3 Tips for Packing Light and Carrying On

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Darlene Stanley - How to Pack Light and Carry On

Here are my 3 main tips to help you pack light for international travel, and have lots of outfit options when carrying on!

I’ve traveled for nearly 9yrs on-going now all over the world, and most of the time I did it with just a carry on size suitcase/backpack and a computer/camera bag. My husband and I have a missions ministry, Hasten International Mission, that focuses on reaching unreached nations, people groups, training of missionary evangelists and pastors. We produce a reality tv program called “The Revolutionary Life,” which follows our many missionary adventures and stories as we travel all over the world, trusting God each step of the way. None of it is scripted…which always makes for more fun tv. Lol. With doing video while being on the road however, this means we have to look somewhat decent, and not look like we’re wearing the same thing all the time etc…

So here’s a few helpful tips that have helped me through the years as a woman to pack light and efficient, but still have all the basic essentials that I need.

1. Solids.

This is KING to everything. The more solid colors you have to work with the more you can interchange your outfits so you don’t feel like you’re wearing the same thing all the time!
Now I love different colored printed tops and dresses, but I really have to keep these to a minimum when traveling, otherwise I’ll limit myself in what I can wear.

  • 4-6 Solid blouses & shirts. If you pick a light-weight polyester blend these will make great travel blouses as they pack small and they don’t wrinkle!
  • 1-Solid colored skirt. I prefer a black convertible dress/skirt! A sturdy fold down maxi or midi length skirt is great, and these usually can be worn as a dress also!
  • 1-2 Solid t-shirt dresses. These are great to have with you. They can be worn by themselves in places it’s ok to show your legs, and they can be worn with leggings when it’s colder, or when needing to be more (modest) internationally friendly. These also make great tunics in countries like Africa, India, Nepal, SE Asia countries, villages, and Middle East or Western Sahara.
Swing Dress
A perfect example of what you can do with a simple swing dress. For some countries in Asia or Middle East just pair with leggings & have a long sleeve cardigan to cover your arms in more conservative places.

NOTE: *If you are planning on carrying on, then the general rule is to only pack enough clothes for a week. Now of course you’ll have a few extra items incase it gets cold, like a jacket, and maybe some swimming attire if you’re going somewhere hot, but besides that you need to plan on making the most use out of that week of clothing as possible!

2. Accessories.

Accessories are extremely helpful for you to completely change the look of your plain-jane-attire. For instance, if you have a plain black dress that you can wear simple with flip flops/sandals, all you need to dress it up is add a nice necklace, scarf, earrings, and maybe a pair of nice sandals, add a shawl/cardigan or something over your arms if needed….And suddenly you’ve changed your whole look.

A good list of accessories:

  • 2-4 – Lightweight colorful scarves. You can go with maybe 2 solid and 2 color printed scarves. I like to have a couple of solid colored scarves I can use with a couple of my printed tops, or dresses I packed, and then a couple of printed scarves to add to my solid attire. When pressed for space I love to use a couple of silk scarves, cause they take up hardly any extra space and come in a wide variety of color & designs. I also always have one sarong beach wrap that I use as my travel towel, but it can be worn as a heavier weight scarf when it’s cold, a skirt, dress, and light weight blanket on the road. This type will be made of rayon or a lightweight cotton. (I usually go with a solid color in this so I won’t be limited with what I wear it with.)Fullscreen-capture-1032011-20443-PM
  • 3-4 – Necklaces. I usually like the longer type necklaces which I can wear long or wrap a couple of times to make shorter. These add alot of change to an otherwise plain look. I also learned to pack light-weight necklaces and not any of those extremely heavy beaded ones.
  • 3-4 – Pair of earrings. Earrings don’t take up any room hardly! So you can feel free to splurge with this one. I love big chandelier type earrings, and I usually have a couple of these that I can wear to dress things up, and I’ll have a few daily simple stud style earrings I can wear for everyday use.
  • Sandal/ Flip flop Accessory – This is what I like to call “shoe bling.” Another option if you don’t want to use extra space to pack a bunch of different shoes is to go with a plain basic everyday sandal or flip flop (that is plenty comfortable for lots of walking) and just clip or pin some “shoe bling” to it to dress it up when needed. I usually go with a black or brown color flip flop/sandal which I can pair with everything, and that way it’s easy to make it look a-little dressy.
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Here’s a great example of how easy it is to dress up a boring pair of flip flops with a simple add on clip! 🙂

1-2 Belts – A belt can really add alot to an outfit. I like to use a thin one sometimes to add to a loose top, convertible dress, skirt, or pants. You can take a loose waist on a swing dress and give it a a-line dress shape with simply adding a skinny or wide belt. When traveling I prefer a skinny belt since it won’t hardly take up any space

Free-People-Convertible-Dress-Skirt

1- Soft lightweight cardigan – (This can be long or short depending on your taste) This is so you can cover your arms when being in more conservative settings, and just in case you get a little chilly! Sometimes airports, airplanes & buses can freeze you with the AC. They are a great layering tool as well and don’t have to take up much space if you get one with a light-weight fabric!

3. Shoes:

My general rule is no more than 2 pairs of shoes, and 3 only when it’s absolutely necessary. All you really need is 1) general walking shoe, and 2) a sandal/flip-flop. I’ve been able to travel the world with just two pairs of shoes for years. Only on a few rare occassions did I need an actual dress shoe…So the third shoe option is only needed when you are going to nicer places and need something that can be more formal.

Shoe options: 

1.) A tennis walking shoe or comfortable ankle boot that can be your go to shoe. Personally I love to use an ankle boot especially with a side-zipper for easy on and off wear, because I can wear it with alot more things. Here’s a picture of the boot I love to travel with. It’s really the perfect boot for me. My only wish would be the same shoe with alittle more treading on the bottom, however I’ve never had any trouble with them yet and they are both functional for a variety of weather conditions, countries, and it’s absolutely more fashionable.

Whistle Wine bootie by clarks
This is the exact pair I own and I’ve been wearing these for a few years now. They been everywhere and have held up great! (Clarks Whistle Vine Casual Boot)

2.) You’re everyday sandal that can also function as a dress shoe. I usually go with something like this croc cause it’s super comfortable and pretty looking. This is a great option if like me you really don’t want to have to pack an additional shoe. I prefer this shoe to be water resistant so I can wear them in the shower, on the beach, through sand, dirt trails, and if they get muddy I can simply rinse them off with water and they are like new. No soiling! This has been my go too sandal now for nearly 7yrs of travels and 20+ countries. They work great and are light as a feather on the feet!

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The Croc Capri with beads adds a bit of dressy appeal as well as provides great comfort for long days!

3.) The 3rd “dressy” shoe suggestions: Go with a dressy flat, dressy sandal, or a sling-back with a small heel. Sling backs when needing a little heel are great cause they are compact and easily will fit in your carry on when absolutely needed. Just don’t pack your stilettos…leave those at home. 😉

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A cute smart looking dress shoe found on TravelSmith site without the bulk.
I hope these suggestions were helpful for you!

Let me know if you got any questions. Just ask away or leave some of your own suggestions in the comment box below!

And I hope you have lots of fun on your next adventure! 🙂

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Here I am with my husband Dustan in Paris, wearing my “Clarks Whistle Vine” boots! 🙂

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