How to Pack: Carry-On Only

carry on packing tips
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For a long time I took a large suitcase filled with everything I do (and don’t need) wherever I went around the world or within the country. Actually sometimes I’d even pack a small suitcase for a weekend road trip! Needless to say, I was overpacking, as well as wasting time and effort with every extra jacket I just didn’t need to pack. So I started travelling with carry-on only on trips of up to 10 days. Any more than that and I’ll still take a full size suitcase, packed 50-70% to allow room for shopping (some habits are hard to kick).

Here’s how to “do” Travel with Carry-On Only…



Here’s the most important step: planning and being logical/rational about what you should AND SHOULDN’T take with you.

The best way to plan is to write a quick list, starting from the bottom and working your way up your body. Then think of extras like: technology (laptop, phone, chargers, camera, etc.) and think of ways they can be reduced in size/weight. For example, I have stopped using a DSLR camera and switched to an Olympus PEN camera (pictured below) which saves a tonne of space and weight.

Olympus PEN

Adopt little tricks, like downsizing typically heavy/large items.

The Essentials Only

While writing your list, remember the golden rule: PACK ONLY WHAT YOU NEED. Everything else you can buy when you’re there. Anything that brings an “I might need this” thought to mind, leave it out. Here are the bare necessities for a 3-10 day trip:

1 pair of comfortable (walking) shoes

2 pairs of bottoms (trousers/jeans/shorts/skirt)

3 tops

1 jacket

A day bag (backpack or handbag)

3 pairs of underwear (before you freak out, see below on “washing your clothes in a sink”)

2 pairs of socks (unlike underwear, you can get 2-3 days out of socks if you’re not sweating up a storm)

Make-up (don’t overdo it – BB cream, concealer and mascara will do the trick)

Skin (moisturiser with SPF, cleanser or make-up wipes and lip balm)


Now, to the packing. Some people are “rollers” while some people are “folders”. So the argument goes, “rolling” your clothes saves space and wrinkles, however I’ve tried both and tend to just fold my clothes to save time/effort as I’m travelling so much nowadays.

The Perfect Carry-On Bag

Here’s another big space saver: pack your heavy items (laptop, camera, etc.) in your handbag, as well as your cosmetics if you like to have them on hand. Below are some great sizes for carry-on handbags:

Washing your Clothes in the Hotel Sink

Here’s precisely why you will only need a few pairs of underwear and a few tops — recycle them! The easiest way to keep your clothes on rotation is to wash your clothes in the hotel sink, using the bar of soap (seriously, it does the trick!) So that you don’t always appear to be wearing the same clothes in photos, pick neutral tones or simple black t-shirts that go unrecognised when paired with a light scarf or a jacket over top.


Et voila! What are some of your tips for down-sizing your travel luggage!? Share below!

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    April 14, 2016 at 5:42 am

    […] a carry on yet. Taking just a carry on for a few days seems slightly beyond me, but this helpful how to guide makes it look so […]

    Linda Tucker
    January 5, 2016 at 3:52 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this advice on packing only a carry-on for a trip! I really like your advice on making a list of what you need, and then trying to find ways to make those items fit better. It sounds like it might be a good idea to invest in some travel electronics, like a smaller camera, laptop or tablet.

    Annalisa Unbedacht
    December 15, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Love! Linking this to my Hawaii blog.

    Clipping Path Service
    November 27, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    Wow ! wonderful and gorgeous photography posting about carry on only pack it’s also helpful information all of us so thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

    October 13, 2015 at 12:17 am

    This is great! I am a chronic overpacker. I will definitely have to keep these tips in mind for my next trip.

    Backpack Babe
    October 6, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Packing carry on is seriously the best! You can get everywhere pretty quickly and then you’re also only packing what you need 🙂 perfection xx and yes! i feel like I need to downside my DSLR at some point. It’s so heavy but I love the photos on it!

    October 3, 2015 at 6:10 am

    This is a really good guide. Although it seems like common sense, you’ve definitely hit the major points. I should try this for my next trip. Thank you for sharing.

