It’s the last day of the winter packing series! So far, we’ve covered what to bring, how to fit it all in a carry on, and what to wear each day. Today, we’re talking about my travel tote.
Ready to get into it? In this post, we’ll cover:
- My Travel Tote (and the 3 features that make for an ideal travel tote)
- What’s In My Tote (including 9 items I always bring on the plane)
- Keeping It Organized
- Tote Transition: From Travel Day to the Rest of the Trip
MY TRAVEL TOTE
My travel tote is actually a camera bag from ONA. If you’ve been around Unfancy at all, you’ve seen this bag a million times — it’s my go-to. It’s structured, tough, and you can see it’s got a beautiful, worn-in patina going on. My favorite feature of this bag is the removable velcro dividers — excellent for keeping an organized bag.
Would I recommend it?
Yes and no.
I adore this bag and plan on using it for a long, long time. But since it’s first and foremost a camera bag, it’s got tons of extra padding (so you don’t get full use of the interior space) and it’s heavy, even when empty.
So, if you have no need for a heavy duty camera bag, I’d recommend this roomy tote by LiveFashionable instead. It’s got three features that make it an ideal travel tote in my book:
- a zip top to keep everything secure
- multiple pockets inside for organizing
- external pockets for phone + lip balm
Besides that, it’s made responsibly and comes from a company I respect + love. Plus, you can always add extra organization power to it by slipping a purse or camera insert inside. More on that in just a minute.
WHAT’S IN MY TOTE
This is what I’d bring for a typical 3-6 hour flight. An international flight is a different story — maybe one day I’ll do a post on what’s in my bag for an international flight.
My bag does get super heavy with all of this stuff in it, but instead of carrying it, I set my tote on top of my carry-on luggage and roll it along with me, so it’s not a big deal.
1 | Kindle | Fav books right now? The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Chasing Slow by my friend Erin Loechner. And Fraud by David Rakoff.
2 | Hydroflask water bottle | I always have this hydroflask with me. Always. It doesn’t sweat, meaning nothing in your bag will get wet. Plus it keeps cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours — and keeps hot drinks hot for 6 hours. I bring mine to the airport empty and then fill it up after I get through security.
3 | Snacks | I go simple when I travel and just bring a few power bars. I just discovered the KIND fruit and veggie bars, and I’m digging ’em.
4 | Gin Gins | Sometimes I get a little motion sick on planes, and this ginger candy is my saving grace. Ginger is super intense, but it naturally calms an upset stomach. I love it.
5 | A headphone splitter | If I’m traveling with my hubs, we like to listen to podcasts or watch shows together. A headphone splitter makes it possible.
6 | iPhone cord | Necessary for charging. And if I can’t find an outlet, my Away carry-on suitcase has a built in charger — I know, so cool!
7 | Noise cancelling ear buds | I can’t speak highly enough of my Beats. My husband gave them to me five years ago and they revolutionized my whole travel experience. That may sound dramatic, but listening to music is my happy space when I travel. These little guys stay in my ears no matter what, they cancel noise, and they have the best sound (and killer bass!). Want to hear my fav playlists? Right this way.
8 | Lavender essential oil hand sanitizer | I’m big on hand sanitizer when I travel, and the scent of lavender calms me like nothing else.
9 | Laptop (if desired) | I rarely travel with my laptop these days, but if I need it I carry it in my travel tote.
OTHER (NOT SHOWN)
Liquids from my carry-on | I keep these out for security, then stash them back in my carry-on suitcase afterwards.
Coat or sweater | This serves two purposes: it keeps me warm on the cold plane, and it keeps a bulky item out of my suitcase (so I have extra room in there).
Regular purse stuff | Wallet, keys, toiletry bag, phone.
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED
No matter what kind of travel tote you have, you can always amp up it’s organization power with a purse insert or camera insert.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of purse inserts because they tend to have an overwhelming number of pockets and I can’t keep track of what’s where.
Instead, I’ve learned I’m more likely to keep things organized if it’s not a chore to put things back in their place. So I like using a camera insert, because it can divide my bag up into three simple sections — one for my hydroflask, one for my toiletry bag, and one for my regular purse stuff.
