Secrets to Traveling & Packing Like a Professional!

Top Ten Packing Tips

If you missed it, I did a blog post all about our epic trip to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu here.  Now, I want to tackle packing tips.

Few things annoy me more than packing. It is the WORST. Am I right? It causes so much anxiety and stress before a trip, even robbing you of some of the excitement. My goal is to stop that joy-sucking anxiety in its tracks with these ten key tips below.

Perhaps more important than what you actually bring… your packing materials!

Travel and Packing tips using only a carry on suitcase

#1 | Carry On ONLY

I know what you are thinking, no freakin way can I pack myself and my kids all in carry-on bags. CAN’T BE DONE.  Well, I’m going to show you how it CAN be done.

First, let’s talk about the advantages of only bringing a carry on suitcase. For this trip, we took many flights, trains, boats, etc. While checking bags is always an option, we felt there were too many moving parts to risk losing luggage. We also were able to swiftly move from one flight to the next, without waiting or worrying.  I brought my Calpak black marble carry on. It also comes in white. You can look at more color options here. These are sturdy suitcases! Please be sure to check the sizes carefully before ordering. You need the 22-inch option. The 23-incher has to be checked.

Machu Picchu Family Trip 2018

#2 | Your Second Bag is Just as Important as Your Carry On

My second bag (the tote pictured above) was just as important as my suitcase. It held all my toiletries, laptop, and other tech accessories. I talk more about that bag below.  I put my toiletries including liquids in this tote. I also put my laptop in this sleeve inside the tote. Additionally, I had my tech bag in here. My ID and money were in my Prada belt bag secured around my waist, but not through the loops of my jeans. That way I didn’t have to unfasten it every time I had to use the bathroom. The great thing about this belt bag is… it’s a 2-in-1. There is a gold chain on the inside so I can easily convert it to a more sophisticated evening bag. I loved touring cities and sites with this bag, hands-free!

Packing Tips | What to Bring to the Galapagos and Machu PicchuThis was one of the extra dresses I brought for nice dinners. It’ s not essential.

#3 | Packing Cubes are a MUST!

Behold the power of the cube! You can fit a lot of stuff in a small suitcase thanks in LARGE part to the power of the packing cube. I have some cubes by Amazon Basics and some from eBags, both are great! I recommend buying a few different sizes. Per suitcase, I usually use 3 large and 2 medium-sized cubes. I bought different colors for everyone in the family, which is another way to make your travel life simpler.

Packing Tips | What to Bring to the Galapagos and Machu PicchuThis was a great extra dress to have since you can wear a regular bra with it and it’s comfortable.

#4 | Use Bags for Toiletries 

I also put my toiletries into a separate bag and liquids into a clear, zip-top bag.  I put both bags into my larger tote bag, which I also brought on this trip called the Wingman Bag. It’s pretty large and I took full advantage, packing as much as I could! I normally take a backpack as my second bag if I’m checking a suitcase, but on this trip, I needed more room. I simply stacked the large tote on top of my suitcase to make it much easier to carry through the airports. Because the bag is so squishy, I didn’t have an issue fitting it under the seat in front of me. The zip top is a must so nothing spills out.

Packing Tips | What to Bring to the Galapagos and Machu PicchuI wore these cropped leggings on our hiking day in Machu Picchu. I wore a long-sleeve tee over this with my belt bag.

 #5 | Bag for Jewelry

I also separated by jewelry into a small, flat rectangular bag again making it easy to access and keeping everything organized. I only brought a couple of sturdy gold necklaces and a few pairs of earrings. I never travel with my wedding rings especially when I’m traveling internationally. If you want to travel with more delicate jewelry, you can grab a hard case to protect it like this one.

Amazing trip to the Galapagos Islands 2018 giant tortoises at the Galapagos

Giant tortoise in the Galapagos. Wearing my super soft cargo pants and white tee

 #6 | Tech Bag

In yet another bag in my tote, I kept all of my technology which included a compact back-up iPhone charger, noise-canceling headphones, and cables. I also kept an eye mask and earplugs in this bag which was easily accessible in my tote. By the way, I used these Bose Sleepbuds every night… set on “warm static,” and I slept like a baby!

