Official News Magazine of the Canadian Snowbird Association


The great
snowbird slimdown

From minivan to carry-on in three easy steps

You’re looking forward to spending the cold months somewhere warm. By this fall, you’ll be fully vaccinated and planning your winter travels. There’s only one small problem: you’ve always chosen to drive south in your car, minivan or RV, taking the necessities of life with you. With the ban on non-essential land travel between Canada and the U.S. being renewed monthly, there’s no way to be certain that you’ll be able to cross the border as you usually do.

The alternative is to travel by air. But, if you do, however are you going to fit everything you need into a carry-on (and maybe a couple of checked bags)? The very thought is enough to bring on a headache.

You’re in luck! The fine folks at CSANews have been wracking their brains trying to figure out the best ways to cut down on the amount of stuff that you carry with you on your trip south. We’ve come up with some strategies that will help you do just that.

Step One: lighten your payload

Begin by packing for last year’s trip. Yes, you read that correctly. Pack your vehicle as if there were no pandemic to worry about and you could drive to your destination. More seriously…if that’s too much trouble (and it probably is), make a list of everything that you usually bring with you when you travel south for the winter.

Now, it’s time to start making some decisions about what to bring – and what to leave behind.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I really need it? Some things definitely fall into the “need” category (your passport, medication and medical equipment), while others don’t (the spare keys to your vehicle can stay at home). In some cases, however, it isn’t immediately obvious. If you’re not sure about something, put it aside for a day or two (or start a “maybe” list) and ask yourself the question again.

Do I really want it? You may love playing backgammon or “Settlers of Catan” during the cozy winter months, but chances are that you’ll spend more time outdoors suntanning, snorkeling or snoozing poolside than you will playing board games indoors. Put together a list of your “wants” and then review it a couple of times before you finalize it. Chances are you’ll find that there are a few things which you don’t want nearly as much as you think you do.

It’s really all (or mostly) in your headIt may sound odd to say that the problem of “too much stuff” is a matter of perspective, but it really makes sense for most people. We tend to feel at our most relaxed when at home; it’s only natural to want to bring all of the comforts of home with us when moving our residence for several months. This may explain why some of us load up our vehicles with everything we could possibly need or want for the duration of our southern stay, even though we’d travel lighter if we left some of it behind.

Is it heavy? A good rule of thumb is that if something weighs more than four pounds, you should leave it at home. Items that you’d throw in your trunk or put on an overhead rack without a second thought – a frying pan, a crockpot, a portable grill – are too much trouble to bring with you.

Will it fit in a suitcase? Once you’ve eliminated everything that’s heavy, it’s time to tackle the bulkier items. If something is too big for your suitcase, it’s time to seriously consider leaving it behind. Remember, you’ll have to haul everything with you through customs and from the baggage claim to your rental car. That will add to the stress of your trip and wear you out before you’ve started your stay.

Did I use it last year? If the answer is “No,” it’s a sign that you likely won’t this year, either. It’s only human to overestimate your capacity and think that you’ll actually make use of everything.

Sports equipment: the possible exception to the size and weight rule“But my golf clubs!” “My tennis racket!” “My road bike!” If the whole point of going south is to enjoy yourself outdoors, leaving your athletic equipment behind may not feel like much of an option. But before you decide that you must bring something with you, look into the cost of shipping it to your destination compared to the price of checking it when you fly. You may find that it’s significantly cheaper.


Do I have more than one of it? With the exception of socks, shoes and underwear, you probably shouldn’t have more than one of anything. This doesn’t mean that you should only pack one T-shirt, just that the T-shirts you pack should be in different colours (or patterns). The same thing goes for jackets, pants, dresses and just about everything else. If you use one pair of sneakers for running and another for the gym, you’re best off bringing only one of the two (or buying a pair of cross-trainers that you can use for all of your athletic activities).

Does it belong in the kitchen? If you rent rather than own when you travel south, you may find yourself missing some of the appliances and tools which you’re used to at home. Even if you’re not much of a cook, you may find yourself grumbling at the lack of a coffeepot (or a microwave to reheat your cold coffee). Some people likely do routinely haul microwaves, coffee pots, crockpots and other cooking paraphernalia back and forth every year. Although you may be tempted to try and cram something small into a checked bag when you’re flying…don’t. Imagine being subjected to a random search at the border and having to explain why you’ve packed a chef’s knife set, or finding out that your cup-at-a-time coffeemaker broke because the luggage handlers were apparently playing football with your suitcase. It’s not worth it.

Can I buy it when I get there? Although your first reaction may be, “That’s too expensive!”, it’s worth weighing the cost (and bother) of bringing something with you against the cost (and convenience) of purchasing it after you arrive at your destination. Air cargo is expensive, and it just might be worth leaving a few things at home and going shopping after you’ve landed.

Clothes are one example. If you want a couple of nice outfits to wear to dinner at a fine restaurant or to a show, do a little research into the cost of buying it after you’ve arrived. Clothes prices are much lower in the United States than in Canada so, if you factor in the need to get the clothes with you dry cleaned or pressed after being unpacked from your suitcase, you might just save yourself a bit of money!

