packing light

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!

How To Pack For A Week Vacation In Europe With Just Two Carry-On’s (and still look great!)

My boyfriend and I are heading to Europe this Friday for a nine-day adventure!


Our plan is to go from London ⇒ Amsterdam ⇒ Bruges ⇒ Brussels ⇒ London. That said, given the amount of plane and train travelling we’ll be doing, we decided to challenge ourselves to only take carry-on luggage this trip…SCARY!!!

Growing up I was always the teenager who stuffed her bright blue, monogrammed L.L.Bean XL duffle to the 50 lb. maximum weight in order to fit as many outfit options, makeup, toiletries, and hair supplies as possible. Checking a bag was always a given. However, after most airlines started charging extra for checked baggage, I had to quell the urge to pack my entire closet. Additionally, I started visiting more destinations with robust public transit systems, and the benefit of travelling light became exhaustingly evident.

But, let’s be honest here – learning how to travel light was a long journey in itself. My 21-year-old self would never believe that my 26-year-old self would have been able to go to Ireland for a full week in wintertime without checking a suitcase. However, last March my best friend and I did just that (and we were thankful all four times we got on a train to a new city).

Ladies – it’s do-able, I promise!

The Cold, Hard Truth:

Bringing a checked bag on a budget trip to Europe is cumbersome.

It means you wait longer at airports to check and retrieve your luggage. Also, you have to carry your bags through crowded train stations and subways when you’re travelling between cities. Further, it costs money every time you have to check your luggage – adding extra expense to your trip.

That said, you want to look cute….and fashionable…because let’s face it, you don’t want to stand out as an ugly American. When you pack for a trip that involves sightseeing and numerous types of activities, it is very convenient and reassuring to have attire at hand for anything that comes up. Looking good is a must, because the other Europeans on the cobblestone sidewalks can be almost unattainably trendy.

The Goal:

Consolidate and reduce your luggage to two carry-ons in order to save money, time, and energy.


  • Try not to sacrifice style.
    • NEVER bring ugly, boxy sneakers or anything resembling those khaki waterproof pants that zip off into shorts. (I’d rather pay the extra money for a checked bag than resemble a tacky American tourist every day.)
  • Avoid needing to buy new clothes or toiletries when you arrive. Be mindful of the amount of shopping you want to do while there, and how much room you need for souvenirs.


How To Achieve It:

Step 1: Invest in the right equipment


Several years ago I bought a cute light-blue carry-on sized rolling duffle on sale for $15 at the Tucson airport.  It was originally $60 and it’s lasted around five years. That’s $3 per year. Let’s just say, I love this bag because it holds A TON.

This bag has taught me that even though a rolling duffle looks smaller than the maximum size carry-on suitcase, THEY STRETCH! Also, when you have to fit your duffle into the TSA sizers, they can shrink! If you don’t completely overstuff the bag, it can feel revolutionary. I read an article recently that the majority of suitcases labeled carry-on in the stores are actually not regulation carry on size for all airlines, so it’s good to do your research and check the measurements of bags before you purchase.

Here is an option I found on that is 22x11x12 (which fits American Airline’s requirements):  Rolling Carry-On Duffle Bag


London Heathrow and other European airports are even stricter than the US when it comes to needing to put your liquids and gels into a baggie. After my Ziploc baggies ripped during several past trips, I decided to invest in a high quality, re-usable, zipper-closure transparent baggie from The Container Store (upon my flight attendant best friend’s suggestion) to avoid having to purchase new Ziploc baggies while travelling. Note: I tried the cheapest option first and its sliding closure broke very quickly after one use. That said, the high quality baggie fits perfectly in the lower front pocket of my rolling duffle, which allows me to quickly remove it during a security check.



I always use one of the beautiful makeup bags that I get for free during Clinique bonus time to pack all of my non-liquid and non-gel toiletries/makeup. Sturdy bags such as those keep my suitcase organized without adding a lot of weight.