For my next trip, I’m going to invest in some noise-canceling headphones that are Bluetooth-enabled. I kept needing to charge my phone on the plane and wanting to watch a movie at the same time with Bluetooth headphones I can charge and watch at the same time.

Machu Picchu Family Trip

First day at Machu Picchu, went straight from the train to touring…jeans & tee were fine!

#7 | Separate Pieces by Type

I separate the pieces in my suitcase by cube, and by type. In other words, I put tops in one cube and pants in another. This helps when you are packing and unpacking a LOT during your trip and need easy and quick access to things. While packing inside the cube, I usually alternate top to bottom. With pants, for example, I pack each pair in opposite directions so it’s almost even.

Packing Tips | What to Bring to the Galapagos and Machu Picchutraveling tips, packing tips to help you pack lightly

#8 | Pick a Color Story

The biggest secret to packing light and traveling with just a carry-on?? Pick a color story and do not deviate. For this trip, I brought black basics like a black jersey dress, black joggers, a black long-sleeve tee, black sneakers, a black rain jacket, black lightweight jacket, black aviator sunglasses, you get the picture. By bringing black basics, everything mixes and matches seamlessly together almost like a mini capsule wardrobe. If you are interested in shopping my black basics, they are linked below.

packing tips for travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu

#9 | Bring Minimal Shoes

The thing that takes the biggest hit in your carry on…? Shoes. You really can ONLY bring 3 pairs of shoes. I squeaked 4 pairs into my carry on, but that’s because one pair were flat sandals (like flip-flops). My main shoes were my black sneakers pictured above, my brown wedge sandals (also above), which I brought to go with the dresses and my white perforated sneakers, which also doubled as water shoes. You have to be REALLY strategic with shoe choices. One dressier, but wearable and comfortable option that will go with everything (tans and skin colors work best). One casual sneaker for exercise, hiking, walking, touring, etc. And, in my case, we were spending 4 days on a boat shuttling to and from snorkeling sites so I wanted a water shoe/sneaker. You can obviously substitute your 3rd pair of shoes so it meets the need of your trip. My flat sandals ended up being unnecessary.

packing tips to help you pack in just a carry on bag

#10 | Travel in Layers

You should wear a lot of layers on travel days. It serves double duty: 1) keeping you warm on the ALWAYS cold airplane and 2) it gives you more pieces to work with without having to pack them. I basically wore the same outfit on travel days. It was comfortable, high rise skinny jeans (I prefer ankle length so they don’t bunch. I’m petite), black bralet (no wire, more comfortable for travel), long-sleeve, lightweight black tee (this one doesn’t wrinkle), zip-up black jacket (doesn’t wrinkle and lightweight) and a really elegant wool/cashmere scarf. The scarf makes your outfit look more polished and definitely keeps you warmer! You can see the outfit above. It looks chic, but it’s also VERY functional.

As the temperature warmed up, I could lose layers.

Packing tips for the Galapagos including an downloadable packing list

Bonus Tips!

You may also want to bring a packable duffel bag if you plan to do some shopping. I might consider a spare bag for laundry and bags for your shoes. I put all of my shoes into one cube, but if you would prefer to separate them, you can try shoe bags.

If you are feeling panicked…thinking do I have enough??? Try to remember that anywhere you go, you can buy clothes. Literally anywhere.  P.S. don’t forget to bring one swimsuit!

What is your favorite packing tip?? Please share in the comments below.

Trip to Cusco Peru

The belt bag was my heavy hitter on this trip! It has a chain link strap inside so you can also carry it as a chic evening bag

Print My Packing List!

I also created a packing list that you can download and print HERE!

You can check out more travel posts here.  You might like to read about our trip to Iceland here. Or perhaps what we did in Japan here. I’ll cover packing and what I wore in another post. I linked some of the heavy hitters from my suitcase below.

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Join the Conversation

29 thoughts on “Secrets to Traveling & Packing Like a Professional!

  1. Great tips! I love traveling with only a carry on. I’d really like to see a picture of how you fit the packing cubes in your suitcase. I’ve never gotten anywhere near 3 large and 2 small cubes in my carry on. Now I’m convinced I’m missing out on a really cool trick.

