How to Pack for a Long Trip With a Small Carry On

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Due to the fact that there’s a lot of competition in the aviation industry, many airlines are slashing prices and making travel very affordable. To combat these low base fares, airlines have started to charge for checked bags, food, drinks, baggage and even advanced seat selection.

These changes bring a significant amount of additional income to airlines. However, we are primarily concerned about the question of, “What do end-users think about this practice?”

No one is happy with having to pay extra, especially when airfare is already a huge cost of most vacation budgets. One way you can curtail additional expenses is to travel with the least amount of luggage possible.

I’ve seen people check in multiple 50-pound suitcases while traveling across the world. I always think to myself, “What could they possibly be bringing with them across the world?” or “How long will they be gone for?”

I made it a goal to travel light and as minimalistic as possible on every single trip. Why? Because there are so many benefits to traveling light! Here are just a few…

Benefits of Traveling With Only a Carry-On Bag

  • Avoid checked baggage fees.
  • Bypassing the airline kiosks upon departure.
  • Having everything accessible to me throughout my flight.
  • Not having to wait for my bag at the carousel.
  • Not potentially losing or getting my bags destroyed in the carousel.
  • Fewer belongings for thieves to steal.
  • Easier onward travel.
  • Packing and unpacking is an easier ordeal.
  • Knowing exactly where everything is.
  • Less weight and stuff to lug around town.
  • Reduced stress thanks to minimalism and purposeful packing.

I learned along the way that one carry-on is enough. Some of my friends still can’t fathom how I can live out of a small bag for so long. But it’s entirely possible! We’ll share our tips on how you can pack just enough for your trip regardless of how long or short it is.

Tips for Traveling Far with a Single Carry-On

#1 Choose the Right Sized Carry-On Bag or Luggage

Most airlines allow a carry-on plus personal item (purse, suitcase, crossbody, small backpack, etc.). Ensuring that your bag fits an airline’s carry-on guidelines is very important. It will also determine how much you can pack and what you should leave behind.

The permitted baggage size is typically 56 x 36 x 23 cm or 22” x 14” x 9” inches.

Almost all airlines have strict restrictions for luggage weight and size. Always check airline carry on luggage policies prior to packing. This will prevent any problems when you’re about to board your flight.

I’ve seen people miss flights and get turned away due to having too much luggage, too big of luggage or not paying for the correct amount of luggage that they are trying to bring on board. If you’re trying to trick the gate attendant, it may end up costing you more than what you initially paid for your airfare.

What Are My Options?

When considering a carry on bag, you have two options; a travel backpack or carry on suitcase. It’s important to determine which one you prefer. Backpacks are great for mobility when you need to walk down dirt paths or narrow roads.

A carry on suitcase holds a bit more and allows you to roll your belongings around without too much strain on your body. I personally find it easier to pack using a carry on suitcase.

Carry-on Backpacks and Suitcases We Recommend

Osprey Fairview 40L Travel Backpack
osprey fairview backpack duffel bag womens
Osprey Fairview 40 Backpack (womens)

The Osprey Fairview 40L backpack ($188) is the size of a carry-on but it sits on your back. The bag has a main compartment that fully unzips so that you can access all your belongings easily. There’s a laptop compartment along with multiple pockets to stow your personal belongings and important documents. The bag has a waist belt, chest strap and back frame so that you can carry your bag with ease. All Osprey bags come with lifetime warranties.

Osprey Porter 46 Travel Backpack
osprey porter 46 travel backpack review schimiggy
Osprey Porter 36 Travel Backpack

The Osprey Porter Backpack is a little roomier than my Fairview. The compartments in the Porter style are much more clever than my Fairview. The molded sides also allow the bag to compress easily so that it fits into the overhead compartments on most planes.

The bag does not come with a back frame and the straps are a little more complicated to use than my Fairview bag. Overall, it’s still a clean looking bag and holds enough for months of travel. All Osprey bags come with lifetime warranties.

Herschel Trade Carry On Rolling Suitcase
Small Trade 23-Inch Rolling Suitcase HERSCHEL SUPPLY CO
Herschel Trade Carry-On Suitcase

The Herschel Trade Carry On suitcase is by far my favorite. It’s sleek and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. I love the durable lining and mesh pocket that separates your items in your luggage. I keep my clothes in the main compartment (handle side) and my shoes, accessories, undergarments, toiletries on the opposite side.

Buy Herschel on Nordstrom or Amazon.

Amazon Basics Carry On Suitcase

amazon basics carry on luggage review

Amazon Basics makes a pretty sturdy carry on spinner. The bag expands and easily packs into the overhead bins. It also comes in various fun colors and sizes that you can nest into each other. We’ve only had to replace it once but it’s been traveling with us for over 2 years now!

#2 Pack a Week’s Worth of Clothing

Intend on packing enough clothing for a week. When packing light, anticipate that you’ll be doing laundry every 7-10 days. At the end of the week, make time to do your laundry at the laundromat or pay for laundry service.

A week’s worth of clothing should give you enough outfit combinations to last a few months. Change up your outfit with accessories and by getting creative with your pieces. For example, wear your thin dresses as tunics with leggings underneath. 

