Packing For Vacations on a Budget

…is, like, the hardest thing to do, am I right?

I have one bag that I designate al the keeper for every vacation’s wares. It’s my master. I don’t mean that in the “It’s my main bag” way, I mean that bag dictates what I take and what I don’t take, regardless of where I’m going and how long I’ll be there.

While it is a cruel mistress, I also admit that the nylon, burgundy, hand-me-down suitcase has taught me a lot about versatility and turned me into a viable master of vacation packing. I have refined my necessities and defined my extravagances to the point where I am always either satisfied with my clothing options, or surprised with something I’d brought and forgotten about.


Being broke as hell (at least in my mind) 80% of the time demands packing versatile, interesting options. It also requires some bigtime creativity, and if you’re as hardcore as I am, some serious hunting skills and imagination.

Besides – who wants to pay to get their bags checked or stowed? I checked two bags to move home from Chicago, and that put me out almost $150! That is not broke & beautiful. That’s just broke.

Jen and I have a trip coming up in September… Where are we going? Well, we’re… not… sure yet. We’re either going to Hells Canyon (deepest gorge in the United States! Awesome!) or the islands to the northwest of Washington State – my personal hideaway that I try to escape to every month to clear my head, and play in the water.

So how am I supposed to plan?

Why, vicariously through the internet, of course! There’s no time like the present to dream up vacation packing inspiration.

I’ve always believed that you could pack jeans & a t-shirt and, with the help of accessories, wear something different every day. i don’t know about you, but my jewelry box is a bit too big (and not very portable). Packing smart can help you maximize your style potential, pack every look you want, and save yourself the space, time and money of having extra luggage!

Budget Luggage That Doesn’t Suck

I have a horribly unattractive suitcase because I can’t bring myself to drop dollars on a new one. That being said, I can’t deny the adorable bevy of packing containers to be found on Etsy and by searching Vintage Suitcases on eBay. (Don’t be afraid of eBay! It’s your friend.) If you’re into something a bit more modern, though, here are our top picks under $50:

Damask & Pink 21″ Duffel Bag | $25

Anyone who knows me understands that my love for damask is not only unhealthy, but boundless. This is a perfectly sized duffel back for all of your weekend (or even week-long!) essentials. You can’t go wrong with hot pink, black & white! Never!

Double Dutch Club Blue Paisley Bag | $27.99

I’m a teal junkie, and this psychedelic paisley isn’t making me want to get off the ride and vomit. Plus, I love me a good shoulder strap. Is it just me, or is the hardware on this perfect? Oh, and waterproof? The girl who dropped her car keys into the sea last weekend say, “Yes, please.

The Biggest Space-Sucker: Shoes

Hooray, we have a thing to put other things in! But then there are those monstrous, seemingly-expanding but ever-important component of your wardrobe: shoes. How is it that every vacation seems to require at least 4 pairs of shoes for us to feel satiated?

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Dog & Shoes, 1944 (How cute is this?!)

Fortunately, there are tactics to escape the blob-like descent of “necessary shoes” on your suitcase. I, for one, fully support bringing [mostly] all of the shoes you want to. Employing these loophole tactics will keep your parents/significant other off your back, too.

1. Wear your chunkiest, biggest, bulkiest shoes on the plane, in the car, on the boat – whatever!

The only way this doesn’t work is if you have to actually walk or hike your way to your destination. Going to a hotel, or house somewhere? Throw on those 4″ wedges or loose-calf boots and save bigtime square inches in your suitcase!

2. Explore collapsable footwear.

My Kushyfoot Flats To Go have been a lifesaver on several occasions. There is tons of foldy and bendy footwear out there.

3. Keep shoes together with other clothes!

It’s always easier to fit compacted, small packages into confined spaces than for loose, awkwardly shaped items, right? As the multi-tasking lover that I am, I like to kill two birds with one stone and wrap my shoes together with scarves! I’d want to bring scarves anyway, so why not keep my shoes together and help to (aesthetically) organize my suitcase which also accessorizing my future? Just pair up shoes as if they were in a shoe box, and wrap the unfolded scarves around them! Now you have a neat little package!

4. Stash your socks!

One of the nicest things about shoes – they are made to hold socks (whether on your feet, or off). You can easily fit 2-3 pairs of socks, tights, or stockings in any pair of shoes if you roll them up.

Woman Posed as Sphinx, 1910

Accessories: Pack Versatility

While that statement bib necklace might be pretty darn gorgeous, but it’s not necessarily practical for budget vacation packing. Trust me – if I could fit my jewelry box into my carry-on, I would. But I can’t. So I won’t.

Here are my must-have, versatile accessories for mini-trips and light packing:

One Long Necklace

You can wrap them, leave them long, put them in your hair, super-wrap them like a bracelet… too good not to bring!

One Big, Beautiful Scarf

Use it as a compliment to a plain, boring t-shirt. Tie it around the waist of a dress to create a new silhouette. Tie a headscarf. Throw it on a handbag. Just make sure it’s pretty, it’s neutral (but not boring) and it’s inexpensive.

One Bright Belt

in addition to my “regular, everywhere” belt (which is basic, black leather, 1.5″ wide), I always pack a belt with personality. It can be used to cinch tops, create interest in a basic jeans’n’tee outfit, or break up a maxi dress.

Taxi at Schiphol Airport

Do you have any great budget packing tips? Share them in the comments!

  • Earth friendly? Reusable travel bottles instead of buying little sizes?