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.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. 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. Packing the wardrobe really wasn’t a problem. I bundle-wrapped my clothing to save space and weight. 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. 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. 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. I had plenty to wear:
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:
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.
Impressive! I spent 5 days on the east coast for a wedding, and then bridal shower and bachelorette party (two different friends), and I ended up checking a suitcase! Luckily it was free ;) On the other hand, I was able to just use a carry-on for 6 months of travel. Funny how that works!
Cindy Heazlit said:
It’s always hard when there are multiple special events. It’s even harder if you are traveling with the same people since you don’t want to wear the same thing twice in just a few days. I think under those conditions I would use a regular carry on bag and bring a few more dresses that went with the same pair of heels.
I appreciate it when you tell why a choice didn’t work and how you would remedy it next time. This bag size looks great. Interesting it is heavier than the Quickload.
Cindy Heazlit said:
Yes, it is part of the “reflect” portion of the trip that I outline in my article on how to plan a capsule wardrobe for vacation. We find out what does and does not work for our travel. We make better choices as we learn more.
The bag is heavier for two reasons 1) The Overnighter material is much heavier and thicker than the material used by the Quickload. 2) The bag is lined with the green lining material where the Quickload has no lining. A lot of people like the brightly colored lining but it adds extra weight to the bag.
Great post – I really like your group of clothes, in the “vacation” photo especially, very much my taste.
I think the airlines grab for more money by charging to check bags is just plain dumb. I will stay loyal to an airline who resists the nickel and dimeing. I do not check bags and love the game of taking just enough on a trip but with the overhead bins being so jammed with largish bags, under the seat is getting to be the only sure thing and that is sometimes not easy to do, especially for a wedding trip.
Cindy Heazlit said:
The a la carte pricing is throwing everyone for a loop. It is one reason why I prefer flying on Southwest for domestic flights. Their “bags fly free” really helps keep the chaos out of the overhead bins. If I’m nervous I can buy an Early Bird pass for only $12.50 and that applies to all the flights for the day. Last time it also bought me TSA-Pre. I usually fly multiple legs so it’s a good value for me. Plus the SWA attendants seem to be nicer than other airlines (but maybe that is confirmation bias).
I was really worried for this trip because I couldn’t reserve a seat – American had reserved all the other seats for airport check-in. I went to the airport 3 hours early and was assigned a middle seat. I was happy to have it when they denied boarding for about 10 people. Of course all the begging and pleading for people to give up their seats delayed the flight more. It just defies logic. Why would an airline oversell 10 seats on a Friday flight in the middle of summer? Especially between two hubs?
Just found your site this week, and thank you so much for this! Sleepshirt from Target is genius, I just bought a lovely navy stripe which will work great as knit travel dress next week! Thank you!
Cindy Heazlit said:
The fine gauge of the sleep shirt really make them soft and wrinkle free. I’ve found that they dry very quickly too because they are so light and thin. I make all my clothes perform double duty, including my pajamas. In the winter I’ll bring a pair of yoga pants and a t-zip base layer top that I can use for workouts or skiing.