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How to travel for weeks with carry-on bags

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6 tips for packing light from AAA travel experts.

Ah, the joys of traveling with only carry-on luggage. We don’t have to wait in baggage check-in lines or stand around in baggage claim. If plans change, we can instantly adjust, without worrying whether a checked bag will catch up with us. On cruises, we’re unpacked and relaxing by the pool before most passengers have received their luggage, and we’re among the first to disembark at the end of the voyage. Oh, and we don’t have to pay those checked-baggage fees that most domestic airlines now charge.

“How do you do it,” friends ask, “especially on a cruise or very long trip?” If you follow a few basic principles, it’s easy.

1. Color coordinate. Pick one or two color palettes and mix and match slacks, skirts, blouses, and shirts. On the plane or train, wear a smart jacket or blazer that goes with everything. Dress outfits up or down with scarves, jewelry, or ties.

2. Wear your heaviest shoes or boots. Pack one or two more pairs; stuff them with socks, costume jewelry (never valuable gems), or other items and put them in shoe bags, so they don’t soil other garments.

3. Choose lightweight, washable fabrics that don’t wrinkle. You can wash clothes in your room’s sink, using the hotel shampoo, and hang them up to dry overnight.

4. Layer. If you’ll be traveling through different climate zones, pack a sweater and lightweight thermal underwear. Carry heavy jackets or coats; those with zip-out linings are ideal.

5. Make things do double duty. Gym shoes can be walking shoes; a T-shirt can double as a swimsuit cover-up.

6. Go informal. Even “formal” nights on cruise ships aren’t as dressy as in times past, but for occasions that require fancier attire: Men can pair a dark suit with a stylish shirt and add a bow tie; women can wear a lacy camisole with a suit or pack a classic little black dress.

“But won’t people get tired of seeing me in the same thing?” some ask. Remember, you’re traveling—you probably won’t see the same people even two days in a row. And if you’re on a tour or cruise—no one will care. Everyone will simply be envious that you’re traveling so light while they’re lugging heavy bags. 

Write to Paul and Elizabeth at westways@aaa-calif.com or TravelSmart, Westways, PO Box 25222, Santa Ana, CA 92799-5222. And check out their podcasts at OnTravel.com.

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