    October 1, 2015 at 11:51 am

    As much as I’d love to travel lighter (and probably should), I doubt I will ever be able to kick my bad habit of overpacking. Your post has inspired me to at least try to cut back on my next trip! I’m sure my boyfriend would appreciate any effort put into this, as I tend to take up some of his precious luggage space as well…


    October 1, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Oh man, I need to try this next trip I take! I’m always carrying too much stuff AND I’m a horrible carry-on packer.. I generally take 10 hours worth of things to do in my carry on, despite the flight being only 3 hours long…

    What makes me suffer most though is still the DSLR camera. I can’t seem to part ways with ma babyyy!


    October 1, 2015 at 12:55 am

    I’m the kind of person who always takes way to much stuff with me! Next time I’m going to try to remember your words…

    September 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    I have a hard time squeezing my things into a carry on, as I have to also bring a bi-pap machine for sleep apnea. But I do use XL Ziploc bags for my clothing, and sit on them before zipping (similar to those vacuum bags) lol.

    My advice – set out everything you think you need, then cut it in half.

    September 30, 2015 at 3:40 am

    Thank you for sharing this! Because all these tips I find online on how to travel with just a carry-on are really useful and smart, but they never consider wintertime! 😀

    September 29, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I’m a big believer in packing light.

    You only need half as much as you originally thought about packing!

    Julie Santos
    September 29, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    My husband and I finished our trip from Italy and I feel in retrospect we should’ve done a carry-on only. For the 14-day trip I only wore a fraction of the clothes I packed and for make-up I only wore foundation and lip balm. There’s always next time. I do pack a lot of underwear and instead of washing, we throw it away. It kind of helps lighten our load.

    Jess ~ Gibbon Travel
    September 29, 2015 at 3:58 am

    I’m packing this week for a 4-day adventure, and have decided to only pack a carry-on. Thanks for the tips!!

    September 27, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Great video, but personally I like to pack toiletries, too. My tip for this is to ask for sample size cosmetics when buying my regular stuff – you can get face wash, cleanser, creams, makeup remover etc, all in sachet sizes, some will last several days even. Also, I always take the vanity packs from hotels, as well as the lotions and soaps – perfect sizes! I’ve even got tiny bottles for laundry detergent, which I prefer to regular soap. Also always pack a pair of sandals or flip flops, hotels can get really stuffy in winter.

    September 27, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I even managed to travel for 12 days in three countries with just a carry-on .. haha, just because I hate to travel with huge luggage and stuff 🙂

    Lisa |

    September 26, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    I could never fit in a carry on :/ If I can fit when Im going, I cant fit when I am returning 😀

    P.S. I adore your boots

    September 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    I’m a carry-on only girl so these tips are very helpful! I never thought to pack by body part so I’ll have to keep that in mind next time!

    September 26, 2015 at 3:49 am

    Also wearing the clothes and shoes on the flight that take up the most room!

    • Brooke Saward
      September 26, 2015 at 5:05 am

      YES! I do that all the time too – totally forgot that one !! 🙂

    September 26, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Love all of these tips! travelling with carry on only is such a life savor, especially if you’re doing a multi-city trip!

    September 25, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I switched to carry-on luggage a while ago, I was sick of carrying a huge pack. I’ve tried rolling too and while I still roll trousers I agree with you: I fold everything else as it’s easier to take them out and see what you have.
    I downsized my pro Canon DSLR earlier this year as the weight of it was beginning to really bug me, and also prevent me using it as much as I’d like. I went for a Fuji XT1 and I’m over the moon with it, it has totally invigorated my photography, as well as being as light as a feather! Win win!

    Chic Therapy
    September 25, 2015 at 11:00 pm

    I got a suction bag last year and It is wonderful! I am able to pack a ton of stuff that still fit in my hand luggage. I also plan my outfits, and then throw in two extra tshirts. My DSLR always has to travel with me. However it adds extra LBS to my luggage, so I got a 35mm lens, and this has dramatically reduced the weight of my luggage.

    September 25, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Since i did my first backpacking trip to cambodia my amounts of shoes, trouwers and other stuff dropped as well! i love traveling with carry-on bagage only. less time in the morning to think what to wear because you dont have 101 choices. Im als bringing always clothes with me that i can wear with anything. i mean everthing will match 😉 oh and im a rolling kind of girl 😉

    September 25, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Many of these tips I already use, but thanks for all of them. On clothes washing, just be sure to wash immediately when taking them off for the day. They don’t always dry quickly especially jeans and can’t be left hanging when it is time to move on.

