As I already mentioned, my goal is to go carry-on for the entire trip, but I realize that I may shop to the point of making that impossible for the return. I typically also do all my Christmas shopping during my fall vacation, so I already know I'll be bringing home lots of goods. Whether or not they'll be small enough to carry on remains to be seen, but I'm prepared in either case.
The main bag I travel with is my 22" wheeled bag from Tumi. I adore this bag; the quality is outstanding, it weighs under 10 pounds, and it has few pockets or dividers to eat up precious space. When packed lightly it can easily be carried on, but the large front compartments expand significantly for additional capacity (though it's no longer carry-on size when fully expanded). On the outbound trip, my Timbuk2 backpack will be packed inside the Tumi bag and I'll carry on just the Tumi and my small Highway purse (mine is the S09-17 style). In theory, I could return with the wheeled bag and backpack as my carry-ons, with my purse packed inside one of them, though I'm fully prepared to check the Tumi bag if it's too far expanded.
Here are the tricks I use to ensure that I'll be able to fit all my purchases into just these 2 bags:
1. The rolling case must be packed only to the unexpanded size. Even the slightest bulge in the front of the bag will cause me to pull a few things out. This way I know for sure that for the return trip I'll have at least all the space afforded by expanding the bag.
2. I don't use compression bags for the way out, but I bring them along to use on the way back. Compression bags are wonderful for reducing the volume of clothes, so I bring several along to allow more clothes to fit into the same amount of space. By not allowing myself to use them on the way out, I know that the clothes I'm bringing with me will pack down smaller for the return trip, thus accommodating some of my purchases.
3. For the outbound trip, I do not roll my clothes. Rolling your clothes is another great way to reduce their volume (you can even put rolled clothes into compression bags for further compaction!). But for the way there I intentionally pack my clothes in a less efficient way so that I'm forced to bring fewer items.
4. I pack an extra bag inside my suitcase. Not only will the backpack give me extra capacity for the way home, but it also occupies space in the Tumi case that can be filled up with purchases once the backpack is taken out.
Best case scenario I'll return home carrying on an unexpanded rolling case and a full backpack, which is totally allowable. Worst case scenario I'll return home carrying my backpack and purse, and checking my expanded rolling case. But between the backpack and all the space gained in my Tumi by removing the backpack, compressing my clothes, and expanding the front panel, I know I'll have enough room for all the stuff I buy.
Now, I'll show you what I'm bringing with me. This is my first pass at it, and I will probably have removed a few items before I'm totally satisfied, but as of right now all this stuff fits comfortably into the Tumi bag without any expansion:
I've selected a lot of pieces that are made of lightweight jersey material. I rarely bring sweaters with me on trips anymore because of their bulk; a long-sleeved t-shirt with a knit cardigan over the top is just as warm and is far more versatile than a single bulky sweater. I also only ever bring one pair of jeans because they tend to be heavy.
In terms of choosing the right mix of items, here's how I built my wardrobe:
Since everything is built around the shoes, I selected those first. For my all-day walking pair I'm bringing my dark purple Cydwoqs, so my predominant color is purple, and my secondary colors are orange, green, and teal, all of which work very well with any shade of purple.
In order to hinge all the outfits around the main color of purple, I included at least one purple item for each clothing type: skirt, short-sleeved top, long-sleeved top, cardigan, tights, and layering tank. I didn't include a purple dress, but that's because all the dresses are short length and/or short-sleeved and thus will all require another layer somewhere, which can be purple.
My secondary, dressier pair of shoes are my black studded boots, so I chose greys and blacks as my neutrals and avoided brown, olive, and navy altogether. My purse is also black, so this ensures that it goes with all my outfits.
The last thing I do before piling everything into my suitcase is to fold up my clothes and arrange them in stacks so that I can get an idea of how much space they're going to occupy. Usually I can see right away if there are things that need to be culled. I also make sure to set aside the clothes I plan on wearing on the plane. By the way, I always make sure to wear my bulkiest items while traveling: boots, jeans, and jacket for sure, plus a scarf and/or cardigan in case it's cold on the plane.
Here's everything all packed up. As you can see, the clothes and toiletries sit just beneath the edge of the suitcase, which means there's plenty of room to put the backpack on top and still not expand the front of the suitcase.
For those of you planning a trip in the near future, I wish you safe and happy travels! May your journey be one of unencumbered bliss.
Other posts in this series:
Beauty Products, Part 1
Beauty Products, Part 2
Clothing, Part 1