How to Pack and Prep for a Flight

Although I’m not traveling much currently, I have done my fair share over the past decade. Combine traveling with several moves and several cramped living quarters, I’ve gotten good at minimizing the amount and size of what I bring with me on moves and trips. Somewhat surprisingly, I have noticed that I’m happier when I have fewer things. My outfits are more thoughtful, how I spend my time is better organized, and the memories I create with well-selected items last longer. I take packing a little too seriously and try my hardest to cram all my belonging into a carry on. Whether it’s a weekend trip or a two week journey, I usually manage to keep everything I’m bringing right beside me. It’s less about me worrying that my things will get lost and more about challenging myself to live with less things, even for a few days.

With that said, I wanted to share how I downsize, what I never leave town without, and other creative tips to make your next journey, whenever that may be, be more memorable and less stressful.

What I Wear and What I Avoid Wearing to the Airport:

  • Avoid earrings with backs. I usually try to nap on a flight and earrings with pointy backs poke me in the neck. Instead, I wear small hoops and that connect into themselves or skip earrings all together.
  • Avoid wearing a low bun. A low bun is usually my go-to hairstyle, but I avoid it on flights for the same reason I avoid earrings with pointy backs; the low bun makes it harder for me to relax my head back. I usually opt for a high bun or a side braid when traveling to still keep my hair off my face.
  • Wear a shirt that covers (most) of your butt, even if you’re wearing normal pants or jeans (versus leggings). When I’m bending down to pick up my bag or something else, I don’t want to worry about the whole plane/airport checking out my butt crack.
  • Avoid wearing tops with sparkles or glitter. You will light up at security and they’ll have to do a full pat down. Believe me, I’ve accidentally done this twice with the same woven, shimmery sweater and the TSA agents just shake their heads when they see you walk up.
  • Wear your bulkiest shoes and outwear on the plane, if it makes sense to do so. I always plan my airport outfit on the shoes I want to bring that don’t easily fold up into my luggage.
  • Wear something with pockets. I mess up this rule too much because I usually wear legging and a long top, so I end up not having easy access to my phone and wallet. I tend to pack away my small purse, so I am too often digging in my large purse or backpack for my phone, ID, or ticket.
My go-to bags. I’ll mix and match these depending on the trip. Black Longchamp folds up easily and doesn’t stain. The red bag is nice because it’s super flat and easy to stow away. A gifted canvas bag that rolls up into anything. And my Muji backpack (shown here folded into its pack). I couldn’t find this online, but similar styles are easy to find on camping and traveling websites.

What to Pack on Your Carry-on:

  • A go-to lightweight outerwear for colder flights. A big scarf, cardigan, or button-up. I always like the idea of chic scarf, but 9 out of 10 flights, I pack my over-sized denim button-up. I can wear it later tied up with a dress, use it as a bathing suit cover-up, or go denim on denim and look like a chic cowgirl.
  • If you aren’t bringing a small purse (I recommend packing a small purse in your bigger bag), pack a tiny bag to put in your larger bag to keep all your essentials in one spot. I keep chapstick, gum/mints, hand sanitizer, head phones, a pack of tissues, and a pen in a small bag so I’m not digging around for them in my bottomless carry-on.
  • Talking about small bags, when I’m not traveling, I usually carry a small purse (for errands, dinner, etc.) or a large canvas bag or backpack when I’m working at a coffee shop or grocery shopping. But that small bag gets packed away when traveling to give me the option to use a bigger bag as my personal bag. I’ve had my Longchamp for years and although it lacks the pockets I like, it folds up into a stowable pack when I don’t need it and it’s really easy to keep clean.
  • On top of a small purse tucked away, I also bring a canvas bag or backpack that folds into itself. I bring the backpack when I know I’ll be doing small hikes or going to the beach, and I bring the canvas bag to make sure I’m not needing to use a plastic bag when buying stuff on a trip. Plus I think there’s something really cool looking about a tall, simple canvas bag.
  • A water bottle that you know won’t leak or turn into a fountain with air pressure changes. I normally carry a water bottle with the flip-up spout, but those love to leak when turned to the side in my bag and spray water all over me when I open them midflight. So for travel, I usually stick with my Swell bottle because of its tight lid.
  • Even if I check a bag, I always keep my underwear, one pair of pajamas and an extra shirt in my carry-on. I also pack new dryer sheets in my packing cubes. That way when my clothes start getting dirty, I throw the dryer sheets in with the dirty clothes and they keep the odor under control.
  • Easy access to your phone charger, plus a portable charger. The portable charger has saved me so many times.
  • A carabiner (the little hooks used for climbing). I always have one hanging from my backpack and it’s nice to clip on your sandals, a water bottle, an extra bag or whatever that doesn’t quite fit inside your backpack.
  • A deck of cards. Since we started traveling together, my husband and I always pack a deck of cards. It easily distracts us for an hour on a flight, and cards are so nice to have when you’re trying to get away from screens. We’ve played cards in a small village in Morocco, on a winding bus in Switzerland, and in a tent while camping in Virginia. All really calm, special moments for us with such a simple thing to pack.
  • A few snacks, not just for the plane but if you’re hungry and the people you’re with are not, if there’s nothing but fast food options for miles, or if you land at 5 am and nothing is open. Sometimes I won’t touch my snacks and I’ll bring them back. Other times, I wish I brought more. Just remember airport snacks are way more expensive than normal snacks. I bought a $7.99 soy chocolate milk last week at the airport. Ouch.
  • Bonus: Depending on the trip, I also like to bring a bottle opener, a notepad for brainstorming, a couple koozies for warm weather, and a big scarf to pack during the day if I’m wearing something casual but may want to check out a religious building.
What I packed on our recent trip to Delaware.

