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How in the world do you do it?

How in the world do you who pack even kind of light do it? I'm exhausted deciding what stays and what goes. Today was my final test pack and it's taken me all day to make things fit in the suitcase and tote. It all smooshes down to
United's carryon guidelines (what's a 1/4", right?).
And I'm not talking about clothes. That's the easy part and don't take much room. My sandals are sadly staying home. What's taking all the room are drugs (prescription and OTC); 311 bag filled with lotions and potions to prevent more skin cancer; covid tests; masks which I packed half of my planned quantity. Maybe it's because I'm staying longer, 28 days, so need more drugs plus extra days? Maybe it's because after climbing over 70 my body cries out for more of everything--drugs, personal items (not discussing that here); covid prevention plan?
Oh yeah, I'm taking three packages of Jello instant pistachio pudding for my friend in Dublin. That's what she asked for so that's what she gets when I meet her in London.
There is nothing more I can cut, so it is what it is. Or I'll find courage from Carol Now Retired who's checking her bag (see her thread if you haven't) and risk finding/retrieving my suitcase at Heathrow (not preferable at this point).

Posted by
2494 posts

Well, no way I’m leaving my sandals behind, so I guess I would check a bag or put them in my personal carry on item. But, seriously don’t stress too much, it’s supposed to be fun!

Posted by
2652 posts

We checked our bags in April, and miraculously - they were there at FCO waiting for us. On earlier trips, our bags made it to Heathrow. And we're old too.

Find the courage - you'll be fine.

Posted by
1140 posts

Packaging for drugs I noticed can be a problem. I don't have any prescription ones but for over the counter I rip the box apart and just take the labels which lie flat. Puzzle the rippable sheets of drugs with each other and I can fit 3 weeks worth in one quart size bag with extra room for things like my anti fog glasses wipes etc...

On your way home you'll have more room as you consume stuff.

Posted by
838 posts

For drugs I now use the tiny zip lock bags specifically made for it where you can write the day/date on the bag. A months worth easily fits in a sandwich zip lock along with paper copies of the prescription. Not only does it save space and weight but keeps me on track better for a trip over a week. For over the counter I use a 7 day pill container which each compartment labeled or small blister packs.

I weigh all clothing and shoes using weight and sink washability to help me decide between alternatives.

On toiletries I take a container that's as small as possible. Example, yes you can take 3 ounces but if one is all I need that's what I take. You can find travel toiletry containers smaller than 3 oz. If you're not sure, fill up a container and use it at home noting down how long it lasts.

If you're going to London they have stores with masks, drugs, toiletries.

Posted by
137 posts

Cheering you on! My sandals are key (they’re SAS women’s size 12). So if you really want yours, maybe they can go in the pockets of your raincoat or something? :-) I put my sandals in the outer pocket of my roller, side by side. I also put my raincoat there, and if I get “bag-sizered”, I pull out my raincoat and carry it separately through security.

I think you’ll appreciate the lighter bag and less stuff as you travel. Your shoulders and neck will thank you. And as the Jello and med supply goes down, you’ll have a few more precious inches of room for a new tshirt, or sandals, or souvenirs. Hope you enjoy every minute!

Posted by
11051 posts

I do similar to jlkelman and cj-traveler except I use the small zip lock bags from Michaels craft store...they are in the jewelry/bead department. I decant them from the bottles - Motrin, allergy pills, plus some others. Without going in to too much detail, lol, I think I will take the Immodium out of the foil/plastic overwrap and put them into one of these ziplocks. I can't get into the bubble packaging without using nail clippers anyway, lol. The things that take up a LOT of room that I will just leave in the containers are the Airborne. The long cylinders I throw away as I use them. The chewables I do decant into a small ziplock.

Are your prescriptions in bottles or has your pharmacist given you labels so you can put them in small ziplock bags?

