Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Packing Tricks For Flying Home with Holiday Gifts

by Wendy Perrin | November 2, 2023

Do you ever start a trip with only carry-on luggage but do so much shopping en route that you must check a bag on the return?  As just one example, on a Thanksgiving trip that started in the souks of Morocco and ended with Christmas markets and holiday shopping in Austria and Germany, I accumulated so much stuff that flying carry-on-only was no longer possible—certainly not on intra-European flights—and my luggage had to expand.

If you travel with certain types of bags and a few multi-purpose essentials that take up almost no space, it will make it so much easier to transport all those mementoes and gifts you pick up along the way.

Here are the five items that have proven most essential to me on countless trips. Consider them the next time you need to pack for a range of climates and activities, and for accumulating stuff as you go:

Three of my packing essentials, laid out on my bed at Royal Mansour in Marrakech, make it easy to pack light.

* A thin, lightweight duffel.
I always pack one of these in my carry-on wheelie. That way, if I collect too much stuff during the trip, I can check the wheelie on the return flight and use the duffel as my carry-on. Many duffels will do, but I happen to have a Le Sportsac Large Weekender I’ve used for at least a decade for this purpose.

* An expandable carry-on wheelie.
If you unzip a special zipper that wraps around my TravelPro 22-inch expandable spinner, it magically yields an extra 44 square inches of width.

* A backpack-style handbag with built-in laptop sleeve.
As female business travelers know, the easiest way to limit your luggage to one carry-on and one personal item is if the personal item is a combination handbag-plus-laptop-case. My Tumi Voyageur Backpack is stylish enough for business meetings yet rugged enough for hikes in the rain, keeps my hands free, and keeps all my electronic accessories safe, sound, and organized.

* An ultralight, compressible parka.
Mine happens to be a North Face Thermoball Jacket. It keeps me toasty warm in wind, rain, and snow, yet does not overheat, and it compresses to a tiny fraction of its bulk, folding into its own pocket, so I can also use it as a pillow on the plane.

* A warm yet lightweight pashmina shawl.
I bought the one you see in the photo on sale at the Frette shop in Florence, Italy, years ago. It doubles as an airplane blanket and a headscarf in the rain (or if I want to pop into a mosque).

For more essentials, here’s the complete Wendy’s Essential Packing List. What items are key to your packing strategy? Share your answers in the comments below.


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  1. Joseph Franklin

    When traveling to lesser developed countries we reach out to a guide or hotel manager and ask what could we bring for a local school, hospital or service organization. We have a series of different sized duffel bags to carry what we buy for them. After delivering the items (which always adds so much joy to our travels) we then have an empty bag to bring home items we purchase. A win-win!

  2. Marcia bansley

    I carry ear plugs that i purchase at a gun store. They are attached with a plastic cord that keeps them together id you pull one out while you are asleep.

    I use a system called Grid-it to keep all my iphone cords and plugs and chargers together in one place. Also make sure i have chargers with correct international plugs with me.

    I use undweare by ex-officio and wash as needed.
    Always keep my passport and foreign money in two Pacsafe “fanny packs” that i wear all the time under my clothes. Never leave my passport in the room. These fanny packs cannot be cut off. Also keep my credit cards there.

    For hat i use Columbia cloth hat with a chin strap incase of wind. Folds up flat. Protects me from sun also.

    Use sun glasses that fit over my regular glasses. Got them at optical store.

    Always use medium size longchamp purse since the long straps fit easily over my shoulder.

    Wear compression hose on every airpane trip.

    Have platinum american express card so i can get into lounges all over the world .

  3. Deah Hester

    I try to plan on only 2 pairs of shoes when I travel- one for heavy duty walking like sneakers, and one pair that slip on, easy for airports, beach, or with nice dresses when I go out. The tennis shoes, when packed in my bag for that last flight home, offer a safe space for small breakable objects, wrapped in my socks.

  4. Jessica

    After some missed luggage experience, I’m all about the carry-on now. I also carry a foldable longchamp in my bag in case I need to bring more stuff home. Also, if I know someone in the country that I’m in who works at the embassy or a base, I’ll mail the items via USPS.

  5. Carolyn Hearn

    15 years ago my luggage followed me around a walking trip in Italy for five days before catching up. I discovered what you can buy easily – and what you can’t.
    Prescriptions I carry in my handbag, along with electronics and the infamous one quart ziplock bag of necessary liquids to produce for Security, and any jewelry, of course.
    In my small carry-on bag I bring chargers, for phone, IPad,Merck and converts, raincoat or jacket in case I need it on arrival. And, my underwear. In small villages if there is any lingerie it tends to be conservative tending to large sizes and heavy cotton knit. In principle, whatever I do not want to spend time looking for but must have, I carry. If there is room I will add the one article of clothing I want to wear but accept the possibility that I may not have the chance. That’s my indulgence.

  6. sandra collins

    I totally agree with Michael about Rx meds . My husband and I not only put Rx meds in our carryon, but also any OTC med/personal item that would be hard to duplicate in some overseas travel.
    I would also like to add the charging cord to an Ipad and iPhone or any device that you need . I made the mistake of checking those in my bag and my bag arrived two days later and the destination I visited did not have this item. Lesson learned!

  7. Charles McCool

    If traveling domestically (USA), ship extra things home. Use flat rate US Postal Service boxes for decent rates.

  8. Marcy Schackne

    Let me know when you’re ready to give Pathfinder a try for your next carry-on. Best to you and your family.

  9. Michael Kaye

    The single most valuable things that should NEVER go in checked baggage are prescription medicines. Seems obvious, but I’m continually amazed by how many travelers put hard to replace vital prescription medicines in checked baggage.

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