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10 Tips on Packing Light for Summer Weekends

Stick to the essentials for an easy, breezy getaway


spinner image Woman getting ready to pack her suitcase
Natalia Kostikova/EyeEm/Getty Images

Summer is weekend getaway time, and we can't wait to go! So, here's the problem: We're terrible packers. We stuff our suitcase, take too many clothes (or the wrong ones), forget essentials and end up making a pit stop at Target or CVS. Well, here's a chance to change all that. Here are 10 tips to lighten the load, upgrade your packing skills and guarantee a “sun-sational” vacation.

spinner image Delsey Paris Sky Max 2.0 Softside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels Carry-On 21-Inch in Steel Blue; TravelPro Maxlite 5 21” Expandable Carry-On Spinner in Midnight Blue; American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Ca
(Left to right) Delsey Paris Sky Max 2.0 Softside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels Carry-On 21-Inch in Steel Blue; TravelPro Maxlite 5 21” Expandable Carry-On Spinner in Midnight Blue; American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Carry-On 21-Inch in Navy
Amazon (2); Travelpro

1. Take a suitcase that's easy to pack, lift and roll

Whether you're flying or driving, keep the “you-haul” small but sturdy. An airline-size carry-on — about 22 inches long by 14 inches wide by 9 inches high — is ample for a four-day weekend (check exact dimensions with your airline if you fly) but keeps you from taking too much. Look for bags that specify being lightweight, such as the American Tourister Moonlight Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Carry-On 21-Inch in Navy ($70, amazon.com), Delsey Paris Sky Max 2.0 Softside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels Carry-On 21-Inch in Steel Blue ($78, amazon.com) or the TravelPro Maxlite 5 21” Expandable Carry-On Spinner in Midnight Blue or Slate Green ($127, travelpro.com) — so worth a splurge if your old bag is big, heavy or wheel-less. FYI: A hard-side case is squash-, water- and stain-resistant and opens like a book; a soft-side case makes last minute cramming easy and has outer pockets for jackets and travel essentials. Your back, shoulders, neck, hips and clothes will thank you, either way.

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spinner image Baggu Cloud Bag in Black; Everlane The Oversize Carryall in Breen; Longchamp Le Pliage Club Small Shoulder Tote in Gun Metal/Silver
(Left to right) Baggu Cloud Bag in Black; Everlane The Oversize Carryall in Breen; Longchamp Le Pliage Club Small Shoulder Tote in Gun Metal/Silver
Baggu; Everlane; Bloomingdale's

2. Swap your leather bag for a nylon one

A nylon bag can double as a chic beach and sightseeing bag. Sturdy nylon styles like the Baggu Cloud Bag in Lentil, Pinto or Black ($56, baggu.com), Everlane The Oversize Carryall in Black or Breen ($68, everlane.com) or Longchamp Le Pliage Club Small Shoulder Tote in Gun Metal/Silver or Black/Silver ($140, bloomingdales.com) have a clean modern shape, secure zip-top closure and come in sophisticated colors that are polished enough for everyday life. It will hold all your essentials — like wallet, keys, glasses, cell, masks, water bottle, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, e-reader or tablet, swimsuit and hoodie — as needed. too. And the water-resistant fabrics mean no worries about spills.

spinner image GUZOSJO Women’s Bohemian Oversized Scarf in 010-17; Time and Tru Women's and Women's Plus Size Mini Stripe One-Piece Swimsuit in Storm Blue; Old Navy Go-H20 Water-Resistant Hooded Utility Jacket for Women in Golden Glow
(Left to right) GUZOSJO Women’s Bohemian Oversized Scarf in 010-17; Time and Tru Women's and Women's Plus Size Mini Stripe One-Piece Swimsuit in Storm Blue; Old Navy Go-H20 Water-Resistant Hooded Utility Jacket for Women in Golden Glow
Amazon; Walmart; Old Navy

3. Create a where, what, when checklist

Get practical. What are you planning to do during those days and nights? Are you staying with family, at an Airbnb, a cozy B&B or a resort? Is this a super-casual barbecue, pool and beach thing, or more of an antiquing, restaurant and sightseeing trip? Check the weather app for your destination's forecast. If showers are possible, make a superlight hooded utility jacket part of your travel outfit. Anticipate cool mornings and chilly air-conditioning with a sweatshirt. Add in must-haves like charger cords and prescription meds, and the most-missed items women forget include a swimsuit (even if only for a dip in the hot tub) and a light oversize scarf that works as a wrap, pareo, pillow, blanket or dress-up piece for a tee. Remember the goal is to take as little as possible, with maximum versatility as the plan. See tip number 5 for a perfect list.

