Pack a carry-on suitcase for a 10 day trip

It pays to travel light with just a single carry-on suitcase. Not only will you avoid paying excessive airline luggage fees, but you’ll get through airport security faster with a stealthily packed, slimmed-down carry-on suitcase. You’ll also save time by not waiting for checked luggage and you won’t risk losing a single bag. Yay!

funny dogs
I can fit…PLEASE don’t go without me!
 

I should know. After traveling through Germany, The Netherlands, and France for ten straight days with a single piece of 19″ carry-on luggage, I managed to escape paying a single luggage fee, and jaunted around major European cities care-free with a very light load to carry.

carry on luggage rules

How did I do it? With a little planning and a few frugal air travel packing tips you too can take flight without the extra cost and luggage weight.

Here’s how to pack a suitcase in ten simple steps:

1. Check the weather.

Living on the farm for the last few years, I’ve grown to appreciate the insanity farmers have for weather reports — Carl included. I call it ‘Weather P0rn’ ’cause the delight my man gets from barometric pressures, dew points, and capping inversions gives me cause for climatic disturbance.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you glue yourself to The Weather Channel (like Farmer Carl) before your business, holiday, weekend, or family trip. But being inclined to glance at a few weather forecasts will make it easier for you to pack for any kind of getaway. Check out Weather.com or WunderGround.com for meteorological updates at your destination.

I traveled to Europe in the fall, so I needed a good mix of warm and cold weather clothing. Yes, I packed it all in one carry-on suitcase.

2. Plan your destination events.

Visiting relatives, partying at swanky soirees, hiking up glaciers, or sunning your bum on the beach all require different attire. So pack only the clothing you need for your planned events — nothing extra! If you suddenly need a string bikini on a beach in Brazil then *cough* think twice about it, and buy it there.

My biggest events for Berlin, France, and Amsterdam included excursions to the Bodemuseum, Gemäldegalerie, Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Georges Pompidou, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and numerous national and war monuments. So basically I needed a pair of very comfortable shoes for viewing thousands of priceless paintings. I guesstimate I walked a minimum of 10km a day! Carl was thrilled. 🙂

3. Limit footwear, embrace double-duty items.

Ladies sure love to pack shoes. Get over yourself! You only need two, maybe three pairs: walking shoes, ballerina flats, and perhaps a pair of sandals. Those kitten heels sure look cute, but fashion footwear isn’t comfortable to walk in and takes up a lot of space.

What’s a double-duty item? Cardigans, pashimina scarves, a neutral trench coat — anything can be dressed UP or down. I wore my basic Banana Republic trench coat nearly every day on my trip and I fit right in with the fashionable locals in Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam.

4. Create a packing list.

I fully admit that I’m a list person. If you’re going away for ANY length of time I’d highly recommend you embrace the packing list — it will help you get organized and take inventory of the stuff you actually need.

packing list

Years ago I created this Printable Travel Checklist and Packing List for weary travelers.

Today I pack very little. Here’s my pared down packing list for Europe. Yeah, it looks like a lot but it all fits in one 19″ carry-on suitcase, minus the stuff I’d wear on the plane.

Clothing:

  • 2 pairs shoes (comfy walking, sturdy ballet flats)
  • 1 light nylon jacket
  • 1 beige trench coat
  • 3 pairs pants (blue jeans, nylon khakis, black slacks)
  • 1 skirt (knee-length, black)
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 5 3/4 sleeve shirts
  • 2 cardigan sweaters
  • 1 thick sweater
  • 1 black dress
  • 2 tank tops, with built-in bras
  • 2 scarves (1 dressy, 1 wool buff)
  • 1 pair of PJs
  • 6 pairs underwear, 1 bra, 3 pairs socks
  • 1 pair black tights
  • 1 bathing suit, goggles, swim cap
  • 1 sling pack day bag

Toiletries, Odds and Ends:

Note: With the exception of my bathing suit, I used and wore EVERYTHING.

