How to Pack for Weekend Trips

Packing for a weekend away isn’t an exact science. I’m not going to tell you “bring two dresses and a pair of jeans.” So much depends on where you’re going, the weather, and your personal style. But I do have some tips I can offer to help you pack for success.

If I’m traveling, I’m usually working, so I have to bring my laptop. Once you know what you’ll actually need, you can start thinking about things you want to bring. Bottom line: Pack what makes you feel your best and what won’t hold you back from adventure.

Here are seven things to think about while you’re packing for your next weekend trip:

1. Keep calm and carry-on. If you remember your passport, credit cards, and medications you might need when you’re running around before a flight, you’re halfway to golden. Most everything else can be purchased later if left behind. But don’t you dare check a bag on a weekend getaway! Even if you’re not flying, you don’t want to be weighed down. That said, quality luggage is one of the most important investments a traveler can make. Luxury hotel inspector Tiffany Dowd and Erik Wilkinson, a director of sales for Eton of Sweden, both swear by Tumi. The Quintessential Tote is Dowd’s favorite because it’s “stylish and durable,” while Wilkinson prefers the International Carry-On, a bag he reports holds a surprisingly large amount of clothes. Dowd’s also a fan of the brand’s luggage recovery program which identifies your bag with a unique registration number.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of a plastic bag. I put everything from chargers to jewelry in plastic baggies. I also always keep a plastic bag filled with essential toiletries — like contact solution, lotion, and toothpaste — at the ready en route. Bigger plastic bags double as laundry hampers on short trips, but for those of you who want to class it up a bit, Wilkinson recommends trying Flight 001 Spacepaks. “You fold everything in on one side of the bag on your outbound journey and then your dirty clothes go on the other side on your return,” he said.

3. Accessories are your best friend. On a weekend trip, neutral color palates — tans, blacks, whites, grays — can maximize your options while keeping your carry-on, well, carry-able. Then, all you need is a fabulous selection of accessories to brighten and vary your look. “Great accessories are my secret,” Dowd said. “You can add a pop of color to a simple black dress with some vibrant Prada pumps, then change up your look by adding a long Chanel necklace and some high-heeled boots the next night.” I also love adding to my collection when I’m away: Picking up a scarf from a London shop or a bracelet from a market in Dubai remind me of my travels long after I’ve returned home.

4. Wear the same outfit on both flights. Picking out your “plane uniform” is important business, and can help you conserve valuable carry-on space. For instance, always wear your heaviest items, like winter coats and big boots, on the plane. Travelers often end up in quite a different clime when they disembark at their destination, and planes themselves can be chilly, so layering your clothing is always a good way to go.

5. To thine own self be true. Identify and embrace your must-haves. Confession: I own way too many black dresses — but they’re just so easy when traveling, and I don’t care how often someone sees me in one. So when I know I’ve packed a few of them, I feel at ease. And, since I have yet to come to terms with my Medusa-esque head of curls, I always bring a flat iron along with me. Wilkinson, on the other hand, subscribes to something he calls “the blazer effect.” “If there’s a better table to be had at the restaurant, I get it wearing the blazer,” he said. Same with hotel upgrades. “My wife and I laugh about it now because it happens so often.”

6. Be prepared. Part of my power-packing strategy for weekend trips is invisible to the eye. When you only have a few days, you want to spend them wisely, so I do a lot of research about my destination ahead of time. I save tweets, articles, quotes, friends’ advice, and more in documents and spreadsheets, then use SugarSync to link my laptop to my phone so it’s all at my fingertips. Even if you’re a see-where-the-day-takes-you traveler, it always helps to have some idea of what you want to do, especially when it comes to securing reservations at that fabulous new restaurant or tickets to that gonna-sell-out show.

7. Keep it light. This rule is both literal and figurative. In addition to not weighing myself down with checked luggage, I make a habit of leaving books behind on short getaways. Instead, I bring my iPad and buy magazines at the airport for take-off and landing. Dowd, who gave the best advice of all —  “Leave any stress you may have behind!” — reminded me that weekend getaways are about enjoying life and getting some rest. Amen, sister.

Do you have tips for packing for weekend getaways? Share your insights by leaving a comment below:


  1. Melianna Stevens
    New Zealand
    May 1, 2014, 5:47 am

    I pack sets of clothes together in a zip lock bag. Skirt, top and accessory e.g. Necklace. A couple of t shirts with colours which would ‘match’ the different ensembles.

