How to become a “carry-on only” traveler

carry on travel packing tips

One of the things that struck me on my first trip abroad—as I hoisted my bag up the minuscule staircase of our Italian hotel—was that all the Europeans had small suitcases. I mean tiny. I didn’t think I could even fit my lunch in one of those things. How did they do that? It must be something they’re born with, like a French woman’s je ne sais quoi or the way Colombians make salsa dancing look effortless.

Well, that’s partly true. Your culture definitely plays a part in how you pack. As an American, I’m used to the idea of having a ton of choices. And when it comes to suitcases, bigger is better, right? But there’s something to be said for giving the other side a whirl.

Because once I traveled with only a carry-on, I realized that packing light is LIBERATING.

With only a carry-on you won’t break out in a nervous sweat waiting for your bag to plop onto the carousel—you’ll be breezing through the customs line. You won’t pull a muscle lugging your behemoth suitcase up and down metro station stairs. I feel safer having my things with me at all times. Checked bag fees? Nope! And probably best of all, you’ll discover that a few well-chosen items are better than sifting through a heap of ‘meh.’

I have a little bit of personal experience when it comes to doing “carry-on only,” but don’t worry because I’ll point you toward the pros. Keep reading for tips from me as well as two experts on packing light for your next trip.
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Recommended Read: The Curated Closet

The Curated Closet
Your life isn’t static, and neither is your personal style.    —Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet

Living in the shadow of a weight limit on your shipped goods gives you a natural aversion to accumulating, which is how I’ve found myself incorporating principles of the whole minimalist philosophy into my life.

The Curated Closet will help you apply the “less is more” idea to your wardrobe, but it also speaks to struggles unique to us trailing spouses.

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Recommended Read: Knocked Up Abroad

Knocked up Abroad - Lisa Ferland

Mother’s Day is just a quick three months away and here just in time is Knocked Up Abroad—an anthology of 23 stories, each giving you a glimpse of all stages of gestation from the viewpoint of parents all over the world. The one thing tying them all together? Each story is from a family navigating pregnancy and birth outside their home culture.

Knocked up Abroad isn’t just for pregnant expats, it’s a book for anyone wading through life in a foreign country, with an intercultural marriage, or who loves travel. There is a thread of universal truth to be found in each of these personal stories.

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Learning Spanish, Part II: Practical Advice

learning spanish

Today’s post of advice about learning Spanish is what I set out to write last week. But, while compiling my list I realized it had become more of a treatise on the emotional and mental surprises that come along with immersion rather than anything technically applicable to the new speaker.

Now that that’s out of the way, keep scrolling for a few things that have helped this gringa habla español...

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Recommended Read: A Moveable Marriage

moveable marriage

We get so caught up in the logistics of moving that we either take for granted or simply ignore the fact that after all of those boxes are unpacked and you’ve figured out how to get to the grocery store, you will be living in a new country with your support system gone and identity in limbo.  And remember that your marriage (already hard without the added stress of an international move) is coming along for the ride…

I did a post all about researching prior to an expat assignment, so it should come as no surprise that I looked high and low for a book about expat marriages and the impact of international relocation. There were books about marriage in general and how to take your job abroad. I found books about moving your kids and how to take care of them. But, there was nothing dedicated to both relocation and marriage.

Once we’d been in Bogotá for several months I finally happened upon a book about expat marriages and had it waiting for me on my next visit to the U.S.

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Cartagena and Love in the Time of Cholera

city gate

It’s difficult to read about Colombia without stumbling across the name Gabriel García Márquez. Colombians talk about him with a sense of reverence and ardor. I brought with me a few of García Márquez’s works to Colombia and because of the deference that is given to this man, I purposely read none of them before we moved.

I felt that by first experiencing the country that so greatly inspired the author, I would also feel his work as I read it.

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Recommended Read: Travel as a Political Act

Travel as a Political Act

We all know of Rick Steves from his PBS shows or travel guides (and don’t forget those ubiquitous khaki pants). Dorky or not, I love his books and when Cody and I first dipped our toes in the travel pool Rick was our guide.

A couple of years ago I read his book Travel as a Political Act and it showed me how there is so much more to traveling than art and eating. Consciously experiencing different cultures challenges you to examine your beliefs and helps you become a more well-rounded person.

Reading the book again while on vacation over the holidays, I saw it’s value from a different perspective. It helped me better understand my current feelings toward my home country and as an expat myself, I think would be a great resource for those facing the same life change.

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Expat advice: Research, research, research


I have to be honest: when Bogotá came up as the potential place for our reassignment, I didn’t know much beyond what was in the news in the 90’s. After writing about these common misconceptions, I’m not the only one. But even after our ‘look-see weekend’ to sightsee and look at apartments, how are you supposed to get feeling and culture of a place you’ve barely visited?

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