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How to Downsize: Travel Edition -
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How to Downsize: Travel Edition

Travel can be a challenge… between planning itineraries, organizing transportation, and finding accommodation it takes a lot of prep to get that vacation off the ground. We know travel season is in full swing, having just come back from our design tour in LA and finalizing our tour in Baja (in addition to family vacations!) so we love a good travel tip. But what about an extra travel challenge? Have you ever gone on an extended trip without checked luggage? Could you pack for 2 weeks in Europe with just a carry-on?

It‚Äôs easy to overpack‚Ķ coming from a city like Vancouver with ever-changing weather it seems natural to pack things we will probably never use ‚Äújust in case‚ÄĚ. Like downsizing your home, it can seem a daunting challenge to drastically reduce the number of things you pack to one small suitcase. But challenges can be fun right? We asked around and did some research about the best way to tackle travelling with a carry-on. Below we‚Äôve organized the best tips and anecdotes as well as peppered in some design analogies (we have to speak our own language sometimes!), so read on and join us in downsizing on luggage for your next trip‚Ķ


Backpack? Hand carry? Classic Roller? Choose a carry-on that fits your travel style: [Clockwise from top left] Longchamp ‘Li Pliage’ Expandable Travel Bag (found at Nordstroms), Samsonite Novus 20″ Spinner (found on, Roots’ Small Banff Bag in Tribe (found at Roots), and the Timbuk2 Wander Pack (found at MEC) cater to different types of travellers.


Why downsize in the first place?


I packed only a carry-on for a couple weeks in Europe last summer and loved how versatile it was. It could fit anywhere on planes and trains (even the overhead rack) and it was easy to ‘grab and go’ ¬†so I could skip waiting in the crowd at the luggage rack. I could also carry everything myself and didn’t dread switching hotels and going from one city to another… -A.N.


Versatility is a huge bonus with carry-on luggage– especially if you are moving around a lot. We’ve also found the following are some awesome benefits to travelling light:


> ¬† No luggage fees! Don’t worry about paying extra for checked baggage (especially on those discount flights…)

>   No waiting at the luggage carousel

> ¬†¬†For budget travellers you can easily take carry-ons on subways, busses, and trains to avoid taxis (especially if they charge tourist rates…)

>   The less baggage you have, the easier it is to keep track of!



Get in the carry-on mindset:


I used to be a night-before kind of packer. Wasn’t really an issue with a huge suitcase (lots of room for mistakes and “just-in-case” things). With a carry-on I take a bit longer, but I also pack a lot smarter and actually use everything I bring with me. – M.B.


Transitioning from a multiple suitcases to a carry-on is a big change. Similar to moving from a large family home into a condo right? You have to know what kind of space you’re working with and make the most efficient use of that space– that means careful editing and maybe nixing a few treasured items. So what can you do to ready yourself for smaller quarters?


> ¬†¬†Find your luggage first. Once you have your carry-on it’s much easier to plan how you will pack as you know exactly what you’re working with (you don’t pick a couch and keep your fingers crossed that it fits in one of your rooms right?)

> ¬†¬†Know your airline’s policies about size and weight restrictions for carry-ons as well as their restricted items.

> ¬†¬†Focus on what kind of trip you are taking and plan to pack accordingly. Pack for what will realistically happen on the trip–not for unplanned events (you don’t store spatulas in the living room right?)



How should you pack?


I always pack really honestly. If I’m spending a week at a cabin I won’t waste space in my duffel with a ‘nice outfit’. I’d feel silly that I brought heels and a cute dress when I am realistically living in flannel, leggings, and runners for the week. Sure, it would be nice to have something for any occasion– but I’ve learned to embrace the type of trip I planned! ¬†-S.K.


So you have your bag and your packing list, now it’s time to bring those two together. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimentation to find a configuration that fits everything (like rearranging furniture…). Shifting a couple items, or re-packing ¬†a pocket can reveal just enough space for an extra shirt or pair of shoes. Now, you can fit¬†a lot¬†into a carry-on, using the following tips you can probably fit a lot more than you think!


>   Start with the essentials only and add on if (and only if) there is more room!

> ¬†¬†Roll your items– this way clothes are compressed and you don’t have fold lines

>   Create a trip paletteРmake sure that your items mix and match as much as possible to maximize outfit options

>   Use all the space you can! Jewelery and socks stuffed into shoes is a classic example

> ¬†¬†Discover the magic of ziploc bags! You can use them to organize your bag, keep toiletries contained, and even compress air out of clothing for extra space. They are really useful for going through security with electronics and liquids (which you have to pull out anyways). Security can see your items and it’s a breeze to re-pack.

> ¬†¬†Edit, edit, edit! Be honest and realistic with the items you pack. For everything that goes in your bag, ask yourself if you will seriously use it… seriously…no really, seriously.

> ¬†¬†Maybe bring laundry soap? Especially if you’re going somewhere hot, expect to wash some items in hotel sinks.

>   Maybe skip the toiletries? Depending on your destination you can always purchase toiletries upon arrival



What should you avoid?


I love reading when I have some quiet time. More than once I’ve lugged around 3 books when I only ended up reading one. I found I spent more time with my travel companions or exploring the area than reading during my travel ¬†downtime. Now I limit myself to one book (that I won’t mind re-reading) or opt for music/podcasts/movies that are on my phone– and that comes with me anyways. – L. P.¬†

Breaking packing habits are tough. But this is also a chance to learn from your mistakes… do you always bring an umbrella and never use it? What about those shoes that never make it out of your bag? At the end of the day you are travelling and can’t bring absolutely everything with you (especially when embracing the carry-on!). Below we listed the easiest ways to lighten-up your bag and pack efficiently.


X   Dry-clean only or easily wrinkled fabrics. (Low maintenance is key!)

X ¬†¬†Too many shoes! They take up space very quickly… 3 pairs should enough for any trip

X   Big books, same as above.. they take up space and are heavy.

X ¬†¬†Repetitive items: Do you need a phone camera, DSLR, multiple lenses, and instamix for this trip? Unless you’re a photographer or you’re coming with us to Baja in November, chances are you can edit it down!

X¬† ¬†Stand-alone clothing. If you have a piece that is hard to match, or you don’t consider it part of your regular rotation, you likely won’t be any more inspired to wear it on vacation. (Like those impulse-buy table linens that haven’t been used since the Hawaii-themed dinner party and sit in the closet…)

X ¬†¬†‘Just in case’ items. If you find yourself saying ‘just in case’ when you’re packing, re-think that item.



These tips also apply to packing for weekend trips and other quick get-aways! Smart packing, at it’s core, is a lot like smart design. You have a trip (or a space!) and you pack accordingly (or add furniture and decor). It’s all about efficient use of space and editing the content! Have any other ¬†travel tips for packing light? We’d love to hear them in the comments!


Happy Travels!

xoxo. Designers Collective


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