    September 25, 2015 at 9:10 pm



    Love this blog

    September 25, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    I spent 3 months in Europe- in WINTER mind you- with only a carry on rolling bag and a large satchel. I wore my coat and winter boots on the plane and did laundry once a week. And sure I got a little sick of some of my clothes, but I also got very creative and combining new outfits. The single most important trick I use: make sure everything goes with everything else and pack things that you can layer, layer, layer. So when it’s 60 and sunny, you wear your light sweater over a t shirt, but when it’s 20 and snowing, you wear the same t shirt, light sweater, with a vest, heavy sweater, long sleeve shirt, scarf and coat. It can be done!

    Jabeen Waheed
    September 25, 2015 at 7:16 pm

    This is so helpful! I really struggle with ‘I may need this…’ LOL
    Jabeen x

    September 25, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    2,5 weeks to Europe with only a carry on luggage?? Wow! What kind of sorcery is that? 😀
    Please do share your packing tips, would love to learn more.
    I can only have carry on suitcase when I travel domestically.

    September 25, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I really need a decent carry on bag which I hadn’t thought of.

    September 25, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Excellent! I’m flying to Lisbon today with hand luggage – I usually travel with hand luggage but definitely still need pointers to help pack ergonomically!
    When flying with EasyJet, I bring a small handbag, wear it under a big cardigan or jacket with my larger hand luggage over the same shoulder when boarding. A bit naughty but it’s impossible to travel with only one bag on easyJet!! Mwahahaha.

    September 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    These are super useful tips! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
    I’ve managed to do a 2.5 week trip to Europe in the winter with only a carry-on and a large handbag, and I barely repeated clothing! I felt quite proud of myself! Especially with bringing my laptop and DSLR for blogging, it was TOUGH.
    – Maddy

    Izzy Matias
    September 25, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    I have a bad habit of over packing as well! HAHA! It feels weird to carry a small bag, but it would be so much more convenient! Will definitely keep these tips in mind for my next trip 🙂

    Zoe Joy
    September 25, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    My carry on always ends up looking like a pregnant woman ready to deliver! Once I almost didn’t get it into the overhead bin! Oh me and my over packing issues lol. Thanks for the tips

    September 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    This is so me and my sister! We refuse to check luggage so we always pack in a carry on! I wear all black 90% of the time anyways so I have a rule to pack all black clothing (pants, tops, shoes) and then will change it up with scarves, hats, coats, jewelry! Same goes in the summer but I will add a couple of sandals since they are small and don’t take up much space!

    girl bout town
    September 25, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Haha glad to read that folding clothes is fine..after rolling my clothes for years I didn’t really notice a major difference. And love the tip about packing neutrals.
    I’m trying to get better with packing lightly but I do find that I end up packing clothes for “incase”. Incase we go to a fancy dinner, incase I need heels, incase its gets crazy cold, incase I feel like swimming.
    I think the best thing to remember is that wherever you go, if it’s really important – you can most likely just buy it there.

    September 25, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Great tips! Can’t wait to try them out on my next travels!! 🙂

    Louise |

    September 25, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I carefully plan outfits so that on trips of 10+ days I MUST wear every item at least 3 times to make it worth packing. i too wash undergarments in the sink (including socks) but ONLY because I’ve invested in quick drying items. I also dont carry a $900 carry on, BUT we did invest in nice, sturdy suitcases after my last bag was destroyed by an airline right at the beginning of a 3 week trip. I also carry my DSLR and the lenses I need. BUT, that is because it is my serious hobby..I plan trips based on photo locations…

    September 25, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for the tips & the bag inspiration!

    September 25, 2015 at 7:35 am

    I feel a bit like a pervert as I noticed this… in the video you did not pack a bra 😀 Or I missed it 😀

    Courtney @The First Rule of Travel
    September 25, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Packing cubes have changed my life. They seriously make a huge difference in space which I never imagined before. Plus it makes it easy to dig around in my bag without a pair of underwear or something falling out :-X

    Zara Aitken
    September 25, 2015 at 7:16 am

    I’ve found it useful to not spend $895 on a carry on bag!!!

    September 25, 2015 at 7:12 am

    I downsized my camera two trips ago and then when I got back I was so disappointed with the photos I went back to taking my DSLR again – my only “heavy annoying”item.