We all know your giant leather tote bag would be much cuter for your second carry on, but this is a time to be practical. I ALWAYS take a high-quality backpack with a lot of storage when I travel. I’m not suggesting you take an outdoor backpack. Instead I feel a cheaper and more fashionable school bag option will do.

Let’s just say my shoulders have thanked me for it over and over and over again. This is the Embark backpack I just bought to replace my old Jansport from college.


I own a Microsoft Surface Pro and an HP laptop. I always leave the laptop behind when I travel because of the extra weight and hassle at security. When it comes to tablets, I’m practical. I know that having an iPad/Kindle/Nexus/Nook is great for consuming content, but my personal preference is to have a tablet as powerful as my laptop that can perform all of the functions of Microsoft Office.


I strongly suggest buying the highest quality camera you can afford because the pictures you will take will be priceless. At the same time, be mindful of camera bulk. My boyfriend and I have a Sony HD camera that is nearly as good as a DSLR but much smaller in size.

Step 2: Start with the toiletries


First thing’s first – hair. If you have long hair, make sure to book lodging with a guaranteed hair dryer. Most hotels have them and I’ve seen hostels with loanable ones even! Hair dryers take up way too much space and weight in your suitcase to bother bringing them. Also, I’ve heard many American dryers have blown out when plugged into European outlets due to the voltage difference (even with converters!). Resign yourself to the fact that your hair will most likely not look like you came straight from a Dry Bar appointment, and that’s OKAY. You will live, and still look fine.

With that said, I usually bring a straightening iron and use it on one of its lowest temperature settings to avoid voltage issues.


I never use the free shampoo and conditioners at hotels and do not expect you to either. I’ve tried it before and found the products very drying and unsatisfactory (caveat:  my boyfriend is usually fine with using them). Instead, I’ve invested in 1-oz jars from The Container Store for my Argon Oil and Smoothing Cream. Depending on your hair type, the Container Store has other options as well (i.e. small spray bottles for hair spray, etc.). I have long, thick hair so I use either two or three ounce bottles for my shampoo and conditioner.


I do not cut corners here. I have prepped mini 1-oz versions of my Clinique 3-step as well as my Origins face mask. Touring cities all day exposes you to a lot of free radicals in the air, which can clog pores easily. I’ve found that many people (including myself) are much more prone to breakouts and dry skin when travelling.


Only take what you consider necessary. I’ll admit I’m a makeup girl so that still means a fairly full makeup bag for me. The way I cut corners here is by choosing one day-time look for the entire trip and two night-time options. I also pack my makeup brush set and tweezers in this bag.


I highly recommend packing a 1-oz spray bottle of Febreze fabric refresher, a 1-oz spray bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release, and a 1-oz leak-proof bottle of Woolite. That combination of three ounces of laundry products will really help keep your clothes fresh during the trip.


After I realized when studying abroad that none of the medicine brands are the same in Europe as they are in the US, I began bringing a tiny makeup bag of various pills on each trip. It’s amazing to not worry about finding a pharmacy if you get a headache, and it eliminates guessing which brand would work best for your needs.


The items in this category will depend on your habits, but for things such as eye makeup remover and deodorant, I invest in travel size versions or more mini jars from The Container Store. Also, I always bring a mini toothpaste and my normal toothbrush from home in a protective case. That said, I’ll caution that the less excess toiletries you have, the better.

Step 3: Try to only pack the must-have attire

In the summer, Europe is colder than most places in America. In the winter it’s warmer than most. I have to be very conscious of that fact when packing, and I always check the forecast and historical average temperatures online before departure.

My last two trips to Europe were to Ireland and Wales, and I learned the importance of packing for rainy weather. Those trips taught me how valuable waterproof shoes can be and that sometimes you need to sacrifice style a little for warm, dry feet.

With that said, make sure you understand what the other essentials are that you need to pack, depending on the climate(s) you’re visiting. Just because you’ve been wearing dresses and shorts all summer in the US doesn’t mean you’ll be comfortable in those in London when the high is only 72 degrees. I also recommend trying to pack a few days in advance so you have time to sleep on your decisions.