I just got a new suitcase delivered yesterday. I thought it was a bit smaller than my old RS roller but they are about the same size. The new one is 1.5# lighter. My test pack, minus masks was 16# yesterday and there is still room. I need to keep myself from filling the room because I don't want it much heavier due to the fact that I did not follow thru with my plan of weight training, lol.

How much did our suitcase weigh?

The GOOD thing is you are doing this ahead of time and not when you are getting ready to leave for the airport!

Posted by
1192 posts

Men are different. So I've been told.

You have thought in three dimensions. Time now to think about time.

You have dome everything you can to reduce your inventory except perhaps to discuss your meds with your doctors to see what you might be able to do without for four weeks. And consider what you can buy locally (the rest of the world has the same drugs and OTCs, just different words on the labels). If your meds are in hard cases, the space they occupy will never decrease. If they're in individually labeled bags, which can be stuffed into crannies, the volume they occupy diminishes as you consume them. While you'll still need the room in your bag for carrying them on the other end, most lotions and potions can readily be acquired locally and will they will then fill the space occupied now by the gift of pudding. The pudding is a charming present but three packs can repackaged into a far smaller single bag or plastic bottle.

Joining the many other voices in wishing you a wonderful hassle-free trip. Be sure to file a report when you get home.

Posted by
2140 posts

horsewoofie, is there a reason you need the covid tests? I didn't bring a single one when I went to Germany for a month. The one time I had some vague symptoms, I bought a test at a local apothecary for €3 (it was negative).

Posted by
8155 posts

the rest of the world has the same drugs and OTCs, just different words on the labels)

Not if you want Pepto-Bismol !

Posted by
11051 posts

+1 to Kim! Who wants to go find a pharmacy, possibly at night, when you need something now?


Posted by
15 posts

I put all of my different medications into individual pill pouches and label each with a label maker. I then make a list in the notes section on my phone listing the drug’s name, dosage and any instructions. I can easily refer to my phone if needed. The pill pouches are light and I put the pill pouches into snack sized ziploc bags. For instance I put all stomach meds each in their individual pill pouches together in a ziploc bag. I then put them all in a lightweight makeup bag.
I decanted tinted moisturizer, eye cream etc. in small round plastic containers you can find on Amazon. The COVID tests do take up room. Hope this helps!

Posted by
17 posts

So Pam,
What is the brand of your new luggage that is
1 and ½ # lighter than your RS bag?

Posted by
221 posts

I use a hair blow dryer to heat the lables off the RX bottles and stick the label to a baggie. As for everything else: roll and rubber band clothes and stuff into small mesh laundrey bags. Take old socks and underwear that can be tossed out after they are used, it will free up space as you travel. Only check what you can walk away from if the bag gets lost. Pudding? what no Amazon in Dublin? Enjoy your travels J

Posted by
6398 posts

Mardee, I can tell you why it is a good idea to bring covid tests. She is going to be joining a RS tour. She must show a negative test taken within 24 hours of the first tour day to join the tour. In addition, we have read reports from several forum members that once they tested positive for Covid, the local pharmacies, etc weren't too eager to have them come and be tested in their facilities. Also, some tours go to fairly rural areas that may not be as resourced as your trip to Germany. Finally, an "official" test is required for most travel insurance. If you can't (or don't want to) go to a local pharmacy/testing center, then having a proctored covid test with you is a solution to this quandry.

i'm glad your trip worked out well for you, but I completely understand why she is packing tests. I am as well.

Posted by
1469 posts

I hear you on the meds. I'm only 51 but I take 5 daily meds, two injections and two other meds I take once a week with the injections. I also have deficiencies in magnesium and have to take a certain B vitamin because of what one of the injections does. SO all this to say that when I went to France for 28 days last fall, and then my Greece etc trip for 22 this early summer, I had a LOT of space dedicated to meds. Took 6 weeks of contacts and also 6 weeks of the meds, just in case. I put my meds into ziplock baggies, the very small snack size ones. One for morning meds, one for night meds, then one for injection meds.