Another good example is kitchen equipment. If you absolutely cannot live without a decent set of pots, toaster oven or food processor, get it once you’ve settled in. If you’re willing to shop online, you can even get your new purchases delivered to your door.

Can I replace a physical item with an electronic version?  You may have already learned that the most efficient way to “carry” books, music and movies is to keep them on your smartphone, tablet or e-reader. However, not everyone is a fan of digital media, especially when it comes to reading. For people who prefer real books, your best bet may be to beef up your reading budget and buy paperbacks rather than hardcovers. But remember, books are cheaper in the U.S. than in Canada, so the amount you spend will be lower than if you stayed at home.

But what do I do with it (the toaster oven, crockpot, coffee maker, etc) when I head back to Canada?!That’s a great question. If you fly south this year, you won’t be driving home.You have three options: sell things you’ve purchased, give them away or store them.If selling your stuff sounds like too much trouble, consider donating it instead. Women’s shelters, church groups and some charitable organizations accept donations of small household items. Or you could just give it away for free online.Would you prefer to keep your things for next year? If so, consider the option of self-storage. You may not need a whole locker to yourself, but you could pair up with another couple (or even two!) to share a unit and save yourself some money while you’re at it.

Step two: make sure that it all fits

Once you’ve winnowed things down to what seems like a manageable amount, it’s time to determine whether your bags will hold everything that you want to pack.

If you want to ensure that you have enough room for all your things, the best approach is to take your luggage for a “test drive” by actually packing it with what you plan to take on your trip south. Here are a few tips for fitting the maximum amount into your suitcase:

Roll, don’t fold. Although folding is the go-to for most packers, rolling allows you to fit more clothes into the same amount of space. If you’re worried about wrinkles, choose wrinkle-resistant fabrics or fold only those items that might wrinkle and place them on top of the rolled items, separated by a plastic dry-cleaning bag.

“Shrink” your clothes with space saver bags. Also known as “vacuum bags,” these are a lifesaver when it comes to bulky items such as coats, sweaters and jackets. You don’t even need a vacuum to suck out the air; there is a version of these bags that allows you to remove the air by rolling the bag after you’ve packed it full of clothes, and before you seal it.

Use your shoes. Left empty, the inside of your footwear is wasted space. Stuff your shoes with small items such as sunglasses, socks, underwear and even jewellery. (If you do pack jewelry, be sure to place it in Ziploc-style bags for protection first.)

Ditch the toiletry bag. Whether you use a lunchbox-style zippered bag or a larger one that resembles a small garment bag, toiletry kits are space hogs. Place your toothbrush, comb, razor and other bathroom necessities in small Ziploc-style bags for protection, and then place these in a couple of slightly larger bags. It’s a compact and less expensive alternative to the usual approach.

Make use of packing cubes. While they won’t compress your clothes, packing cubes do help to keep the contents of your suitcase organized. Be sure that you have cubes of different sizes to hold different types of clothing or other baggage. It’s probably a good idea to buy more than one set, since most sets consist of only three bags.

Wear the heavy stuff. If it isn’t too uncomfortable, make room in your suitcase by wearing heavy, bulky clothing on the plane. Coats, heavy sweaters, wraps, boots and similar items are a bit awkward, but can be placed in the overhead bin once you’ve boarded the plane. As a bonus, that sweater may keep you warm if (like many people) you find it chilly at 30,000 feet.

Play Tetris. Turn packing into a game! See if you can make use of every cubic centimetre of space in your suitcase.

Step three: make the move to carry-on

“How can I possibly fit three months’ worth of clothing into a carry-on?!” The answer is that it’s simple, but not easy. However, it’s not Mission Impossible and you don’t need to become a diehard minimalist. You don’t even need to channel your inner Marie Kondo.

The secret? All you have to do is pack as if you were going away for a week.

Before you roll your eyes so hard that they see your brain, remember two things. First, this is a choice, not a requirement. Second, you’ll have a washer and dryer at your destination, so you won’t have to worry about running out of clean clothes.

The formula is simple: one dress outfit (a nice dress or top and pants or skirt for women, a collared shirt and dress pants for men); six tops and three bottoms in complementary colours or patterns for easy mix-and-match; eight pairs each of socks and underwear; and two pairs of footwear (one pair of dress shoes and one pair of casual shoes). For workout enthusiasts, add two sets of workout clothes and a pair of athletic shoes.

What if carry-on isn’t right for you?

Despite its minimalist appeal, wearing the same small wardrobe for several months isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Many (perhaps most) people will opt to check a bag or two instead. And that’s perfectly fine.

For those who like the ease of carry-on and don’t want the hassle of checked baggage, there’s now an alternative. Some courier companies and specialty luggage shipping services will deliver your bags to your destination for a fee. While generally more expensive than checking your bags, some will find it worth the convenience, not to mention the chance to schedule when your suitcases will arrive and the greatly reduced chance that your luggage will go astray en route.


If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already taken the first steps towards this year’s journey south. Happy packing, bon voyage and safe travels!


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