5. Pack neutral colors, light washable fabrics.

Pack a neutral color palette (brown, blue, gray, tan) to keep your wardrobe flexible and interchangeable. Opting for light and quick drying fabrics like merino wool and nylon over heavy cotton makes it easy to wash and wear your clothing quickly while keeping your suitcase light.

Peeking into my suitcase you’ll notice I’m a HUGE fan of Icebreaker merino wool clothing. These garments can be worn for days without any smell, plus they wash and dry quickly. Icebreaker is high quality stuff, and it ain’t cheap.

6. Pack outside your bag.

Dump your planned travel gear onto the floor and ruthlessly edit the nice to have items. Now do it again. And again.

how to pack a suitcase

Don’t pack directly into your suitcase — you’ll be tempted to cram in a few extra items and add volume. Seriously, you will.

7. Bundle, roll, shove, layer, tame.

I use a myriad of packing techniques to fit everything into my trusted carry-on. Here’s how to pack a suitcase in five easy steps:

Step One: Bundle.

The first step is to layer (or bundle) like garments together. Bundling can help reduce wrinkles while organizing all your similar clothing in an easy to access stack.

packing a suitcase

Step Two: Roll.

Roll each layered bundle into a tidy tube. Rolling a small bundle of clothing can save space in your suitcase and prevent your clothes from creasing. Because rolling doesn’t reduce the weight of your stuff, you’ll still need to be aware of how much junk you’re shoving in your trunk.

merino wool

icebreaker clothing

Since I wear a lot of merino wool and nylon fabrics, I never walk around wearing wrinkled clothing.

Step Three: Stuff.

Packing a second pair of shoes? Go ahead and stuff your socks, bras, and underwear into each foot bed. Shoes take up a lot of space, so be sure to use your soles and all surface areas. I like to stuff each shoe into a Ziploc bag to keep my suitcase clean and tidy.

suitcase

Step Four: Layer.

Most carry-on suitcases have wheels and an extendable handle. While these are great features for hauling a$$ through big airports, they can make for uneven packing spaces. So embrace those awkward areas by layering your shoes and nesting your clothing rolls between these spots.

luggage

I always start by layering my shoes and pants into the bottom of my suitcase, between the handle slots.

carry on luggage

I then take each clothing roll and layer them between gaps and spaces.

But what about my dress, nylon jacket, PJs, wool buff, travel book, energy bars, laundry bags, and swim gear?

samsonite luggage

Easy. I roll my dress, jacket, and wool buff and shove them in any available space. I like to roll and layer my PJs on top with my travel book for easy access when I arrive at my destination at night. Laundry bags, energy bars, and swim gear go into the top flap of my suitcase.

air travel packing tips

Step Five: Tame toiletries, organize electronics.

After boarding eight flights in Europe, I’ve come to the conclusion that airport security sucks when you’re carrying too many liquids and a clutter of electronics. The solution is to carry only the liquid essentials and stick your electronic gadgets in an easy to view Ziploc bag. Both the liquids bag and electronics Ziploc were accessible in my sling pack purse for quick security checks.

airline luggage fees

To save maximum space, consider buying some of your toiletries at your destination.

luggage tags

If a flight was super strict about boarding with one bag, I still had plenty of room to stuff my sling purse into my carry-on.

8. Wash and wear.

Do a little laundry for five minutes each night in your hotel room bathroom sink. A dollop of shampoo can do wonders to clean socks, wash underwear, and launder shirts. Use your shower to hang your gear to dry overnight. If you’re staying with family or have access to machines, go ahead and use your laundry bags to keep things organized.

9. Invest in travel-sized bottles, brushes, towels.

Leave your full-sized shampoo and cream moisturizer at home. Do yourself (and airport security) a solid by investing in quality travel-sized reusable bottles that won’t leak. I love my super handy GoToob travel containers since they’re leak-proof, fun to use, and gorgeous.

gotoob

Go ahead and downsize your hair brush, toothbrush, and makeup brushes too. This inexpensive travel makeup brush set was a huge space saver (and skin fixer) in airports and anywhere else I needed to powder my nose.

Most hotels in Europe offer towels to travelers. In Paris I was somewhat shocked (but mostly horrified) to find a single tiny towel hanging for both Carl’s and my use. Thank goodness for my microfiber travel towel — it got me dry fast without adding a lot of suitcase weight.

