Back in the dark ages before there was an internet, backpacking students got around by using a revered guidebook called “Let’s Go Europe.”

You’d go to a youth hostel and you’d find sections on Rome or Vienna that had been ripped out and left there by travelers who had seen those cities and wanted to lighten their load or share information. The book was filled with excellent tips on cheap places to eat and sleep and how to get from point A to point B without a car and what to appreciate once you got there.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

But there was one tip tucked into that gem of a travel guide that has stuck with me for all these years, and it involved packing. The advice was to get all the money you planned to bring and all the clothes you wanted to pack and lay them out across your bed … and then bring half the clothes and twice the money.

I’ve been following that advice pretty sincerely ever since, but I’m wearing down. Sometimes I just don’t want to decide between the gray top and the white top. I want to bring them both.

My husband and I were embarking on a two-week, multi-city trip this spring to visit our kids, and since our trip fell during the most challenging packing season of the year, I solicited the advice of my travel-savvy neighbor on what to cram into my carry-on. To my surprise, she didn’t say “layers.”

Instead, she said “packing cubes.” I dismissively waved off that tip, but then reconsidered as she explained that with that system she can get more in her suitcase and keep herself organized.

I reconsidered. And I consulted the internet.

It was there that I came across a woman who had, strewn across her bed, what appeared to be an amount of clothes equal to half the contents of my closet. She announced that she was going on a 10-day trip and would condense the entirety of that wardrobe into a carry-on bag using the wonders of packing cubes. They’re like a trash compactor for your suitcase.

I watched, enthralled, and immediately ran out to buy a set.

I came home with a variety of zippered nylon bags ranging in size from an iPhone 5 to an 8 Plus to a Motorola, giddy at the prospect of being able to pack all of my clothing choices. I could bring the comfy denim jeans AND the skinny floral jeans! I could bring the gray shirt, the white shirt, AND the navy shirt! I could bring pops of color! A warmer jacket! An extra pair of shoes! A dress!

I couldn’t wait to pack.

I spread half the contents of my closet onto my bed and began.

I started with the Motorola cube.

This one I planned to fill with five pairs of pants, two sweaters, four shirts, a pullover, and a blouse. Logic and the rules of physics were not in play at this point; I was delirious with optimism. After rolling my second pair of jeans into the cube, doubt set in. Well, I consoled myself, I AM wearing one pair of jeans on the plane. At the third pair of pants, the cube was almost full, and by pair number four, I had enough room left for my hairbrush.

It’s OK, I soothed myself, shirts take up much less space than pants. I rolled up the first three T-shirts and stuffed them into the iPhone 8 Plus, reevaluating my choices and eliminating all the while. How often will I really need a pop of color, anyway? The gray will go with everything. I probably don’t need two sweaters … I think it’s warming up where she lives.

I rolled up, crammed in, and eliminated until all four cubes were bursting. Then we left.

How much did I bring on my trip? About half of what I originally wanted to pack.

But I spent twice the money.

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see