Carry Ons

How To Prep for a Big Trip: Six Things To Do Six Weeks Before Takeoff

Every summer for my boyfriend and my anniversary (Aug 25th) we go on a full-week trip. Typically I am the one who plans the whole shebang due to my passion for travel – go figure. 🙂

This year two of our close friends are getting married at a vineyard in the Piedmont region of Italy on September 5th, so we are traveling a week later than usual in order to attend. The wedding should be gorgeous, and we are very excited for the vacation!

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source:

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source:

We will be in the Northwest part of Italy during the entire trip. Our itinerary includes stops at several Piedmont vineyards, two days in Turin, two days in Lake Como, and two days in Milan. The general plan is to sip and taste our way through the region, coupled with a little bit of hiking and sightseeing to burn off the calories!

I've circled in red the cities we will visit in the NW part of Itlay (image source:

I’ve circled in red the cities we will visit in NW Italy (image source:

That said, even though the hotels, rental car, and Da Vinci’s Last Supper tour have been booked for months, we are now officially in countdown mode. This trip will last ten days, and it gives me peace of mind to start a few of the preparations now.

Thus, I have created a list of six things I am doing six weeks in advance of our trip to prepare:

  1. Double-check our airline seating assignments and see if better seats are available.
    Right now we are booked to fly from New York to Milan on Emirates, which is an airline that I have never flown before. I’m looking forward to the new experience since I’ve heard great things about Emirates’ customer service onboard! With that, I find it important on long-haul flights to strive to be next to a window (for sleeping), as far forward on the plane as possible, have seats that recline, not be near a bathroom, not have a wing obstructing my view, and avoid sitting in the same row as strangers (preference two-seater rows if available). On top of that, I don’t want to pay extra money for my seat. Usually I have to make compromises, but I typically continue checking the available seat map before my trip to see if any seats open up that check-off several boxes on my nice-to-haves list.

    Looks like there are no rows of only two seats - bummer.

    Looks like this plane does not have two-seater rows…bummer.

  2. Review Emirates’ baggage policy and limitations.
    One reason why we chose to fly Emirates to Milan this summer instead of other airlines is because they allow two 50-lb. checked bags free per flyer, even though we are neither part of their awards program nor have an Emirates credit card. While we won’t be taking that much luggage with us, it is comforting to know we will not need to worry about busting our budget on luggage fees. With that, it is always wise to double-check your airline’s luggage policies for weight, quantity, and dimension to ensure you have no surprise costs. Every airline differs.

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees.

  3. Make sure our passports aren’t expired.
    Check! We still have a couple more years before that becomes an issue. That was easy. Next…

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:

  4. Look up the average weather during the time of year we are traveling at each city we’re visiting.
    Additionally, I also try to read online forums where other people have written about their own travel experiences during the week (or month) I plan to travel. In that way I am able to arrive mentally prepared.Example:  In May in Miami will the weather be sunny most of the day but usually rain from 2pm-3pm in the afternoon? Yes. After learning from surprise situations like that, I’ve found it is best to read other travelers’ ideas online that help me avoid getting drenched during my afternoon spent poolside and still have a great time.

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes - just in case!

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes – just in case!

  5. Brainstorm what we will need on our trip (but don’t start packing yet).
    My boyfriend and I learned this tip after a stressful experience. In 2012 on the day we were supposed to fly to Manchester, we darted around midtown Manhattan trying to find a place that sold hiking shoes that we could wear during our Mount Snowdon climb the following day. Needless to say, the shopping excursion was exhausting since the number of people who need hiking shoes in Manhattan is minimal and our deadline was tight. (We ended up buying Clarks WaveTrek Waterproof walking shoes instead of legitimate hiking boots.) Thus, moral of the story is that you should take a lesson from our book and identify if there is anything you will need (i.e. new suitcase, power converters, selfie sticks, comfortable footwear, jeans, money belt, raincoat, etc.) while you still have enough time to order online and/or search several stores.

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn't realize how cold it would be - but at least we had the hiking shoes!

