5 Tips for How to Pack Carry On Only for Your Next Trip

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I'll admit it: I used to be a chronic over-packer.

No matter how hard I tried, I could just never limit myself to just the essentials. I'm generally an indecisive person, and I found it nearly impossible to plan what I was going to wear a few days or weeks ahead of a trip. What if I changed my mind? What if I really did end up needing that extra pair of shoes or sundress?

If you've ever had a peek into my closet, you'll know that I like options when it comes to my clothing.

But, the more I've traveled, the more I've learned the benefits of packing light.

When you pack light, there's no fear or overweight baggage fees, or how you'll drag your bag around when you get to your destination.

Packing for a river cruise in Europe

And the best way to ensure you pack light? Pack carry-on only!

It can be a challenge, yes. But it definitely can be done.

How, you ask? Here are all my best tips:

5 tips to pack carry-on-only for your next trip

Know what you really need

This is probably the most important thing to think about when it comes to packing. Where are you going? What season will it be there?

Obviously, if you're going somewhere tropical, you probably can leave the winter coat and fuzzy socks at home. In fact, if it's going to be hot and humid, you can probably leave the jeans behind, too. Not only are they uncomfortable in hot weather, but they also really weigh down your luggage.

Conversely, if you're going somewhere cold, you probably shouldn't bother with shorts, and your flip flops should probably be reserved for hostel bathrooms.

Simply knowing what sort of weather to expect can do wonders for your packing list, and is the easiest way to decide what things you really need.

Take enough for one week

Whether I'm traveling for 5 days or 5 weeks, I stick to packing roughly the same amount of clothing: enough for about one week. That means enough tops and bottoms for a week, and one week's worth of underwear (sometimes I'll take enough undies for 2 weeks if my trip is really long, but I stick to my one-week rule for everything else!).

You can always find laundry services abroad, whether it's at your hotel or at a local laundromat. So there's really no need to pack a top for every single day you'll be gone.

(And don't forget that it's easy to hand wash things like underwear and socks in the sink. I travel with that will dry overnight when I wash them.)

Pick one color palette and stick to it

Packing for a river cruise in Europe

I know it's often tempting to pack all your favorite pieces for a trip, but when you're trying to pack light this isn't always going to be possible. Stick to mostly neutral colors that you can mix and match, with one accent color or pattern.

When you pack like this, it's easy to turn a small amount of clothing into multiple different outfits simply by pairing things up differently.

Add in some fun scarves and necklaces if you're worried about your color palette being too boring.

Roll your clothes in packing cubes

I'm a huge, huge proponent of using to organize my suitcase. I use one for tops, one for bottoms, and one for dresses/skirts or sweaters, depending on the trip. I roll my clothes in them, which helps both to save space AND to keep my clothes from getting extra wrinkly.

The packing cubes help me keep everything neat and organized, making it easier to find things once I get to my destination (not to mention easier to re-pack everything when it's time to head home).

Pack solids instead of liquids

If you're packing carry-on-only, that means you won't be allowed to take any liquids larger than 100 ml with you on the plane. For shorter trips, this is fine – travel-sized bottles of shampoo will be plenty. But if you're going on a longer trip?

Instead of trying to pack 12 little bottles of shampoo and body wash into your carry-on bag, consider getting yourself some solid shampoo/conditioner, and reverting to solid bar soap. Not only are these things more eco-friendly (you'll save quite a few tiny plastic bottles), but they'll take up less room in your bag. (AND you won't have to worry about that shampoo exploding in your bag!)

These are just the most basic tips for traveling carry-on-only, but they really can help you go from an over-packer to someone who breezes through the airport!

Are you a fan of carry-on-only travel? What tricks do you use when trying to travel light?


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Tips for packing carry on only


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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