Carry On Only: My Packing Strategy


Otherwise known as, how I got all of my stuff for almost two weeks of travel into those bags. Here it is! The post so many of you have been asking for. I do not like checking bags and avoid it whenever possible but truly, it’s not that hard. The more thought you put into your selections, the better you’ll be able to consolidate only the things you truly need.

Does it seem like a lot? A little? I guess it depends on your packing perspective. I do my best to find a good balance, bringing enough that I don’t have to cramp my style but not so much that I am dragging around a bunch of unnecessary stuff. I’ll walk through my general approach and I hope some of you find it useful!

Let’s start out with the bag I consider my personal item. I always use a shoulder bag of some kind and keep my absolute essentials inside. This will always, without fail include my toothbrush and toothpaste, spray deodorant, makeup, hairbrush, wallet (wristlet) and passport. Additional items would be anything required for entertainment during the flight – for me that means ebooks checked out from the library, audiobooks/podcasts, and a knitting project. As long as you have a decent sized shoulder bag, the essentials should fit in there, no problem. The other things that also belong in my shoulder bag are my camera and lens but those aren’t pictured here since they are taking the photo! (This is the bag pictured here. This is another bag I use often while traveling and also love.)

This bag doesn’t have any inside pockets but it does have a handy little pouch. I always keep a nail file, my all time favorite lip gloss, red lipstick (because you never know when you might need killer lip color!), hand cream and ear buds in there. This little Sephora manicure kit is another essential of mine (mine is several years old but this one seems basically the same.) These items go with me everywhere, everyday in this bag – not just while traveling.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the bag of keep-with-me-at-all-times essentials, let’s move on to the rest of it. Everything else goes into my suitcase. I keep toiletries to the bare minimum. For me, this includes shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturizer and hair primer, all in TSA-approved sizes (bottles courtesy of the Target travel size section.) You could just use shampoo and conditioner provided in hotels, but I’m too picky about mine and need the consistency. I also brought a razor (duh), but opted to purchase shaving gel when we got to our destination to avoid having to pack an extra bottle. I also purchased sunblock once we got there because I knew I would need far more than a travel size bottle.

I also bring one nail color (an all purpose neutral is a good choice for travel) with base coat and the world’s best top coat. I also brought and LOVE these little nail polish remover wipes from Sephora to avoid bringing a whole bottle. And of course, extra hair ties.

Possibly the most restraint required of me was in packing shoes. I only brought four pairs total (one I wore during travel, so only three actually needed to be packed.) Two pairs of sandals and two pairs of heels. Honestly I probably could have done with just one pair of each, but this shoe lover just couldn’t pare the selection down any farther. I need at least a few options. Also, plenty of bras and underwear. If there is a category where I would never want to skimp while packing, it’s underwear. I take at least 1.5-2 pairs per day we will be gone. You just never want to run out of clean undies, am I right?!

Dresses are my absolute favorite clothing option for travel because they require no mixing or matching – a great low maintenance outfit. I’m all about that kind of simplicity. However, I did bring just a few pairs of shorts and a few tank tops. Additionally, a couple of belts for completing some of the outfits, a small baggie with my most frequently worn earrings (most from Erin McDermott, Tiny Galaxies and Rana Salame), and my curling wand. I didn’t bring a hair dryer since hotels typically provide those but I just don’t function without my curling wand. High maintenance? Yes, I’m aware.

On a very important related note, invest in some outlet adapters for international trips. They come in extremely handy! I bought this set of three which are for use in Italy, and it was just right – one for each of our phone chargers and one for the curling wand. Whatever you do, read the specifications and reviews to be sure the adapters you buy are suitable for your destination.

And, my massive array of dresses. I think I brought about 11 or 12. It seems like a lot but given that it was in the high 90s, extremely sunny and we walked several miles every day, this amount of clothing saw me through to the end of our trip but not one second longer. I was sweaty almost the entire time.

Also, I decided to not waste space by packing separate PJs and just slept in Ben’s (clean, obviously) t-shirts every night.

I mentioned recently how much I adore my new suitcase but let me just say it again. I love this thing! It is so cute, fits just the right amount of stuff, and the hard exterior keeps everything protected. Though it seems to be currently sold out, careful internet searching or repeatedly emailing Zappos might do the trick. It is the Diane von Furstenberg 20″ Saluti spinner, in case you want to start looking.

As for how I actually get ALL of that stuff into this little bag, it’s pretty simple. Squash and squash some more until it all fits. In one side, I squash together all bras and underwear, toiletries (in a super fancy, high class Ziplock bag), jewelry, belts, shorts and tanks. Oh, and bathing suits! I forgot to include those in the photo but they are in the bra/underwear category – easily squashed and they don’t take up much space.

I squash a couple pairs of shoes on top and shut that compartment.

In the other side of the suitcase, I start by rolling up any dresses that aren’t overly prone to wrinkling. Those are the bottom layer.

The rest of the dresses get folded up, stacked, and piled on top. (The dress in the front is currently on sale and one of my favorite dresses of all time. Get at it!)

Can we squash one more pair of shoes in there? Heck yeah! The curling wand is easily slipped into one side of the clothes. And that’s pretty much it!

I hope this is useful for some of you. Please let me know if you have questions about sources, additional info, or suggestions for areas I could expand on.