I made partner take the proctored covid tests, because at the time, we need re-entry test. I would likely take only a small box of two tests if I were going now, just in case. Otherwise, I would be tempted to just visit a pharmacy or buy them there. Took enough masks for 10 days and figured I'd buy more there.

Took charging cords and chargers, no hair dryer but did take my mini straightener this time.

RE: 3-1-1 bag-- I took a part of a solid shampoo in a special drying case that worked perfectly. I did supplement with some liquid shampoos in some hotels. I decanted conditioner and hair product into two 3.1 oz tubes. My makeup is a tinted sunscreen that is small, whole bottle fit. Another decanted bottle with my lotion in it. Partner carried sunscreen. Bought shaving cream once I arrived.

I took 4 tanks, one dressier blouse type, a lightweight long-sleeved 150 Merino wool top, and wore a tencel poly short sleeved top on the plane, as well as Athleta leggings with deep pockets on the side (I love these for plane travel, you can bury your passport and your phone and CDC card in the pockets without fear!), 2 pairs of jeans (totally excessive!) and 3 pairs of shorts. I also had a fleece tightly woven ArcTeryx sweater (I use this in fall, also took it to France last Sept/Oct- it's got a 3 piece hood and is exceptionally windproof, rain resistant and warm). Wore Soludos Ibiza leather sneakers (awesome, never hot) and took a lighter weight leather chaco sandal that I wore twice, will never do that again, and my 'actual' chacos which I did not regret. Last fall I took the sneakers and wore Blundstone boots on the plane. I wear thong underwear (wool) so those take up no room and a couple pairs of bikinis for sleeping. Took three pair of small socks for the sneakers. This summer I packed a swimsuit too. Bought a straw hat in Greece. I always bring my Patagonia Houdini for wind. It is the smallest lightest thing and it is amazing.

I carried an 18L daypack as my personal item that had meds, extra plane contacts, eye drops, a couple books and plane food, plus clorox wipes. I'm not sure what it weighed.

This spring, I was 14lbs prior to adding the leather chacos. I really like having minimal clothing to worry about. We did laundry several times, and I can sink wash a lot of that. Last fall, I think I was closer to 18-19 lbs. Mostly because my tops were warmer I think, and I packed a light rain jacket (and small travel umbrella in the personal backpack,)

Have all the fun! I'm totes jelly.

Posted by
1299 posts

Packing cubes. I use skinny rectangle ones. One for each category: tops, bottoms, undies & socks, pjs & sweater. I can fit 5-6 of each item in a cube, and I’m not a small person. Four cubes fit easily in my carryon.

For OTC meds, I use a case like this. You can fit a lot in a small space:

2PCS Travel Pill Organizer Box, Portable Pill Case, Pill Box Dispenser, with 10 Compartments for Different Medicines

Unless you have allergies to certain products, consider buying toiletries locally. You can find shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, lotion, hand sanitizer, etc everywhere. And often the same brands as available in the US.

Take things out of boxes (Covid tests, pudding) and flatten the boxes if you feel you MUST bring them.

Use your personal item optimally. I use a tote that has a trolley sleeve that slides over my suitcase. I can pack all my “misc” stuff (meds, chargers, toiletries, collapsible water bottle) in there along with a change of clothes, a sweatshirt and my cross body day bag. Then 5-6 outfits and one additional pair of shoes go in my carryon. I can almost pack as much in my tote as my carry one.

Posted by
5410 posts

Seriously, though, we also put all of our OTC medications into baggies. We take lots of supplements, so I use the regular zip-lok type bags. Stan has always been concerned about our looking like drug dealers, so this year he did something like Joanne1108's trick, and pasted the labels from the supplement bottles onto the baggies. I just labeled mine; so far we've never been challenged. And the baggies take up less room as you consume the contents.

We brought a good supply of masks and some Covid home tests this year, and ended up taking half of them back home again. They did take up a suprising amount of room, since we had been warned not to take the tests out of their boxes.

