How To Pack A Carry-On For Anything and Anywhere

Packing is stressful, especially when you don’t know where you’re going. As I’m typing this, I’m on a plane for a quick visit to Seattle. On Thursday, I hope to fly to Europe. I know it sounds vague and slightly sketchy, but I honestly have no idea where I’m going next.

I’m at a great point in my life where I have no major obligations back home, and can handle most of my work anywhere with WiFi. So, not only do I not know where I’m going, but I have no idea when I will return.

I could end up staying for just a couple of days, or several weeks. It really just depends on how I feel. I mentioned that I’m a terrible planner in my recent post on my vast experience with cancelation fees. So, I LOVE being able to travel with such flexibility, even if it means I end up constantly changing plans.

Since I usually fly on standby status, my travel plans depend mostly on whether or not there will be an open seat for me that day. Right now, I’m thinking I would like to end up in Barcelona, but the possibilities are endless!

Carry-on Packing Tips

Anyways, back to my original point – packing sucks. It’s my absolute least favorite aspect of traveling. I know I’m not alone in worrying that I forgot something or feeling like I overpacked.

I prefer to travel only with carry-on luggage, so this makes the process even more challenging. In true procrastinator form, I packed at least two weeks worth of clothes into a 21 inch (53 cm) carry-on just before my flight this morning

Between my rolling bag and what I managed to stuff in my tote, I can only hope that I hit a nice packing equilibrium for this trip. Even though I travel a lot, I still don’t have my packing routine down to a science. I’m working on it though!

Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years for packing lighter and smarter:

Pack Neutrals

If you pack mostly neutral colored clothing, it’s easier to pair different pieces together without repeating outfits. Even if you have to wear the same thing twice, it will be much less noticeable if the outfit isn’t bright or printed. You can also easily spruce neutrals up with accent pieces and jewelry, which take up way less room than clothes.

 Bring Layers

If you’re traveling between seasons, make sure you bring some items that you can layer based on the weather. For example, Europe can fluctuate between being cool or quite hot towards the beginning of summer. Make sure you’re prepared for whatever the weather has in store and layer up!

Wear your heaviest clothing, and shoes on the plane. You will be glad you did since planes are usually cold, and you will shave some weight off your suitcase. I always carry a large scarf with me as well,  which doubles as a blanket or pillow when needed.

Three Pairs of Shoes

I have read over and over in various packing guides, that you should always stick to three pairs of shoes! Base your decision on your destination’s weather, and what you have planned.

I usually bring a pair of booties that can be dressed up or down, comfortable sandals, and my Tom’s. For this trip I broke my own rules and brought four pairs, but fortunately sandals don’t take up much space!

Less is More 

Unless you’re on a super tight budget, it’s always better to pack less than what you think you will need. If you really need something that you didn’t think of, you can always buy it there. You may find the local styles are different, or that you want to go shopping anyways.

Having some spare room in your suitcase is better than having to mail your excess stuff home internationally, or being hit with an excess baggage fee.

In terms of clothes, I try to bring no more than:
-6 Tops
-4 Bottoms
-2 Dresses
-3 Sweaters/Jackets

Bring Laundry Helpers

I always pack a lint roller, a mini bottle of scented fabric freshener, and a Tide To-Go Pen. Another helpful thing to remember is that you can leave your clothes hanging in the room while you shower to steam them. In a pinch, you can also use a hairdryer to sort out wrinkles.

Roll Instead of Fold Clothing

This space-saving trick lets you fit more in your back, and prevents your clothes from getting wrinkled. Air compression bags are also excellent packing tools, and will let you stuff more in your bag. For more practical packing tips, check out this great infographic from Pinay Traveller.


Do you really need your phone, tablet, and laptop? By just bringing your smartphone or tablet, you save space and minimize the risk of something being stolen or lost. If you’re a makeup addict like me, only bring products that you would wear every day and try to keep your routine more low-maintenance than at home.

Remember, less is more!

For example, here’s what I would have loved to bring if I had infinite space versus what I actually ended up packing!

Carry-On Carefully

Make sure you have everything you will need during the flight in your smaller carry-on bag. If the overhead bins are full, you may be forced to gate-check a bag or to stow your bag further away from your seat.

Avoid being separated from your essentials by making sure you have all your medications, electronics, and important documents in the bag underneath your seat.

A gate-checked bag can get lost as well! So, It may also be  good idea to bring an extra change of clothes in your smaller carryon bag.

Carry-on Packing Tips

I’m no packing ninja and usually I have to sit on my suitcase for it to close – but, it always does!  These tips have proven helpful for me, and I’m slowly on my way to becoming a packing pro.

For more packing tips, check out my Packing Board on Pinterest.

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  • Reply
    May 6, 2015 at 1:27 am

    Like your packing style.

  • Reply
    Alice Young
    May 6, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Ah these are such good tips, the three pairs of shoes one is definitely one I should try and stick too, I have no control when it comes to packing shoes, I always take sooo many!

    The Velvet Black // UK Style & Beauty Blog

    • Reply
      May 8, 2015 at 3:08 am

      It’s hard! I always want to bring ALL of my clothes, and it tends to get a little ridiculous haha. Now that I’ve stopped checking bags though, I don’t have much of a choice. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Reply
    May 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I hate checking in baggage so I always have a ton of “how to pack in a carry-on” articles bookmarked. This one is particularly helpful. Thanks for it!

  • Reply
    July 18, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Great tips! One question, in the suitcase, do you have two purses? Safe travels!


  • Reply
    July 18, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Lauren! Yes I have two bags, I like traveling with a Longchamp Les Pliages bag because they’re durable, fit a lot but can fold up pretty compactly when not in use. And then I also have a small cross body bag that I usually use at night time! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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