"Really, Mom!" My daughter eyed the spiffy red Briggs & Riley suitcase I was trying on a recent trip to Europe. Yes, it was lightweight, expandable, hard-sided with four wheels and even had a lifetime warranty, but it was also big -- checked-bag size and nearly 50 pounds when full. It probably would have been ideal for a trip that took me from Point A to Point B and home again.
But we were walking several blocks from our hotel to the Berlin train station after the first leg of a two-week trip that would include stays in three cities (four hotels) and a week-long river cruise that included daily biking with Backroads.
My daughter and son-in-law managed just fine with a carry-on and backpacks. My family complained that, as usual, I'd overpacked. They were right. I didn't wear half of what I'd brought. If you are like me and want to pack more efficiently, especially these days when you don't want to pay for bags for the entire family (wait at the airport for them or need a larger rental car to accommodate the bags), this column is for you.
Just make sure the kids have a say in what goes into that carry-on suitcase or duffel. That way, they can't blame you for what they forgot. Make a list with them of what they need to bring (How many pairs of socks? A bathing suit?) and then encourage them to lay out their clothes. Together you can see what will fit in a backpack and a carry-on that they can wheel.
"The hardest was trying to figure out what to put in the backpacks," recalled Sean Jacobson, from San Diego. Now 15, Sean recalls his family's seven-month sojourn around the world with just carry-on bags. He added, that in retrospect, he wished they had taken even fewer electronics because, "We'd be watching a movie or playing something and not looking at stuff," he explained.
His mom, Shari Jacobson, added that you realize just how little you really need.
I agree, as long as you pack smart. (I'm not giving prices here because I'm betting you can do better than retail!) Here is how to travel lighter:
Except for the kids' favorite shirt, leave the cotton at home, including underwear and socks. (Look for brands like SmartWool or from REI.com that will wick moisture and can be worn more than one day.
Sure, you'll want a pair of jeans but remember leggings take up a lot less room. For everyone in the family, look for moisture-wicking fabrics that will dry quickly and are breathable, especially when heading to warm climes. For adults, I've also become a fan of fabrics that repel odor, like the Wanderlux shirts from Exofficio.com.
Look for lighter weight clothes that will do the job, even when it's cold. For example, I love the new flannel-like travel shirtfrom Toad & Co, which won't take up as much room as flannel but just as cozy.
Of course you want to look stylish in a city, but all you need is one dress or a skirt and one pair of slacks and a jacket for the guys.
I love denim but find it too heavy to travel with (except my trusty denim jacket), but I really like the Ivana denim knit sleeveless dress from J McLaughlin. I also think you can't go wrong with a black dress that you can crumple up in a ball, like the long-sleeved Bedford dress J McLaughlin features this fall or the black slacks from LisetteL. Everyone I know who has tried them, no matter what their body shape, loves that they make your legs longer and slimmer and don't wrinkle!
My husband is a fan of the new brand Bluffworks because the jacket and slacks look good and never wrinkle. Look for their new travel shirts next month! My son-in-law claims the Coast Twill pants from Sugoi were terrific because they were moisture wicking, breathable, comfortable for a long bike ride, but nice enough for a business meeting or a night out. The brand, known for cycling gear, makes clothes for men and women that work just as well for travel.
I've also become a fan of the brand SoftSurroundings.com because their tops are unique (I always get compliments when I wear one) Many of the tops are longer and forgiving, which is what moms of many ages need!
Limit the pairs of shoes but make sure they are comfortable -- and versatile -- a brand like ECCO promises comfort as well as style. And inexpensive CROCS now come in all varieties of styles and color for kids and adults and are great to wear when you're flying or facing a long car trip.
A good rain jacket is a must for every member of the family. Get them large enough so that you can layer underneath, especially in fall and winter. I love the new November Rain hooded poncho that fits into its own sack and will layer over a long sweater or jacket. You won't need an umbrella.
Weight counts for jewelry, too, and you don't want to travel with anything valuable. Try something like The Bali Beadmade sustainably from recycled glass by artisans in Indonesia. It's so versatile it might be the only necklace you'll need.
Invest in a puffy jacket that is warm, waterproof, lightweight and can stuff into a pocket. Mine doubles as a travel pillow. Patagonia says its Micro Puff hoody is the lightest, warmest, packable jacket they've ever made and will keep you warm even when it's wet. I was also impressed with the Ultralight and highly water-resistant down jackets from LL Bean. Both companies will take back their products if you aren't satisfied.
Follow these tips, and you'll have room in that carry-on for souvenirs!