We usually have onlyu one 3-1-1 bag; this year we had two going home, since we bought a pain cream in Italy that we can't get here. Well, we can get it, but it's half the strength and twice the price. So we bought extra while we were over there.

I don't wear makeup, we don't take any prescription drugs, we take 2 pair of shoes each, including what we wear on the plane. I took my tablet, but not the blue tooth keyboard that I like to use; a number of important keys quit working before we left, and the trouble shooters at the company said toss it. I didn't have time to replace it, so did without. I did take my cell phone, for the first time.

But other than those, and our maps and guidebooks, it was just clothes. We've traveled with carry on only since 1995, before we knew anything about Rick Steves other than his TV show. It's just easier for us, and we're used to it. My two bags, an Appenzell backpack and my crossbody personal item, weighed about 17 lbs. Stan's two (Appenzell backpack and a laptop case, but no laptop,) weighed about 20.

We have nothing against checking bags, and should we ever need to, we will.

Actually, I did, cone to think of it, on that 1995 trip. We were returning home from Naples via London, and it was just a couple of days after the London Underground bombing. Security in the Naples airport was a madhouse. One of the agents took a look at the big lenses that went with my 35 mm (film) camera, and said "No." I wasn't about to leave it behind, so I made a mad dash back to the BA counters to throw myself on their mercy to cut to the head of the line and check my tote bag. Luckily, it had a secure zipper.

I don't take that camera to Europe any longer.

Posted by
1984 posts

I have never known United to be that picky. I would put your sandals back in. And not check your bag.

But I assume the jello is out of the box. I had to take jello to Italy last year and did that. We took covid tests to Greece this year and carefully put contents of one in the other. So two boxes for four tests. We used them all (fortunately all negative) without any problem. We went to a pharmacy for final tests, which fortunately you don't have to contend with now.

Posted by
1192 posts

Not if you want Pepto-Bismol !

There are suitable replacements available everywhere. Bismuth is not the only active ingredient necessary for Pepto’s purported functions or abilities.

Posted by
1192 posts

+1 to Kim! Who wants to go find a pharmacy, possibly at night, when you need something now?

Oh, for … you don’t need to take the whole freakin’ bottle. Pepto and similar products come in little tabs these days. But How many do you need to handle the worst case of diarrhea on the road? It’s six. More will not help. If symptoms persist, you’ve got something more srerious. How many of any OTC do you you REALLY need before you call the front desk or a translator and ask for some help?

Posted by
3330 posts

It all smooshes down to United's carryon guidelines (what's a 1/4", right?)

My 22" x 15x10 roller bag fits easily into United's 22" x 14x9 sizer. Without smooshing. I have the pictures to prove it!

Pictures which I collect, by the way. The "my luggage in their sizers" photo collection reminds me which airlines I've tried at airports - United, Southwest, Lufthansa-Austrian-Swiss, Sun Express, even Easy Jet. I'm sure other passengers think I'm nuts taking photos of my luggage in random airline sizers!

As someone said above, United just isn't that picky.... except perhaps at Heathrow. But that's homebound, so I rarely care.

Posted by
272 posts

Kim, I agree with you about the Pepto! Tried to get something similar in several pharmacies in Barcelona a few years ago and even with my husband’s very good language skills - no luck!

And when you are in an Airbnb or similar, you don’t have a front desk to get quick help from. Hosts don’t always speak English and may not be instantly available either.

Posted by
584 posts

My Samsung Galaxy S20 seems so much HEAVIER than previous phones I've carried. I'm 7 months away from next travel and I'm already doubting if I can do carry on only.

Posted by
1334 posts

How do I do it... I don't!

I find the stress, pressure, and time of planning to "pack light" to be a greater burden than dealing with a larger piece of luggage while I travel.

Posted by
337 posts

You have challenges with meds it seems. As another poster noted, you'll be carrying less on the return trip. For me, it's not how does it fit in the bag, but how much does it weigh. I know I need to be able to handle my own luggage. Always. Check the TSA website. I don't want to encourage you to carry MORE, but I am pretty sure any liquid prescription items are not 3-1-1 bag limited.

