The Secret to Traveling Light

Unfortunately, airlines are now charging for checked bags.  With everyone having their own bag, that can really add up.  In addition, you are probably going to be lugging your suitcases in and out of the car on a daily basis if you cover a lot of ground like I do.  So here are a few tips on packing to make sure you have all you’ll need while traveling as light as possible.

1. Sharing bags

When my kids were smaller, we were able to travel with 2 bags for the four of us.  To accomplish this task we took two rolling duffle bags that had zippered compartments that essentially split the bag into a top and a bottom level.  This can work if you want to save on the airline fees, but you have to balance that with the fact that they will be much heavier to lug around.

As my kids got older, we graduated to much smaller rolling duffles.  This way, everyone could be responsible for their own bag. However, it did add to the airline expense and there was some strategic planning involved in getting all the bags into the car. Play your cards right and you just my be able to get them into the overhead bin, but that necessitates packing only the bare essentials…


The packing formula:

For trips shorter than 7 days, bring one outfit per day. For trips 7 days or longer, pack half of what you’ll need as you will do laundry on the trip.

Typically for a 12-day road trip, here is what I tell my kids to pack (and this goes for me too):

  • 6 pairs of shorts
  • 6 shirts
  • 7 underwear (1 extra in case of an emergency)
  • 7 pairs of socks (1 extra in case of an emergency)
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 beach towel
  • 1 pair of long pants
  • 1 hoodie sweatshirt
  • 3 pajamas
  • 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat

Other things that will come in handy: a small umbrella or a compact rain poncho, depending on where you go.  Check the weather before you leave.  I assumed that it would be mid-70’s in Florida during Christmas break.  It was just my luck that they had a freezing cold spell that lasted the entire time we were there.  Thank G-d we had brought a pair of pants because it was really cold.

Take only the things you cannot live without.  Also, don’t take anything fancy unless you have need to.  These trips are all about being casual and on the move.  I will admit, I am a little bit of a princess and I do need my makeup and blow dryer.  If you are organized and only take the things you really need, you should be able to fit it all in your bag.  It’s all about being lean and mean.

Laundry on the go:

The key to packing half of what you need clothes-wise means you will have to do laundry on the road.  There are several ways to do this:

  1. Find a local cleaners or Laundromat that will do fluff and fold. They charge you by the pound.  I usually do this in a location where I will be spending more than one day.
  2. Do laundry one evening at the hotel.  Most places will have laundry machines for hotel guests to use.  If you go with this option, then it’s best to stop at the grocery store and pick up a small amount of detergent and dryer sheets.
  3. Have the hotel do it, or send it out. Only do this if you are desperate and make sure you work out the price in advance.  I made a huge mistake doing this in New Orleans and paid a fortune because I had no idea how much my laundry weighed and got supremely ripped off.


You can always pick up what you need in an emergency at Wal-Mart on the cheap.  We needed jackets in South Dakota in the summer and got four of them for $15 each!


  1. I also rely on the convenience of laundry on the road to help lighten the suitcases. I make sure that at least every other hotel has laundry facilities, and I pack detergent. I found a detergent that is like a dryer sheet, so it is lightweight and will not spill. I also pack a couple of rolls of quarters and keep them hidden in the car until we need them for laundry since they can really add pounds to a suitcase. We put dirty laundry in a large, nylon bag with handles, so it’s easy to carry back and forth to the laundry room. I have fond memories of watching Friday Night Lights on my iPad in laundry rooms across the southeast. I have not very fond memories of the hotel water being turned off in Maine while mid cycle. But everything ends up being a good travel story, right? My favorite was when we were doing laundry the day before our departure to Seattle when a tropical storm turned off our power for a few days. We packed wet clothes and asked at Seattle hotel check in for the nearest laundry mat. It ended up being this great, funky half laundry mat / diner with loud music. It was a great, local spot that we would have never seen.