How to Consolidate Cosmetics and Pick Toiletries:

  • I bring a bright or dark pink lipstick (not the long-lasting ones) and use that for lipstick and blush. I tap the lipstick on cheeks with my fingers. I’ll put the lipstick on like normal for a bolder look or I’ll pat it on my lips for a more subtle day look. Three products in one.
  • I use my bronzer for eyeshadow.
  • I skip on all makeup brushes. I apply my foundation and concealer with my fingers during trips, my lipstick is my blush so no need for a blush brush, and I don’t use a ton of bronzer so I carefully put that on my face and eyelids. Just skip out on as many as you’re comfortable with.
  • I have this small medicine pack from Muji so I can pack six different medicines I may need. I try to only pack items that I would hate to not have in the middle of the night if I woke up and something was wrong with me. If you don’t want to buy a medicine pack, I used a plastic container that once held bits for hanging picture frames for years. You probably have one of those already in your house.
  • I always bring a hair clip (mostly to pull my hair back in the shower or while washing my face) and I clip in my hairties and headband (for when I wash my face). Little details like keeping everything similar together make my trips less stressful.

Reduce your Liquids:

Like mentioned above, I take the practice of carrying on luggage quite seriously. Because of that, I had to get good at consolidating my liquids. Mainly, just try to bring only what you need and save the special beauty products for when you get back. Here are some ideas when you’re running out of room:

  • Dry powder shampoo (or honestly baby powder, although I hear that’s not great to do consistently) instead of spray dry shampoo.
  • Shampoo bars. They look just like soap bars but for your hair. I know lots of people who have switched over to these permanently because there’s no plastic waste from a bottle. Lush shampoo bars are really popular right now.
  • Sunscreen sticks instead of liquid.
  • Toothpaste tablets. I bought some of these before. They’re a little pricey to use every day in my opinion, but they are really good for traveling if you want to avoid unnecessary plastic waste from the tiny toothpaste tubes.
  • Stock up on perfume samples and rollers. Many beauty stores will gladly hand out perfume samples. Those usually last me a full week on trips, if not longer. I also have a couple small rollerball perfumes, like this one here. And perfume and cologne bars are a thing. They are bulkier than the tiny samples, but another cool option.
  • Hair paste instead of hairspray. I’m assuming you’re getting the theme now.
  • Downsize what you love to use into reusable containers. I have a mix of bottles I bought from Muji or I will refill old travel size bottles with whatever I like until the bottle literally falls apart. The only thing I don’t do this with is travel toothpaste. I imagine that would not work out well.

Other Packing and Traveling Tips:

  • To burn up some time on a flight, after I put my phone on airplane mode, I go through all my photos since the last time I’ve flown and delete any duplicates or photos I don’t need anymore. I also do this for text messages, apps, and other things to declutter my phone.
  • Packing necklaces: I’ve seen several videos where you can cut a straw long-ways and put your necklaces in the straw to keep them from tangling. I like that idea, but I don’t normally keep straws at home and I have several necklaces that have charms or other features where they wouldn’t work. So all I do is take a paper towel, put the necklace inside, roll it up, fold it in half, and keep all of them in a small bag. The paper towels are easy to reuse throughout your trip.
  • Packing Cubes: I’m obsessed with my packing cubes. I love them because I can categorize everything (undergarments and pajamas in one; dresses and tops in another; bottoms in another, etc). I’m not digging for one item and unfolding everything else. When I get to wherever I’m staying the cubes come out of my bag, I pick the few things I want to hang up, and everything else gets put on a closet shelf or in a drawer. It makes it feel like I’m living in a space, instead of feeling like a clutter, unorganized mess. Even if I’m doing a weekend trip, I still use at least a couple of them. All mine are from Muji. I’ve had used them a lot over four years and they turn into tiny compactable pouches when I don’t need them. I have several different sizes and can easily fit two weeks worth of clothes in three cubes.
  • Bring an old plastic grocery bag to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean. I bring one on longer trips, beach trips, or trips that I’m extra active. Sure, there are really cute laundry bags you can pack, but I always have a plastic grocery bag in my kitchen and it’s so easy to take. It’s also perfect for muddy shoes when needed. Plus you can just recycle after so you don’t have to worry about your laundry bag also getting smelly and needing a wash.
These are all from Muji. I have three different sizes. The one filled is a Medium and I fit: 2 dresses, 2 tops, pajamas, 1 pair of shorts, 1 bra, 3 pairs of underwear, 1 pair socks. This easily fits into most my backpacks. If it were cooler out, I would pack my underwear and PJs in the Small cube to make room for bulkier items in the Medium cube.

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