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If you know me, you know that I live for free and cheap things. So, when I found out I’d be flying into LGA for a two-night trip, it pained me to even consider checking a bag. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it would be to only take a carry-on since I’d be attending a formal event. Oh, did I mention I’m heading to New York for the TPG Awards this Tuesday?

The one thing I love more than cheap and free things is a challenge. Okay, maybe I love other things more than I love a challenge, but at this moment in time those things were unimportant. I was determined to find a way to comfortably fit everything inside my carry-on. For the people!

As soon as I embarked on this journey into unchartered territory, I realized that I actually already had a few pro tips up my sleeve, and once I got started I determined that the task was totally do-able. Without further ado, here are my most genius tips on packing for a big event in a small bag without compromising any aspect of your full glam look.

Plan your outfits beforehand

If you’re that person who brings a bunch of clothing options because you can’t quite decide while you’re packing, I challenge you to take ample time to determine exactly what you want to wear throughout the trip. And if you’re going on a trip as short as mine, decide when you want to wear it. Try it on, make sure you love it, and pack one extra outfit for good luck. It’s more important to pack exactly what you need and honestly nothing more. So, like I said, make sure you love it.

If you really can’t do that, you should still limit what you bring. I’d suggest sticking to the staple items in your wardrobe that you always tend to gravitate toward. Chances are you can’t go wrong.

Cut down on your liquids

Typically when I’m packing a carry-on, my goal is to cut down on all of my liquids as much as possible. Obviously, you need to stay below the liquid limit, but I also want to make sure that my liquid allowance is not unnecessarily used up on one item. For example, I rarely ever use 2 ounces worth of any one product on such a short trip. So, why would I lose all my liquid count to one or two big products? Any TPG reader knows that it’s all about maximizing.

Instead of using those travel-sized liquid containers, think smaller. Do you have sample-sized containers that you can squirt your products into? Or maybe a spare contact case? What about a weekly pill organizer for all of your products?

Medicine organizers are great for separating your liquids.

When it comes to beauty products, stick to the sticks (and powder). Many makeup items come in stick or solid form, so you won’t necessarily have to lose a whole fluid ounce of your liquid count to your foundation.

Here are a few affordable products — I use several of them regularly — that won’t be counted as liquids:

For foundation, Colourpop just released its No Filter Foundation Stix and it’s only $10. Its dewy finish and buildable coverage makes it versatile, so it’s quickly become a staple for me. A more high-end option would be the beloved Vanish™ Seamless Finish Foundation Stick by Hourglass, coming in at $46. There are tons of stick blushes and contours on the market, as well as some popular stick highlighters, like Milk Makeup’s $14 Lit Highlighter. Don’t forget that you can always opt for a powder.

This images contains 0.00 fluid ounces of liquid and a full face of makeup.

On the note of makeup, try to keep your palette sizes to a minimum. Sometimes palettes give you the ability to remove pans of shadow from the bottom, so you might want to consider only taking the shades you need for your look to maximize your space. Or, do what I’m doing and take only take small palettes.

If you really want to cut down on liquids to save room, you might want to consider a solid perfume. Glossier You perfume comes in a compact, solid form for $22. Plus, it smells amazing. If you don’t find a scent you like in solid form, rollerballs are the way to go.

Configure the inside of your carry-on strategically

Everyone has their opinions on how to best pack, and while it’s not my place to intrude, I thought I’d share what I found to work best for this particular trip. Personally, I’m impartial in terms of folding clothes versus rolling them. Here, I found that a combination of the two worked really well. I folded my gown down to make it as flat as possible in its garment bag. You can see it peaking out underneath the heels on the right. I rolled the rest of my clothes, except the thick sweater shown on the left.

Pack carefully, but remember you can steam or iron later

As pictured above, I found that it was best to fold my dress’ garment bag to maximize space in the carry-on. Although the dress is protected in the bag, I’ll still need to steam it once I get into the city. I’ve never had to get something steamed while traveling, so I spoke with my expert father to come up with a game plan on how to do it conveniently and cheaply.

The most obvious option to consider is using your hotel iron, but since ironing isn’t compatible with all fabrics, you might need to find someone to steam your look. When it comes to steaming, I’d recommend three options. The first option to try is taking the dress to the department store it was purchased from with your receipt. If that doesn’t work, ask the hotel you’re staying in. Unfortunately, that might come with a price. If you’re worried about one of those options not working and having to resort to a more expensive option, you can consider buying a travel-sized steamer to bring with you. Target sells a Travel Smart Garment Steamer by Conair for around $24.

Wear your biggest items to the airport (within reason)

There’s often no room to spare in your luggage for gigantic items like jackets and boots when you already have a full length gown and heels that you’re accounting for, so I always try to wear those bulkier items to the airport. It’s a pretty self-explanatory tip, but obviously use your judgement. If the biggest pair of shoes that you’re bringing is a pair of 5-inch heels, definitely leave them in the suitcase unless you’re down for a brutal airport experience.

If you catch me at the airport there’s an 100% chance I’ll be wearing my Doc Martens. I never let them take up room in my luggage, but I can’t travel without them.

Don’t be afraid to bring a hefty personal item

Personal item sizes tend to be more forgiving than we think. You can often take a bag that borders the capacity of a duffle bag as long as it meets the size requirements and fits under the seat in front of you. Any overflow from your carry-on, awkwardly shaped items or things you’ll use during the flight can go in here. I got mine in Chinatown a few years back.

I’ve gotten a lot of use out of this bag over the past few years.


All images by the author and Isa Colli.

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