Six steps to packing light for a weekend getaway

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Monday, June 13, 2016

One of the benefits of my full-time job's travel requirement is the option to travel to an alternate location for a weekend instead of to my home in Chicago. This was much more exciting when I first started and before I was married, but I still love to take advantage of it every now and then. It gives me a chance to stretch my light packing muscles! 

The people at reached out awhile ago for my light packing tips for a weekend getaway to the Sin City, a place I've actually never visited but have on my short list. Even though I'm not planning to go any time soon, I loved the idea of a post on how to pack light for weekend getaways in general - especially for a place you've never visited! (By the way, I should mention that this post is not sponsored; I'm just stealing the pitch...) 

Without further ado, I'll share the six steps I'd take to pack my lone carry on for a theoretical weekend in Vegas, as well as a few tricks I use to make my minimalist, multipurpose approach to packing work:

#1 Be realistic about how you'll be spending your time

I'm the last person to tell you to plan all your activities ahead of time, because I certainly don't do that myself when traveling (which drives my husband up a wall). However, it is important to have a good idea of types of things you may be doing and prepare accordingly. After all, successful packing is all about restraint and lugging things around that you won't use is the Ultimate Fail.

Before I even begin to start the packing process, I like to think objectively about who I am and how I'll be spending my time. As a nerd with a strict 10 p.m. bedtime and low tolerance for wasting money, it is unlikely that I'll be headed to nightclubs or hanging out in a casino. Fortunately, there is plenty more to do in Vegas than the stereotype may suggest (think horse back riding, Britney Spears concerts, the circus, The Jersey Boys, basically everything on this Las Vegas deals site, etc.). 

Since I am being honest, the first thing I'd want to do when I arrived would be to see Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam. What better place to begin than touring the engineering feat that arguably made life in the desert possible? Who's with me? Anyone? ...Anyone?

#2 Plan outfits around each of the activities you'll be doing

Walking in dry heat while admiring one of America's greatest innovations in irrigation and products of the Great Depression requires comfortable flats. As does power walking on the Vegas Strip.

For both of these activities, I'd pack a vintage pleated Vivienne Tam dress to be worn multiple times, and wear it with my favorite fancy flats and a wide-brim hat to protect myself from the raging sun. 

(FYI, other items in the above photo are Aquazurra Belgravia flats that I was lucky to find second-hand, a vintage silk scarf, sunglasses from eBay, a hat purchased on the street in Mexico, and a trusty leather tote.)

#3 Stick to a neutral palette with one pop of color

To keep things streamlined and make dressing easy while traveling, I generally pack all neutrals and select one color to add some spice - when picking the color, I think about the vibe of the destination. 

Bold red seems appropriate for Vegas, and also matches the sign which is great for selfie-taking. This maxi dress is old J.Crew that looks great with the same tourist hat I'd wear to the Hoover Dam. I'd wear my favorite Athleta swimsuit underneath and spend the rest of the day poolside. (This is the bikini top, and these are the shorts. Hands down the best swimsuit I've ever owned, and even doubles as a workout outfit for Bikram yoga.)

(Side note: those sandals are Rebecca Minkoff that I picked up for my honeymoon back in 2013 and are so broken in that they have a walkability score of 95% thanks to me thinking they were a great shoe choice for traipsing the countryside of Northern Thailand.)

#4 Photograph each outfit with your phone's camera

After I've planned my outfits, I lay them out on my bed with every single thing that I'd wear or carry when wearing that outfit - and I do it in sequential order. Obsessive, maybe, but a critical step for packing outfits that rely on items you'll wear multiple times. It will save you time because you'll have an easy reference for what to wear when you have to wake up early and get out of the door quickly. 

#5 Pack tools to save time and get more mileage out of your outfits 

There are literally hundreds of great ideas on time-saving travel tools, but these are the ones I'd bring along for this trip:
  • A Turkish towel to use as a plane blanket, and as a poolside cover up to keep my dress clean so I can re-wear it for dinner. (Antiochia has been my long-time favorite Turkish towel supplier and I love their products.)
  • Sea salt spray when it's time to let my hair air dry post-swim (and baby powder to mask oil, add texture and freshen when needed). 
  • A shower cap to protect my air-dried hair when showering to save me the time and need to blow dry. 
  • A $0.99 drug store spray bottle to fill with hotel water and spritz on my clothes to remove wrinkles.
  • A tiny vial of tea tree oil to add to the water to keep items I re-wear fresh.
  • Deodorizing shoe liners to protect my shoes. (I typically get these.)
#6 Keep your toiletries and makeup to a minimum

On vacation, I like to drastically dial back on my routine to save time and choose multipurpose items to save additional space in my bag. Because hotel products are scented and dry out my skin, I bring Sebamed for face and body wash and supplement shampoo, eye cream, serum, etc. with Sephora free samples. (I save and re-fill the Sephora free sample containers since they are perfectly sized for a three-day dose.) 