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spinner image Toms Alpargata Cupsole in in Natural Heritage Canvas; Gap Vintage Soft Cropped V-Neck Hoodie in Light Brown Tie Dye; Old Navy High-Waisted StretchTech Cargo Jogger Pants for Women in Chocolate Malted
(Left to right) Toms Alpargata Cupsole in in Natural Heritage Canvas; Gap Vintage Soft Cropped V-Neck Hoodie in Light Brown Tie Dye; Old Navy High-Waisted StretchTech Cargo Jogger Pants for Women in Chocolate Malted
Zappos; Gap; Old Navy

4. Pick a comfy stylish travel outfit

Slim jeans, loafers and a blazer still make a great first impression (especially if traveling to a big city). But let's be honest: You're on a summer vacation and you'll sitting in one place for a long time en route. You may love leggings, jeans, jumpsuits and maxi dresses, but they're not ideal for travel — too tight, too voluminous, and too hard to walk in, run to the gate or deal with in the restroom! Instead, wear slip-on sneakers or closed-toe espadrilles, ankle pants with stretch and a seasonal sweatshirt or jacket. This is your travel outfit, but the pieces work with all your packed items, too, to max out your options.

spinner image Liz Claiborne Women's Stretch 11" Bermuda Short in Flax; J.Crew Structured Boatneck T-Shirt in Khaki Navy Icon Stripe; Gap Tiered Midi Skirt in Desert Cactus Green
(Left to right) Liz Claiborne Women's Stretch 11" Bermuda Short in Flax; J.Crew Structured Boatneck T-Shirt in Khaki Navy Icon Stripe; Gap Tiered Midi Skirt in Desert Cactus Green
JCPenney; J.Crew; Gap

5. Pack 12 pieces of clothing total that mix and match

The items you pack depend on your trip and preferences, so adjust this list to get your ideal dozen but keep that magic number. A base of neutral colors is best, but don't just think black or navy. Lighter neutrals like khaki, tan, olive and light-wash denim add a warm sunny vibe — and so does white. Add a pop of bright color in a dress or top. In addition to your travel outfit, pack: two bottoms (your combo of pants, jeans, pull-on skirts or shorts); two swimsuits; five tops (your combo of tanks and tees); one day/night T-shirt dress (your preferred length); one loungey nightie that doubles as beach coverup; and one hoodie sweatshirt.

spinner image INNERSY Women's Underwear Cotton Hipster Panties, Regular & Plus Size 6-Pack in Bright Basics; SNJ Women’s Lightweight EVA Comfort Sandals in Gold; Privé Revaux The Influencer; Scala Women’s Cotton Sunhat with UPF50+ in Chino Green
(Clockwise from left) INNERSY Women's Underwear Cotton Hipster Panties, Regular & Plus Size 6-Pack in Bright Basics; SNJ Women’s Lightweight EVA Comfort Sandals in Gold; Privé Revaux The Influencer; Scala Women’s Cotton Sunhat with UPF50+ in Chino Green
Amazon (2); Walmart; Privé Revaux

6. Take fewer shoes and accessories, more underwear

This is where we usually mess up. Estimate two pairs of underwear for each day (so doing laundry isn't always on your mind), and take an extra bra besides the one you wear to travel. They're weightless and easy to stash. However, limit shoes and accessories. We always take too many. Go “lite” here, too, and skip big clunky wedges or heavy sneakers. Figure on one pair of day/night sandals, one pool slide, one pair of light flat walkable shoes like espadrilles, one pair of raffia or beaded statement earrings, one packable broadbrim sun hat and one pair of sunglasses.

