What to Pack? The Work Horses

An abundance of last minute travel turns you into a packing magician, whether you want to or not.  Over time and the numerous reconfiguring of a small confined space turns you into a Tetris-like master.

In terms of wardrobe, I stick to basic neutrals and staples that won’t wrinkle or take up too much space (think less chunky cable knits and more light, interchangeable layers).  But clothing is not why we’re here.

When it comes to deciding how and what non-clothing items to pack when traveling, there are a handful of tried and true work horses that are must haves on ALL of my trips.  It’s taken a lot of practice (and hundred of thousands of air miles) to determine exactly what is necessary and what can be left at home.

Board - Packing - Work Horses


When I graduated high school, I asked for a luggage set.  It was 2002, and I thought a) fancy people had luggage sets and b) I was moving away to college and was obviously going to live a life of luxurious, first-class travel from there on out.

Fast forward a few years and I’m living in LA.  Any trip I take requires hopping on a plane so a carry-on it is.  My first one was an American Tourister that baggage claim beat to a pulp over the better part of a decade.

Two years ago I lucked out and was gifted this Tumi from my day job.  Typically I would never spend that kind of money.  Over $500 for something that’s just going to be dragged across dirty and rainy streets?!  You’ve got to be kidding me.

Tumi Intl Expandable Carry On

Tumi International Expandable 4-Wheel Carry On

(Alpha 2 with Tan Color accessories)

Well this beauty has logged over 100,000 miles just in 2016 alone.  And although it’s certainly not in perfect condition, it’s still got a long way to go before I retire it.

In terms of features, the 360-degree spinning wheels was a total game changer, especially when you’re pushing your way through the crowded, never-ending Delta terminal at JFK on a holiday weekend.  And it expands for those times when it’s bursting at the seams with one-too-many souvenirs.


I used to use this 3 part roll-up bag from Sephora until Mr. Wells not-so-subtley pointed out that it took up virtually ¼ of my carry-on suitcase.  I loved how it divied up my different products and one of the compartments was detachable.  But in that moment, the light bulb went off; I was letting my products overtake a very large portion of valuable suitcase space.

Sephora - Excursionist

OLD BAG (my version’s been discontinued, but this is similar)

Knowing I needed to make a change, I determined I really liked the separate bags for separate functions – shower, makeup and other (lotions, medicines, etc).  And by having 3 smaller bags, I could tightly squeeze each one into whatever smaller space is left.

Here’s what I’m now rocking:

Make up & toiletry bags: These beauties are a very recent purchase from Sephora.  I love the classic quilted design and when you open the makeup bag, it’s got these stiff edges that stay propped wide open.  It makes fishing out those tweezers hiding at the bottom much easier.  I only have 2 sizes, but Sephora has tons of other size options in this same collection.

Sephora – The Overnighter (toiletries) & The Voyager (makeup)

Catch-all bag: This is an oldie but a goodie.  I actually have two I love them so much and they’re so compact.  I can stuff them in my personal carry-on when I’m on a red-eye and/or long-haul flight and fill them with any medicine I need, makeup remover wipes, night cream and Colgate Wisps.

The palm print I have was from a few seasons ago, but Target definitely has some other colorful options.

Target Sonia Kashuk Palm Small Bag

Target Sonia Kashuk Small Cloth Organizer (similar)


Just prior to our honeymoon last year I picked up this gem as Paris required something a bit classier than my old, battered up options I already had in the closet.  It’s black leather, but that amazingly tough stuff Kate Spade uses on a handful of their bags; it’s super durable.

Functionally it works perfectly as a small cross body bag for running around city.  But it’s super-secret surprise is that the strap is detachable making for a very chic, evening clutch.  You’re welcome; now go buy one!


Kate Spade Cedar Street Cali Crossbody Bag

Kate Spade Cedar Street Cali Crossbody

*They’re currently out of black, but have some great nude and burgundy options.


No matter whether I’m on the move for business or pleasure, travel can always be tiresome.  Which is why I’m in sneakers or flats about 95% of the time (unless I need boots, in which case you always wear your largest shoe on the plane saving valuable space in the suitcase).  

Thanks to the athleisure trend, there are so many sneaker options that can be both acceptable and even fashionable, even in a business setting.

The key with any item, but especially sneakers is that they are dual purpose so only 1 pair is needed.  I’ve started leaving my Chuck Taylors and running shoes at home in favor of a pair of these Nikes so that if I’m out exploring a city or have an hour to get in a quick workout at the hotel gym, I already have what I need.


Nike Cortez

And if inclement weather is in your future travels, I can’t recommend these more highly.  They take up much less space than a pair of bulky Hunters and they look much chic-er.

Sam Edelman Tinsley Rain Boot

Sam Edelman Tinsley Rain Boots

Lastly, what trip wouldn’t be complete with a pair of flats.  These foldable ones by Tieks are a lifesaver.  They fit easily in the suitcase or even a small tote bag after an evening on the town.


Matte Black Tieks


Last year when I headed to Ireland,  I needed a new rain jacket.  But as I’m all about dual-purpose travel, I wanted something that could both err on the side of athletic or a little more fashionable depending on the occassion.

After a little searching, I stumbled upon this guy that’s lightweight, has an adjustable hood and has an option to synch at the middle, giving you a little bit of a waist (who wants to look like a giant box?!)

Although I was purchasing it just for Ireland, I was hesitantly optimistic it could get some additional use.  So far, it got loads of use during our honeymoon in Paris as well as has proven essential in the highly unusual rainy January through March this year in LA.

LLBean H2OFF Rain Coat Black

LLBean H2OFF Raincoat, Mesh-Lined

There you have it – my Work Horses of travel.  What must-haves have claimed the valuable real estate in your suitcase lately?  Would love to hear in the comments below!


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