How to Pack for a Long Trip in a Carry On Suitcase

“How did you pack for ten days in a carry on??”

This might just be the most popular question I get when I talk about travel. I’ll be honest, I used to be the overpacker that needed a full on checked bag plus a personal item plus a tote bag/duffel situation. I didn’t do any sort of planning and just stuffed my bags to their capacity because I wanted options.

Not anymore my friends.

Now, I personally have never lost luggage and I haven’t had a horrible experience that led me to use carry on bags. But my friends have, more than once, and that has me convinced that a carry on is the way to go – when you can swing it. Before I dive into some of my never-fail packing tips, let’s break down WHEN you should pack a carry-on because it doesn’t always make sense.

reason #1: warm weather destinations that are two weeks or less.

We were in Morocco and Egypt for ten days and somehow managed to squeeze ten days worth of outfits into a single carry on suitcase. The main reason why? The temps were warm so the items I packed were lightweight and more compact. It’s way easier to rollup flowy dresses and light skirts compared to heavier sweaters and jeans. The shoes are also less bulky (think sandals and heels vs boots). Nine times out of ten, if you’re heading somewhere warm, you can totally get in all of your travel must-haves in one bag that can fit the overhead bin.

reason #2: cold weather destinations that are one week or less.

Cold weather is a little trickier. We’re only going to be in France for six days but because the weather is looking like low 50’s/high 40’s, I can’t pack satin slip dresses and sandals. Instead, I’m packing a few sweaters, some jeans and long sleeve shirts that can easily be layered with each other to create a few different outfits. My rule of thumb for cold weather destinations is that if it’s less than a week, you should be able to fit 7 days worth of looks into your carry on. Anything over that, you might run into some challenges.

Now, you’re smart. If you’re going to freezing cold weather for three weeks, a carry on bag won’t cut it. Unless you’re planning to wear the same thing every day. Same goes if you’re heading somewhere warm for two months. Unless you’re down to straight up backpack it, a carry on might not work. And of course, if you’re planning to bring back large items or liquids like wine or full size beauty products, you’ll need to either pack an extra suitcase that can be checked or get something while you’re abroad and ship/check back. But, for most situations, it can be done. And here’s how.

My Never Fail Carry On Packing Tips

Tip #1: Get the Right Luggage

Not all carry on suitcases are created equal. I have the Away carry on which is great for quick trips or weekend getaways but my all time favorite carry on suitcase is the CALPAK Ambeur 20 inch Rolling Suitcase. I love the expandable zipper, the quality hardshell case and the little pockets on the left side flap for easy organization. Brandon and I both use this bag for all long trips and it has never let us down. Warning though – if you DO use the expandable zipper and your bag is stuffed, some airlines might try to tell you it won’t fit overhead. If it’s a regular size plane, you’re fine. But if it’s a small plane for those mini domestic flights, you might have to check it at the gate.

In addition to a good suitcase, you need a great personal item. A purse won’t cut it if you’re jetting off for 7-10 days. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with using my Herschel Retreat Backpack. It’s not too large and can pass as your personal item but holds SO much. I love the laptop sleeve and adjustable straps. I usually fit my camera gear, laptop, toiletries, change of clothes and extra random items in my bag. It’s pretty amazing.


Tip #2: Plan Your Outfits…and take photos

First of all – ignore my hair. These aren’t gorgeous mirror selfies but they are great examples of how I plan out my outfits for every trip. I usually print out my itinerary, put together outfits and then assign outfits to days. I save all of this in my Notes app as a quick reference. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to certain outfits on certain days but it helps to ensure that a) you don’t overpack and b) you can identify which items can be worn with multiple looks.

I always pack neutral pieces for longer trips (well let’s be real, most trips) and try to stay away from super trendy items that can only be worn once. My go-to’s are tan, white and black shoes, a pair of black jeans, a pair of blue jeans, lots of simple tees, a classic layering piece like a leather jacket or jean jacket and a little black dress.


Tip #3: Organize Your Toiletries

This is usually where I have the most fun with packing. I have major OCD so organizing my travel sized beauty, skincare and other toiletry items makes me super happy.