  2. Carou LLou - Nomad since 1994 @CarouLLou
    January 25, 2014, 1:02 pm

    good tips Annie ! (short travel packing is something i really don’t know how to do! I always end up carrying all my life ;-)

  3. Erin
    September 28, 2013, 4:20 am

    I keep my bag packed with an extra set of travel chargers, small toiletries, extra small zip lock bags, to share with fellow travelers, or stash small items in. I bought a travel c-pap machine for my hubby. It was expensive, but we use it all the time and it is easier to fit in the carry on. I always carry on, no matter how long the trip. I would rather be an outfit repeater, than go without my bag for days. Airlines can’t rebook you on a different airline if your bag is not traveling with you. I also learned which outfits I actually wear vs what I think I will wear and stream lined my wardrobe. Men get by with kakhis, a shirt, and blazer. I try to do the same with a pencil skirt, shirt, and jacket or sweater. I buy most of my wardrobe when I travel and have it shipped home instead of packing it. Most nice stores understand this and will not charge sales tax if it is shipped out of state. Some stores will ship for free too.

  4. Packing Cubes
    August 14, 2013, 12:51 pm

    We, my husband and I are in Spain on a 3 day trip at the moment and I found your tips when searching for ideas to be able to pack everything I’ve bought whilst here! I love the idea of wearing the heavy stuff on the plane. I normally wear light shoes on the plane but I’m going to wear my new black swayed boots instead! That will save loads of room. Simple, but I hadn’t thought about it. Great post on packing for a weekend trip.

  5. Louise
    July 1, 2013, 11:54 am

    Make-up cold creme, press power, blush, eye brow pencil, lipstick, clothes-black slacks, katydid shirts, one skirt, , one jean,.sandles, slip on tennies., comb, brush,all in one shampo. , 3 panties, 3bras, and your set. katydid shirts can be washed in sink, wring in towel and hang, dries over night, slacks the same.Roll all of you clothes, won’t wrinkle as much. and get more in suit case. this can all fit in a take on bag.

  6. Rob Wagner
    Washington DC
    May 15, 2013, 9:04 am

    I always carry on my luggage but on the last trip they asked me to check it at the gate. I hadn’t planned on checking it so when I got to my destination and my bag hadn’t I was out of luck. I learned the hard way you should always keep medication, phone charger and car keys ($800 dollars to get a new key made) with you. Also, when you’re packing, take a quick picture of everything laid out with your cell phone. That way if it gets lost you’ll be able to remember what was in there. It’s always the quick trip than can catch you off-guard.

  7. William Bryan Layton, Author of Toe Tags and Tequila
    At present - the Gulf of Mexico
    March 18, 2013, 8:00 am

    When I travel I try to emulate Indiana Jones. Did you see The Temple Of Doom? The guy went from Chinese night club, to rafting down a snow covered mountain, to a dinner party at the Maharaja’s palace in just the first 15 minutes of the movie – AND HE WAS ALWAYS DRESSED FOR THE OCCASION!

    Granted, I have never been skydiving in an inner-tube but I have had my visa held for three days in Trinidad, I have been broke down in the Arizona desert at sunset, and I have been fogged-in in Galveston, Tx for a week.

    Traveling like a pro, means being prepared for anything. So here is my golden-rule of thumb: When traveling, wear something that you would be comfortable walking five miles to a night club in.

    I am by no means a GQ type guy. From day to day, I only have two fashion rules I go by:
    1. Men over 25 should wear a Chronographic watch. I know it take 2 seconds longer to read but it’s worth the time (get it?!)

    2. Grown people (women, I’m talking to you too) should only wear trainers/tennis-shoes/what-ever-you-call-them-athletic shoes when you are hiking or working out. Casual leather shoes are just as comfortable and look like you give a damn.

    Two pretty simple rules. Nonetheless, when I travel, everything I wear matters. I mean, who knows if my one day round trip flight will get canceled and leave me in Jacksonville, FL overnight? IT DID! I was dressed for a job interview (I got the job) but ended up having to stay for 24hrs. Luckily I was dressed for it.

    Here is my travel uniform (toe to head):
    Casual leather shoes (Slip-ons work best at airports)
    Soft socks – cotton if it’s warm – something that wicks the sweat away if its cold.
    Khaki slacks – Jeans are great but I got turned away from a restaurant when I was a teen for wearing jeans. It was quite embarrassing and I never want that to happen again.
    Boxer Briefs – they work great for modest sleep wear if you are stranded with someone.
    White t-shirt – goes under your clothes but can come out if you need it.
    Blue dress shirt – I like a white one and think it is actually much more flexible but white stains to easy and you might be in this shirt for a couple of days.
    A Jacket – even in the summer I carry a light jacket, if nothing else, you can roll it up and use it for a pillow.