From there, my sunnies, lip balm, and phone usually fit perfectly in an interior or exterior pocket.
Tip: make sure to compare the measurements of the insert against the measurements of your bag before you order.
TOTE TRANSITION: FROM TRAVEL DAY TO THE REST OF THE TRIP
This is simple: My laptop and kindle come out, but everything else stays inside the tote for the rest of the trip.
If I don’t feel like carrying a heavy bag (like sightseeing days or days with lots of walking) I’ll downsize to my small black purse and keep just the basics — wallet, keys, phone, and a few essential toiletries.
• • •
And there you have it — the final post in this winter packing series!
In case you missed a post this week, there’s a ton of good stuff to catch up on over the weekend: a printable packing planner, the first Unfancy video, and outfit ideas for the whole trip.
So tell me, what did you think of this packing series? Anything you’d like to see me cover next time? Want to share your in-flight essentials? I’d love to hear ’em and get some new ideas!
Tanya E says
Hi Caroline, you recommend so much good stuff, ethical clothing, books, music etc. Any chance of a Caroline recommends section on the blog? Thanks.
Great post! Would love to hear any podcasts you/other people recommend :)
I hope Caroline will forgive my shameless plug… but since you ask…
From one Un-Fancy follower to another, I have a podcast called The Doc Project. We feature smart, personal, story-driven docs. A lot of them happen to be by women doc-makers. Great for binge listening! And Caroline is dead right about noise cancelling earbuds — mine changed my life when travelling.
Check it out :)
Will definitely check it out :) thanks!
Sarah gb says
Hi Caroline, great post as always! :) I would love to see a ‘”what’s in my bag” post for an international flight. I’m off to Spain in April and would love to compare/contrast your bag with what I typically bring. Thanks!
JennaLynn Self says
Me too!! :)
Me too! I travel to Scotland several times a year. I have a Cuyana zip tote bag and a bag insert, but struggle with fitting everything I need and not feeling overwhelmed with all my stuff!
I love my Ona Bag. I am in the kid rearing time of life so I actually use it as a mini diaper bag. I have the Chelsea and love that it has removeable inner compartments (for lenses I guess but I use it for diapers:). I don’t travel much (see beginning of comment;), but if I did the bag would be totally my go to as well.
I like this. I always way overpack my travel tote. This is a simple, obvious, practical list. Thanks!
This whole series was very helpful, loved the video format too. I’m an obsessive and early packer so I’m always looking for better ways to go about organizing everything! One request for if ever you do international flight packing tips as you mentioned- for the European smaller airlines that restrict the size of your underseat bag to something much smaller than a tote, how would you adapt your items? I struggled with that recently.
The earbuds you show don’t actually have any noise cancelling capabilities. They would isolate sound if you have a good fit, however. If you think those are great, you should try some actual noise canceling headphones, like the Bose qc20. They will blow your mind!
When traveling I carry my everyday purse (a small leather convertible shoulder/backpack) plus my favorite tote, an older Vera Bradley (cloth=light) in a pattern that doesn’t show dirt. For air travel I leave enough room in my tote to slip my purse inside so I stay within the bag limit. I love having my purse because I can find everything. And I don’t have to find room for it in my suitcase. It’s all I carry most days, home or away. But having the tote gives me room for the snacks, water, toiletries, meds and clean undies. Those last 3 are a must for air travel. I once arrived in Italy 24 hours before my luggage!
Good call, Nikki!
Marie Therese says
I love how used and worn this tote is. Thank you for being an example of style without always having to get a new item. I know it’s all a part of the miminalist approach but it’s cool to see bloggers with this platform (like you!), being proud of the old and embracing it..
I really enjoyed this series of travel posts! I’ve been travelling a LOT more lately and never check a bag, but it becomes a game of tetras. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts!.
I misspelled tetris :^(
Patricia Kay says
Using what you have is excellent! Your pieces are fabulous go-to and fav pieces!
