Packing tips for traveling with carry-on luggage only, even if you’re going on a long trip. Since my bag was lost on a two-week family vacation to Biarritz, France, a few years ago, I have switched to carry-on only.
Aside from the chance of lost luggage, having carry-on luggage means no baggage claim, no baggage carousel, and no extra cost for checking a bag.
Lost luggage is probably top of my list for avoiding a checked bag. Each time I travel, I learn a few things that will help on the next trip. There are many things to consider with carry-on items and even checked bags. Airlines are getting less friendly when it comes to heavy suitcases. They are even more particular on international flights.
Today I’m joining Mary Ann, who is in Portugal right now, and Cindy to talk about all things travel!
The first tip is to choose the right bag for carry-on.
Things to consider to make sure it fits in the overhead compartment
- How much does it weigh empty?
- What are the dimensions of the bag? Does it expand? And what are the dimensions when it’s fully expanded? You want to ensure you won’t have trouble getting it into the overhead bin easily. Know the size limits of your airline.
- It’s a good idea to check the airline’s website for weight limit and sizes.
This recent article from US News & World Report has a lot of good information on domestic and International guidelines. There are some minor differences, and you want to be sure you have the right size before you travel.
The Bag I chose for Carry-on
- The one-touch expansion increases packing capacity when you need more space. Simply press the button and pull up the sides to expand. Then when you’re ready, zip and push down to compress the bag. (Other bags I’ve had with an extra zipper to make the bag expand, then stayed expanded and was difficult to fit in the overhead compartment.
- An outside pocket that’s easily accessible to store travel documents as you go through airport security. The pocket has an orange lining that gets your attention if you’ve accidentally left it unzipped.
- – I use the larger outside pocket to store a jacket, an umbrella, and a Teema towel for easy access.
- Checked luggage or carry-on, make sure you use the hide-away luggage tag so that your personal information is not visible.
Packing Cubes, Shoe Bags & Compression Bags
I go back and forth on whether to use packing cubes. On the one hand, it keeps things organized, but not using them may take up less space.
When I use packing cubes, I use this set because they are super lightweight and fold flat when not in use. This set comes in different sizes to organize everything; I tend to use them on a short trip when I pack specific outfits for each day of travel.
Using shoe bags is a must when it comes to travel essentials; I use them in my carry-on bag, and I often take an extra pair of shoes in my personal item bag. I just use the shoe backs that arrive in the box with the shoes when you purchase them. But these transparent shoe bags are nice too.
Compression Plastic Bag
I do not know why when I return, it seems that my clothes seem to take up more space on the return trip; why is that? I always keep one large plastic compression bag that I can use for dirty laundry.
These bags do not require a vacuum. You simply put your clothes inside the bag and roll the bag, pushing out the air as you roll. This is one of the best tips I heard on Samantha Brown’s Places to Love.
What to Pack in Your Personal Item Bag
- A smaller bag inside my larger tote bag. My favorite small bags are crossbody-style bags that are great for hands-free travel. Hiking, flea market shopping…Need to be hands-free for digging in piles of stuff!
- My heaviest items, like an extra pair of sneakers (if I’m not already wearing them), go in my carry-on luggage along with other heavy items.
- I always have a pair of Comrad Compression knee socks. They make the flight so much more comfortable. When we land, I take them off and toss them into my shoe bag with an extra pair of lightweight shoes.
- A handkerchief. “It’s a Kleenex that you don’t throw away,” -Kathleen Kelly. Why do I pack a handkerchief? On a typical day, I will always have a handkerchief with me. For travel, I will have two. They can be worn around your neck or head to keep your hair from going everywhere on a windy day. Or for things like wiping your hands or nose.
- A small roll-up travel toiletries kit that can be hung in an airplane lavatory to keep your in-flight essentials from falling on the floor!
- Small items like makeup, eye drops, facial wipes, a small first aid kit with Band-aids, throat lozenges, Pepto-Bismol tablets, and any medication can be stored in your toiletries bag or another pouch if you need more room.
- Small bag with chargers. Smaller items like adapters can probably go into your carry-on luggage. I keep an extra set of chargers with the phone, Apple Watch, and computer chargers in a small travel bag. This is also where I keep my Ipods and an extra headset cord.
- A sweater! I may actually wear this over my shoulders as I board the plane. A cozy sweater worn on my shoulders can free up a lot of space in my bag. Airplanes can be frigid. I’m set for long or domestic flights, a sweater, a Teema blanket, and maybe an eye mask!
Choosing What to Pack & Wear
I always go with a color palette that allows everything to be worn together or separately, with a few exceptions. It’s easy for me because I always dress this way. When it comes to travel style fashion, it’s a great thing to be an outfit repeater!
Pack for a Week
Even if you are going for a month, pack only what you’ll wear in a week. It’s easy to pack light for a weekend trip, but packing light for longer trips takes careful consideration and editing!
