Packing for 16 Days in a Carry-On Suitcase

At the end of December and beginning of January I traveled for 16 days in a row, which was a new record for me! I traveled to four different locations – Indiana, Illinois, London and Paris – and packed for the entire trip in just my carry-on suitcase. It took a lot of careful planning and some strategic wardrobe choices, but I was so glad to not have a large, heavy suitcase with me during this trip. In my last post, I shared with you six tips and tricks for smooth traveling. In this post I’ll revisit some of those tips and share steps you can use to try packing for a long trip in a carry-on suitcase too!

Step 1: Write out your packing list before putting anything in your suitcase

When packing for a trip, I begin to check the weather forecast of my destination three or four days before leaving. Once I have a good idea of what to expect from the weather, I start writing my packing list. I separate the list into tops, bottoms, one piece items (like dresses or jumpsuits), shoes, undergarments, and toiletries. For this 16-day trip, I packed three pairs of pants, eight tops (like long-sleeve t-shirts and turtlenecks), three layering pieces (like ponchos and heavier sweaters), two dresses, and two pairs of shoes (a pair of rose gold flats and a pair of black leather booties). Because we were with my husband’s family for Christmas halfway through the trip, I knew I was going to have the ability to do laundry. This meant I only had to pack enough for roughly eight days at a time.

It’s important to approach packing to allow for wardrobe options. By packing items that can be easily mixed and matched, you’re prepared if the weather changes unexpectedly or you’re not as excited about an outfit once arriving to your destination. Choosing a color palette helps as well because it forces you to limit extra things, like shoes and accessories. For this trip, I stuck to a basic color palette – black, white, camel and chambray – with accents of burgundy and turquoise.

Step 2: Edit your packing list throughout the process

I don’t ever print my packing list until I’m ready to actually begin putting clothes into my suitcase. That way, I can easily edit the list as I finalize my packing plan. What helped in preparing to pack in a carry-on for this trip was thinking about wardrobe choices as needing to be practical first and fashionable second. When I commited to that mentality, whittling down my packing list became much easier! For example, I had originally planned to bring four pairs of pants with me. But by the time my suitcase was zipped shut, I had reduced that number to three – packing four pairs gave me too many options and, therefore, wasn’t practical. Similarly, I reduced the original number of tops and sweaters because, as I considered my color palette, I found more and more opportunities to mix and match my clothing pieces which allowed me to bring less.

I also found it necessary to edit my packing list because of the amount of space I had available. Things like an extra cardigan or an extra t-shirt to have “just in case” begin to take up too much space when you only have a carry-on suitcase to pack in!

Step 3: Gather, organize and fold your items

Once your packing list is finished, begin to gather all of the clothing items needing to be packed. Once gathered, lay out everything on a large, flat surface (I used my bed) so you can easily see everything you’re planning to pack. This is also when you can use the KonMari method of folding that I mentioned as one of my six tips in my last post! Here’s a quick step by step photo tutorial for how to fold a shirt using this method:



Step 4: Use packing cubes to keep things organized

Before this trip, I had always been slightly skeptical about using packing cubes. But because of how many days I was going to be traveling and how many different destinations I had, I decided to give them a try. After this trip, I heartily encourage you to give them a try as well! There are few varieties of packing cubes available, but these are the ones that I used.

Using packing cubes helped keep everything neatly folded in my suitcase during my 16-day trip. They also allowed me to keep my clothing items organized – pants and dresses in one large cube, tops and sweaters in a second large cube, tights and hair brushes in a medium cube, and all of my toiletry items in one of the smallest cubes. Throughout the trip, the packing cubes also allowed me to keep dirty items separate from the clean items, which helped me better keep track of what I had or had not worn! By containing these items within the cubes, it clearly identified the amount of space that was left for extra items. Here’s a top and bottom view of my pants, dresses, tops and sweaters folded in their neat piles and then placed within the packing cubes – everything fit nice and tidy!

Step 5: Place everything into your suitcase, including any extra items on top

Once all your packing cubes are filled, place them into your suitcase. Then, add in any extra items on top! In the large top pocket of my suitcase I placed one of my heavier ponchos and my velvet cape. Both were great outerwear options that fit within the suitcase and coordinated with everything else I was packing. On top of my packing cubes, I added in a small pouch holding my undergarments, my makeup, curling iron and toiletries, and a pouch containing my jewelry!

As Kurt and I were traveling home from this trip, we reflected on this experience of traveling with just carry-on suitcases. Overall, we loved the mobility and flexibility we had when we moved from place to place. Without large, heavy suitcases with us we were able to easily take public transportation and not get separated or singled out as “tourists”.

During our conversation I also was able to quickly identify which clothing items I would skip or replace the next time we chose to travel this way. For example, I packed a chambray button down shirt that I thought was going to receive a lot of wear. However because of the pockets on the front of the shirt, I didn’t like how it layered with a lot of the other options I had packed! Now I know that smoother layering options like t-shirts or turtlenecks work much better when you have to mix and match as much as I had to.


So to recap, here are my quick steps to packing for a long trip in a carry-on:

  • When building your packing list, make practical choices first and then fashionable choices second.
  • Lay your items out on a large, flat surface so you can see everything you have.
  • Edit, edit, edit!
  • Use the KonMari folding method and packing cubes to keep your items neat and organized within your suitcase.
  • Place extra items, like toiletries or bulky sweaters, on top to fit within the space you have.


I hope these steps will inspire you to try packing for a longer trip in a carry-on suitcase! I’d love to know – what other travel tips do you use most often? What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken with just a carry-on suitcase? Happy traveling!


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