10. Wear your heaviest shoes, sweater, and jacket.

If you wear it on the plane, you won’t have to pack it in your suitcase.

swiss army luggage

My travel wear consisted of a trench coat (fashionable around the world), blue jeans, tank top (with shelf bra), thin wool shirt, light wool sweater, and a blue scarf. Summer travelers won’t need as many layers, but I was thankful for my clothing choices on long-haul flights and short jaunts. Some flights were freezing, others were hot stuff.

Your Turn: How do you pack your suitcase? What’s the biggest excess baggage fee you’ve been charged?

Your two cents:

  1. Heather Hopkins February 20th, 2013

    I’ve been traveling every 6-8 weeks in Europe for three years and still haven’t figured out how to pack my bags! Thanks so much for this packing tutorial. Will be sure to give it a try on my next trip.

  2. Jenni March 7th, 2013

    Another thing to consider: most hotels provide you with shampoo/conditioner/lotion/soap. It varies from place to place, but a quick check of their website will usually tell you what they provide, and what brand it is. One hotel I stayed at even provided my brand of toothpaste! So a quick check can keep you from having to worry about packing your own items and/or stressing that the bottles will leak.

  3. Lisa Taylor March 11th, 2013

    You can always buy items at your destination. -Toiletries especially.

    On a trip to Melbourne last year I brought new shoes (they were on sale, buy two pairs get them 1/2 price) so I went “halves” with another friend who had also found one pair she liked. We went halves and got the two pairs of shoes. (Still managed to get the deal even though we paid 1/2 each).

    A 10 day trip only needs 5 outfits – you can easily mix and match.

    For the women find bras which are sports bras… they pack smaller. I wear Ah Bras daily now and they’ve got no wires and hooks (no metal detector set offs! yay!) and they’re comfy!

    7 day trip to Melbourne, had a backpack of gear (smaller than the bag in the article) and maybe 4 outfits. Three pairs of shoes in there (including the pair I brought there), laptops and other gear. We managed to be allowed to carry a laptop bag each plus our backpacks. 🙂

    Having a backpack rather than a travel luggage case makes you blend in as soon as you’ve left the airport terminal too! Nothing like showing you’re a tourist by how you’re dressed and what luggage you’re carrying/ dragging along behind you!

  4. Cath May 20th, 2013

    Well, it’s only tangentially about packing, but you should try Certain Dri antiperspirant. My husband is a huge sweat-er, like get home from sitting in church and shirt and undershirt are soaked. I MADE him use it, and after two days he can’t stop raving about how he isn’t sweating AT ALL.

  5. Palash Karia June 25th, 2013

    “Kerry MARCH 11TH, 2012
    Paul, That’s a great idea. Carl thinks so too. I’ll have him re-create his carry-on for ‘The Guys’.”

    Any luck with that?

  6. Diva Mom July 7th, 2013

    Kerry,
    I just got back from a 25 day trip to Iceland, Holland and Greece and have to tell you that I Rolled up Everything into a 21 inch carryon and it was Fab!! Even though I had to pack for 3 different climates (really cold, really wet and really hot)I had tons of space for everything and I am so glad I listened to you about rolling things. Way more compact, far fewer wrinkles and so much more organized! My pack weighed 10 kilo and was easy peasy to carry. My cousin’s bag weighed 25 kilos , was the size of a Bus and so much trouble for her to manouver. Thank you So Much for your Great Idea!!

  7. Lynda July 29th, 2013

    I am planning a week-long cruise with my carry-on size suitcase and my messenger bag. The cruise line I use always offers an “all you can stuff” laundry special mid-cruise for $25 which is just the amount to check one bag one-way!! I am planning 4 slacks with mix/match tops, 2 shorts, pj’s, bathing suit, cover-up, sandals & flip-flops, undies, etc. I have used inside shoes for a LONG time to stuff little things in. I also have 2 nice rectangular American Outfitter “cubes” which are great for segregating all the t-shirts and all the undies and pjs. You have great tips and I plan on using them all. On my last long trip one thing I did to make room for souvenirs on the way back was to throw my used underwear away every day. Some of them needed to go, so I thought – why not!

