Ladyguide: How to Pack Everything in One Carry-on

When I told my coworker I planned to spend two weeks in Europe with just one carry-on, she didn’t believe me. But I believed in myself, or rather my ability to make it work with a limited wardrobe. If you follow my plan, you will never have to check a bag again.

A picture of a woman standing next to the chain bridge in Budapest at night
Look how free and easy I am standing by the Danube in Budapest. It’s because I pack light.

Let’s get a few things out of the way: my system means you will have to repeat outfits, wash undies in the sink, and figure out how to use the laundromat in another country. But if you give up on having a fresh outfit everyday, you become more mobile and have less to weigh you down.

Before the packing list, here’s the extras you need that you might not normally pack.

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  • Laundry soap: I put Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap in a travel bottle. It can be used for both my hair and my stinky shirts. Tide also sells individual use packets, but that’s an extra liquid to pack.
  • Quick-drying underwear: You can buy the fancy Ex-Officio underwear (I did), but any non-cotton underwear is okay (but won’t dry with the lightening speed of the Ex-Officio stuff).
  • Small accessories: Don’t take anything expensive. A long necklace, a pair of earrings, a pretty scarf, and a fancy belt can change up an outfit and none of these takes up a lot of room.
  • Travel-size products: These are cheap and a little goes a long way. A travel-size deodorant lasted me two weeks (and I had some left over) and a small toothpaste lasted that long, too. Remember: you can always buy a new tube of toothpaste if you run out, so don’t take up room in your suitcase with easily (and cheaply) replaceable items. I’ve even been known not to pack toothpaste and buy a tube at my destination.
  • A plug for the bathroom sink: They cost $5 and you’ll use it for any hand washing.

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Now for the list. Of course you can revise this depending on your unique needs, but this is a good base to be going on with. I’m not putting in toiletries because everyone has their own mix.

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  • 1 skirt (I generally wear the skirt on the flight)
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pajama outfit
  • 5 shirts
  • 1 cardigan
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 5 pairs of undies
  • 2 bras (1 to wear, 1 to pack)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 2 pairs of shoes, your choice.Wear the bulkier option on the flight.
  • 1 pretty scarf (for decoration and warmth)
  • 1 statement belt
  • 1 necklace (cheap, please! This should not make you cry if it gets lost.)
  • 1 pair of earrings (again, something cheap)
  • 1 jacket (I have a packable down jacket from Patagonia that was very expensive, but is great for travel)

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That’s it! That’s the extent of the clothes you pack. But what about the undies? You wash them in the sink. Stinky shirts can get a quick rinse in the sink, too. Halfway through the trip, I find a laundry mat or service. In many countries, it’s very affordable to drop your laundry off at a service, which is my favorite way to go since you drop your stuff off, go do something, and come back to clean, folded laundry. Your hotel or guidebook can help you find one.

As for packing technique, I use this one, developed by my boyfriend. I pack way less than he does in this video, though.

Published by

[E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

10 thoughts on “Ladyguide: How to Pack Everything in One Carry-on”

  1. I love traveling with just a carry on. It makes me feel less touristy and somehow I always sweat/stink/smell less on a holiday as well (if we ignore the travel) so I don’t even need the daily outfit. I also go with the mantra “You could buy it there”.

  2. Love this. Great advice. If possible, I pack dresses for travel – they take up way less space and mine are light weight enough that they dry quickly. Also, coordinating colors is key, for me. That way, everything goes with the one cardigan I pack, eliminating the need for more.

  3. When ever I am going to visit family/friends, I always use medium sized space bags to pack in. I can get 10 shirts, 10 underwears, 10 socks, a bra, the diffuser for my hair dryer, a pair of tennis shoes, and my favorite pillow in my carry on. They rule. The only problem is you have to have a vacuum to get your stuff packed back in the bags to make it home.

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