How do you transition to a smaller suitcase?

Is it possible to fit all everything you need for a trip into a small suitcase when you’re used to a full-sized one? Readerpacking cubes T asks…

I’ve been traveling for work regularly for a few months now. I am usually gone for two or three nights. I keep thinking I’ve figured out how to pack for this length of trip, but my carryon is still always filled. My boyfriend just got me a smaller suitcase, and I’d love to be able to use that one for my shorter trips. How can I condense my packing even further?

Great question! I found myself in a similar situation about a year ago. For most of my business travel career I used a full-sized carryon, regardless of the length of the trip. It held my stuff, had great pockets, maneuvered well, and always fit in the overhead bins so why not? Then I got a smaller suitcase. It sounds weird, but using a half-size carryon has been so freeing. There is never a question of whether I will find space in the overhead bins, even in the smallest airplanes. It’s lighter, and when my purse is stacked on top of it is still only as tall as a regular carryon. I’ve considered myself good at packing light for years, but I had to refine my strategy a bit to make everything fit.

So how to make the transition? Here are a few suggestions.

Use packing cubes. If you don’t think you can condense your clothing any further, use packing cubes. I can fit enough clothes for a three day trip into one, and even then it only fills half of my suitcase. If you don’t want to use packing cubes, try rolling your clothes. They won’t condense as much, but you can pack more than if you just fold your items.

Condense your toiletries. If you are typically gone only three nights at a time you can probably take way fewer liquids than you do. Decant everything into the smallest possible container—don’t just use 3 oz bottles because you can. I have my face wash, eye cream, moisturizer, and hair smoother in contact lens cases. Even then I only have to refill every four or five trips.

Limit your shoes. I never, ever take more than three pairs of shoes, but for most trips I only take two (including the pair on my feet). I know people who only take one pair of shoes, but I prefer to have two to rotate.

Use smaller hair tools. If you need a hair dryer or curling iron, definitely check out travel-sized versions. There are typically smaller sizes available for almost everything you need! For some suggestions, check out this post I did on travel hair tools.

Accept the limitations of the season. It is far easier to bring a small suitcase in the spring and summer than in the fall and winter. For a recent three day trip I brought three jersey dresses, PJs, two pairs of shoes, and my toiletries. But for a three day trip in February to New York I also had to bring boots, cardigans, tights, and a heavy coat. I wasn’t able to make it work with my small suitcase for that trip!

Readers, do you prefer a small suitcase or full-size carryon? What are your tips for fitting all of your gear?

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Comments

  1. I don’t like to fly with boots on, even if I need them at my destination. So for a three day trip to New York in February, I packed them in my carry-on. But they took half the space in it! My winter jacket took the other half… Imagine this summer when I won’t need those how much space I will have in my little suitcase!

    More seriously, to travel light, I make a point to only bring what I will absolutely need. It’s easy to say “Ah I’ll bring another shirt or sweater just in case” or “I’ll probably want to wear a casual pair of shoes at night rather than my work shoes”.

    Sure, if I bring that extra shirt or sweater, I’ll probably wear it. Same thing for that extra pair of shoes. But do I really need them? Nope. I might wish I had them because I would be more comfy, but i will still be able to make it through the three days without too much trouble!

  2. I recently switched to a Lucas underseat rolling bag and never looked back. Packing cubes and thoughtful preparation allow me to fit everything I need. Add a tote and I can travel for weeks. Just completed a two week business trip and prepping for a month overseas. Granted, I am a minimalist, but you are so right, it is a freeing experience!

  3. You convinced me. I bought the small size Briggs and Riley and downsized from 4 little “must have” bags to 2 with teensy travel sized lotions and etc – and a travel curling iron. I can do 2 overnights easily and not worry at all about getting my bag on board. Great suggestions and tips, thank you!

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