If it helps, for my upcoming trip I’m taking:

2 – machine washable sundresses 2 – pair of jeans (one blue and one non-standard color) 1 – pair of shorts (cobalt blue) 8 – machine washable shirts in various colors 3 – neutral-colored cardigans (black, gray, brown) 1 – thin, gray, zip-up sweatshirt 1 – sleeping outfit (soft t-shirt and stretchy black capris) 10 – pairs of socks and undies 3 – bras (one strapless, one convertible to halter) 2 – pairs of tights (black and gray) 2 – belts (brown and black) 1 – fold-up waterproof windbreaker 1 – pair of sandals 1 – pair of Clarks waterproof walking shoes 1 – pair of fashionable metallic sneakers


Yes- ALL of these things and more fit in my  carry-on duffle and backpack. For simplicity, I ensured my top layers were neutral colors, and tested that all shirts and sweaters would match the bottoms/dresses I packed. I also was mindful to choose fabrics that would not wrinkle easily, and could take well to Febreze fabric refresher and Downy Wrinkle Release. (Mostly cotton, light-weight wool, and faux-silk this trip!)

Lastly, I find it important to wear my heaviest items on the plane for ease of transport AND in case I get cold. It can get chilly when you’re high above the Atlantic!

Step 4: Re-evaluate all items using ONLY your practicality lens

I’ve learned over time that hats are more of a burden than a benefit to me on trips. I also have a money belt that has never been opened. Along with realizing that some typical “must haves” didn’t work for me, I simultaneously found that remembering my umbrella and wallet with a large coin pouch was invaluable on my Europe trips. It’s important to assess your own needs and habits when it comes to evaluating your packing decisions.

With that said, when I first started packing for this trip, I set aside four pairs of jeans and twelve shirts that were “potentials.” After stepping away for an hour, I returned and slowly thought through each piece’s versatility, when I would wear it, what it pairs well with, etc. That allowed me to narrow down the pile.

My personal tactic is to bring only two pairs of jeans to cut down on luggage weight (one to wear on the plane and one for the duffle). Next, I adhere to a strict rule that I can only bring one shirt or dress for each day that I’m travelling. For this trip I packed two dresses and eight shirts for a total of ten travel days. This means that I have a new, pretty outfit each day. DONE!!!!!

Step 5: Make sure your bag closes

This is (obviously) the most important step. Zip very slowly the first time to ensure you don’t over-stress the zipper if your bag is too full. I’ve never been opposed to sitting on my suitcase if needed. J

If your bag doesn’t close, try taking out a shirt or two and bank on using your laundry supplies towards the end of your trip.


Now that you’ve read through my suggested packing process, you can see that I am NOT recommending sacrificing style or re-wearing clothes numerous times just to fit everything in your bag. I had read another blog post online that recommended re-wearing the same black shirt and just packing loads of colorful scarves to “mix things up” – which I found uninteresting and a bit gross. As an alternative, I’m happy that I have now shared my field-tested recommendation for packing light, fashionably, and practically on your next Europe trip. Smart packing occurs when you minimize all excess and are mindful of what you need.

I hope I have now proved that you can pack enough outfits in your carry-on to look amazing throughout your entire photo montage!

Bon voyage! Cheers!

– Eliz



  • I am 5’1” (size XS petite) so the amount of fabric on my clothes will be less than the average person. This means that my clothes will take up a little less room than average. The same goes for shoes since I am a size 7M women’s. However, my 5’10” best friend has been able to pull off only taking a carry-on before as well for a one-week vacation.
  • I did not include clubbing clothes in this post because I prefer to go to local bars/pubs when I travel. That said, for those of you who wish to go clubbing, my recommendation would be to trade out the fashionable sneakers for high heels as well as replace one of the sundresses with a bodycon minidress.


  • I work on the P&G account at a New York-based media agency. P&G manufactures Febreze and Downy.