shoes and hat inside a suitcase

How to Pack in a Carry On for Every Single Trip

shoes and hat inside a suitcase

Back in the day, I dreaded packing for trips. I would do literally anything to put it off: clean the entire house, finish all my homework for the next 2 weeks, go on a run… anything. As I’ve traveled more, thankfully packing has gotten a heck of a lot easier!

Now I know what I need and what I don’t, and I can always fit everything in a carry on. Today I wanted to share all my tips for packing light so you can start rocking the carry on life too!

Why I Fly with Carry Ons Only

Very rarely will you catch me at the airport with a checked bag. There are a lot of reasons I choose to fly with only a carry on for most of my trips. Usually I don’t need the extra space. I like keeping my bags with me to avoid the chance of them getting lost in transition. Waiting at the baggage claim is annoying when I am itching to get out and explore a new city. And my favorite reason?? Last minute flight changes.

I’ve been known to change my flights at the airport. I always keep a close eye on the departures board and listen carefully to the airport intercom. If there is an earlier flight going to my destination, I do my best to get on it. Who wants to wait in the airport when you could get there sooner, ya know?! This isn’t possible if you’ve already checked a bag!

suitcase and backpack in room with plant in the background

My tips for packing light

There are a lot of opinions on the internet about the best ways to maximize space in your suitcase. I have to admit, I’ve never tried any of them. I’ve never rolled my clothes instead of folding them and I’ve never used packing cubes. All of those hacks are great, but the only way to truly pack light is to only bring what you need.

The truth is that you just don’t need that much for a week long vacation. Heck, even a month long vacation. If you only bring the stuff you actually need, you should be able to pack in a carry on every single time.

So how do you know what you need?

First things first, pack outfits!

One thing I used to be totally guilty of was just tossing allll my favorite pieces of clothing in my suitcase and hoping it would work. News flash: It didn’t. This is the easiest way to ensure you pack all the things you don’t need and nothing that you do.

Instead of packing random clothes and hoping it works, pack outfits. Count the amount of days you will be traveling, consider what you will be doing each day, check the weather, then pack accordingly.

When you pack outfits, you realize just how little you actually need for a week long vacation. Also, you don’t need a totally new outfit every day, which brings me to my next tip…

Pack versatile pieces

The easiest way to pack less is to pack pieces that can be reworn or re-styled each day. Think of packing like you are putting together a week long capsule wardrobe.

Obviously, the pieces you bring depends on the type of trip you are going on. If you are going to the mountains, you will likely need more activewear, but can probably leave the jeans at home. If you are headed to the beach, you will probably want to bring a couple dresses, but can skip the tennis shoes.

Generally, I try and bring 2 pairs of neutral bottoms that I can rewear. I bring a top for each day, but no more. And then I normally toss in a cardigan or flannel that matches everything.

For trips where I know I will be hiking a lot, I love to pack quick dry workout shirts that don’t need to be washed every time you sweat in them. My all time favorite piece for this is my Lululemon Run Swiftly long sleeve. Expensive, but I swear you could workout in this for a week straight and it would never smell. Absolutely worth it for long trips if you are packing light!

girl walking in iceland

Layers, layers, layers!

Cold destinations are the hardest to pack for, especially if you are trying to pack light. You want to make sure you stay warm, but winter clothes tend to be bulky. I recommend packing good layering pieces for cold weather trips. Not only will this keep you warm, it’s also an easy way to change up your outfit every day without bringing a ton.

If I was going on a week long cold weather vacation, this is what I would have in my suitcase:

  • A packable down vest
  • 3 or 4 long sleeves as base layers
  • A beanie, scarf, and gloves
  • Good socks
  • A quarter zip or flannel to layer
  • A couple pairs of leggings
  • And I would wear my winter coat and good boots to the airport!

All of that easily fits in a carry on along with toiletries and tech, but I can still stay warm and have a “new” outfit every day.

You just don’t need that many pairs of shoes!

Let’s face it: the temptation to pack a thousand pairs of shoes is all too real. Shoes are pretty bulky, so cutting back on them is an easy way to free up space in your suitcase. You really only need 1-2 pairs on a trip if you bring the right ones. I usually do a cute neutral pair and a pair of tennis shoes. Hasn’t failed me yet.

Leave non-essential toiletries at home!

It’s hard for me to relate to the struggle on this one because I’ve never been a big beauty product girl, but I promise you don’t need to bring your entire bathroom closet with you when you travel. Just grab the essentials + your favorite makeup look and you’ll be good to go!

Okay friends, that wraps up my packing tips for today! Are you sold on the carry on traveler life?! If so, where are you traveling to next? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

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