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Today’s post is guest authored by Francie Likis, experienced traveler!

When I say I went to Spain and Morocco for 11 days without checking any luggage, people ask why and how. Here are the answers, along with some packing tips learned from 15 years of traveling regularly and my road warrior husband. I’ve focused on an international vacation, but much of this advice can be used for any vacation or business trip.

I like to travel without checking luggage to eliminate the risk of losing bags or having something stolen. Getting around is quicker and easier with less to carry, which is particularly important if I have multiple stops on my trip. When I have to pack and repack along the way, it’s faster with less in my suitcase. I also avoid the baggage fees many airlines now charge, as well as long lines to check luggage. My husband says the picture I should have taken for this post was the enormous line of people waiting to check bags in the Barcelona airport! Not having checked luggage kept us from missing a flight on the way home from Spain because we could bypass the process of claiming and rechecking luggage that occurs when you reenter the United States. Last but not least, I like the challenge!

(Note: there is a black duffel bag hooked to a small rolling suitcase). These two bags are holding everything I took for 11 days, including my coat and purse!

To pack lightly, I do have to let go of a couple of things: I will wear the same clothing more than once (though I plan it so that I can mix and match them into new outfits), and I may not have the perfect pair of shoes for every outfit. I console myself knowing I have plenty of outfits and shoes at home, plus most people won’t remember what I had on yesterday!

Before I start packing, I make a list of the clothes, shoes, and jewelry to take. This helps me not forget anything and is useful for future packing because when I get home, I make notes about things I wish I had taken or didn’t need. I also have a comprehensive, generic packing list that I use every time I travel. All of these lists are on my computer so they are easy to edit and reuse.

On this trip we went to cities where the weather was warm (Madrid), hot (Marrakech), and cool (Barcelona), so layers were essential. Dresses are hands down my favorite clothing item and can be dressed up or down depending on jewelry and what else I wear (cardigan, Pashmina, etc.). I wear my jeans on the plane to keep warm and save room in my suitcase. I minimize light-colored clothing because it shows dirt more easily. I hardly ever wear black, but if you do, you can pack really light with a few black pieces to mix and match.

Three dresses (two sleeveless and one with long sleeves), two cardigans (one with long sleeves and one with short sleeves), four tops, one denim skirt, one pair of jeans, one coat. I packed with all solids that could mix and match.

Pajamas, brush and comb, exercise clothes, bathing suit, cover-up, and hiking clothes

I have to give special mention to my fabulous hiking clothes: a Zella tee and Athleta pants that convert to shorts. They are in a bag (above) because they were covered in the red dirt of the High Atlas Mountains. I always pack a few plastic bags in a couple of sizes and find lots of uses for them. I left my makeup, underwear, slips, bras, and socks out of the photos, but did take them!

I choose what shoes I will take early and plan my outfits around them. I usually try not to take more than two pairs. If one pair is boots, I wear them on the plane because boots take up so much room in a suitcase. I took a lot of shoes on this trip, but I justified it by knowing we were going to do so much walking (more than 60 miles according to my pedometer!) that I couldn’t wear the same pair everyday, even with comfortable shoes. My cowboy boots are my most comfortable shoes and are perfect for bad weather or when my feet have had enough. My primary shoes on this trip were a pair of snakeskin wedge sandals and a pair of gold flat sandals. I also took tennis shoes for hiking and the gym, though honestly I never made it to the latter. The one pair of shoes I could have done without were some flip flops for the spa and beach –this will be added to my notes.

I gave up way more suitcase real estate than usual to shoes, but it was worth it with all the miles we walked

One of my most important tricks for maximizing suitcase space is rolling clothes instead of folding them. I fit much more, and my clothes stay less wrinkled.

Rolling clothes saves suitcase space and prevents wrinkles

My tote bag is full of travel essentials including:

  • Toiletries: don’t forget each person gets 1 quart-size bag for gels and liquids, which must be in containers of 3 ounces or less
  • Passports: keep in the hotel safe and have a copy in each bag
  • Noise-canceling headphones: definitely worth having on long trips
  • Band-aids: blisters are hard to avoid with a lot of walking
  • Fashion tape: keeps clothing in place and also handy for other uses like my adjustable purse strap that wouldn’t stay put
  • Jewelry: consider leaving fine jewelry at home when traveling outside the country—I even have an inexpensive wedding band for this purpose—and always keep jewelry in the hotel safe
  • Notebook and pens: keep track of what you do, like, and don’t like
  • Kindle: saves so much suitcase space compared to when I hauled a stack of books!
  • Medications: always keep them in their original bottles
  • Cords and adapters
  • Pashmina: essential for cool flights and nights
  • Purse: more on this below

Always put medications and jewelry in a carry-on bag even if you check your suitcase

A cross-body purse is easier to carry, keeps me from putting too much stuff in it, and is safer from snatching, which unfortunately is rampant in Spain. I carry a small wallet with just a debit card (we get a little foreign money before we go then get all our cash via ATMs) and a couple of credit cards (leave one in the safe in case something happens to your purse). A package of tissues is essential for the inevitable bathroom without toilet paper.

Camera, sunglasses, wallet, lipstick, pen, tissues, and a pedometer to track all the miles walked

Good luggage is definitely worth the investment. I swear by Briggs and Riley, which Nashville readers can get at Nashville Trunk and Bag. It is well made and comes with lifetime repair, which you will use at some point if you travel enough, no matter how good your luggage is. My suitcase expands in case I want to shop, and my tote bag has a sleeve so it can be attached to the handle of my suitcase.

I promise that once you get in the mode of packing less, it is pretty easy to do. I will give the disclaimer that there are times I do check luggage, like the 7-day trip I just returned from to a meeting where I wanted an entirely new outfit every day, and often two outfits a day. But for the most part, I try to travel light!

Francie and her husband, Zan, in Barcelona

To get ideas for your next getaway, check out our travel article HERE.

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