Tips & Tricks Travel

How to Pack for San Francisco

How to Pack for San Francisco

I am proud to say that I haven’t checked a bag at the airport in almost 5 years!  I try to take at least 2-3 vacations per year, and my travels have included everything from a two-week stint in Europe to a 7-day Caribbean cruise.  Every time I get the urge to pack up and go, it’s always with just two trusty carry-ons.

How to Pack for San Francisco

I used to be the girl who brought 10 pairs of shoes on a 4-day trip, but over the years I’ve become a pro at packing light. I even had enough room left over to fit my vintage purchases on the way back home.  Below are the tips I use to keep myself in check.


Because I can be a little detail-obsessed, I put together a handy spreadsheet template that I use every time I pack.  You can download it here:

The first sheet, “packing list”, has all the items that I packed inside my two carry-ons.  The second sheet, “itinerary”, breaks down the weather, my scheduled activities, and planned outfits for each day of my vacation.


I generally select just a few pairs of shoes and plan my outfits around them. For this trip, I stuck to all brown shoes (with the exception of my Chucks), which allowed me to cutback on handbags and belts.  Speaking of belts, I stuff mine inside my shoes (along with my socks) to help them keep their shape as well as to save space.

How to Pack for San Francisco
Packing List: San Francisco


And try them on beforehand!  After I’ve checked the weather, come up with an itinerary, and decided on shoes, I plan each outfit right down to the accessories. Ideally, different pieces should be interchangeable. There’s nothing worse than packing a bunch of random tops and bottoms only to discover that nothing matches when you try and get dressed for the day. Because I love wearing dresses (in case you couldn’t tell already), I pretty much eliminated this issue for myself.

Packing List: San Francisco
How to Pack for San Francisco


In case you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to have their bags hand-searched, the last thing you want is for all of your unmentionables to be on display while some security guard paws through your panties wearing latex gloves. To save myself the potential embarrassment, I pack all of my girly things in a separate cloth pouch. As an added bonus, it helps keep dirty items separate from the rest of your clothes on the return trip.  You should also pack shoes separately to keep the soles from dirtying up your other items.


I’m pretty picky about my toiletries.  So rather than subject myself to hotel soap, shampoo and conditioner, I’d much rather bring my own.  Heightened airline security makes it impossible to carry-on any liquids above 3 ounces, so it would be wise to invest in an Carry-On Approved bottle set, like this one available at Flight 001:


As I mentioned before, I never check any luggage, but I still need to make sure the following items are close at hand so that I can make the most out of my flight:

  • eye mask (blocks the sunlight and helps me doze off)
  • ear plugs (drowns out noisy neighboors and prevents ears from popping)
  • chewing gum (freshens breath and prevents ear popping)
  • dramamine (fights motion-sickness)
  • pashmina (used as a blanket to keep me warm and toasty)
  • neck pillow (can also be used for lumbar support)
  • cozy socks (also worn through security check if I need to remove sandals)
  • lip gloss
  • bottled water + snacks
  • books/magazines
  • iPod with noise-cancellation headphones

I hope these tips help some of you out there. Stay tuned for when I reveal what may be my new favorite traveling outfit!

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  • Ayesha July 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    I love that you made this list! It’s immensely helpful and I will use it for my weekend trip to New York in two weeks. Enjoy your vacation. ^_^

  • whatNerissaying July 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Great post! I love reading how other people pack. I can always find a new trick…thanks for sharing your packing list!

  • Moni July 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    This was right on time because I’m heading to Atlanta for a long weekend today (with just my carry-ons). I use some of the same tips you do, like packing shoes in the same color or color family and carrying a pashmina (I have a specific one reserved for travel), but I’ll also be incorporating some of your tips like creating a detailed packing list. Thanks!

  • Juanette July 13, 2010 at 10:25 am

    great packing tips, i always end up overpacking because i pack for how i “feel” so i like to have lots of options. will definitely use this as a guide for my next trip!

  • Julia Eagles February 21, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    I came upon your site randomly by searching San Francisco packing list, and it’s been super helpful!  I love the packing list and itinerary Google doc, and I’m totally borrowing them for my upcoming trip to San Fran (and all my future trips…)!  Thanks!

  • Southern Girl July 4, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Girl, I feel you!! Totally have the Excel spreadsheet itinerary!! 🙂 Glad to know someone else is as OCD as I am!! 🙂