Favs & Go-to’s= only “sparks joy” items! And more removal of the overflow that no longer “sparks joy”. Grateful for your perspective.
I have bought way too many books on how-to-pack. Not needed after this week!
Will use this week’s posts for in-car-travel as well as carry on flights.
Also!!!Going to use your weekend lineup for my next week’s at-home lineup!
Stepping into freedom with joy & gratefulness,
Your style is amazingly beautiful!
Podcast recommendation: Productivity Paradox by Tonya Dalton (Inkwell Press). It’s about goal setting and how you can achieve your goals.
Natalie Harney says
Your bag is so lovely, the worn in patina of the leather makes it look so special and loved. I think I might need to try gingins I struggle with motion sickness on the tube on the way to work and it would be nice to have something small yet effective that I can pop in my bag
Hi Caroline!! Love this blog, especially these recent travel posts. I’d love to see a spring international travel post. Mostly bc I’m leaving for Spain and Portugal at the end of this month. Great work!!!
caroline, do you have a meditation practice. ;) love that you’re reading eckhart tolle!
Hi Mel, I attempt a meditation practice, but it doesn’t always happen! Haha I’m working on it. :)
All of my flying these days is international (since I live in London, and if I want off this island…). I like to take my Everlane small backpack because I always travel with my big ole Nikon. When my kids were little I had a bunch of JuJuBe zip pouches for their things, and now I use them to organize all my things. I use the same patterned/colored ones the same way every time so I know if I’m grabbing for the blue flowers I’m looking for snacks, the orange stars paper/pen. I use another small pouch for passports/BRP visas/registered traveler cards (makes it easy to grab and wait when you hit the immigration lines). It does add some weight and a little bulk, and for longer flights hitting 5+ hours I take my Jack Wolfskin backpack, or weekender tote bag on the plane. I have a Longchamp Le Pliage purse that folds down and snaps small, so it’s perfect to stash in the suitcase and transfer daily essentials to on arrival.
My essentials: headphones (2 kinds, over ear and earbud), snacks (usually granola bar/fruit bar, and for years I’ve always packed a fresh roll of fruit Mentos for some reason!), small notebook and pen, camera, books & kindle (yes I always have both), planner & laptop if needed (rarely), sleep mask if overnight flight, refillable water bottle, and plastic bags just in case of any sickness (I can pretty much get motion sickness standing still and have always learned to be prepared, I’m definitely looking into those ginger bars!). Other essentials are the usuals: phone, keys, wallet, etc. It’s been so nice that my kids have been old enough for a few years to pack around their own things.
I enjoyed your packing series. I’m traveling for vacation on average every 4 weeks until end of June this year, so neat, tidy and easy packing is very essential to me.
Hey Andrea! This is an awesome list, and great organizational ideas! Thank you for sharing.
Hello I really must say I loved this series so so much! It
I love your capsule wardrobe regular posts and you style in general. I really loved this series because I’m going to be traveling and god am I an over packer!
I did a post on a “minimalist” travel makeup bag a while back and I would love you to check it out :)
I’ve never seen that variety of KIND bars before! All of the ones I’ve tried have been largely nut based. Are they pressed similar to LARA bars? I might have to look into those.
Hey Cassie, yes — they are pretty similar :)
Samantha Lee says
That tote is so beautiful! I got a (faux) leather tote last year and though it does the job, I really wish it had a zipper to close up – especially while traveling.
Love this post. Perfect timing because I’m traveling this weekend and haven’t in a long time.
For long international flights (my flight home to Australia is 2 domestic US flights and then 14hrs) my best advice is to take leggings or yoga pants and change into them asap on your long flight. Also bring clean underwear to change into. Pro tip: wear old underwear on the flight so once you change you can throw it away and not carry around dirty panties.
Or even easier…use panty liners and you can change them throughout the flight and always feel like you just put on clean underwear! Saves on throwing away and washing ??
I’ve loved this packing series! I think it would be great if you did an international version, too! I’m planning a trip to Iceland so hearing input from those other bloggers was so great!
Sheila Joy says
This post was super helpful! I’ve never flown before so I’m trying to gather as much information as I can by March.