For Vegas, I'd also pack Avene sunscreen for my face and baby sunscreen for my body. The products I'd use in higher volumes - Sebamed and sunscreen - would go in 3 oz travel containers, of course. (I love these.)

Remember that same ol' vintage black dress from the Hoover Dam tour? I'd spritz it with tea tree oil water to freshen it and re-wear it for a night out to dinner and a show, dressing it up with a bright red fringe bag and pairing it with my same fancy flats to do some post-dinner power-walking through some of the free attractions that Vegas has to offer. And I'd up my minimal makeup game with Benefit Highlighter, my favorite trick for fancier makeup.

Still with me, are you? 

I was going to keep going with these steps tailored for weekend getaways to NYC and San Francisco but have ran out of steam (it's currently 5:11 a.m. on a Monday...) so I'll save those for future posts.

In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on other tips and tricks for light packing and other nerd-approved ideas for what to do when I do get my trip to Vegas on the calendar!

9 comments on "Six steps to packing light for a weekend getaway"
  1. Happy Monday Colleen!

    what a wonderful post and I love the tips! honestly, I just love reading about how to pack light, it's almost an obsession. Because I am so bad, I always over-pack. For example, for this past trip I took, I packed many tops, 5 pairs of pants and 3 pairs of shoes. Granted, it was a 3 week long vacation. My constant fear is that i am going to run out of clothes to wear!

    and when it comes to toiletries, I like those travel size packages and i usually try to bring the stuff that's almost done so I can throw it away at the end of the trip. I don't always pack shampoo because almost all the hotels provide shampoo (i am not too picky)but I always pack my own hair conditioner, it's most important.

    I never bring hairdryer either, because hotels usually have them. I have a friend, she brought her own hair dryer, when she came to stay at my house for 1 night.(and I told her I had hair dryer!)

    anyway, I guess everyone is very different.

    Thank you so much for your tips, love them!

    1. Echo, hello! Thank you as always for reading along - it always lights up my inbox to see you've visited and read your thoughts. And, I share your fears on not packing enough and not sure it's possible to survive your 3-week-long adventure with just a duffel! Currently packing for Prague & Berlin and having self doubt... but will be implementing your suggestion on bringing almost-used-up toiletries! I have so many of them, perfect way to use them up and reserve space in my bag for souvenirs :)

      I have a hair dryer obsessed friend too. She panicked when she unpacked her hair dryer in my tiny DC studio (lived there several years ago) with no outlet in the bathroom! Everyone is different, for sure! I always love learning how other people think about it.

  2. Great styling in the above pictures, Colleen!

    I'm with Echo - I almost always over-pack when traveling for fun, though I did fairly well in practicing austerity during my past work-related travels. In either case, I like to feel like I'm utilizing every inch of my suitcase when packing.

    For example, I make use of the empty spaces inside my shoes by stuffing them with rolled up pieces of clothing or other items. This serves a double purpose - the clothes help to preserve the shape of the shoes during the rigors of rough luggage handling.

    Speaking of shoes, I've been known to hide my good jewelry inside my sneakers, thinking that the pieces have a better chance of not being discovered by dishonest airport employees there.

    1. Hi Ivanka,

      I am so glad I am not the only one who over packs! My colleagues always laugh at me.
      Well I do want to say, I always carry the jewelries with me. Years ago, my colleague lost her jewelries that she packed in her luggage. Her luggage was randomly searched and the jewelries were gone, and there's nothing she could do! so I never put them in luggage anymore. But hiding them in shoes is a great idea!


    2. Hi Echo!

      Sorry to hear your friend's jewelry was stolen from her luggage. You're absolutely right - these days, I prefer to travel with fewer pieces that I can actually wear on me rather than packing them in the suitcase. This means that I have to think very carefully about what jewelry to take with me, but it is definitely the safer choice.

    3. Hi Ivanka! Thank you for reading and your thoughtful comments, as always :) Love the idea of stuffing shoes with clothing for saving space AND preserving shape - do you keep clothes in a bag to keep them fresh? And hiding jewelry is smart too - I'll use that idea when leaving earrings or bracelets behind in the room, as I'm sure you're right that no one wants to go digging around inside a shoe!!! Typically I wear everything I'm bringing with me because I have a penchant for misplacing pieces... Anyway, hope you had a great weekend and thanks again for reading.

  3. Beautiful and super useful <3

    1. Thanks so much, Flower! Glad you liked the post - and checked out your site, very cool!

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