  8. Mia December 3rd, 2013

    Just bought a 100% Merino Wool top at Costco for 20$. Much cheaper than Icebreaker.

  9. Sami Thomas December 20th, 2013

    Why do you need to take an iPod Touch and a camera?
    Love your information

  10. Alyssa December 30th, 2013

    Kerry-
    My mom found this online and forwarded it to me and I LOVE it! I have always been a rather efficient packer – I went to Dubai for a professional women’s conference in a carry-on – but I have sort of a dilemma. In a few weeks, I will be leaving to study abroad in Hungary for six months, and unfortunately I need a few more things while there, such as bedding and other necessities. Although the airline I am taking does allow me one free checked bag, I was wondering if you had any tips to maximize that space as well?? Currently, we have suitcases that act as nesting dolls, and I am planning on packing a carry-on size suitcase inside my regular suitcase so that I have the extra space to come back with for souvenirs and other things. Any other tips?

  11. Jessica January 8th, 2014

    This is great. I went to Australia for 18 days and only took 2 bags. And that was back before iknee how to prioritize..lol. One idea I’ve found to be very useful when you are taking children (ihave 2both under 4) is buy the diapers and wipes when you get there pack onlyenough diapers and wipes for the trip there plus 4. It saves a ton of space especially when your staying a while and you will be able to use what you buy. I also like vac bags if I’m staying with family or friends. They won’t cut your weight but they will help with space.

  12. Packing light was and is the most useful travel skill I have ever learned! I feel like I get better at it with every trip, and now I can comfortably pack for almost any trip in a single bag. Thanks for these useful tips!!

  13. Shawna May 4th, 2014

    I’m converted! This is the best method of packing I’ve seen. I packed for a two week trip with enough clothes for one week and found laundry detergent when I arrived so I could do a little every night in the hotel sink. Foolproof! I would advise taking laundry packets with you to Japan because it was more difficult to find the right detergent there than I expected (and I read some Japanese). Nanox brand packets are a good solution, though.

  14. Chris September 26th, 2014

    After a few lost bags, when traveling we pack one outfit (underwear, pant, shirt or dress) in a zip lock bag and trade with travel companion so someone is caring your cloths in case you end up waiting for luggage to catch up. Yes even carry on has come up missing!

  15. AJ March 17th, 2015

    Does anyone know of a good brand of sleepwear for those who sweat when they sleep? I hate having to pack three pajamas and I am fine with washing them in the sink. The problem is I need a breathable fabric, but cotton takes forever to dry.

  16. Katrina June 19th, 2015

    Hi
    Great list!
    Can I ask how much this all weighed when packed and how much the bag weighed on its own empty if you know?
    Thanks

    Kat

  17. Kathy August 16th, 2015

    I travel a lot for work (with no access to a vehicle) and the problem is that In hotel rooms, yes, I can do my laundry, but it always seems like it is still damp when I need to put it on. (Especially waistbands on panites, pants or skirts). I seem to perspire too much to wear my clothes again without laundering.

    If I take the allotted travel size shampoo and conditioner, I always run out before the week is up. Buying more usually means I have to buy containers that are too large to bring back as carry on and I have to leave it behind. A big waste of money and not environmentally responsible.

  18. Jorome August 24th, 2015

    Hi Kerry, love your list. How would you suggest I modify this if I were staying in hostels as oppose to hotels, or would you?
    Also do you have any recommended iphone wireless battery chargers?

  19. Nicola April 24th, 2016

    @kathy: use your travel shampoo for your head ONLY and use the hotel shampoo or body wash bottles for washing your clothes.
    When they run out they get replaced each morning so always a new stash waiting for your sweaty tops !
    Throw the shampoo and top in the bath/ sink…go out for dinner and when you come back rinse and roll in a towel to get rid of excess water ( stand on it ) and peg it up on some nylon ribbon you have threaded around the room.
    The pegs mean your waist bands will probably be able to dry. If you lay things over the ribbon they will be double folded and take forever to dry, you peg by the bottom of the top/ skirt, should dry over night.
    You only need about 6 pegs in your wash bag, and about 5 mets of ribbon which takes up no space or weight and saves a checked bag!
    You will,only wash a top, some knickers ( use pantry liners ….ESP on the plane..) and the odd socks, so not like it’s jeans and three sweaters every evening.

