The Mindful Hustle

thoughtfully, reluctantly adults.

Category: Minimalism

Forget Carry Ons: How to Travel with just a Personal Item

traveling light

Frontier and Spirit airlines have some crazy cheap airfare. Especially if you’re willing to forgo life’s small luxuries like picking your seat, bringing a carry on and  having a drink in flight.  If not, tickets can quickly jump up to  equal to the cost of more traditional carriers (although not always).

I remember the first time I flew with Frontier: I felt so scandalized by the nickel and diming that I swore I’d never do it again. Well I live in Colorado, my close friends are in Ohio and my family is in Florida. In other words: I travel a lot. And Frontier has hubs in most of the airports I need to travel to. So I found a way to make amends with my former nemesis. Once you know what to expect I find it’s not so bad.

On paying for my seat choice: 90% of my travel is solo so I don’t feel compelled to  pick my seat; either way I’ll be next to a stranger. I’m fairly small (5’5″ and small-to-average build) so I can manage sitting in the middle for a few hours, especially if I’m distracted with a good book or wrapped up in writing. Occasionally I get lucky and am placed in a row near the front of the plane.

On paying for snacks/drinks: Eat a large meal beforehand or bring your own food. Buy a drink in the terminal or bring an empty water bottle and fill it up. No brainer, really.

And now the big one, luggage: Spirit and Frontier charge for checked bags AND carry ons. When I found out their bag policy I felt like they were throwing down a challenge. Charge for a carry on, huh? Guess that means I’ll have to fit everything in a personal item. Here’s how I manage traveling with a personal item only:

Find a bag that fits the dimensions. Frontier permits a  18 x 14 x 8  and  Spirit 16 x 14 x 12 inches. Find a bag that is approximately this size ahead of time.

My personal item of choice is this yellow purse.

personal item

My luggage for a week in Florida.

In my experience, gate agents are biased against backpacks, I swear they just assume they’re too big without assessing the size and try to charge you  for it. If you MUST use a backpack, I suggest swinging it over one shoulder (farthest from the agent) so it’s partially obscured.

Accept that you will be working from a limited mix of items. At home we can pick from our whole wardrobe every morning.  That routine of considering a wide range of options on a daily basis overflows into packing: we feel compelled to have options to pick from,  so we try to bring our whole wardrobe with us and thus massively over pack.

When traveling with just a personal item, it’s important to plan ahead what you’ll wear. Even more important, you’ll need to make adjustments. Perhaps normally with a certain outfit you’d wear a certain pair boots, but your two shoe limit (see below)  is already maxed out. Time to compromise. Who knows, you might just find some fun new combinations you would not have normally put together.

No more than two pairs of shoes. One pair on you feet, one in the bag. The shoes I bring truly depend where I’m going/time of year/purpose of the trip.

Bring your favorite and most versatile items. I have a pair of black pants that dress up well but can be casual too. I have worn them out to bars, to work, even to a funeral.  They have a good deal of stretch in them so they are comfortable enough to wear on the plane. Those pants are true chameleons. Figure out which pieces are your chameleons and create your travel wardrobe around them.

Make Assumptions What I mean by this is, make assumptions about what will be available to you where you’re going. Hotels and/or friends will have a blow dryer and towels to use so I don’t bring my own.  This extends to some toiletries too, like toothpaste and shampoo. What’s provided might not be my favorite brand but it’s short term.

Wear your bulkiest items through the airport. I know we like to be comfy on the plane but if I have large items I must bring with me (boots, big sweater, jacket, whatever…) I create my travel outfit using those things. If you are running low on space in your  bag, you can use the pockets of your coat for additional small item storage like phone chargers. Wear this outfit traveling both to and from your destination.

Bring a separate smaller purse for carrying your wallet, keys etc. My travel bag is a large purse I would not normally choose to carry all day long so  I bring a smaller purse for keys, wallet, and cellphone. This way my essentials are consolidated and easily accessible during the travel and then once I get to my destination I can downsize. Sub-tip on the subject of keys:  Whittle your key ring down to just what you’ll need, probably just a house key and a car key. If possible, leave the whole set at home. No need to bring any extraneous keys. My key ring normally looks like a janitor’s, between the keys for my mailbox, bike lock, back entrance, garage, work keys… When I travel I leave all the extras at home. Every little bit of space counts when you’re traveling with a personal item.


What started out as a challenge against my stubborn nature turned out to be the cure I needed to fix my chronic over-packing. I first tried packing this way for short weekend trips and eventually dared using this method for longer trips (my record is 7 days.) And guess what? I survived. More than that, I loved it! Other advantages to traveling with just a personal item are: no lost luggage, no waiting at the baggage claim, less potential for lost items while you travel (I am notorious for leaving stuff wherever I go), lessened decision fatigue, and unpacking after your trip is so fast you don’t even have time to dread it. So thanks, Frontier Airlines.

If traveling with a personal item is too intimidating, you could easily use these concepts to travel with a carry on instead of a checked bag. What do you think? Are you crazy enough to give it a try?

 

In and Out Report: April

The in and out report is an accountability tally of allllll the things I’ve brought into my lil one bedroom apartment and conversely, a list of all the things I took out.  My goal is to net 0 or better yet, export more than I import.

Read More

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