Pro Tip: If you have a screen printed shirt, I recommend wearing clothing inside out if you want to wear a solid colored top. You can remove the label if it is too obvious. I’ve done this plenty of times and it’s allowed me to expand my outfit choices and reducing my carry on weight significantly.

#3 Pack Clothing that Matches

People often go shopping to prepare for their vacations. After 10 years of traveling, I’ve learned that I have everything I need for my trips from now until probably 20 years out.

Think about the things you love to wear day after day and bring those items. They will make dressing for your trip easy.

Find matching clothing for the pieces that you love to wear often. This will allow your wardrobe to be versatile. Include a pop of color or pattern here and there to help your outfits stand out. A good rule of thumb is to limit the majority of your wardrobe to neutral colors (black, white and nude) and choose three primary or secondary colors so that you can mix and match your outfits.

Here is a quick list of items I typically fit into my carry-on bag. You can click on the items to see the exact products that I bring with me on my travels.

#4 Expect to Do Laundry

When you pack light, expect to do laundry while traveling. It’s OK to wear certain pieces a few times before you launder.

When sorting clothing in your luggage, make sure you keep clean and dirty clothes apart from one another. Dirt and oils from your soiled clothing can cause bacteria to grow and make things turn a little funky.

Most inexpensive destinations will charge $2-3 USD per kilo of clothing laundered. This service typically takes a day and can be delivered to your accommodation or picked up. We were able to get our clothing laundered and folded for only $6 USD for two people in Vietnam. It was worth it!

In more developed countries, consider using a nearby laundromat. Make sure you have detergent and enough change to use the machines. I use Stoneworks laundry capsules and biodegradable dryer sheets while traveling. I place 3-4 detergent capsules and 3-4 dryer sheets in an empty Altoid tin which saves me a lot of space when traveling.

Ask your accommodation or hotel whom they recommend for laundering services in the area. They may have helpful information that will determine if you need to do your own laundry or outsource it to a local business.

#5 Pack Travel-Friendly Clothing

Travel-friendly clothing makes all the difference in the world. Travel apparel is typically lightweight, quick-drying, dry wicking, breathable and is often wrinkle-resistant. I go for styles that can be worn up or down and can easily be washed and hung dry when needed.

Travel clothing is also inherently comfortable. This will make your travels easier when you’re cooped up on a plane or train traveling long distances.

Some of our favorite travel clothing brands for men and women are Pashko, Athleta, lululemon and Carbon38.

Related: Best Travel Pants for Women and Best Travel Leggings for Women

#6 Use the KonMari Method When Packing

Marie Kondo not only changed my home, but she also changed how I travel. If you’ve never seen her show on Netflix, I highly recommend it. I also have her book which has a plethora of organization and decluttering tips to make your life stress free and purposeful.

I use the KonMari method to fold my clothing so that everything stands up and remains visible in my luggage. I also maximize the space available in my bag. I place clean clothing on one side and dirty clothes on the opposite side.

Using her folding method, I am able to fit more than I need in a single carry on, which gives me room for souvenirs and emergency storage space. I’ve also found that I do not need packing cubes when I am folding this way. #gamechanger

konmari method minimalist travel packing in carry-on to hawaii 10 day trip
Using the KonMari Method to pack my carry-on.

#7 Pack Solid Toiletries OR Buy Your Toiletries at Your Destination

Liquid toiletries can take up a lot of space. Instead of packing liquids, consider using solids such as shampoo bars, toothpaste and mouthwash pellets, sunscreen bars, face and body cleansing bars, etc.

Reducing the amount of liquid you carry will not only make your bag lighter, but it also prevents any spills from accidentally happening in your bag due to cabin pressure. Solids also tend to be a more zero waste and sustainable travel option.

You can also opt to buy toiletries at your travel destination. If your hotel has toiletries, use those instead. I love when hotels have toiletry dispensers!

If you decide to bring make-up, make sure you bring only the necessities. A favorite lipstick, eyeliner, blush, eyeshadow and mascara should suffice.

#8 Wear Your Heaviest Clothing While Traveling

Instead of packing your heavy clothing, which can cause you to go over carry-on weight limits, wear it on your body until you arrive at your destination. If you have heavy electronics, wear them in your pockets until you’re onboard and then offload them into your personal bag or carry-on. Voila! You made it.

#9 Minimize Your Tech

Tech can be heavy. I opted to bring the smallest versions of the tech items I could not live without. Here’s a quick list of my tech must-haves:

If you like to read, consider downloading a reader on your phone or reading from your laptop. I personally love listening to podcasts and audiobooks while traveling. 

What Else Is In My Bag?

I have a few other items in my bag that aren’t necessities but rather luxuries. 

Final Thoughts

After traveling the world with one backpack and carry-on for months at a time, I’m convinced a carry-on is the only way to go. I can never see myself over-packing again. Purposeful packing and bringing only the items I need is liberating and saves me so much money and time!

The next time you travel, challenge yourself to pack a single carry-on only and let me know what you think. I hope you join me on this minimalist journey! #carryonlife #sustainabletravel

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how to pack for a long trip in a small carry on bag

 

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