Shared Spaces: A Lesson in Downsizing When Packing for Two

blending luggage with a partner

The following guest post on downsizing was submitted by Mary Gross.

I have always been a chronic overpacker. I have never been very good at anticipating what things I may or may not need on a trip and usually end up packing at least two pairs of shoes that I never wear.

When I got married, my packing game got even more dangerous and I began to use my husband’s suitcase to overpack, shoving a hair dryer here and an extra dress there. Things were really starting to get out of hand.

Admitting the Problem

We recently took a weekend trip to New Orleans and I knew that we had to pack differently. Time didn’t need to be spent in NoLa dragging heavy luggage around on the streetcar.

For one thing I was certain: I knew we couldn’t pack the way we had for our month-long trip to England last summer.

We had had three bags between the two of us – a secondhand backpack, a hard-sided suitcase, and a daypack. We ended up packing each bag full and we felt bogged down because of it. We struggled to find places on trains for our luggage and our stuff, despite our best efforts, got jumbled around between both bags.

Given this was an extended trip, I had packed certain items for insurance – gear like sunscreen just for the nose, a mini spray bottle, and a whole pack of batteries. But we never used any of these items. I didn’t have any more excuses.

blending luggage
Mary and Leif atop Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, UK.

Making a Change

For our wedding, my husband and I received two beautiful Osprey 36L packs. We’ve used both bags twice, once for our honeymoon throughout Florida and another time on our 28-day road trip from our home in Arizona to Québec City this last July. For both trips, my nasty packing habit reared its ugly overstuffed head, its zipper-like teeth smiling back at me and saying, “Look at you, you’ve done it again.”

The desire to pack lighter came from an urge to prove something to myself, to act in a way that was drastically different than what I was used to.

In New Orleans we would pack just what we needed for four days and we would do it in one bag.

Blending Luggage the Right Way

Several days before our trip I became anxious because I didn’t think we could pull it off, but I was wrong. Luckily, the weather in New Orleans would be mild, so packing less was simple.

I packed five lightweight dresses, a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt for the plane, undergarments, socks, makeup and toiletries, a miniature flat iron, and a scarf.

My husband packed four combinations of t-shirts and shorts, undergarments, socks, and a toothbrush.

I contacted our Airbnb host ahead of time to make sure there would be a hair dryer on site so I wouldn’t need to pack one. I carried a jacket and purse with me on the plane and my husband carried the book he was reading. We bought all of our toiletries from a CVS when we arrived to save on space and weight and didn’t pack any extra shoes besides the ones on our feet.

>>Read more about packing less and buying things at your destination.

My husband and I were both surprised that we had successfully done it! We left our apartment in an Uber to the airport with our single pack snug between the two of us in the back seat. We had everything we needed and smiles on our faces.

blending luggage
Mary and her husband enjoyed their time exploring the sights in New Orleans, such as he French Market in Crescent Park, without the stress of extra luggage.

It Isn’t Rocket Science

I’ve stressed about packing more times than I can count, but packing our stuff in one bag was actually the easiest packing experience I’ve ever had. Here’s why:

  • Compartmentalize – I packed all of my clothes in oversized Ziploc baggies (cheap packing cubes!) so they could be distinguished from my husband’s with ease. This makes unpacking simple and keeps clothes contained once you get to your accommodation.
  • Pack what you need, lose what you don’t – I’m always afraid I’ll need some random item when I’m traveling (usually it’s high heels) that I never end up using that takes up a stupid amount of space in my luggage. Make a list of what you know for certain that you will wear or use. Pack these items and then take one thing out.
  • Work with a great partner – If you plan on blending luggage, make sure both parties are fully 100% on board. Have a conversation with your partner about what you both are packing and lay everything out as a visual beforehand. You may have to make some compromises – I know we did! I had to ditch a second scarf and my husband left behind behind flip flops and a pair of shorts. It all comes down to packing the essentials.

For us, this method of packing worked great. We were both hands-free and were able to share carrying duties. On the last day of our trip we were even able to take a cruise on the Steamboat Natchez after our room checkout without having to worry about superfluous luggage. We had less stuff, so we had more time to enjoy each other.

>>Check out our tips for sharing items with a travel partner.

blending luggage
Mary and Leif cruising along the Mississippi on the Steamboat Natchez with their Osprey 36 L.

Less Luggage, More Fun

My husband and I both agree that this is the smartest we’ve ever packed for a trip. Our bag was small enough that we didn’t have to check it and was light enough that it never became a bother while moving around the city. I’d love to pack this way for a longer trip and see how we fare!

Have you ever packed in one bag with a friend or significant other? Did it feel cramped or freeing?

About the Author: Mary Gross is a travel-obsessed teacher and writer just breaking into the travel blogging scene. She loves traveling by train, narrative storytelling, cats, and all things UK. Follow her adventures on her blog Track Happenings and on Instagram @track_happenings.

packing for two people in 1 carry-on bag

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Gear We Use

Organization

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Backpacks + Daypacks

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Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

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Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

    • Mary says

      Hi! Author here! 🙂 We went out one night and I wanted a change of clothes that weren’t sweaty from walking around all day. It was humid!

  1. Eva | Travel The Whole Wide World says

    I feel ya, I’m always overpacking, simply because I want to be prepared for everything. This year I did my first trip with technically just carry-on (although I flew home with a second bag because I went on a big shopping trip). It is such a different feeling.- not being weighed down by so much luggage. And in review, I noticed that there were even things that I still could have left at home.

      • Svenja says

        It sure is, and I find it somewhat addictive… The other half thinks I’m nuts, but I really enjoy challenging myself to pack less on each trip.

    • Mary says

      I agree! There were some things I only used once on this trip and could have left at home. It was great, though, with the one bag. I think we’ll definitely try it again and are even considering doing it for a trip this month!

  2. Lisa says

    Great article. Reminded me of my year long travel with a 80L backpack. Some of the things I packed initially now make me smile, like the 2 massive torches and 6 cassette music tapes with a walkman. I was carrying stuff for both myself and my 7 year old at the time. Needless to say, the torches were far too heavy, well actually it was the massive batteries needed to power them, and we never listened much to the mix tapes either.

    For the year I was strict with myself that I’d only have, at any one time, 3 sets of clothes. 1 set wearing, 1 set needing washing, and 1 fresh change. All the colours were co-ordinated (black, grey & red).

    Years later, I turned up for a 2 week holiday in Egypt, with my now 14 year old, with two small rucksacks for the entire holiday. The staff at reception immediately labeled me ‘the crazy lady’. But I had the last laugh…setting off on an internal flight to Cairo to see the pyramids with no real luggage to worry about. Actually, scrub that, they had the last laugh when I realised on the local bus back to Sharm el Sheik I’d left my passport behind in the Cairo Hostel! But that’s another story…

  3. Justine says

    Great article Mary! Thank you for sharing. I think we all always think that we need to have items for the “just in case scenarios” but most likely you’ll always be able to buy them where ever you go depending on your destination.

    I always have the thought of “oh that isn’t that big” but you add up all the “little things” and it’ll kill ya…and the shoes! Packing shoes is the worst! I always must have a pair of tennis shoes (I love to go on runs while traveling – I HIGHLY recommend the swiss brand “on”).

    I am heading to Japan from the States this Friday and can’t wait to try to pack lighter than ever before! Thanks for the reminder of how awful it can be with too much stuff you never end up using! 🙂

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