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Can you travel for multiple days using a personal item as your one-and-only piece of luggage?  The answer is “of course!” – even when that travel involves dressing up for a wedding.

Wedding travel with only a personal item

I didn’t intend to travel with just a personal item.  My cousin had asked me to help with her wedding months earlier. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get permission to go due to work commitments.  At just 2 weeks out from the wedding my manager received permission to release me for the weekend.  At that point there weren’t many selections for summer airfares.  I bought a ticket on American Airlines but couldn’t even get a seat assignment (uh-oh!).  American charges for checked luggage so I knew that the overhead bins would be full of overstuffed bags from novice travelers.   What was I to do?  My schedule was very tight and I couldn’t afford any delays by a forced gate-check.  Summer storms also threatened, making the potential for delays higher.  I had one thing in my favor – American had just started a policy that let people board early if they only had a personal item.  I took the sure thing – I traveled with just a personal item.

Picture of big storm

Lots of big storms to the north, but it missed us.  The pink in the clouds is caused by lightning explosions. The whole weekend was very hot and humid.

I decided to use a new piece of luggage for this exercise – the REI Overnighter.  This travel pack is 18” x 12.5” x 7” (slightly smaller than 46 cm x 32 cm x 18 cm) and weighs 2 lbs, 3 ounces (1 kg).  The volume is 1575 cubic inches (26 liters).  Technically this makes it slightly too big for a personal item, but if you under-pack the bag it will fit in the personal item sizer.  The Overnighter absolutely fits under any seat, including the one on the aisle.

The REI Overnighter is smaller than a regulation size carry on bag.

The REI Overnighter is smaller and thinner than a regulation size carry on bag. Ironically, it is actually heavier than my LL Bean Quickload Convertible. You can see my collapsible water bottle in the water bottle pocket on the side of the Overnighter.

I knew that I would be taking heels for the wedding, and they would take up quite a bit of space in my luggage. I also knew that I would be taking a fancy navy dress that would blend in with the wedding party. In the end I brought 8 items of clothing plus my pajamas and rain jacket (storms, remember?). I was trying to be careful in my clothing selections. I picked convertible pants and a skort for my bottoms. I then added in a sweater and tops that would go with everything else.  The sandals are thin and light – even lighter than flip-flops.

All of my clothes for the wedding.

All of my clothing for the weekend, including what I wore on the plane. The “dress” on the top right side is actually a sleep shirt by Gilligan and O’Malley (Target). I could use it as a second dress if needed. I also brought multi-use items such as convertible pants and a skort. The chambray shirt has roll-up sleeves for hot or cold.

Packing the wardrobe really wasn’t a problem.  I bundle-wrapped my clothing to save space and weight.

Bundle wrapped clothing in a carry on

I’ve bundle wrapped my clothing around my undies, stockings and long underwear top. It’s all secured by the internal straps. I’ve put my nightgown on the outside so it is easily available. The dress is next so it doesn’t get wrinkled, followed by my skort and the blue shirt. The knit tee is last.

After I bundle wrapped my clothing I added in my toilet kit, jewelry, curling iron, first aid kit and clutch.  I stuffed them into every available corner, leaving room for my pumps.  I put the toilet kit at the top of the bag for easy access.

packing my light weight bag - middle layer.

I added my pack towel on top of my bundle-wrapped clothing. My toilet kit is at the top of the bag to the right. My clutch containing my first aid kit is at the bottom of the bag on the left. The green bag contains my jewelry and the yellow sleeve has my curling iron.

I finished my packing by adding in my pumps, electronics bag, makeup bag, travel comfort kit and liquids bag.  I also added in a portable iPhone mount so I could use my smart phone as a GPS. The final weight of the packed bag was 13 lbs (6 kg).  This is well under the weight allowance for most airlines.  Yes, that’s right – one undersized bag held everything.

My fully packed REI Overnighter has everything I need.

My fully packed REI Overnighter. I added my pumps along the side of the bag (at the top of the picture). My electronics bag is next to the pumps. The orange bag contains my comfort kit and the bag on top is my liquids bag. My light sandals are in the lid. I carried my wallet and smartphone in my pockets, although I put them in the main compartment of the bag for security screening.

It was hot the whole time so I folded up my packable jacket and stuffed it into the pack strap sleeve of my REI Overnighter where it was easily available.

Back of pack showing rain jacket stored in strap area.

My rain jacket is stuffed into the pocket that holds the pack straps. This keeps it available in case I need it.

I had plenty to wear:

Print top and pants

I wasn’t happy with this outfit. The tunic top didn’t want to work with the rest of the wardrobe. I only wore it on the airplane and the drive to the hotel. The top works well for casual work around the house but isn’t versatile enough for travel. I didn’t like the silhouette either.

Striped tee and white skort

I barely made it to the rehearsal and dinner at the church. The skort looked like a summer skirt. The striped tee is a classic look, especially when I added gold jewelry. The delicate straps on the sandals kept the look dressy. I had planned on wearing my navy sweater with this outfit but it was just too hot!

Chambray shirt and white skort

This outfit worked well for the wedding set up. The skort let me bend and climb without embarrassment while giving me a dressier look. The shirt’s roll up sleeves were nice when the day warmed up. The espadrilles protected my feet yet were dressier than sneakers.

My navy shift for the wedding.

I wore this navy shift with my black pumps. I added in pink earrings and a bracelet, as well as adding pink shoe clips to my shoes. The colored accessories let me fit in with my cousin’s wedding colors – navy, pink, coral, and black. The shift worked very well for a semi-formal wedding on a hot summer’s night.

Comfy clothes for the next day

When you’re on the clean up crew you don’t get home until 3 am. You want something comfortable for the next day. This casual outfit was carefully selected. Roll the pants down, add a sweater and scarf, and it’s good for the flight home. That means that I can pack my bags, check out of the hotel, and still enjoy being with my family for the day. Sneaky, sneaky.

Airplane outfit for trip home

I added a sweater and scarf to my afternoon outfit for the trip home.

My wardrobe worked fine for the wedding but I would make different choices for vacation. The brightly printed top and the olive pants really didn’t work well with the other clothing pieces. I would swap them out for another tan/navy top and tan convertible pants. I would swap out my heavy wedding dress for my navy modal dress from Lands End. I would leave my pumps at home. I would add one more light shirt since I don’t have to worry about the space and weight used by the pumps and the wedding dress. I would also swap out my sandals and purse for something that coordinated better with my clothing. I would add one more scarf to change up my outfits. All of the Navy items are of the same hue even though they don’t look like it in the pictures.  Here’s what I came up with:

A modified travel capsule wardrobe that fits under a standard airplane seat This modified wardrobe will work for a 2 week trip.

I can easily get two weeks worth of outfits from this wardrobe of a dress, four tops, two bottoms, and a sweater.  I can wrap the dark scarf as a skirt and wear it with the white top and the chambray top for a couple more outfits.

So can you travel over a week with only a personal bag?  The answer is yes, especially if you are careful with your clothing choices.