    Re travel tips.

    In NZ/ Australia Your carry on bag can only be 7 kg/ 15 lbs so I use a large tote as my ‘ purse ‘ place clothes in a vacuum bag and suck the air out of that so 4 kgs of clothes can fit in my tote which doesn’t get weighed. Next to that sealed bag I have my passport / wallet/ phone / tiny wash bag with earphones. Wipes, iPod, eye mask etc and a change of clothes for the plane ( yoga pants, thermal socks, soft t shirt and scarf ) I wear a coat on, and boots/ top/ jumper etc but change once on board or in the loo at the gate , boots go with yoga pants !
    The boots get taken off on the plane and go into the over head above and the tote under the seat in front so my feet are raised. More comfortable.
    The clothes are Nicer to sleep in and you can change back once you land or just before.
    Our flights are always 3-28 hours from NZ
    The tote bag is well used !!

    I use my 7 kg carry on for clothes, shoes, ( ballet flats, sketchers , flip flops ) toiletries/ make up , ( get a rolled up wash bag with a hook. Keep in your hand till past security and then put into your bag. It won’t be part of the ‘ weighing’ then, saves 500grams ! Or hook it onto your tote till pass security and the inspection of your 100ml bottles, just open it and leave it in the tray. They can see it all ) night shirt or whatever doesn’t fit in the vacuum bag. I roll everything.

    The vacuum bag the clothes I stack. Clothes aren’t rolled, But it’s really stacked !!! It shrinks down to nothing with a Dyson vacuum suck!

    Once you get to the destination the vacuum bag is so thin it can usually now fit into the carry on ( if you have an extension carry on) and you take your cross over bag out the carry on and place wallet / passport etc in to that. You can’t have the cross over and a tote, you can only have one on show ( unless you put the cross over under your coat!)
    Your tote is now nearly empty bar your yoga pants and t shirt And coat if it’s too warm to wear, (your boots went up into the over head on board And you just used thermal socks, to sleep in .. bar going to the loo when you put shower caps / bags over them and then threw them away! That’s not water on the floor in the toilet …and your boots went back on till you get to your hotel) there is just no room to pack them.
    If you aren’t going somewhere cold/ in winter then leave the boots at home .
    Use sketchers etc
    Riding boots to walk in are comfortable…I’ve heard.
    You can also wear skirts with boots, more than sneakers ..so you look French !

    There are ways and means to get around 7 kgs!!

    In America….everyone should be travelling carry on as you have no weight limits !!!!!! Soooo lucky !!

  20. Nancy June 19th, 2016

    Just a quick comment on buying items at your destination. Remember to check on local holidays. We traveled to Belize and arrived on Good Friday. Every store was closed for Easter Weekend…including Easter Monday. We tried to find some hair conditioner and had to finally to to a fancy hotel that had a gift shop and spend an outrageous amount for a simple toiletry item.

  21. Teresa Guerra July 14th, 2016

    I take a black sarong with me on my travels and a second one in a light color. You can use a sarong for:scarf,blanket,skirt,sheet,tie it up and make a pursue,cover up for your swimsuit…endless possibilities!

  22. Claudia Gauthier August 17th, 2016

    Thank you for more great tips! May I offer some of my own: I have solved the problem of running out of shampoo and conditioner by using solid products from Lush and the Naples Soap Company. Leakproof and long lasting. I also travel with daily contact lenses and all my makeup is sample size. My home merchants and service providers have been very generous in offering sample products as well. During an extended stay in Europe a few years back I did run out of eye makeup remover. A stop at a discount pharmacy for mineral oil solved my dilemma and it was easy to leave behind before flying home. Had I purchased my department store brand I would not have parted with it so easily.

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