Much of my spring break was spent taking notes in airport terminals and snoozing in train stations. I took a working vacation to the East Coast, where I waded through archives and visited friends along the way. My research turned up some great information for my B.A., and my experience traveling solo on a student’s budget forced me to learn how to travel efficiently without sacrificing my style and, more importantly, my sanity.
As I struggled to drag my stuffed suitcase up the perilously steep steps of the hostel I stayed at in D.C., I was partially relieved that my baggage was only carry-on sized. If your bag is big enough to check, it’s far too big to haul all over the city. If you’re traveling on a student’s budget, chances are you’ll be taking buses and trains rather than cabs, so you’ll continually have to wrestle with your unwieldy belongings. Another advantage to the carry-on is the peace of mind that comes from always knowing that your bags will arrive with you, which is particularly important were you to make a mad dash for your connecting gate after your incoming flight is late. It was (almost) easy to sprint through LaGuardia to make my next flight with my rolling suitcase bouncing behind me.
Size also matters when it comes to beauty products. I learned this lesson the hard way last year when my favorite fancy lotion was tossed at the security check in O’Hare. If you’re heading out of town for a week or less, the travel-sized products at drugstores will carry you through. To save even more room in your cosmetics bag, opt for products that do double-duty. I swear by Vaseline lotion with aloe and cucumber ($1 per fluid ounce), which nourishes and moisturizes my skin and has a light, fresh scent that I use in lieu of my liquid perfume, which I leave safely in my bathroom at home. Smith’s Rosebud Salve ($6) is a multi-purpose lipbalm with a cult following and is an indispensable beauty aid for travelers. While I use it on my lips for a non-sticky shine, some of my friends use it to soothe cracked hands and cuticles and even as moisturizer for aching or blistered feet. This is one item I would never leave home without
Because I am fanatical about carrying all my notebooks and papers around with me, my carry-on tote bag was jam-packed throughout the break. Much to the chagrin of the businessman behind me in the security line, I had to unpack my entire bag in order to remove my laptop from its case. He started groaning and complaining under his breath when he noticed that I was struggling to undo the zipper on my boots. Well-traveled passengers like him breezed through security with streamlined, well-organized briefcases and easy-off loafers while I was waddling to the nearest bench with my boots half-off, trying to stuff my belongings back into my bag. Next time I travel, I’ll ditch my boots in favor of cute leather ballet flats from Aldo, which I can slip off for the security check. I’ll stash my laptop in a bright Vera Bradley case with handles so I can tote it to the checkpoint without having to frantically rummage through my bags.
Traveling in layers makes room in your suitcase and also helps you combat chilly airplane cabins. I’m fearful of flying and like to be asleep before the plane takes off so I don’t crush the hand of the unsuspecting passenger next to me. I can sleep easy when I’m swaddled in a chic scarf that serves alternately as a throw and a safety blanket. Fashionistas can choose the luxe cashmere blend variety at department stores, but I like the $5 pashminas I scored in New York’s Chinatown last summer. They’re pretty and patterned, so after I’ve gotten some shut-eye, I can drape them over a cardigan for a relaxed spring look.
Traveling is stressful—you have to endure long lines, frustrating delays, and public transportation systems seemingly designed by someone with a sinister sense of humor. While getting tired and lost is probably inevitable, with a little organization and light packing, you can at least arrive in one stylish piece.