago. I’ve become a huge fan of tan or beige shoes. They pretty much disappear on your feet – so they go with everything. Follow the “double duty” principle here, too. A pair of cute little soft-soled flats (like Gatas) can be worn while sight-seeing, taking a bike tour – or even golfing. (I never take single-purpose shoes on vacation, anymore – unless the trip involves a special event.)

5. Accessories take up almost no space, at all. Scarves, jewelry – even a crushable hat – can be tucked into your bag. They’ll help you get even more mileage out of your basic pieces.

6. Wear the heaviest (or bulkiest) stuff on the plane. If you think you’ll need a cardigan sweater or you want to take jeans, don’t pack them – wear them. And since the passengers are likely to be different, wear the same outfit there and back. Nobody will be the wiser.

Above all, plan what you’re going to take well in advance, so you can make sure everything’s clean and in good repair. Make a list. Be disciplined – don’t deviate. The mission creep that occurs during the pre-flight packing frenzy will cause nothing but trouble.

First and foremost, leave the shoe-filled suitcases to the princesses – who have others to carry them. Bon voyage!

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