Since it sounds like you can't reduce the meds, let's talk about the clothes. How much do all your clothes, excluding your flying clothing, weigh? In the spring I was 3 weeks in England. My packed clothes weighed 6 pounds. The total bag (back-pack itself weighed 3.5) almost 12 pounds.

On my upcoming much longer Italy trip, I expect my clothes to weigh 5 pounds. Packing: a sleeveless dress, 2 short sleeve wool shirts, 1 or 2 scarves (one will keep me warm on the plane), a lightweight down jacket stuffed into my neck pillow cover, 1 bra, 2 pair of undies, 3 pairs of socks, 1 silk tank to sleep in, 1 pair of sandals and a rain jacket. I will wear a pair of pants and a long sleeve wool shirt. All of my clothes are lightweight and easy to hand wash: they dry in a few hours. I will be tired of what I am wearing after 3 weeks. But I will be happy by luggage is light as I hop on and off trains and carry it up stairs. Admittedly, I may buy something to wear while on my trip. No jewelry, minimal toiletries, minimal electronics, very little paper. My luxury item: small set of watercolor paints and 2 small sketch pads: total weight 11 oz. and a RS 6.5 oz pair of binoculars to see ceilings and artwork. My purse will weigh about 1.5 pounds, 5.5 of which is my luggage. I have a good estimate that I will consume about 2.5 pounds of 'stuff.' (I know all this because I am a Spreadsheet Nerd from way back.)

Obviously, I plan to do a lot of hand laundry. I don't mind the few minutes of effort to carry a light load. With so little to wear, deciding what to is a snap. And when available, I will use a washing machine and hang dry my clothing in my room. With so little to wear, deciding what to is a snap.

Does really paring down on your clothing something like this seem feasible? if so, I really encourage you to try to reduce your clothing. You won't notice you are wearing the same thing and neither will your travel companions. And if they do, what are they going to do, vote you off the bus? They won't. I promise.

Posted by
1881 posts

Thanks everyone for your ideas and experience. While you were answering, I was repacking the last of the OTC meds from their blister packs to pill baggies and my hubby was printing labels for me. Then I started rearranging (again). Got the bulk down a bit in the tote.

The sandals are sitting on the bed looking longingly at the suitcase. But since I only wore them a couple times last trip, it’s not a bad thing if they go back in the closet with their friends. BethFL and CWsocial, thanks for letting me know that United isn’t horribly picky. I haven’t flown on them before so that helps. Carol now retired, you are right on about why I need/want Covid tests and masks. Last thing I want is to get sick before, on or after RS tour.

Thanks to all for the clothes packing tips. I packed less than I took to Italy when I also did carryon only. Everything is in packing cubes: small one for undies, another small one for leggings and sleep wear, a medium one for shirts.

It is what it is. After I get into London, none of this matters. I’m within United’s dimensions, more or less. It’s a tad heavier than my goal but I can manage the weigh. And suitcase and especially the tote will get lighter as the trip progresses. I expand and check the suitcase coming home to have room for souvenirs and will carry on Venetian glass Christmas ornaments.

Posted by
14448 posts

You can buy lotions, masks and test kits in Europe. Probably all in the same store.

Posted by
12234 posts

Pepto.......six is not going to cut it as I travel for three months at a time. The same for Naproxen Sodium (Alleve). It's only available by prescription in much of Europe and is the only pain killer that works for me. Otherwise, I bring a minimal amount of OTC meds. I ask myself, "it's midnight, I need XXX. Do I need it now or can it wait until the morning." Usually I bring enough for day or two.

I don't wear a mask every day--I know, some of you are horrified--but then most people in Europe don't either. I do bring the type I like, KF94, because they are hard to find in stores. I find most N95 masks uncomfortable and difficult to breathe. But if you just want a regular N95/FFFP mask you can find them everywhere.

I carry one Covid test. They are available everywhere if I need more.

