Secrets of Packing Light

Gutentag from Berlin! I’m here for The Hive Conference where I’ll be speaking this weekend. I decided to come a few days early to get a lay of the land, and because tickets were cheaper. The catch with the low-cost carriers in Europe, however, is that your baggage allowance is slim to none. Ironically, I “purchased” a carry on for this trip (it’s cheaper to do it in advance than at the airport), but after doing all carry-on for 4 days in Budapest last week, I decided to challenge myself to 7 days in Berlin as carry-on. Both trips I had my computer with me.

The bag is a Timbuk2 messenger bag. Here’s what’s inside. [Note: this picture makes it look better – and lighter – than in reality]
(1) 15″ MacBook Pro (I keep my iPhone connector & camera cord in my padded laptop bag at all times)
(1) iPad
(3) various powercords, camera charger & connectors
(2) dresses [that won’t get too wrinkled]
(1) long sleeve shirt that can be dressed up or down
(2) tank-tops that can be layered under sweater
(7) pairs underwear
(2) pairs of hose
(1) PJ top & bottom
(1) swimsuit, cap, goggles
(1) compact quick-dry towel (great find at sports stores)
(1) make-up bag (with small jewelry sack)
(1) toiletries bag (shampoo, conditioner, body wash in small MUJI bottles)
(1) pair of flats [I love my black Tom’s for travel]
(1) pair of no frills slippers
(1) book (1″)
(1) sketchbook/journal (1″)
(1) Canon G10 camera
(1) purse that can be dressed up/down
(2) tote-style bags (one is neon orange, the other is gold – have fun!)
[wearing] jeans, long sleeve shirt, sweater, jacket with pockets, strappy heels that can be dressed up/down

The secret:

  1. Color coordinate your clothes so everything matches. This is a tip I learned from my friend Margaret (see her Boarding Pass for a peek!). She’s working on a guest post. But for reference, for Berlin my color scheme is peach/neon orange, grey, gold, and with an army green jacket. In Budapest my colors were black, creme and gold. As an aside, I only travel with pockets; in fact, I’ll only buy a jacket if it has good pockets, at least for my phone.
  2. You need far less than you think you need, and you can always wash things by hand if need be. (Or buy something). However, as I learned in Budapest, it’s always a good idea to bring a sweater of sorts, even if it’s just for the airplane. Clothes you can layer are always a good idea. Get creative with your wardrobe!
  3. I’m not going to lie, the bag does get heavy, especially with the computer. For flying these low-cost airlines the trick is everything has to fit in ONE bag (they do provide size dimensions, which aren’t particularly big). Typically I’d carry my purse or computer separately, but at least to go through security and onto the plane, it needs to all fit. Getting my purse crammed in is not the most beautiful feat. However, once on the plane, I take my computer out and put it and my notebook and anything else I need in a separate tote to put under the seat in front of me, and the main bag goes overhead. In a way I compartmentalize my bag so I can easily separate it; this also helps when going through security. When I leave the plane, I exit with 2 bags, which helps distribute the weight and keeps people from punching me, because I’m sure they’d much rather get off the plane than wait for me to re-stuff a bag.
  4. The reality is that with my travels typically I’m on the move a lot, or navigating stairs and escalators in the metro, so I don’t want something that is going to over-power me. I like doing carry-on because it gets me in and out of the airport that much faster. (I love my airport time, but not spent waiting in lines). Furthermore, when I get back to Paris I always have to keep in mind I have a 6 floor walk-up to look forward to, so I find that to be a very motivating force to keep it light.

RECAP: Only 2 pairs of shoes total (wear one). All clothes fit within a 4-color scheme so everything matches. Each trip gets its own color palette.

Don’t miss my guide to packing for Paris for more helpful travel tips!

Image: Me in Paris Orly airport yesterday waiting in line to board my flight – on Instagram.


  • Fantastic post, Anne! It’s true: one can get by on very little with some planning & getting the packing down to a science.

    I flew a low-cost airline to my friend’s place in Antibes. I decided to pay extra for a suitcase, but it was because I knew we were going to go shopping. I followed the same kinds of guidelines here so that I would have plenty of room to pack the new stuff. ;-)

    You’ve encouraged me to take the carry-on challenge, though. I’ll have to see if I can do it the next time I see her. Or, maybe even travel somewhere new!

    Thanks for the great tips!

  • All so true! I also always try to go all carry-on. Even if it happens rarely, the inconvenience of lost luggage has encouraged me to always keep all of my belongings with me when possible.

    I just recently did a 5 day business trip to the US with all carry-ons. The collapsible tote bag is key for flexibility! I also bring books with me that I know I don’t want to keep when I’m finished with them, and I’ll abandon them in a hotel or airport when I’m finished with them to lighten my load.

    Great tips Anne and happy travels to all!

  • Je préfère toujours voyager léger. La seule chose que je déteste sur cette destination est l’emballage .. Il me fait de se sentir bizarre. Dans auteur du message d’expliquer certaines des meilleures façons qui sera utile pour moi dans l’avenir.

  • Great post Anne; I too am a carry-on only traveler and find that if you roll clothes tightly, you can pack a lot. Color coordinating is key to making it happen.
    Thanks for the tips!

  • Great tips for the carry-on trip. I always roll my clothes to fit more in. My packing dilemma always comes down to shoes and which ones to sacrifice. Thanks for the packing advice.

  • Thank you for this post! I got here via a tweet from Nina Garcia, and I have a question for you. What size is your Timbuk2?



  • I love this! I admit I was super impressed with what you brought to VA and was making mental notes for better packing on my next trip. And then you posted about it. Hooray!

    I hope you are loving Berlin!

  • I will only take carry-ons and never check bags.

    I agree… I only take dark colors and everything potentially matches. I also love stripes. And for men, gingham is a good choice, too.

  • I am all for the carry on whenever possible – but has anyone noticed that lately when they make you check it at the gate (when you have that seat in the very very back by the lavatories and all the bag space is taken by the time you board), they actually check it through to baggage claim instead of handing it to you at your arrival gate? How unfortunate, I used to love the gate check option!

  • I definitely need to apply at least one or two of your traveling advices since I fall more into the heavy weight packer…

    This is such a good and informative post that I am also sharing it on my facebook page. Merci!.

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