This series has been really great Caroline! I love seeing your packing tips. I’d love to see what you’d pack for an international trip in the winter. I’ve got a trip coming up in mid February and am agonizing over what to pack. I’ve got a checked bag and carry on but still want to be mindful of what I bring.
What a great idea to use a camera bag! Having the dividers would definitely keep me more organized. My in-flight essentials include whatever book I’m reading at the moment, a big scarf that doubles as a blanket, and a coffee or tea if possible. :)
I know you’re a photographer, so I just wondered how you pack light on trips when you want to bring your camera gear. Whenever I travel, I find myself having to lug around a backpack and my carry-on because there’s no way I can bring my laptop and DSLR in one small tote :( I suppose I could travel without my camera, but that would make me sad. Any advice? Thanks for sharing your tips!
Hey Jackie! Great question. Since I stopped shooting professionally, I actually don’t shoot with much equipment anymore. I now have the Olympus OMD EM 5 MKii and I love it. It’s pretty compact, so it’s slightly easier to travel with. I’ve also heard good things about pancake lenses for Nikon and Canon because it makes your DSLR more compact — but it’s a prime lens, so no zoom. Depends on your preference, but I do understand the dilemma! :)
Loved the series! Winter packing always takes skill! My only request would be to cover how you pare down and pack liquids when using only a carry-on. Thats where my struggle lies. Between shower items, hair products, moisturizer, body lotion, makeup, etc. it is hard to fit the liquids in the required ziploc bag. Unless of course, the trip is very short. I simplify my routine and scale down the size of products, but can’t fit those liquids in for more than a 2 day trip. Would love to hear your thoughts!!
Hey Laurie, great question. Sometimes I’ll just plan on using what the hotel has in the room, so I know I don’t have to bring shampoo, conditioner, or lotion. If we are staying with friends or family, I might pop into a drug store once we arrive to pick up those necessities. :)
You can buy clear quart size travel bags that zip, mine was just a few dollars from target, that are more flexible and won’t break. Also think about what is actually a liquid: most of my makeup, deodorant, lip balm etc goes in a separate bag.
I love your style!! And your “easy”way of combining simple, basic pieces into your own personal look! The packing series was informative and helpful – I invariably overpack! Even when I pack, then repack twice, rethinking and taking out items to condense what is REALLY going with me to a reasonable amount!
Caroline, dear, I feel like I need to speak for those of us who so admire your style, your commitment to minimalism, and to buying earth-friendly, well-made, quality products, but who cannot under any circumstance spend $40 on a water bottle or $300-odd dollars on a leather tote. Is every single item you own extravagantly expensive or is it just me?? Please note that I’m NOT being critical! I’m just looking for ways for young women who are mothers with all the expense that goes along with that life, or for grandmas like me on a now limited income to emulate and adapt and personalize your appealing, simple style…
Gloria: SECOND HAND! As a mom to 3 teens (1 in college) who lives in a very small town, eBay has become my go to shopping. Both the leather bag and the Vera tote from my earlier post were eBay purchases. I know what sizes I wear in the brands I use. I search carefully and have made some really good purchases. Also some misses but I am usually able to resell if it’s only a size problem. Good consignments stores are always favorite shopping when traveling.
Less items=more money possible to spend per item. But, I think she has mentioned she was gifted the bag? I’ve appreciated Caroline’s links to less expensive versions of pieces – for ex. she has linked to this bag in reference to a less expensive tote with similar look (but no zipper sadly): http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/street-level-reversible-faux-leather-tote-wristlet/3559375?origin=category-personalizedsort&fashioncolor=COGNAC
Just use any old water bottle… in travel blogs, I’ve seen the cheap Platypus bottle as a suggested lightweight, collapsible option. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001VNXWPK/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_2?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER
It’s a good question, Gloria. I’ve often wondered something similar myself. Caroline doesn’t seem to be an extravagant sort of person & she seems to go out of her way to keep it real, but, while I admire her & her style, it often feels like she’s living worlds away from me. The pieces that really seem to make her outfits–the bag, the shoes, the great jeans–are things I could never afford.
