How to pack for 2+ weeks in a carry-on bag

Sep 21, 2022

Ladies, this one’s for you: 18 days and 5 countries with a carry-on bag and a personal item only!

No packing cubes, no rolling clothes, no praying that the flight attendants ignore my overstuffed bag at the gate, and no worrying about the airline losing my luggage!

I know what you’re thinking- I probably did laundry in every country, had no style, or that I have a simple skincare routine (ask anyone who knows me- it’s like 8 steps because #30flirtyandthriving). 

I dressed for expensive dinners, rooftop bars, boats, and clubs, but also for getting outdoors, casual lunches, beach days, comfy travel days, and 8 hours of pounding pavement while sightseeing. 

I am a *reformed over-packer and I’ve learned from trial and error that uncertainty is the driver of overpacking. What if I need X, Y, or Z? What if that outfit isn’t formal or casual enough?

Fortunately, there are a few key things you can do to pack everything you need into a carry on!

How to pack everything you need in carry-on luggage in 4 easy steps

1) Use a transitional wardrobe. This is everything. A transitional wardrobe is one where you can swap pieces in and out of multiple outfits to create more with less and make outfits work with changing weather.

Example: Pair a black leather skirt with a crop top and heels for a fun rooftop bar one night, and then the next day pair that same skirt with a long sleeve bodysuit and white sneakers for art galleries. And then pair that same crop top with a midi skirt and sandals for dinner on a different day.

I never wore the same clothing item more than twice other than a bathing suit. Bring a few basic pieces that work for anything and are rewearable with different accessories or jackets to change up the look– a plain black mini dress is my go-to for any day when I don’t know what I may get up to or if I need an extra/back up outfit!

2) Carefully plan your outfits for each day before you pack. This is key with a transitional wardrobe because when you’re packing, it’s a bit like a puzzle seeing where you can create overlap for pieces. Make a note in your phone or type up a Word doc with each day’s activities and what outfit you want to wear depending on the activities you have planned. I’ve always done this because I don’t like being unprepared or rushing, but it’s absolutely necessary unless you want to drag your entire wardrobe around with you. 

3) You will NEVER need as many pairs of shoes as you think and they take up a ton of valuable space. I bring 4 pairs maximum and rarely need pair #4: 

1. Tennis shoes for the airport and any athletic activities (wear these on the plane- they’re bulky!).

2. Casual comfy/fashion white sneakers for day wear. These are the best cute and comfy white sneakers that I recommend!

3. Sandals for the beach or nights out. I brought what I consider “elevated” sandals that were a little overkill for the beach, but also cute for clubs if I couldn’t deal with heels.

4. Classic heels (these rarely get worn and take up a lot of space in my suitcase).

4) Repeat after me: “I don’t need my full size skin or hair care products.” And this is coming from someone who is devoutly obsessive about my products- Olaplex, Laneige, etc. The only thing I typically run low on during my long trips is toothpaste, which, like many cosmetics, you can buy anywhere if it comes to it. I guarantee that you can find travel size products for whatever brand you cult-follow at home before your trip or something comparable.

Pro tip: My favorite way to cut corners for saving space, weight, and having fewer liquids to squeeze into a TSA liquid-sized baggie is to find replacements for the many liquid cosmetics I need. Shampoo and conditioner always take up a ton of space, so I have tried and tested a ridiculous number of shampoo and conditioner bars as an alternative. I finally the best one and can’t recommend HiBAR enough!

HiBAR has been a game changer for me for packing AND they make my hair so clean and shiny that I actually use them whether I’m traveling or at home! Plus, you get so many more washes from them (so it saves a lot of money for me and my thick hair), they’re gentle for color-treated hair, and bonus- there’s no wasteful, bulky plastic packaging. Such a win/win!

Best packing hacks for women

If all else fails, I have a couple of other packing hacks for you:

I know what you’re thinking: “This is great for you, but how can I afford to travel more?” I’ve been there!

It’s easier than you think to travel on a tight budget if you have the right tools. From scoring cheap flights to saving on hotels, snag my FREE guide with ALL the best budget travel tips and tricks! ✈️

Looking for more? Don’t miss the best-of-the-best!

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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