Just One Suitcase

budapest train station

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”
Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944) French poet

Just one suitcase.  It’s the name of the blog, but it’s also my rule of thumb for travel.

One carry-on suitcase.

That’s all I take, regardless of destination or length of trip.

You can do it, really you can. Don’t be tempted to take a larger suitcase…you’ll have to check it, and risk it being lost in transit. You’ll also have to heave-ho it onto trains, up stairs, down cobblestone streets…trust me, it’s just more manageable to have one small suitcase, on wheels, with a carry-on that sits on top.

So how do I do it?  It’s simple, as long as you stick to basics that can mix and match. (This is for the girls…guys, as far as I’m concerned you have it easy, so you’re on your own.)

Here’s my list.

(The photos shown here are simply for illustrative purposes, not to recommend a specific brand.)

One pair boot-cut.  One pair skinny jean, that can be tucked into boots or rolled up ankle length. 

Black pants.
One pair. Fold all pants in half lengthwise, so legs are together. Lay top of pants in bottom of suitcase, with legs draped over the side. (The legs will later be folded over the top of other clothing, and thereby prevent pants from being creased.) 

You can replace the black pants with a skirt for warm weather. It should be something lightweight and able to be dressed up or down. Fold in half top to bottom. 

Black leggings.
With a long, cozy sweater or a tunic, there’s nothing more comfortable than leggings to wear on a transatlantic flight. 

A word about black clothes.
You just can’t go wrong with basic pieces in black. They can be combined with anything else, and you’ll always look put together.  Add pops of color with a shirt, sweater, or accessories.
Black dress.
Something you can dress up or dress down. Style to be determined by the season. Lay flat and fold it in half, top to bottom. Lay folded dress in suitcase on top of pants. 

Button-down shirts.
A white one, and a print of choice. Preferably shirts that don’t wrinkle too badly, are meant to be wrinkled, or don’t look bad if they’re wrinkled.  (Hint: A print shirt tends to show less creases.) Fold as above and lay into suitcase. The basic premise is to fold everything as flat as possible, for space-saving purposes. 

One silk top.
Doesn’t take up much space, and is worthwhile to have along for an alternate, more formal, look.  Can be worn under a sweater in cold weather or with pants or a skirt in warm climates. Fold in half and lay on top of other shirts. 

Striped nautical shirt.
Chanel made this shirt a classic and it never goes out of style. It’s comfortable and can be worn in any season. Fold in same way as shirts. Lay on top. 

Cardigan and V-neck sweaters.
One of each.  Wool for cold weather, cotton for warm.  Any color. 

Fold arms in and fold in half.  Place on top of folded clothes and wrap pants legs over the stack. There will be plenty of room around the edges for rolled up t-shirts and extra shoes.

T-shirts, long and short sleeve.
A versatile essential, either for layering or wearing on their own. These can be rolled up and tucked into the sides of your suitcase around your folded clothes…so you can bring several of each, in different colors.  (You can leave the long sleeves at home if you’re going somewhere warm.) 

Tank tops.
I wear them under just about everything for layering. Ditto on the rolling up tip. 

Can be worn over all of the above. Wear on plane, or fold as little as possible and place in outside pocket of suitcase. 

Pajamas, underwear, socks, and tights.
Just pack the bare minimum. Pack pajamas that are comfortable to hang around the hotel room in. Lay panties flat in a gallon ziploc bag.  Everything else can be rolled up and tucked into small spaces around the inside edge of your suitcase. 

Pack a raincoat regardless of the season.  In winter I squeeze a lightweight down coat into the outside pocket of the suitcase, along with a pair of gloves and a hat. 

In winter, wear a pair of boots on the plane. (They’ll take up too much room in the suitcase.) In addition, pack a pair of rubber-soled ballet flats, in a cloth shoe bag.

I repeat, rubber-soled. (Think cobblestones.)

Ballet flats are classic and look good with everything. 

In summer, wear the ballet flats on the plane and pack sandals. (The theory is to pack whichever is the smallest shoe type.) Rubber soles on the sandals, too. If you can’t live without heels, go ahead and pack a pair. There’s room.

Not only is a scarf useful for keeping your neck warm, it just looks good. There’s not a woman in Paris without a scarf around her neck. Even if it’s summer, bring a silk or cotton scarf and throw it around your neck. It will make you look and feel less like a tourist. 

A belt or two.
Roll up and tuck into corners of suitcase. 

Try to bring just a couple items that can be worn with everything. I bring several pendants with one chain that they can all fit onto – so it’s like five necklaces in one. Take in a small pouch in your carry-on bag. 

If everything on this list is in the suitcase, and there’s still space, resist the urge to keep adding.

You’re going to want to buy things, and you’ll be glad for the extra space. 

Trust me. 

[Download a printable JUST ONE SUITCASE checklist]

One response to “Just One Suitcase”

  1. Nancy

    I’ve done this and it works….two weeks in China!