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn’t realize how cold it would be – but at least we had the right shoes!

  6. Figure out how I am going to pay for things while in Italy.
    I’ve written about this before in tip #6 of my budgeting hacks, but I’ll repeat that it’s very important to determine how you will pay for things ahead of any foreign travel so you can make the necessary arrangements and save money on fees.

    I was recently convinced that I should open a Charles Schwab account since their debit cards have no foreign transaction fees. However, I have not been able to receive the debit card yet because I still need to transfer funds into the new account. Before I can transfer the funds online I need to authorize an external account, get it approved, and then transfer the money – all of this takes time. As a result, I’m grateful to have started this process in advance so I can hopefully receive the new card in the mail before our trip! Also, if something goes wrong, I have enough time to brainstorm a Plan B. (This blogger goes into more detail in point #6 of this entry for why Schwab is great for travelers.)

With the above list I hope to prove that it’s always better to prepare as much as you can in advance. In fact, I often buy a guidebook and skim through the local tips to see if there is something I have not thought of regarding my destination. If you have the time, you might as well  use it to avoid feeling stressed before you go!

Are there any other tips that I’ve missed? If you have any other pointers for vacation prep six weeks in advance, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!


How To Pack For A Vacation In San Francisco and Sonoma In Just Two Carry-On’s

“If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
“San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie

I’ve been humming the soft melody of this famous song as I pack my carry-on today for my upcoming trip to San Francisco.

Problem: I don’t own any flowers to put in my hair. #NotAHippie

As a teenager, I watched the Forrest Gump movie several times and owned the soundtrack – both of which featured this song. To me, this classic tune befits the free-spirited history of the city of San Francisco, and reminds me of the open-minded nature of its residents. Similar to New York City’s history, San Francisco was built by dreamers.

Chinatown in SF with trolley going down the street

Chinatown in SF with trolley going down the street

As you read in last week’s blog post, I’ve planned several types of activities for my upcoming vacation. I’ll admit I am by no means an expert on packing for San Fran in the springtime since the only other time I’ve been was in December. That said, I’m going to take you all along for the ride as I piece together my SF springtime wardrobe and other travel essentials.

The first thing I did was check the weather to understand how many layers I would need each day. The difficult aspect is that I will be in the city of San Francisco for two-thirds of the trip, where the highs are estimated to be in the low 60’s next weekend. However, on Saturday and Sunday I will be in Sonoma County where the highs will be 15 degrees warmer in the upper 70’s!

As a result, I need to pack both dresses AND jeans – major bummer when it comes to saving space. On top of that, the expected temperature variance means that I’ll need to bring BOTH sandals and closed-toed walking shoes, along with a pair of nice shoes for fancier restaurants. Three pairs of shoes – eeeeek! Thank god Derek’s brother miraculously has a hair dryer at his apartment so I don’t need to bring my own!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s how I’ve packed for SF in two carry-on’s.

SF Packing List:

In the backpack:

  • Laptop and charger
  • Camera (with case, charger and memory cards)
  • Cell phones and chargers (work and personal phone)
  • California guidebook
  • (2) magazines
  • Eyemask
  • Day purse (with wallet, travel medicine kit, headphones, pens, house keys, mints, mini hand sanitizer, etc.)
  • Small empty water bottle
  • (1) pair of sunglasses
  • Hotel reservation print-outs

In the roller duffle:

These are all of the things that I am packing in my roller duffle (top left corner)

These are all of the things that I am packing in my roller duffle (top left corner)

