I enjoy the challenge of getting everything I need into carry-on bags. Not only do I save time at the baggage carousel, and avoid lost bags, I save money. It also makes it easier to get around. Hopping into a Lyft or onto a train is so much better when you can hold your stuff in your lap or at your feet. Depending on what country you’re in, that shared luggage rack can be a theft risk. I know a vacation can be a fun opportunity to pull out all the cover-ups and hats you never get to wear at home. But, I think you can still have fun while packing for two weeks in a carry-on bag. After all, the purpose of travel is to take the weight of daily life off your shoulders, right? Here’s my advice for packing for your next trip.

Packing List

There’s a saying that you should always pack half the stuff and twice the money as you think you need. I think it’s pretty accurate. You will likely never forget something that would completely derail a trip – except for maybe your passport or a medication. Even with pared down packing, I often find myself returning home with a few unworn items. I try to keep myself on track not to forget any of the essentials using this handy checklist.

There are likely things you will always need – I keep a mental list and start with these:

  • Toiletries
  • Rain coat
  • Glasses
  • Round brush (my one beauty splurge)
  • Workout outfit + sneakers
  • Laundry bag (I like using SpaceBags which cut down on space and smells)
  • Something to read (I usually bring my original Kindle or my iPad)
  • Packing Cubes (the white Eagle Creek ones are see-through and minimize space easily)
  • Sunglasses (TOMS Travelers are indestructible)

Then you’ll need clothes:

  • Socks
  • Undergarments
  • T-shirts
  • Pants/Shorts/Skirts
  • Dresses/Suits
  • Shoes
  • Accessories
  • Outerwear (depending on the time of year and climate)

You decide what you need, but I generally lay out what I want to bring and then cut it in half. Accessories can really help make new outfits – scarves, hats, jewelry, ties, etc. I would suggest packing for one week and repurposing everything for your second week of travel.

A few exceptions and substitutions:

  • Shampoos and sunscreens – you can get dry and solid versions of both, but depending on how long you’ll be gone and what you need you might need more. I have checked a bag because of sunscreen (it did kill me a little to pay $50 to do so).
  • Bulky coats and boots – wear them onto the plane. You can take them off or carry them. Don’t ever waste space in your bag for these unless you must.
  • Ski and Snorkel gear – if you like using your own things, or renting isn’t an option, bringing your own is sometimes the only way to go.

Staying Clean

The hardest part about packing less, is facing the fact that you will be wearing something more than once. If you’re headed to a warm place or plan to be active on your trip, I know that makes it harder. Have no fear, you can still do it! Here are a few options:

  • Do some sink laundry. I have been impressed with the Tide Sport Travel Sink Packets. They have Febreeze in them, so they are more forgiving of a less than vigorous wash. 
  • Try a portable washing machine in a bag. Check out the Scrubba Wash Bag, it weighs less than 5 oz.
  • Laundry services provided by hotels are typically insane – like $6 to clean a pair of underwear? You could just buy more! One good option is to search for nearby laundromats or dry cleaners that have services at a fraction of the cost.

Picking a Bag

Ever since the airline industry* starting charging for bags, the overhead bins on planes are getting crowded. I used to fret about this but as I have traveled more, my status helps me board sooner. Packing a small bag also helps, so my carry-on tends to fit easily between other roller bags. I have three standard bags I rotate between, depending on the trip. *Thank you for being an exception to this, Southwest!

I wrote about my love for this bag last year, but I continue to love it. The 40L Black Hole Duffel is the perfect size and the zipper is incredible strong. I love that you can carry it as a duffel or a backpack and it’s water-resistant. I have been using this for work and play.

Quite awhile back, I wrote about my Tortuga and subsequent packing challenge for Japan. I have continued to use this bag for more active trips when I am going to be walking long distances with my luggage. The waist belt is nicely padded and there is an upper strap you can fasten to better distribute the weight. I also really like that the belt has pockets that allow you to easily access your phone or credit cards.

I have this bag in orange and lime green, but they’re a bit beat up to be blog-worthy. These bags are super lightweight and very inexpensive, so it’s not a big deal if they get a bit tossed around. I have lent these out to many friends for their trips and everyone loves them. Sold by eBags, the Travelers Club 20″ Madison Hardside Spinner is really unbeatable on price and durability. And, it is small enough to fit the strictest airline bag dimension bins.

I hope this has been helpful in getting you packing for two weeks in a carry-on bag!

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