    That is it. Simple, classy, and suitable for almost any occasion.

  8. Mary Saradum
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    March 15, 2013, 3:57 am

    Do not forget to bring extra batteries for your camera & international adapter for your phones & camera chargers.

  9. Robert Wilkinson
    March 14, 2013, 6:46 pm

    Be sure to charge all your batteries/phone/camera/laptop etc the day before you leave.
    Make a list of all your luggage contents, keep a copy at home, and store the list in your wallet/handbag.
    Spare batteries/memory cards are often useful.
    A typed note of your destination address/contact mobile telephone number should be stored in your hand luggage in case it goes missing, is stolen or left behind.

  10. Penny Dash
    Cypress, CA
    March 14, 2013, 5:12 pm

    We take a vacuum bag dr dirty clothes. That way, they take up less valuable space. I use small pieces of Velcro to keep each charger cord from mating with the others. I lime the idea of a designated roll up bag instead. I’ll look for one.

  11. Colleen Gaier
    February 22, 2013, 2:55 am

    I am getting ready to take my 23 year old daughter to NYC on March 1st. I decided to hand carry my bags, saving both money and valuable time. I roll my clothes up to maximize space in my luggage. I use DropBox to store important files so I can access them on the road. There is an iPhone app for Dropbox as well. I agree planning your visit ahead of time is a must, especially in NYC. I print out my own destination reports and highlight the must visit sights. I use OpenTable for dinner reservations. Maps are good idea too. I think that is it…..

  12. Monica Walker
    Durban, South Africa
    February 19, 2013, 10:59 pm

    Such a brilliant article, thank you so much for the tips. Stan the Man, what an amazing life you lead, I envy you! Does anybody have advice on how to pack sensibly for kids? They get dirty so quickly and I find I always pack far too many clothes, toys, medicine etc.

  13. Annie Fitzsimmons
    February 19, 2013, 8:43 pm

    Stan-great advice! I love my squash-able (great word) luggage (currently carrying a Lipault on a trip) for that very reason–ability to better maneuver it on a small plane.

  14. Stan
    February 19, 2013, 6:59 pm

    I am a very, very frequent traveler (about 3 weeks out of the month- every month). I have to bring clothes for work/casual and electronic items (I’m a computer guy who also is into photography- so big camera, and two computers).

    Good advice in the article, but I’d add that the more “squash-able” the luggage, the better it will fit in the overhead compartments (especially on a small puddle-jumper). The hard cases many times won’t fit. I prefer the ones that also double as backpacks.

    I also sometimes bring old socks/underwear/shirts/pants that are on their last leg- then discard them while remote- this frees up space for souvenirs. :)

    And minimize those cables- I use the usb cable without the wall outlet adapter for my iphone, and use my laptop to charge it (eliminate those small items- they add up)! I only use travel-sized toothpaste/mouthwash/toothbrushes too.

  15. Olivia
    February 17, 2013, 2:56 pm

    This has come at the best time… Tomorrow I set off on a 4 day trip. I can guarantee stress will be left at home!

  16. Kinanzaro Mwanga
    Arusha- Tanzania East africa
    February 16, 2013, 4:06 am

    I like your tips, i think now i know the important things to bring while i m in week end safari or tour.

  17. Tiffany Dowd @LuxeTiffany
    February 15, 2013, 10:59 am

    Thank you for including my tips in this article, Annie! Cheers to lots of fun weekend escapes!

  18. Chelsea (
    February 15, 2013, 4:45 am

    I love your thought on adding items to your wardrobe on the places you visit. That’s my favorite way to buy souvenirs! Not only do you get to add to your wardrobe, but you come home with something unique and likely not as “touristy.”

    Another idea that works for us is coming up with a system to manage all your cords. My fella and I are techies, so at minimum we always have a laptop, iPad, 2 cell phones, and 2-3 cameras wherever we travel. Which means a LOT of cords and chargers. We’ve found that keeping them organized in a roll-up bag with specific pockets or velcro straps helps us keep track of them all so we aren’t scrounging for one we need in a hurry. They are also much less likely to get left behind! We’ve found this system to invaluable, especially for quick weekend getaways!