The same for toothpaste, deodorant, razor blades, and just about any other toiletry. I can buy it there. I use shaving oil so a tiny bottle will last me three months.

Posted by
3330 posts

thanks for letting me know that United isn’t horribly picky. I haven’t flown on them before so that helps.

In case your personal item is concerning you, my 20" long soft-structured backpack fits in the United 17" long sizers. (My pictures prove it.) United staff have watched me put it in there and given the go ahead, 100% of the time, including at Heathrow.

Further, the United sizers that I've seen only have side panels, they're not enclosed on the ends. Unlike Easy Jet and Lufthansa sizers, which are fully enclosed bins. And the Southwest sizers that aren't bins at all.

Not to say that you could bring your skis, but you're not likely to get busted for your soft handle being 1" too long, for example.

Posted by
3330 posts

Interestingly, looking at photos of United's sizers, the metal panel has a blue rectangle with their dimensions printed. A silver border around that appears to be 1/2" wide on at least 3 sides, maybe 4. The sizing arrows indicate the dimensions are that of the inner blue rectangle. Visually, your bag "fits" if it's within the slightly larger silver dimension.

I don't know which area matches the printed (and advertised) dimensions. I'll have to bring a tiny measuring tape on my next United flight in October.

ETA: Simple Flying already measured the United sizers:

"Their current policy allows for 22 x 9 x 14 but their bag sizers are 23 x 10 x 15."

Posted by
3330 posts

Oh here's a 2020 SF Gate article for you!!

United removes unloved luggage sizers from airport gates

You’ll still see sizer boxes around the gates of some airlines, but you won’t see them on United anymore.

Apparently the problem of passengers trying to sneak extra-large bags onto a flight to avoid checked bag fees is no longer the problem it once was. And United just doesn’t see the need for them these days.

That doesn’t mean United is turning a blind eye [...] But now it will rely primarily on gate agents [...] eyeballing passengers’ hand luggage before they board. "...we trust our employees and frequent passengers to know when bags will or will not fit,” the United spokesperson said.

Posted by
3330 posts

And in case you didn't catch this, United doesn't specify a weight limit for cabin baggage.

Relax and focus on what you can carry comfortably!

Posted by
2140 posts

Carol(nr), thank you for the explanation! I was wondering why people were taking so many Covid tests so I appreciate the response. That totally makes sense.

Posted by
343 posts

Without going in to too much detail, lol, I think I will take the Immodium out of the foil/plastic overwrap and put them into one of these ziplocks. I can't get into the bubble packaging without using nail clippers anyway, lol.

This is the best tip I have read in awhile! When I need one those pills, I NEED it! I use scissors or a sharp knife to open that packaging.

We found that in the France drugstores we were in, they kept the Immodium behind the counter.

Posted by
150 posts

I am sure this has been covered by other commenters. My meds are separated into very small hard shell plastic holders, 1 x 2 x .5 inches with printed labels from my home printer. The original bottles they come in are space hogs as you know. I found these diminutive containers at CVS and they are easy to cart around in a small space. I take 3 scripts with me, enough for 2.5 weeks or more, plus OTC meds like acetaminophen and Imodium in these small containers. (I take 3 N95 masks in my purse, unopened in case I lose one). Prescriptions can be stored on your phone or in my case on the hospital's app, (Kaiser). I found light weight TEVA sandals that weigh about 8 ounces. These are dressy enough for a night out at most establishments but not too dressy for a walk on the beach. I am not a one pair of shoes person so I pack sneakers and wear the light weight hiking shoes on the plane. My luggage is about 15 lbs for carry on, without the jacket, and I have a smaller bag for in-flight needs. This folds down and zips into a small package and weighs nothing. The domestic airlines don't care about the weight as much as the overall sizes of luggage.

I agree with Pam that whoever invented the Imodium packaging really doesn't want you to take it. We used my husband's nail clippers to cut the little packs open. But seriously, I think you should do what makes you happy, travel is supposed to be fun.