9 Tips for Packing Only a Carry-on for a Week-Long Trip

Yes, it can all fit in the overhead bin.

Luggage for the whole family
Photo: Alexander Spatari / Getty

Traveling these days can feel like a chore. It takes mathematic skills to fit everything you need in a carry-on bag. Here are some tips from the professionals to help make that task a little easier.

Evaluate What You Need

Rethink Your Packing List

How often have you packed for every possible scenario that could arise on a trip and ended up using half of the clothes you brought? Don't worry. It happens to us too. Instead, do your research beforehand and only pack what you need. Think carefully about what's on your itinerary and plan accordingly. Have a dinner reservation at a trendy new restaurant and don't know what to wear? Instead of packing both a dress and slacks and blouse to accommodate different atmosphere possibilities, check out the spot's website and get a sense of the vibe. Still not sure? Find them on social media and study what people are wearing. Just a little digging, and you can probably choose between the two looks before you pack.

Pack Less Shoes

Shoes can take up a lot of space and add significant extra weight to your bag. When planning your packing list and outfits for all your engagements, consider what looks work with the same shoes. If you're clever, you can likely put together ensembles that work for all your occasions and only need to pack two pairs of shoes—one casual and one dressy.

Never Pack Heavy Coats

If you're traveling somewhere that requires a heavy coat, choose to take only one that will work with all your ensembles. Instead of folding this hefty layer and allowing it to take over your packing space, carry it on the flight with you. If you need to put it on to board in alignment with regulations (usually, you only get one personal item, and your coat might count), do so. It'll save you packing real estate worth several outfits in your suitcase.

Leave Non-Essential Products Behind

Take Essential Hair Products Only

One of the hardest parts about not checking luggage is leaving your arsenal of hair products at home. Yes, it's a bummer, but is it worth the $50 you'll spend on baggage fees? We don't think so. Instead, spend a little bit of money buying travel-sized basics like special shampoo and conditioner (if you aren't willing to use the complimentary ones in your hotel room) once you've arrived. They'll last you about the time you're on the trip, and you won't have to worry about returning them. Suppose there is something essential to your routine you can't easily find at your destination, grab travel-sized versions before you leave. And pack only those unique products.

Limit Your Styling Tools

Like shoes, bulky styling tools claim a lot of room. Most hotels provide hair dryers, so there is no reason to pack your own. Instead of taking both curling and straightening irons, decide on one hairstyle for the week and choose to take the corresponding tool.

Repurpose and Clean While Away

Pack Dirt-Resistant Items

When making your packing list, consider choosing outfits that aren't as likely to show soil. Heavier pieces such as jeans, structured wool tops, and everyday printed fabrics in dark colors, such as a navy plaid cotton button-down or a crimson floral silk jersey wrap dress, won't show dirt as much as a lilac charmeuse dress. Plan on wearing these items more than once.

Wash What You Need

There are some things you just can't get more than a day's wear out of before they start to look worn. Think about basics you can repurpose for multiple outfits, like a white button-down, neutral-colored cardigan, or leggings, and plan to make them multitask. Should they look, smell or feel soiled at any point, you can hand wash them in the sink with the hotel-provided shampoo (which works on lightly soiled garments), and let them air dry on the shower curtain rod overnight.

Use Creative Organization

Nest Items Inside Each Other

Think about placing an item in a suitcase that already has items. By nesting your packed clothing, accessories, or even shoes, you can save a little space to make room for bulkier items.

Roll, don't fold.

Articles of clothing are typically neatly folded before being put away in dresser drawers or packed in luggage. However, tucking away angles such as sleeves, folding in half, and then rolling your pieces into a cylinder saves space. It also prevents hard creases from forming in fabrics while your luggage is in transit.

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