  • (2) toiletries bags
    • (1) for liquids
    • (1) for non-liquids

      Unpacked toiletries bags

      Unpacked toiletries bags

packing 7

Packed toiletries bags

  • (1) umbrella
  • (1) bag of instant coffee and oatmeals for the mornings
  • (2) leather belts
  • (2) pairs of jeans
  • (1) pair of shorts
  • (1) black skinny stretchy fabric pants – wearing on the plane
  • (1) wool jacket – wearing on the plane
  • (1) canvas jacket
  • (1) black cardigan sweater
  • (1) blue linen blazer
  • (1) light weight zip up sweatshirt
  • (2) good quality cotton tshirts
  • (2) ¾ sleeve blouses – wearing one on the plane
  • (2) sleeveless blouses
  • (2) dresses
  • (2) black cami’s – wearing one on the plane
  • (1) tshirt for sleeping
  • (1) pair of cotton capris for sleeping
  • (8) pairs of underwear
  • (1) strapless bra
  • (1) regular bra
  • (6) pairs of socks
  • (1) pair of black waterproof ankle boots – wearing on the plane
  • (1) pair of fashionable sneakers
  • (1) pair of black strappy sandals
  • (1) hair straightener
  • (1) set of earplugs
  • (1) makeup bag

    My makeup bag (I love cosmetics)

    My makeup bag (I love cosmetics)

  • (1) small bag of jewelry and hair accessories
  • (1) evening purse
  • (1) daytime cross-body bag
  • (2) lingerie bags for dirty clothes separation

Just like with my packing guides for Europe and Florida, I’ve been able to pare down my packing list to just the essentials that I know I will need, plus one or two extra outfits – just in case. (I mean…I’m AM a girl!)

packing 1

Everything is packed and ready to go!

Took a little effort, but the duffle bag zipped all the way closed

It took a LITTLE effort, but the duffle bag zipped all the way closed

Because I focused on the essentials, I don’t expect to have to buy anything extra on this trip. As you saw last week, this trip is going to be pretty expensive despite only being gone for six days, so the less things I need to pick up in SF, the better.

To close, I have to be honest with you: my boyfriend and I will probably ship home a few cases of wine to our apartment as Sonoma County souvenirs. But…I mean…it’s not like I’d ever pack numerous bottles of wine in my carry-on anyway so…no harm no foul for this packing post!

How to Pack for a Trip to Florida in Just Two Carry-On’s

I was not the first person to go to Florida for a long weekend this year. In fact, it’s entirely possible I was the millionth. But with Spring nearly upon us and a lot more people gearing up to escape to the sunniest corner of our great nation, I thought it would be topical to discuss how I prepared for my own recent beach getaway.

For my birthday at the end of February my family invited me and my boyfriend to a long weekend at my uncle’s condo on Singer Island, which is a barrier island off the coast of West Palm Beach. He has a dazzling four-bedroom, five-bathroom unit facing the Atlantic. I’ll admit – it was a blessing to have been invited to stay at such a gorgeous spot in the world!

While the lodging and food were mostly paid for that weekend (thanks family!), my boyfriend and I still covered the cost of our plane tickets. West Palm Beach is a town of old money, and the airfare prices sure reflect that! My boyfriend and my tickets were both over $400 each from New York City, given we chose to fly during peak times. (Note: you can find better deals to West Palm Beach if you purchase in advance or travel during off-peak hours.) Although both my boyfriend and I have the ability to check one free bag each (thanks Citi AAdvantage card!), we decided this trip that we wanted to prioritize maxing out our time in the sun by only taking two carry-ons each.

But how to do you pack a carry-on for a beach vacation when you can barely remember what 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like!? Winter in New York had been brutal this year! Add to that the challenge of balancing bumming around the beach with eating at posh restaurants.

I was somewhat perplexed with how to pack for this trip.  Here is what I knew I needed:

  1. Travel outfit – this would need to include long pants and a sweater or sweatshirt since it was under 20 degrees in New York
  2. Boating/Lunch outfit – something that I would be okay to get sunscreen and ocean water on, but would still look nice enough to be served at a trendy dock-side eatery
  3. (3) Nice dinner outfits – all fairly dressy, since my uncle is a foodie and prefers to dine at high-end restaurants
  4. Activity outfit – on trips like this, you never really know what to expect with the weather, and on a rainy day we received a private tour of the nation’s leading sea turtle hospital ( from its CEO, so we needed to dress appropriately for the chilly rain as well as the formal tour
  5. Beach garb – two swimsuits, beach cover-up, flip-flops, etc.
  6. Workout clothes – two sessions worth of workout clothes for morning exercises
  7. Pajamas – When I’m with family I usually prefer to bring loungewear so I can feel comfortable during late-night chats or while watching movies
Family dressed up for my birthday dinner!