    1. I used 2 large cubes. 1 cube has pants and a dress the other one has tops and tees. The medium cube has jammies, undies, bras and swimsuit. Shoe bag houses extra shoes and that is about all you have room for…

  2. packing cubes changed my life too! I’m not usually a Capsule Gal Butt for packing, capsule in a unified colorway is the way to go. The Cladwell app helps me with that, so i can combine different outfits and see how the pieces work together without having to try it all on. And Shoes, yes. I’ve learned that if i’m travelling a lot it’s important to own a few pairs of neutral-colored, very comfortable, super high quality shoes that cover off on activities + dressing up. Dress shoes either wedges or flats because, cobblestones, uneven sidewalks, Boardwalks, etc. If possible, I wear a pair of non-metal containing shoes on airport day so that i don’t have to take them off when i go through security. faster and less gross. love your idea of airport layers too.

  3. Hello. i Love the Jeans that you are wearing on the machu pichu picture ( w/ black tee) Can you share brand and where can i find them. Tks

    1. I bought two pairs of jeans: AMO Twist jeans and one SUPER high rise pair by 7 For All Mankind. I’m not sure either are available anymore. I’m on the hunt for another awesome high rise pair. I am loving the Natasha by J.Brand: I don’t have to hem the “Cropped” version. And I also just snagged a pair of really high rise, jeans by Good American: I like this fun pair too:

  4. Hi erin. Thanks for the packing tips. I found the blog really helpful. I love travel. I had Never used packing cubes and I got sOme samsonite packing cubes as a Christmas gift, so i will make Sure i use them next time i travel. I also Found the tips you gave of how to choose What pieces of clothes to take. I always have a haRd time deciding what to wear to travel in and what to wear during the vacation. What i would like to know is how Do you pack your make up and facial products (cleanser, creams, etc) I always have a hard time picking a liPstick, blush… so that my cosmetics bag isn’t too bulky and heavy.

    1. Yes… toiletries are hard. I use a LOT of sample or travel size products to minimize space. I even bring a little sample perfume along. You’ll be surprised how much you can bring when you size down. Use solid deodorant. I love Native. And skip hair dryer.

    2. I recently found Airless pump bottles on amazon. You can get really small versions(like 10ml) to decant CLEANSERS, creams, foundation, whatever you need. They are refillable too.

  5. Greetings from Trinidad &Tobago Erin and thanks for your GENEROSITY…..your tips are very useful and I am really enjoying dressing myself everyday (it’s been a chore Before you)…Could you please send me your wadrobe basics CHECKLIST……I deleted all my emails in error.

    Thank you SOoo much

    Warm regards

  6. I love the idea of travelling with carryon but the toiletries and makeup always stress me out. Anything liquidy or creamy needs to fit in a small freezer Ziploc which I find impossible.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I am going on a 4 day trip soon and your ideas and packing lists are so helpful. I have always wanted to try and only use a carry on bag for a trip and with your outfit suggestions and packing tips I am hoping I will succeed. I love your style too!

  8. Thanks for the great tips. I am wanting a wallet/phone wristlet like you henri beb one that alsoo has a spot for lipstick but they are out of them now. Do uou lnow of anywhere else i can get one even used or one similar?

    1. I’ve actually never seen one like that HB wristlet. I can’t believe they closed the flagship store today. I’m SO sad!

  9. Thank you so much, Erin!! As always you look sensational! I am planning a trip to Italy this summer and your packing INFORMATION has helped me incredibly to be more organized and practical in packing. I always overpack and miss out on the essentials needed to streamline my luggage. Thank you!

    1. Yay! That is why I put this one together. I’m trying to save you all the enormous and inexplicable packing stress!

  10. Just want to mention that a smAll first aid kit can be a godsend,esPecially if you are traveling with kids.
    I bring neoSporin,bandaids,tylenol, allerGy meds, plus any meds that i take reguLarly. I pack them separately in a baggie.
    What a great vacation! Thanks for all of the tips!

  11. Did you do laundry? (Not sure why This is all cAps, sorry!) i feel like my Clothes aRe kinda groSs if i try to wear things more than one day.

  12. Great post! Looks like a wonderful time. my girlfriend took her kids on the exact same trip. They said it was one of their favorites. I love my packing cubes. I can’t live without them!

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