Savvy Packing With Only a Purse   cover

Savvy Packing With Only a Purse


As of August 1, 2010, Spirit Airlines started charging $45 for a carry-on bag. I was determined to never travel on Spirit. That lasted until I just was forced to buy a ticket on Spirit for an assignment in Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. I took this as the opportunity to do a test run: pack everything for a five-night trip in a purse. Yes, you read correctly: a purse.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars on 2 reviews

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Savvy Packing With Only a Purse

Packing Light

You probably all know by now that no matter how long I'm on the road, I don't check luggage.

Everything, from my very complete first-aid kit to my high-performance clothes -- that can take me from the beach to the bar, from walking tours in Istanbul to biking trips in Norway -- goes in my carry-on bag from Mountainsmith. And my personal item is a Mountainsmith fanny pack that converts to a shoulder bag -- it contains my camera, notebook, tape recorder, reading material and so forth.

Forget the Suitcase

Forget the Suitcase

All packed!

A Personal Challenge

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that, as of August 1, 2010, Spirit Airlines will be charging $45 for a carry-on bag.

I was determined to never travel on Spirit. That lasted until I just was forced to buy a ticket on Spirit for an assignment in Atlanta, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. I was going to be traveling before August, so there was no chance of them hitting me with a carry-on bag charge. But I took this as the opportunity to do a test run: pack everything for a five-night trip in a purse. Yes, you read correctly: a purse.

Some Helpful Advice

Already, there's been plenty of advice in the media on how to pack like a pro:

1. The New York Times provided a slide show showing a flight attendant rolling her clothes into a small carry-on bag. (In the accompanying article in the New York Times, other advice from flight crews included bringing a lot of black items and carefully deciding what you really need on a trip).

2. SmarterTravel recommended: wearing clothes with lots of pockets; packing clothes that don't wrinkle; forgoing lots of toiletries that you can get at your hotel anyway; using compression bags.

Ready for Anything

Ready for Anything

What I packed:

tights, 1 pr pants, 3 dresses, 1 cardigan, 1 shirt, scarf w pockets, toiletries, 1st aid kit, makeup, book, buff, tiny purse

Layers and Versatility

But my goal was to only carry a purse. I dug out one from my closet that's simply constructed, contains several pockets, is made of almost indestructible material and measures 15"x14"5" so it would work with the Spirit Airlines personal item criteria.

And, because, clearly I couldn't get five nights of clothing and accessories into just a purse, I would wear the rest of the clothes on board. It sounds comical, but I was able to do it so successfully that if you were sitting next to me, you'd never know that I was wearing seven tops (plus a vest) and two pairs of pants. Actually, it's not a whole lot different from the many layers of clothing women wore every day in the 18th century.

Dependable and Stylish

I have to admit that carrying only a purse was quite freeing, because it forced me to be even more thrifty with what I brought, paring everything down to the bare essentials that would still allow me to look somewhat stylish.

Many of the items I packed were wickable, quick drying clothes that didn't wrinkle. Among the pieces of high-tech clothing that I especially depended on are manufactured by: Mountain Hardwear, ExOfficio, SmartWool and Icebreaker which I've blogged about many times before.

Pookie & Sebastian

Pookie & Sebastian

Pookie & Sebastian dress with tights and cardigan

The Little Black Dress

Everything I wore was in a neutral color, which makes it easier to mix and match. And the materials were all light-weight.

I love the dresses I bought at a small New York City-based boutique called Pookie & Sebastian. No, the fabrics are not high-tech, nor were they made of merino wool, like the Icebreaker dress I adore and blogged about. But the dresses are light weight, they pack small, they don't wrinkle and they paired well with other high-tech items I brought along. Plus, they fit with my color scheme.

And, because I love clothes that are convertable, e.g. pants that become shorts or long sleeve shirts that become short sleeve, I especially loved the black dress I packed that transformed into at least three different dresses as well as a blouse that I could wear with my tights.

Pocket Perfect

Another item I can't live without is my XUBAZ, a scarf with hidden pockets -- another item that I've blogged about.

It's light weight and works well whether it's warm or cool outside and, because it has pockets, it doubles as a hidden purse, of sorts. After all, who would steal a scarf? Having a multitude of pockets in my clothes is key to carrying a lot of gear. And I had a total of 18 pockets in the clothing I wore on the plane: 8 pockets in my photo vest, 4 in my scarf, 1 in my Mountain Hardwear hoodie and 5 in my Mountain Hardwear pants. So, in case I wanted to remove some items from my purse and carry them on me, there was plenty of room.

On the Plane

On the Plane

What I wore on the plane:

7 tops + 2 pr pants plus multi-pocket vest

Supplies and Toiletries

My itty bitty black purse that I packed with my clothes contained my notebook, pens, credit cards, money, and camera.

(It has several deep zip compartments that fit all these items.) The three zip lock bags you see in the pictures were divided this way: one contained liquids such as shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first aid gels/liquids like cortisone cream and anti-itch ointments; one contained makeup (a luxury for me but I had room, so why not), and the third had vitamin supplements plus non-liquid first-aid supplies/toiletries, such as band-aids, blister pads, gauze, toothbrush, and dental floss.

Dressed for Every Occasion

Given that the spring weather in Atlanta and the surrounding areas would be cool at night and warmish during the day, I had layers that would work for almost anything: from hot days to even cold nights.

(I carried a small, light weight Mountain Hardwear rain jacket draped over my arm in case of rain -- but this isn't pictured in the slide show.) And, because I'd be running around the cities during the day, visiting museums, parks and gardens and meeting public relations people, and going to nice restaurants and bars at night, I had clothes that worked for all these occasions.



Me at the airport with my many layers and a purse as my sole piece of luggage



Mountain Hardwear t-shirt under ExOfficio shirt; ExOfficio pants

Five Nights in a Pinch

As far as shoes, the only ones I had were the ones on my feet, by Keen and, again, ones I've blogged about before. (I wore them in black, of course.)

They're comfortable for lots of walking during the day and they work well at night too. In case you're wondering if I was hot on the plane wearing seven tops (plus a vest) and two pairs of pants, the answer is no. I'm always cold anyway unless the temperature is above 75 or so. This was only a test run to see if I could easily get around the Spirit Airline carry-on charge. I don't ever intend to fly on Spirit again -- aside from carry-on fees, their new planes have seats that don't recline at all -- but at least I know that if I'm forced to travel for five nights, in a pinch, a purse makes a great carry-on bag for me.

Mountain Hardwear

Mountain Hardwear

Tank top under Mountain Hardwear hoodie; Mountain Hardwear pedal pusher pants