Traveling in just one carry-on bag: Packing tips from Barbara Ramsay Orr

New ATC Blogger Barbara Ramsay Orr departs today for Germany where she will sail on the inaugural cruise of the Panorama, the new river cruiser from Avalon Waterways.

I always struggle to pack light, especially when I’m heading for a cruise. There are usually some formal nights, as well as a need for active wear and smart casual outfits for daytime. It’s really difficult to pare things down, and it is always tempting to throw that last extra t-shirt in, just in case.

Just carry one bag

But I recently found myself trudging along an airport walkway dragged down with too heavy a bag and more stuff than I really needed. I vowed then that I would travel lighter, ideally with just carry-on luggage.

It is particularly helpful to fly with just carry-on these days. I have a Nexus pass, and Global Entry now, so in most cases, I can walk through customs in seconds. But waiting for luggage takes a long time, and recently the process has been further delayed at Pearson International in Toronto by breakdowns of the luggage conveyor.

While my customs’ passes won’t help me with this trip to Germany, I am still determined to survive with one carry-on bag, so I’ve done the research, and here’s some tips for packing light – and traveling in comfort – that I’ve managed to extract from my frequent flying, travel writing friends:

1. Roll – Rolling garments makes them easier to pack, reduces wrinkling and allows for a more organized suitcase.

2. Fewer clothes, more accessories – This only works for women, of course, but jewelry and scarves take up almost no space, and can turn one outfit into several.

Lulumon -- comfortable yoga wear

3. Back to basics — Choose a basic colour and stay with it. Black, brown or neutral- choose one of those and make it work. You shouldn’t have to pack more than one pair of dress shoes.

4. Wear your heaviest pieces – A blazer or jacket, a sweater, sneakers – these are all bulky items that are hard to pack. I try to wear my dressy jacket on board and carefully fold it away in the overhead. And I wear my running shoes – they may not be high fashion, but they make navigating airports so much easier.

5. One word – Lululemon! – This company makes the best yoga clothes. They are comfortable and attractive and I always wear Lulu when I travel, particularly for overseas flights. The pieces don’t wrinkle, they make your butt look great ( it’s what they’re famous for) and they give without sagging. Perfect. (

Compact makeup

6. Minimize your make-up — Invest in good travel sized cosmetics and amenities. My daughter gave me Estee Lauder’s Luxury Traveler – it’s a complete makeup palette that has everything I could possibly need – lipstick, eye shadow, foundation, powder, eye liner, you name it – in a sleek little box. I pick up sample sizes of my favorite perfume. Bobby Brown makes a line of small travel sized refillable jars that you can use for creams and lotions.

7. Be space wise – Those spaces inside shoes? Use that for underwear, socks or jewelry.

8. In case of shopping, pack a foldable zippered bag. If you buy things on your cruise – and who doesn’t? – fill this bag with clothes and check it if you have to, or use it as an extra carry-on if the airline isn’t too strict about the number of things you have hanging on your arms.

So those tips should help me stay minimal for this trip. Wish me luck on my luggage diet. Small is beautiful. (I have to admit I have a back-up plan. My husband, in a reversal of roles, is taking a large bag. To be fair, he is 6’4”, and one pair of his shoes fills up half of a carry-on. I’m hoping I can sneak a few things into his suitcase, if necessary.)

Refillable bottles

Some other travel tips that are worth noting, for safety reasons:

Get rid of old luggage tags. Leaving them on may make you look like a seasoned traveler, but they can confuse baggage handlers.

Stay Anonymous. Never leave your address and contact information exposed on your luggage tag. Use a tag that just shows your name, or use the ones at the airline counters that fold closed. Put your business card inside your luggage too, just in case the one on the outside gets removed.

Personalize your bag. I have a small green ribbon tied around the handle of my suitcase, and that allows me to identify it from other similar ones.

Avoid the Wrong Kind of Attention. If you take your computer, carry it in an innocuous case, not one that has the brand name prominently displayed. As travel expert Doug Dyment says, “That Apple label actually says ‘Steal me’.”



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