How to be a Suitcase Swami: one week, one carry-on

Suitcase Swami, one guy for one week in one carry-on (Scarborough photo)Can one guy get his stuff into one carry-on suitcase for one week away at a conference?

You betcha.

My Sainted Husband’s travel to a teacher’s conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan gave me a golden opportunity to use my packing skills for his benefit, and I’m going to pass those lessons on to you.

(Never mind that he and I had to go to the mat a couple of times about the number of pairs of socks he wanted to take….)

When he arrived at the airport, he was the only one of nine teachers who had packed everything into a carry-on….and he was the only one who wasn’t whacked with the American Airlines $15 fee for the first checked bag (it’s $25 for the second.) What’s interesting is that some of his fellow travelers did not know that they’d be charged for checking luggage.

Remember, folks, it’s an air travel war zone out there in the not-so-friendly skies, so gird your travel loins and do some research before you fly anywhere.

Here’s the one-week packing list for a male attending a casual conference in western Michigan in July (your mileage may vary:)

  • One pair running shoes (worn on the plane) and one pair Ecco business-y shoes. Yes, I know laces are a hassle going through security – take a tip from triathletes and use lace locks for a quick off-and-on.
  • One pair shorts (worn on the plane)
  • 4 pair business socks (2 pr rolled & stuffed into each biz shoe)
  • 2 pair Dockers trousers, one belt
  • 4 collared/polo shirts (2 light, 2 dark, wear the dark ones twice and hang them in the hotel room closet to air. Sainted Hubs said, “What if I spill something on one?” I said, “They have Gap stores in Grand Rapids, right? Go buy another shirt if you have to.”)
  • 6 undershirts, 6 underwear
  • 1 pr nylon running shorts, knee brace and 3 “grubby” T-shirts for working out & sleeping. Wash/rinse the running shorts in room sink on workout “off” days.
  • 3 pair running socks – tuck in corners
  • Swim trunks. Can double as running shorts in a pinch, easier to have a suit than decide that you DO want to hit the hotel pool and not have the suit.
  • Foldable, hang-able toiletry kit, with 3 oz liquid containers in separate quart-sized Ziplock bag and set on top for easy access during security checks.  Try multiple-use products, but don’t feel bad if it’s a step too far to use body wash as toothpaste.
  • (Optional) Ballcap, Grundig radio (not needed if you know there’s a hotel room clock radio,)  mini-Maglite flashlight (if sharing a room – to find things at night without bumbling and turning on lights.)

That’s it, and it all fit in a TravelPro Rollaboard.

Additionally, in his standard canvas black messenger bag, which fits under the seat in front of him:

  • Laptop and power cord in a slim padded polypro sleeve
  • Loaded iPod plus charger, and cell phone charger
  • Sunglasses and reading glasses
  • A couple of magazines and energy bars – never expect anyone to entertain or feed you nowadays.
  • Nalgene water bottle. Leave it empty until you’re through security, then fill it at any airport terminal water fountain.

Also loaded onto his laptop with a backup on his thumb/USB flash drive – a PDF guide to Grand Rapids from a new guidebook site now in beta testing, Offbeat Guides.  I’m participating in their beta process, so I ordered up a customized guidebook that included area history, maps, restaurants and local events scheduled to coincide with my husband’s stay.

Caveats to this packing list….

Winter travel:  Coats/jackets, gloves, scarves, etc. make it tougher to be a cold-weather packing Swami, but it is still possible. Be brutally efficient.

Women: I recommend 3 pairs of pants (one black, one brown, one khaki,) one skirt (if you have to – they’re a pain) and four tops.  Shoes: one pair black loafers/flats, one pair brown loafers/flats, one pair running shoes if you work out.  Take a cue from the guys – no one notices that you’re wearing the same pair of black pants for more than one day. Vary your tops, maybe add a scarf and change earrings, and that’s it.  It’s not cute to lug a bunch of girly junk anymore, unless you like self-inflicted pain.

Kids:  They each rate a carry-on but their clothes are small, so you can mix adult and kid items and spread them across the available space. They can each carry a little backpack as well, so make them schlep their toys, crayons, etc., not you.

To recap – pack more tops than bottoms, pick walkable shoes that go with multiple outfits, and plan on doing a little laundry in the hotel room.

Folks, it’s a travel jungle out there, and you don’t need to pay “gotcha” fees or watch your luggage get lost during a plane change.  Be a wise Swami.

Could you do it? One week – one bag?


  1. jamie July 29, 2008
  2. Sheila July 29, 2008
  3. patti digh July 29, 2008
  4. jamie July 30, 2008
  5. Antonia Malchik July 30, 2008
  6. Kim Haynes July 30, 2008
  7. Caitlin July 30, 2008
  8. Melody July 30, 2008
  9. Sheila July 30, 2008
  10. Beth Whitman July 30, 2008
  11. Traveler Tim August 3, 2008
  12. Sheila @ GoVisitHawaii August 25, 2008
  13. Sheila August 26, 2008
  14. oldandtired July 31, 2009
  15. Celticbutterfly April 15, 2011

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