Packing for the Personal Item

If you're like me, you're no stranger to budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier. Which...isn't fun. But when the difference in the price of a ticket on Spirit vs. American Airlines or Southwest is $50, $100 or sometimes even more - it's hard to spring for that ticket more expensive ticket when "a great deal" is staring you right in the face.

That being said, in order to really truly get that "great deal," you can't opt into all those "extras" the airline wants you to buy. $40 both ways for a carry-on, $20 or more to choose your seat, $10 for that on-board snack pack and before you know it you've spent the same amount of money the Southwest ticket would have cost you.

I'm stubborn. If airlines want to offer me the "base price," that's all they're getting. So I don't pick my seats, I don't buy in-cabin snacks or drinks (not even water!) and I DEFINITELY don't pay for luggage.

Small disclaimer here: If I were going somewhere for more than a few days, I'd definitely need to pay for that luggage. But I've been able to travel with just a personal item for countless long weekend trips.

It's no cakewalk packing everything you'll need for a long weekend in something that can fit under the seat in front of you. So I've created a step-by-step to show you how I do it. I'll show you how I fit all of this:

Into this:

Let's start with a few of my cardinal rules:

  • Prepare to wear some items of clothing more than once. Pick a staple pair of jeans, and wear another pair so you have two options. Pick one jacket, one or two pairs of shoes, and a versatile shirt that can be worn with several different outfits. This will save tons of space. 
  • Think in terms of color palette when packing. Rather than looking at "outfits" - pick a color palette and stick with it so it's more likely things will match if you need to switch some things around. I went with brown and earthy tones with some white accents to make sure everything is cohesive.
  • Consider where you're staying and what toiletries you'll need. This can be a huge space saver. If you're going to be staying with friends or family who don't mind you using their shampoo, soap, hair dryer, etc...then don't waste the space!
  • Prioritize what's important to you. If you need your straightener, sacrifice a pair of shoes. If you really want your camera, bring a smaller makeup bag (or none at all)!

So, here's how I pack for the personal item (or as I like to say, packing like Mary Poppins...get it?!)

Start by stuffing small items - the "unmentionables" into shoes. I mean it when I say you'll use all the space you have!

Once your shoes are stuffed full, put them in the bottom of your bag. You'll then want to roll all your items of clothing - not fold, but roll - as tightly as possible. You'll want to put in the bulkier items first, and then fill in the empty space with the smaller items.

Be as strategic as possible with this - the more space you save here, the more space you have for all the extra stuff!

Then you'll want to pack all the other essentials - in this case I've got a purse (of course with things inside it, not wasting ANY space - my camera, some sunglasses, my smallest hairbrush, and my makeup bag with travel-sized toiletries inside.

If your backpack as extra pockets like mine, use them!

Just...just act like the reflection isn't there.

And we can't forget airplane reading material...

Once all is said and done, your bag will likely be pretty heavy and solid. But as long as it fits under the seat in front of you, you'll be good to go! Saving some money and time not waiting around at baggage claim.

If you have any tips or tricks for personal item packing, please share them in the comments below! I'm always interested in learning new ways to pack more in less space!