  1. Instead of spending money on the not so great travel sized hair products, get reusable travel sized containers and fill them with your favorite products. I get mine in the travel sized section at Target – they’re like $.99.
  2. Separate your products into different bags instead of piling everything into one large pack. They’re much easier to pack this way and you can easily find what you need. I usually have one bag for hair products and one bag for everything else like toothpaste, lotion, bandaids, deodorant, etc.
  3. Pack a separate small bag with items you might need on the plane or for long travel days and keep this bag in a place that’s easy to access. I pack mine with contact solution/case, toothbrush & tooth paste, lotion, deodorant, wet wipes, Zicam swabs (I hate getting sick), hand sanitizer, chapstick, advil and then usually my Mixed Chicks Morning After foam to give my curls a little refresh I also throw in a clean pair of undies in this bag so I can take everything into the bathroom to freshen up after a long flight.
  4. You don’t need every single makeup product you own. I pack the essentials: bronzer, foundation, highlighter, eyeshadow palette, mascara, brow mascara, eyeliner and a few lip sticks (usually a nude and a red). That’s it.


TIP #4: Pack the perfect travel essentials

These are hands down some of my favorite items that I pack for every single trip I take. They’re compact and fit right into my carry on suitcase or personal item.

Travel Steamer – I used to carry a slightly larger steamer that I still take on shorter trips if I have some extra room in my bag but we scored this one before Morocco and now I’m obsessed. It’s the size of my palm and and not only irons clothes but it also steams the more delicate pieces. I also love that it has the dual voltage so it won’t blow up in international sockets.

Filtering Water Bottle – If I’m going to stick to one thing when I travel, it’s going to be water consumption. I get extremely dehydrated on flights and when traveling in general so having this water bottle that comes with a filter ensures I can fill up anywhere (on the plane, at the airport, at the hotel, etc.) and also reminds me to drink more water.

Mixed Chicks Morning After Redefining Foam – this is for all of my curlies (or wavies) out there. Scrunch a few pumps of this lightweight foam into your hair to freshen up next day curls without having to wash, shampoo, condition, dry, style, etc. I usually order a few of these travel sized bottles to pack for longer trips and I love giving my a hair a break of the normal wash and styling routine.

Outlet Adapter & Converter – It took me forever to finally get my hands on the right type of outlet converter/adapter. To be honest, I still don’t know 100% which is which so I could be wrong but most items you plug into international sockets need a converter (converting the voltage? sounds about right). Your Apple chargers automatically do that but other items like a steamer or curling iron need to convert the voltage so this dual plug that comes with various outlet heads is going to be a life changer.


Tip #5: Make the Most out of your personal item

I hinted at this a little bit earlier but your personal item is going to be the most used during travel – or at least it should be. If you’ve packed your carry on correctly, it’s going to be packed tight and you don’t want to keep opening and closing in between flights. I like to get the most out of my personal item by keeping these things packed at the very top:

  • chargers + cords: I keep my computer charger, phone charger, headphones and any other tech items I might need during a flight at the very top of my bag so I can take it out and keep in the seat with me without having to dig through my bookbag.
  • must have toiletries: keep that mini bag of essentials like lotion, toothpaste and anything you might need to freshen up at the top of the bag so you can grab it and pop into the airplane bathroom before landing from a long flight.
  • extra clothes: always always keep a fresh pair of undies and a change of clothes (maybe two) in your personal item. Whether you’re doing a carry on suitcase or checking a bag, this is key.

Other things you need to know…

Roll your clothes very tightly and stuff the small items in your shoes to maximize space in your suitcase.

If you’re planning to workout, instead of pakcing your gym shoes, wear them on travel days so they don’t take up a ton of room in your bag. Same goes for a goat or jacket. I usually either wear my coat or carry it instead of trying to stuf fit into my suitcase.

Don’t try to force it. You know yourself and your itinerary. If it’s impossible to pack for your trip in a small suitcase, then use a checked size bag. I always at least try the smaller bag first and then edit down my outfits. Every now and then, I’ll use a bigger bag and it’s totally OK.

I hope you guys found this helpful! If you have any other questions at all or some packing tips of your own, comment below on this post!


  1. 4.3.19
    Alexandria Cole-Davis said:

    This is an awesome post.. I am stealing several tips for my upcoming trip to Cuba thanks for the details. šŸ™‚ Thanks for all the amazing photos and videos. I have added Morocco to my travel list too. šŸ™‚

  2. 4.6.19
    tabitha said:

    Great post! This is a nice little travel pack guide, and one I’m still working on myself when I pack. For some reason when I roll my clothes, it seems more bulkier than when I fold them.


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