To be fair, I actually think that Caroline is the sort of girl who could buy her clothes at Wal-Mart and manage to look chic. Maybe it’s like having an ear for music, when some people can play anything as an instrument–even spoons! I’m always trying to figure out the secret to having an “ear” like hers, so I can work my own closet as well as she works hers. So far, no luck… but maybe if I keep reading…!
Thank you for the input, everyone! And Gloria, I completely understand where you’re coming from, trust me, I do.
I often worry about finding pieces at prices that will fit everyone’s budget, but I think the main takeaway from Un-fancy is that all of us can live with less, regardless of how or where the money gets spent.
The blog is simply to serve as style inspiration and to remind us to be mindful and intentional with our purchases — then you guys can take it from there, to make it work for your lifestyle and your budget.
I hope that makes sense. I never want anyone to feel alienated here, so I hope you’ll continue asking questions and I’ll do my best to help where I can. :)
I always carry face cream and my laptop with me, two essentials for any flight!! x
Ariadna || RAWR BOWS
You’ve packed and planned your outfits based on your itinerary. How would you plan your outfits if you don’t have a set itinerary? I often haven’t planned my activities when I travel. I hope you have a great trip!
Hi Nadine! If there’s no set itinerary, I would probably pack pretty similarly — setting up outfits for each day. I might add a couple more items if I felt I needed to be more flexible, but generally I stick with a color scheme and comfort no matter what. That way, I’ll be happy with what I brought, regardless of our activities! :)
Not that I travel much but I always have to include a knitting project! ?
Allison Chewning says
Have you found a method you love for keeping your earphones untangled and organized? I would love to know what you use!
Hey Allison, the Beats come in their own little pouch, so that helps a little bit. You might want to look for a YouTube tutorial on clever ways to “fold” them, I’ve heard of a couple different methods. :)
I had to pack for a trip to Italy for an entire month. We were limited to one suitcase that I could carry myself, and one small bag that could fit under the seat of a plane. I posted on my blog about how i planned for it. The address is above. The blog was posted July 27, 2016. This was a different approach of knowing what you are doing every day. But I like your method for shorter trips.
Hey Caroline – lovely and helpful post, as usual! :) Just wanted to vouch for your recommendation of the FashionABLE Alem tote in case anyone was considering one. My husband gave me one of the totes in black for Christmas, and it is *marvellous*!! I have a 4-year old, so I’m always carrying tons of stuff for both of us. The bag is so well-constructed – it is made out of very sturdy, thick leather, but is relatively lightweight so I can fill it with all our daily needs (snacks, water bottles, extra mittens, sunglasses, and so on…) without ruining my shoulder carrying it. It also keeps its structure and doesn’t sag or bulge out weirdly.
I really appreciate that the top zips shut, so I don’t have to worry about my wallet or our passports falling out when we’re travelling/ going thru security.
Caroline, I have you to thank for the discovery of FashionABLE! I love knowing that my bag was handmade and will benefit the woman who made it. Plus, it is classic and will last forever. Thanks for connecting your readers with ethical retailers. I really appreciate it!
also, great travel tips :)
I must be living under a rock since I didn’t know earbud splitters existed! Will definitely get some before my next trip with the husband. Also, we were looking at Hydroflasks while out shopping yesterday, and he bought one when I told him about your recommendation. :) Can’t wait to try it out!
I have loved this travel series! It makes me want to take a weekend trip so badly. one without kids, where I can pack light in a carry-on and just breeze through the airports! this is a nice fantasy for me just following a 2 week trip to Jamaica with my hubby and two kids…where our packing style was anything but light and the airports were a nightmare to navigate with a toddler and 5 year old. might have to make it a reality in the spring…so I’m planning a little date weekend in Toronto! :) thanks for the inspiration!
Absolutely LOVED the packing series! I’ll be packing for my honeymoon in April, and even though I don’t have to travel with a carryon necessarily, this series has been super helpful in making me think through what I really need to bring and what is just excess (how many backup outfits does a girl need?!).