Get lots of tips and secrets for how to pack a great travel wardrobe in only a carry on suitcase for a one or two week trip – international or domestic.
Do you wonder if it’s possible to bring all the things you need and want on one to two week trip without having to pay to check a bag or lug around a lot of suitcases?
Me, too! And I got to try it out when my husband and I traveled to Greece and Kosovo last spring for 17 days, taking only the carry on suitcase you see in the photo above. I used a couple of key packing tips – one I’d read about and one I discovered – that worked so well I was able to take even more than I originally thought!
Then last fall we took an 8 day trip to Arizona and I instagrammed my packing and asked if anyone would be interested in knowing how I fit all the clothes pictured in a carry on. The result? A resounding yes! You all really want to know how to pack lightly!
So here we have a slightly unusual post for AOC – but actually, now that I think about it, not too out-there, since it’s me just sharing some easy tips with you that really work. And that is what a simple homemade life is all about, isn’t it?
How to Pack in a Carry On For 1-2 Weeks
How To Pack a Wardrobe In Carry On Bag
- Decide on a color scheme: pick neutral bottoms (I chose denim, black pants and skirt), a few neutral tops and layering tanks or camis (black & gray), and then pick an accent color. I picked coral and filled in the wardrobe with a cardigan, roll-sleeve plaid shirt, 3/4 sleeve silky t-shirt, three t’s, and a scarf that all were some variation of coral.
- Choose your clothes based on comfort and appropriateness: this wardrobe is for a casual vacation, not a business trip, so there’s more in the way of t-shirts and flip-flops than slacks and dressy blouses. It doesn’t matter, though, for these tips to work – pack what works for your planned activities.
- Lay all your clothing choices out: whether the bed or floor, lay out everything you’ll need, including underwear and jewelry. This is an important step. It allows you to see how everything looks together, how you’ll be able to make outfits with the items, and helps to make sure you don’t forget anything.
- As you lay out your wardrobe, group items together: put t-shirts in one area, bottoms in another, and so on. Edit as you see that you’ve pulled out too many shirts or that there’s an item that doesn’t make enough outfits.
- Make sure that each bottom or top goes with 2-3 other items: since you’ve already picked neutral basics and only one accent color, this shouldn’t be too big a deal – everything should pretty much go with everything else.
- Decide on shoes: think light, comfortable, and double-duty: for Arizona, I chose flip-flops for the pool, flat sandals that would work for walking as well as be a bit casual-dressy, comfortable walking flats. They were my staple shoe in Europe, too), and left my bulky shoe for the plane ride – a boot here, but I like to travel in Keds or Converse-type tennis shoes, too.
- Plan to wash items: there’s no reason to bring 8-10 pairs of underwear or 12 shirts for a 2 week trip – if you will not be at a place where you can wash, then at least pack lightweight items that can easily be hand washed and will dry quickly.
Traveling Outfit Tips:
- Use the same colors as your travel wardrobe: your traveling outfit should fit seamlessly with your packed clothes, so plan it as you’re laying out all your clothes.
- Plan to wear your bulkiest items: lightweight jacket, belt, boots or tennis shoes.
- Dress in layers: this is the only way to deal with the different temperatures at home, on the airplane, and at your destination. If you know all your temperatures will be similar or you’re particularly hot-blooded, you may not need to worry about this. In my example, it was around 38 degrees at home, I always get cold on airplanes, and when we arrived in Arizona, it was almost 80 degrees – quite a jump.
Clothing Tips for Traveling with Temperature Changes:
- Choose narrow-legged pants that can be rolled up or down.
- Wear a tank top that you could wear on it’s own, if needed, as a first layer and top with a button-up shirt with sleeves that can be rolled.
- Add a light jacket that fits your needs (if it’s going to be rainy, make it a water-proof jacket) – this canvas jacket worked in both Europe and Arizona for me, as it’s lightweight, comfortable, and surprisingly warm when worn with layers.
- Bring a coordinating scarf for chilly flights, rolling to use as a pillow, or even to throw over your head if you’re surprised by rain.
My Biggest Carry On Travel Tip
So how did I fit more than 30 clothing items – a pair of shorts, capris, jeans, a skirt, a flowy long-sleeved shirt, chambray shirt, t-shirt cardigan, regular cardigan, six t-shirts, a swim suit, two tank tops, socks, underwear, a set of pajamas, and three pairs of shoes – plus all my toiletries, into one carry on sized suitcase?
My secret weapon: Zip-Top Gallon-Sized Baggies!
You guys won’t believe how much you can fit in your carry on by putting a couple of items into gallon-sized zip-top baggies and pressing the air out. I was completely amazed when I first tried it! I actually was able to bring more to Europe than I originally thought I could after packing with the baggies.
I came up with this idea as I laid out all the clothes I wanted to take to Greece and couldn’t figure out how I’d fit it all on a carry on, which was important because we would be doing some train travel in Europe and we didn’t want to be dragging a ton of baggage. I remembered those infomercials with the bags that you store blankets and such in tightly by using a vacuum to suck out all the air. Then I thought of the straw-vaccum method I use for freezing garden produce, and I thought – why not try it with the clothes? And I was amazed – it worked great!
How to use baggies to pack:
- Used baggies for the soft items – not jeans (or at least I didn’t – it was hard to fit them into a baggie).
- Add as many items to the baggie that will fit (usually about 3 t-shirts, two shirts, or swimsuit/underwear) folding or rolling them as you like.
- Zip the top, expelling as much air as you can.
- Now, open a 1-inch section of the top and press down on the baggie hard to remove even more air. Seal quickly.
How to Pack a Carry On Suitcase Using Baggies:
- Start with shoes and pants. Fold denims/bottoms and place in suitcase in a stack. Place sandals/flats around edge of suitcase with the soles towards the edges. Fit other shoes (in a shoe bag if you have) next to pants stack.
- Now start adding your baggies, fitting them around and on top of your pants stack and shoes.
- Leave room for your toiletries bag and other items you need (I use a baggie for hair brushes, as well), fitting them around the baggies.
- Use a quart-sized baggie for liquid items and keep that in an outside pocket of your carry on.
- Bring only a small box or baggie of jewelry – choose just a few items that will go with many outfits. Traveling is not the time to go all out with accessories.
When you arrive at your destination, try to take time right away to hang up your clothes – the only downside to the baggies is that there are a few more wrinkles, but I found that when I hung them up right away, they were fine. It’s a small price to pay to be able to pack everything I want in a small case, I think. Oh, and of course you can keep your baggies in your suitcase to reuse for each trip.
That’s it! I actually had extra room in the suitcase above – which gave me space to buy some items on our trip. I also found that I didn’t really need the extra cardigan – next time I’ll only take one. Each time you travel, use it as an opportunity to figure out what works for you and what you need (or don’t need) for the next trip.
Now all that’s left for you to do is relax and enjoy the trip:
Oh, and be prepared for people to be amazed that you travel with so little luggage – believe me, they’ll notice!