• Hannah

The Over-Packer's Guide to Traveling with Just a Carry-On Bag

I have always been a notorious over-packer. Going away for a weekend, I'll pack for a week, just in case. Lord help me if I ever go on an extended trip! But, I recently discovered the joys of hassle-free traveling, a.k.a. with just a carry-on & it has forever changed the way I pack!


When we traveled to Cabo back in January, we made the decision to travel with carry-ons only due to the risk of losing a checked bag on a connecting flight. I was apprehensive, but up for the challenge! This was a 7-day trip (that ended up turning into 9 due to canceled flights) so I started packing an entire month beforehand so I could trial and error some things.


It took a lot of planning and strategizing, but we did it & I don't think I will ever check a bag on a trip with connecting flights again. The ease of only having one piece of luggage (aside from your personal item), never having to wait at the baggage claim, the security of always having your bag on you, and not to mention saving a little extra cash by not having to pay for baggage was great.


Since I'd like to think I'm an expert at this now after that trip, I thought I'd share my top tips for fitting everything you need for a week-long vacation in just a carry-on!


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  • Utilize Packing Cubes If you don't own packing cubes, you're traveling wrong. This set of 7 packing cubes is under $16 and will save you a TON of space in your bag by improving your organization game.



  • Roll Em Up Instead of folding your clothes, try rolling them. Combining this method with the packing cubes will maximize the amount of space in your bag so that you're able to pack more.


  • Pack Lightweight Clothing Obviously, this likely only applies if you are traveling to a beach or warmer area. If you're going to a beach resort, chances are that you'll be in your swimsuit 90% of the time. Don't pack a ton of jean shorts, pants, etc.. if you know that you'll be hanging out at the pool for most of the vacation. Dresses, skirts, and light tank tops are great options to save space in your luggage. If you plan on working out while you're on vacation, stick to sports bras, tanks, thin pairs of leggings, & athletic shorts (spandex if you're comfortable!) and try to re-wear items as much as possible! I generally pack 2 tanks & 1-2 pairs of athletic shorts and wear them for a couple of workouts before switching. If it bothers you to just let them air dry, you can always wash them out in the sink after each workout! And if you must pack cold-weather clothing, try to wear your heaviest items (& layer them!) on the plane. Chances are, you won't get these clothes dirty on the flight & you'll avoid having to pack them in your bag.


  • Utilize a Backpack or a Large Tote Bag for your Personal Item I used to carry a purse as my personal item until I realized how much space I was missing out on! I still take a purse with me, but now I pack it & use a backpack to carry with me. The personal item of your choosing must fit underneath the airplane seat in front of you, so you can't go overboard - but a general backpack or a decent sized tote bag/small duffle is just fine. The personal item is a great place to pack your toiletry items for easy-access in security, an extra outfit, shoes, a book, your tablet or computer, medications, snacks etc. I pack as much as I can in this bag to once again, maximize the space in my carry-on! This is my favorite backpack ever because of the amount of pockets & the detachable crossbody/fanny pack. It's a bit of a splurge, but so worth it for the quality!



  • Get Creative with Toiletries The part about traveling with a carry-on that worried me the most was having to fit all of my liquid toiletries into one quart-sized bag. I actually thought they were joking! I had to get really creative with this, but now I've got some awesome hacks to share with y'all!

  • Swap out aerosols for powders and/or solids so that they do not have to go in the quart-sized bag. If you usually use spray deodorant, switch it out to solid for the trip. They make travel-sized sprays, but they take up too much space. If you can eliminate it - do it! Solid deodorant can go directly in your carry-on. Additionally, if you're like me and love voluminous hair and often use volumizing spray, try this instead. It's a powder & a little goes a long way!


  • Use roll on perfumes. If you're a gal that likes to make sure she smells good on vacay (the vast majority of us!) then you'll want to invest in a roll on perfume for the trip. Again, perfume will have to go into your clear quart-sized bag. Sure, you can purchase the travel-sized sprays/perfumes like those at Bath & Body works, but they take up more space than you think. I personally love this one from Victoria's Secret because it's super cheap (currently on sale for $4.99!) and it smells soooo good. Ulta has some great options as well if you prefer a designer perfume! This one is my personal favorite scent from there if you're willing to splurge a bit!

  • Purchase a variety of travel-sized containers. I bought a couple of sets of these & will use them forever. Make sure to get a pack that has a variety of types of containers. You'll want shampoo/conditioner bottles, spray bottles, squeeze bottles, and cream containers.

  • Get crafty with your containers. The spray bottles, squeeze bottles, and cream containers can be so handy! I even purchased these foamer bottles too for different kinds of cleansers in the past. When you're filling these up, think about the things that you won't need a lot of, first, and put these in the small cream containers. For example, I know that I will not need a ton of facial cleanser because a little goes a long way & I always pack makeup removing wipes, even further reducing the amount of face wash I need. This is also true for my face creams, so instead of putting them in separate containers, I just mix my brightening serum with my facial moisturizer & put them into one (since I tend to layer them anyway).



LIFE HACK: If you don't want to go out and buy a bunch of containers, look around your home. Old makeup canisters & contact cases can be repurposed & used as cream containers. This BareMinerals setting powder canister was empty, so instead of throwing it away, I washed it out & filled it with my body lotion! Bonus -- since it looks like it's makeup, you can get away with putting this in your makeup bag & no one will ever know! Same goes for liquid foundations. Now, you have even more space in your quart-sized bag. Never throw away your old makeup containers again!



  • Mix as much as you can. This one has been a huge space saver for me! If you use one line of hair products you can easily mix your styling goops (lol) in one container. I love my hair products and there's no way I'm traveling without them. I create a "cocktail" by mixing equal parts of each product into a travel-sized squeeze tube, shake it up & it's good to go!


ORGANIZATIONAL TIP: Make sure to label your containers for easy access! Any labels you have lying around the house work great - or you can make your own! Sometimes the travel-sized kits come with labels as well.




Are you up for the carry-on challenge? If I can do it - I know you can!




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