Tired of overpacking on trips?

I’ve traveled to more than 50 countries around the world (sometimes for months at a time!) with just a carry-on suitcase, and I’m going to let you in on my best tips.

Some people have been absolutely shocked when they hear that all I have is a carry-on suitcase for a multi-month trip around Europe or South America.

But I honestly can’t imagine packing any other way!

Here’s how I do it, and how you can too.

Why Travel Carry On Only?

First of all, let’s talk about why you would even want to travel with just a carry-on.

One of the perks of traveling with a carry-on suitcase for me is that it’s simply less hassle.

As a solo traveler, I don’t want to get stressed out because I have to lug around an enormous suitcase and maneuver it through airports, train stations, bus stations, public transportation, city streets, and more.

You may also save money traveling with a carry-on suitcase because you won’t have to pay checked baggage fees on airlines.

I also like that I just feel lighter when I travel with a carry-on — literally carrying less baggage!

Now let’s talk about how to pack with just a carry-on suitcase.

Carry On Luggage on plane

Plan Your Outfits

If you’re packing for a short trip of 10 days or less, packing in a carry-on only should be really easy because you can pack enough to wear every day without even needing to do laundry while you’re gone.

If you’re traveling for longer, you will want to pack clothing that you can easily mix and match into multiple outfits.

And yes, you’ll have to be okay with repeating outfits frequently!

I find that it’s easier to pack for warm weather in a carry-on suitcase because it’s lighter clothing that takes up less space.

For trips to cold weather climates, you might be more limited in how much you can pack because winter sweaters obviously take up more room than summer sun dresses.

Woman packing her suitcase and checking off a list of luggage items

Packing Cubes Are Your Friends

I absolutely LOVE packing cubes. I used to roll my clothes when I packed it, but then I discovered packing cubes and it was a game-changer for me.

Packing cubes save even more space than rolling your clothes and they help you stay organized.

You can use one packing cube for all your tops, one for all your bottoms, one for pajamas and underwear, and so on.

Packing Cubes

Limit Your Footwear

This might be tough for the shoe aficionados out there, but if you want to successfully pack in just a carry-on suitcase, you’ll need to limit your footwear.

Shoes are bulky and take up a lot of space, so this is the first thing to go for me.

I have traveled for multiple months with just one pair of sneakers and then one pair of boots (if it’s somewhere cold) or one pair of sandals (if it’s somewhere warm.)

young woman walking along the famous luis bridge in porto portugal

Pack And Then Pack Again

Before a big trip, I never pack just once.

I will lay out everything I want to bring, with the knowledge that I will end up removing multiple items, and then start packing.

As I go, I’ll determine what I really need and what gets cut.

female solo traveler packing a suitcase at home

Choose A Practical “Personal Item”

For most airlines, you can bring a carry-on suitcase and a small “personal item” for no extra charge.

The personal item might be a handbag, tote bag, small backpack, or briefcase. I personally love my sturdy Longchamps canvas tote bag — I traveled with one for over 10 years and only recently had to replace it with a new one.

This bag is super lightweight and it’s what I use as my daily handbag as well as a tote bag for travel days where I keep my laptop, laptop charger, and other essentials.

You could also bring a small backpack as your personal item instead of a tote bag.

female solo traveler in japan

Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes On Travel Days

One tip for packing in a carry-on suitcase only is to wear your bulkiest clothes on travel days.

For example, if you need a winter coat in your destination, be sure to wear it to the airport rather than trying to pack it. This also goes for footwear — wear your bulkier pair of boots or sneakers while traveling and pack lighter footwear.

Yes, you might be a little warm wearing your heaviest clothes and shoes, but it’s worth it!

Think Wisely About What You Really Need

Before you pack, think about where you’re traveling and what you’ll actually need there.

You might want to do some research and look for packing lists online for the destination(s) you’re visiting.

Don’t let yourself pack things “just in case” if you’re not 100% certain you’ll wear or use them.

Ahem… looking at myself when I packed multiple heavy sweaters and sweatshirts for a multi-month trip to Central America where I was extremely warm almost the entire time.

One single sweatshirt for the occasional chilly evening would have been just fine.

Woman in costa rica on the beach

Do Laundry

Finally, let’s talk about laundry! Obviously, there’s no way I could travel for months at a time with just a carry-on suitcase if I wasn’t frequently doing laundry.

If I’m staying in one place for a week or more, I usually stay in an Airbnb, and I always make sure that it has an in-unit washing machine (a dryer is a nice bonus, but these aren’t very common in most countries around the world.)

When I’m moving around and staying in hotels or hostels, it requires a bit more effort to get laundry done. I always look for nearby laundromats that offer a wash and fold service.

This is usually pretty affordable, and sometimes even includes free delivery to where you’re staying. I never get laundry done at a hotel because the rates are always exorbitant.

And if I can’t find a laundromat with a wash and fold service, my last resort is a self-service laundromat.


I hope these tips for packing in just a carry on helped you!

If you’re looking for more, check out this ultimate travel packing guide.

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