spinner image Ava & Viv Women's Plus-Size Short Sleeve T-Shirt Dress in Pink; Hanes Women's Stretch Cotton Raglan Sleeve Tee in White; Ava & Viv Women's Plus Size Short Sleeve Knit Swing Dress in Blue
(Left to right) Ava & Viv Women's Plus-Size Short Sleeve T-Shirt Dress in Pink; Hanes Women's Stretch Cotton Raglan Sleeve Tee in White; Ava & Viv Women's Plus Size Short Sleeve Knit Swing Dress in Blue
Target (2); Amazon

7. Plan for pieces that multitask

For packing light to be successful you need to get more creative about styling your clothes. In other words, make less do more. The best pieces easily pivot from day to night, hot outdoors to chilly indoors, super casual to polished without looking over or under done. Just be picky about choosing your favorite neckline, sleeve length and hemline. White tees like the 3/4 sleeve boatneck Hanes Women's Stretch Cotton Raglan Sleeve Tee in White ($7-22, amazon.com) or V-neck Hanes Women's Short Sleeve Nano-T V-Neck Tee in White ($14, amazon.com, not pictured) brighten up everything and add inches to your neck and torso. T-shirt dresses like the midi Ava & Viv Women's Plus Size Short Sleeve Knit Swing Dress in Blue ($20, target.com) or above-the-knee Ava & Viv Women's Plus-Size Short Sleeve T-Shirt Dress in Pink ($15, target.com) work with sneakers and a hoodie, sandals and statement earrings or espadrille flats and a cropped denim jacket. Get the idea?

spinner image Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set in Brilliant Blue; Ziploc Storage Gallon Bags; Gonex Compression Packing Cubes 4 PC in Deep Gray
(Clockwise from left) Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set in Brilliant Blue; Ziploc Storage Gallon Bags; Gonex Compression Packing Cubes 4 PC in Deep Gray
Amazon (2); Target

8. Roll and pack in pouches like pros do

Packing your stuff neatly in separate bags inside your suitcase keeps clothes tidy and wrinkle-free while you travel and after arrival. Make stacks of like items — underwear, tops, bottoms. Then roll or fold everything (your preference) and slip into a bag. Compression bags with a double zipper like the Gonex Compression Packing Cubes 4 PC in Deep Gray ($29, amazon.com) slim down stacks and save space, and noncompression pouches like the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set in Brilliant Blue ($40, amazon.com) keep you organized. But here's my cheap fashion-editor trick: I use gallon-size see-through Ziploc plastic baggies ($10, target.com) instead. And don't forget to pack shoes at the wheel end of your suitcase for weight distribution and balance when the case is upright.

spinner image Cool Gear Go Gear Travel Tubes; e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrated Ever After Skincare Mini Kit; FEKKAI Power Pair Super Strength Mini Duo; Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, 3 oz
(Left to right) Cool Gear Go Gear Travel Tubes; e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrated Ever After Skincare Mini Kit; FEKKAI Power Pair Super Strength Mini Duo; Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, 3 oz
CVS (2); Ulta Beauty (2)

9. Bring travel-size toiletries and minimal makeup

Do not pack standard-size bottles and tubes of moisturizer, cleanser, perfume, shampoo and conditioner. Instead, pop by any department store beauty counter or Sephora and ask for samples (all it takes is a few minutes of browsing and a chat with a sales associate). Or pick up some travel-size bottles and decant a small portion of your everyday liquid beauty essentials. Cream blush, a lipstick and mascara are all you need. If you are flying, remember TSA rules: If you bring carry-on luggage (see tip number 1), liquids must be under 3.4 ounces and fit into a quart plastic bag. When it comes to makeup, aim for low effort, high payoff.

spinner image A woman packing suitcase in her hotel room
John Smith/Corbis/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

10. Prep for the grubby stuff and return trip

Traveling and vacationing are not sparkling clean situations. A scented dryer sheet tucked inside the suitcase keeps all smelling fresh. Always keep a spare plastic baggie or two for dirty laundry, wet swimsuits and shoes to prevent dirty soles from contact with clothing. Keep liquid or cream beauty items (including sunscreen) away from clothes and slip them into separate pouches before repacking. Note that altitude and air pressure changes (if you are flying) as well as heat (if you are driving) often cause products to expand, contract, leak or drip. You don't want to arrive home to find your belongings and suitcase a mess.

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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