“He who would travel happily must travel light.”

-Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1900-1944) French poet

One carry-on suitcase.

That’s all I take, regardless of destination or length of trip.

You can do it, really you can.  Don’t be tempted to take a larger suitcase – you’ll have to check it, and risk it being lost in transit.  If your flight is delayed it will be on the plane and you’ll still be in the airport – without it.  It’s just more manageable to have one small suitcase, on wheels, with a carry-on tote that sits on top.

So how do I do it?  It’s simple, as long as you stick to basics that can mix and match.  (This is for the girls.  Guys, as far as I’m concerned you have it easy, so you’re on your own.)

The method has worked successfully for scores of packing-challenged friends and acquaintances.  I’ve been told by some that the list is kept inside their suitcase so it’s there every time they travel.

Here’s the checklist…


One pair boot-cut.  One pair skinny jeans, that can be tucked into boots or rolled up ankle length.

Black pants – or white jeans, depending on the season / weather.

One pair. Fold all pants in half lengthwise, so legs are together. Lay top of pants in bottom of suitcase, with legs draped over the side. (The legs will later be folded over the top of other clothing, and thereby prevent pants from being creased.)

Skirt and/or dress.

It’s always nice to have a pants alternative.  It should be lightweight and able to be dressed up or down. Fold in half top to bottom.

Black leggings.

I know, there’s a controversy on whether or not they are acceptable.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more comfortable to wear on an overseas flight than leggings, as long as you have sweater or a tunic that covers your behind.

A word about black clothes.

You just can’t go wrong with basic pieces in black. They can be combined with anything else, and you’ll always look put together.  Add pops of color with a shirt, sweater, or accessories.

Button-down shirts.

A white one, and a print of choice. Preferably shirts that don’t wrinkle too badly, are meant to be wrinkled, or don’t look bad if they’re wrinkled.  (Hint: A print shirt tends to show less creases.) Fold as above and lay into suitcase. If you haven’t figured out by now, the basic premise is to fold everything as flat as possible, for space-saving purposes.

Silk blouse of any kind.

Silk because it doesn’t take up much space, and is worthwhile to have along for an alternate, more formal, look.  Can be worn under a sweater in cold weather or with pants or a skirt in warm climates. Fold in half and lay on top of other shirts.

Striped nautical shirt.

Chanel made “la marinière” a classic – and it never goes out of style. It’s comfortable and can be worn in any weather. Fold in same way as shirts. Lay on top.

Sweater, cardigan or V-neck, or both.

Wool for cold weather, cotton for warm.  Any color.  Fold arms in and fold in half.  Place on top of folded clothes and wrap pants legs over the stack. There will be plenty of room around the edges for rolled up t-shirts and extra shoes.

T-shirts, long and short sleeve.

A versatile essential, either for layering or wearing on their own. These can be rolled up and tucked into the sides of your suitcase around your folded clothes – so you can bring several of each, in different colors.  (You can leave the long sleeves at home if you’re going somewhere warm.)

Tank tops.

For layering purposes. Ditto on the rolling up tip.

Blazer, or similar jacket.

Can be worn over all of the above. Wear on plane, or fold as small as possible and place in outside pocket of suitcase.

Pajamas, underwear, socks, and tights.

Just pack the bare minimum. Pack pajamas that are comfortable to hang around in during down time, and appropriately modest if you’re staying with people. Lay panties flat in a gallon-size ziploc bag.  Everything else can be rolled up and tucked into small spaces around the inside edge of your suitcase.


If you’re going somewhere cold, squeeze a lightweight down coat into the outside pocket of the suitcase, along with a pair of gloves and a hat.  If you’re going somewhere warm, pack a raincoat anyway, just in case.


For cold weather locations, wear a pair of boots on the plane. (They’ll take up too much space in the suitcase.) In addition, pack a pair of rubber-soled ballet flats, in a cloth shoe bag.  Rubber soles are mandatory for comfort, and ballet flats are classic and look good with everything.

If you’re going somewhere warm, wear the ballet flats on the plane and pack sandals. (The theory is to pack whichever is the smallest shoe type.)  If you can’t live without heels, go ahead and pack a pair. There’s still room.


Not only is a scarf useful for keeping your neck warm, it will make you look polished and put together.  (As in ever-so-fashionable Parisian women.)  Even if it’s warm weather, bring a silk or cotton scarf and throw it around your neck.  A good place to add a splash of color, BTW.

A belt or two.

Roll up and tuck into corners of suitcase.


I wear a pendant necklace, and bring other pendants that can alternate on the same chain.  Otherwise, just bring a few simple pieces that go with everything.  Take in a small pouch in your carry-on tote bag.

If everything on this list is in the suitcase, and there’s still space, resist the urge to keep adding.  You’re going to want to buy things, and you’ll be glad for the extra space.

Just trust me.

[Download a printable Just One Suitcase checklist.]