What to Wear for Long Travel Days or Nights
When we travel to Europe, we always take an early evening flight. That means we are going to try and “sleep” on the plane. I want to be comfortable, but I don’t love looking like I’m going to sleep on a plane or go to a yoga class. Not that it’s not smart to wear yoga-type clothing for a long overnight flight, but I found another option that’s just as comfortable.
One of the best packing tips is that your travel outfit is also part of your travel wardrobe while you are at your destination. That way, you are packing fewer clothes and taking up a lot less space. This two-piece outfit from Eileen Fisher that I talked about in this post is the perfect example of a travel outfit, and the pieces can be worn separately in multiple ways.
I can wear a jacket with jeans and a T-shirt. I can wear it with the Eileen Fisher midi skirt as a jacket over a T-shirt or tank. Or I could wear it as a top.
The easy pull-on pants can be worn with anything. A T-shirt, a shirt, a sweater, or really anything I packed! The bottom line, pack clothes that are workhorses!
Choose Skirts Over Dresses
While it may seem like a good idea to pack a bunch of dresses for a trip, skirts make more sense. The argument that wearing a dress is one-and-done is great at home, but while traveling, skirts work great.
Puckered Organic Linen Pocket Skirt from Eileen Fisher
I love this skirt. I can wear it with this top as a dress. Since I’m tall, dresses are hard to fit, and I suspect a lot of people find this to be true for multiple reasons. Wearing a matching skirt and top looks like a dress but offers multiple options. A skirt is a great way to stretch your outfits in a week.
Wear the skirt with a T-shirt and sneakers for a casual day of sightseeing. Wear it with a tank and a button-down tied at the waist, or wear it open like a jacket. Wear it with Birkenstocks, a T-shirt, and a cardigan—so many options.
Wear a Button-Down With Eileen Fisher Pants and Samba Sneakers
Wear the shirt unbuttoned over a T-shirt with jeans or pants. Wear it buttoned up with pants or jeans. Wear it with shorts over a swimsuit. You never know when you’re going to stumble onto a place to take a dip. It’s why we always carry one of these towels with us!
I hope you enjoyed reading carry-on packing tips. I use affiliate links, so If you use a link to buy something mentioned, I may earn a small commission, but it does not change the price. Thanks so much for reading: Packing tips for traveling with carry-on luggage only. Below, you will find my actual packing list for our three-week trip to France in September. You can read about our trip to France last year in these posts:
Packing List for 3 weeks in France in September
September is still mostly warm weather. Cold weather requires more bulky items, but we can still dress in layers in September without worrying too much about things like coats.
- Tote bag
- Cross-Body Bag
- Eileen Fisher 2-piece pants and shirt jacket
- Eileen Fisher 2-piece midi skirt and shirt
- Eileen Fisher cropped white T-shirt
- Rag & Bone white, black, and gray T-shirts
- Black Tank
- Striped button-down shirt
- Black poplin shirt
- Brown linen boyfriend shirt
- Lululemon drawstring pants in black (can be worn as regular and workout pants)
- One pair of jeans
- These pants from Alex Mill in green
- Brown midi slip skirt
- Stripe Long Sleeve Top for Layering
- Cashmere cardigan
- 2 pairs of washable silk pajama tanks and pants (they take up less space and can be hand washed)
- 7 pairs of underwear, one pair of underwear shorts to wear under skirts
- 3 bras – one black, one nude, and one workout bra
- 2 swimsuits (this one piece and this 2-piece from Coral Reef Swim)
- 6 pair of no-show socks, one pair of ankle compression socks, and one pair of compression knee-high socks)
- 2-3 pairs of shoes: Samba Sneakers, Birkenstock Big Buckle Arizona sandals (or Saltwater sandals), and Gucci loafers
- Handkerchiefs or bandanas (to both wear and keep in a bag)
Doing Laundry While Traveling
I know some people make it a general rule to avoid tasks like laundry while on vacation. I get that, but taking a break to do some laundry is fine with me if it means I can do only carry-on luggage. Some Airbnb properties will have laundry facilities, but typically they are the washer and dryer in one combo. Those seem to take forever! Going to a laundromat once a week works for us. We use Thieves laundry soap, which is great for handwashing and use in machines. It’s very concentrated, so a small 4-ounce bottle is all you’ll need. Have each family member carry one small bottle of detergent.
All photos were taken at the TWA Hotel at JFK.
Photos for this post were taken at the TWA Hotel at JFK. If you haven’t been, it’s a fun place to stay, have a drink or lunch/dinner, or get a day pass and take a swim! The people-watching is fabulous, and the music is all from the 1960s.
Clothing from Eileen Fisher
Thank you, Eileen Fisher, for gifting me these beautiful pieces. If you love Eileen Fisher, too, check out their sale! It’s a good one!
I am 5’10” and wear a size small. My usual size in most brands is medium. Eileen Fisher starts with XXS, then XS and Small. They also offer petite in. most pieces.