Family photo before my birthday dinner – all dressed up!

So here’s how I tackled it…

In flight strategy = LAYERS:

  • Green jeans w/ brown leather belt
  • Light-weight mixed material crochet sweater with black cami
  • Beige canvas military jacket
  • Brown sneakers and grey socks (I normally NEVER wear sneakers with jeans, but since sneakers are featured in all of the fashion magazines lately, I thought I’d try to pull off the look with a pair of neutral-colored kicks. This would allow me to be able to work out at the gym in the mornings.)
  • Wool winter coat
  • Undergarments (of course)

Clothes and shoes I packed:

  • (2) bikinis
  • (1) swimshirt for watersports
  • (1) terrycloth beach cover-up
  • (1) waterproof workout shorts
  • (2) workout capris, used one the whole trip for PJ bottoms
  • (3) workout shirts, used one the whole trip as a PJ shirt
  • (2) pairs workout socks
  • Lightweight solid white zipup sweatshirt
  • (2) chino shorts – cobalt and black
  • (3) nice colorful sleeveless tops in silky, breathable fabrics
  • (1) deep blue cropped cotton cardigan
  • (2) day or night sundresses
  • (2) pairs regular socks
  • (1) black flip-flops
  • (1) brown leather strappy sandals
  • (1) black high-heeled sandals
  • (1) strapless bra
  • (6) pairs assorted underwear
  • (1) black belt

Other items I packed:

  • Small bag of matching jewelry
  • Makeup bag with cosmetics for (1) evening skin look, lipbalm with SPF, (1) day eye look, (1) evening eye look, and (5) assorted lipsticks and glosses
  • Toiletries bag inclusive of separate stashes:
    • Travel-size shower items and razor
    • Travel-size face wash, makeup remover, and skincare
    • Toothbrush and travel toothpaste
    • Travel-size body lotion
    • Nail polish to match my manicure in case of chips
    • Travel-size sunscreen
    • Travel-size perfume and deodorant
    • Cotton balls/Qtips
    • Travel size hair styling products (I brought one ounce containers of argon oil, anti-frizz hair milk, blow-dry protector, and flat iron heat protector, which would normally seem excessive. However these items were essential since my hair would become untamably frizzy each day in the Florida heat.)
  • Laptop, phone, headphones, and chargers
  • Magazines and books for the plane and pool
  • (2) pairs of sunglasses
  • Digital camera
  • Large collapsible beach bag
  • Small black leather evening purse
  • Medium-size brown leather day purse
  • Eyemask

As you can see, I was able to fit a lot into only two carry-ons. I’ve found that if you buy the right luggage and supplies to help you reduce bulk, you can pack a lot more than you think! My two biggest packing take-aways from this trip are:

  • For a long weekend trip, try purchasing several one-ounce travel sized canisters at the Container Store. Typically travel size items sold in stores are 3oz, so the smaller size reduces the mass and weight of your toiletries bag significantly. (As a note, you may need to buy a full-sized sunscreen once you arrive if you’re as fair-skinned as I am!)
Travel Size Containers

1-ounce or less travel size canisters from the Container Store, TravelGuard razor container, Travalo refillable perfume sprayer

  • Bring light layers. It helps to be able to mix and match your outfits, especially so you can stay warm at night after changing out of your beach clothes! On my trip the temperatures sometimes dropped at night to the upper 50’s, so I was very thankful that I brought different layering options!

    Shelling on the Beach

    Shelling during low tide on a rainy day

The above is an all-inclusive overview of the packing strategy and secrets that really worked for me. The biggest win was that even with bringing so many outfit options, my carry-on roller duffle still fit into American Airline’s baggage sizers for both flights! That said, I know many people may have some more tips and tricks to add. Let me know if I missed anything!


Sheer bliss!

Sheer bliss!