Now - if you do not want to just use a carry on, there is a red X up there in that corner that you may click. Really, no pressure. I just want to help if you actually want to pack less.
Pack things that are easily mixable and matchable.
This is like #1 on most lists and for good reason. Now, I personally don't just pack all black or neutrals and I'm not good with choosing basics first and then throwing in a pop of colour. But, I won't bring a striped skirt that I can only wear with one top, or a top that only looks good with black jeans.
See below - not everything can be mixed or matched but not everything needs to match, I just like to have options. I didn't include shoes in this. Of course I could have made way more outfits, but my goal is just to use everything at least twice.
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Plan your outfits.
I know this is tedious and a whole new level of 'planner crazy' but actually planning my outfits is ridiculously helpful. Because when I plan 50 outfits for a 2 week trip, I realise I have too much and I can get rid of a few things. I can also see that I'm only wearing this top once, or I favour these jeans over those so do I really need both?
Try your outfits on.
Things look different on polyvore than on a person - unless you are 100% positive you know how everything looks on you, try it on. Taking photos is helpful because then I can refer back to the photo, but even just trying something on to make sure it doesn't look horrible is better than nothing.
Think about where you are going.
The weather is most important of course, but so are the culture and 'rules'. What you'll pack for Paris will be different than what you'd pack for Italy or India. Does it rain often? Is their Summer more like your Winter? Probably need an extra jacket rather than the bikini. Should you be mindful about showing skin? You'll need a light cardigan for covering up. By finding out what you need, you eliminate what you don't.
Know what you're doing.
Further to the above, I look at our itinerary. Do we have a 'fancy dinner'? Are we hiking, going to the beach? Are we walking or biking 10 miles a day? Knowing what we are doing helps me put the heels back in the closet, grab a dress that can be dressed up or down and make sure I have some comfy shoes. Knowing what we're doing also means I know what we're not doing, so I can eliminate things again.
Take the smallest bag possible and don't extend it on the way there.
I use the Mother Lode Weekender Convertible from eBags. It extends, which sure is handy. When we went to NYC because of all the sweaters and stuff, I had to extend it straight away. Should have been a red flag. I swear, things expand on the way back because I brought back less, and still had no room. So don't extend it on the way there. If you need to extend it, you need to take something out. Also, you will fill up whatever bag you choose. So if your stuff fills up a smaller carry on, no need to grab the bigger one 'just in case' because then you'll start throwing things in 'just in case'.
Small personal item.
I catch myself thinking 'if I use a tote bag for my personal item, I could pack more!' which is dangerous. So I just use a crossbody purse that fits the absolute necessities so I am not tempted to throw in something here or there. The reason for this is because some airlines do not allow you that 'personal item' and I need to be able to fit my personal item into my suitcase / backpack.
Critique your fabrics.
I have these tops from Gap that I love. But bloody hell, they wrinkle like it's their job. So they never go on a trip with me, unless I wear them there. I layer in the winter instead of grabbing thick chunky sweaters that take up a lot of room. I leave the top that needs an extra cami, the dress that gets crazy static clingy, or the jacket that looks more comfortable than it actually is and takes up a ton of room. Everything - except a big coat - must fold up small. That bag fills up fast.
Ask yourself why you are taking something.
If it starts with 'just in case...' then you need to leave it behind. If the Queen invites you to tea, you can buy something.
Don't buy things specifically for the trip.
I've done this a thousand times but I am getting better. I still buy things but they are less specific and can be worn again. For example, I bought a white tee and a grey tee for Europe. I wore them both and will continue to do so. I bought a snowflake sweater for NYC. I wore it once, you couldn't even see it, it's now in the eBay pile.
Stick with what you are comfortable.
On top of not buying things specifically for a trip, don't pack that maxi skirt that you never wear, or the bright red tee even though you're terrified of wearing red. I bet you can find a photo of yourself in an outfit that you weren't 100% comfortable in - you can tell by looking at the photo, can't you? Who cares if you are comfy in jeans and a tee. Rock it. Comfort is the most important thing, and you'll be happy and happy people don't shoot their husbands.
Limit your pants and shoes.
Shoes are the hardest for me because I want to be comfortable more than anything. I have learned that lesson, and I know Nikes aren't that cute but I've just gotten to the point where I don't care. They are comfy and that's all I need. I also normally throw in a pair of cute - but still comfy - flats for 'dressing up'. I rarely wear heels so that isn't a problem for me. As for pants, unless you are going somewhere in the winter for like 2+ weeks and you really like bright coloured bottoms, stick with the basics. I normally pack my beloved black jeans and a pair of blue jeans. If it's winter, I might throw in some leggings. I could pack 4 pairs of jeans, but they all start to blend together after a while and it's silly. Instead, pack more tops. They take up less room and in my opinion repeat bottoms are less noticeable than repeat tops, if that makes sense.
Think about how you will look in photos.
Yes, I realise how vain this sounds. Here's the thing - I take a lot of photos when I travel. So I don't want to wear the dress that clings, or the shorts that make my thighs look huge (to me!). I also dislike that every picture from NYC looks like the same day because I wore the same coat and beanie everywhere. So next time I go away during the winter, I'll pack 2 coats and an extra beanie. Is it the end of the world? No. Does it help me decide what to pack? Yes.
Get over yourself and who cares?!
This is the hard truth, friends. I learned it from Helene and I have to remind myself of this. I don't need my whole makeup bag, just the basics. I don't need all my hair tools. How much I enjoy my trip is not tied to what I am wearing. I know it sounds obvious, but it's true. I want to look decent in photos, but at the end of the day the fact that I am on the trip is way more important than how many times I wore a certain top or pair of jeans. I mean, do I look like I care about my outfits in any of these photos?
Unfortunately, no matter how much you plan, shit happens. Check out Megan on her last trip - we planned meticulously but she had to switch up some outfits because it turned out to be way colder than she expected. She still looks fabulous and she still had a blast! Plus, that gave me the heads up about how cold it was in Dublin so I could change my packing accordingly.
Just remember to have fun and you'll be fine!
Anyway - to wrap it all up, if you don't want to use a carry on, don't. If you do, but don't think you can - I hope this helped you.