How to Pack For More Than a Week in a Carry On Suitcase

How To Pack For a Week or Two in A Carry On Suitcase - An Oregon Cottage

Wondering how to bring all the things you need and want on a week or two week trip without having to pay to check a bag or lug around a lot of suitcases? I traveled to Greece and Kosovo last spring for 17 days and took only the suitcase in the photo above. I used a couple of packing tips – one I’d read about and one I discovered – that worked so well I was able to take even more than I originally thought!

Then last fall we took an 8 day trip to Arizona and I instagrammed my packing and asked if anyone would be interested in knowing how I fit all the clothes pictured in a carry on. The result? A resounding yes! So here we have a slightly unusual post for AOC – but actually, now that I think about it, not too out-there, since it’s me just sharing some easy tips with you that really work. And that is what this blog is all about, isn’t it?

8-Day Wardrobe in One Carry On Suitcase - An Oregon Cottage

Steps To Pack  a Wardrobe In Carry On Bag
  • Decide on a color scheme: pick neutral bottoms (I chose denim, black pants and skirt), a few neutral tops and layering tanks or camis (black & gray), and then pick an accent color. I picked coral and filled in the wardrobe with a cardigan, roll-sleeve plaid shirt, 3/4 sleeve silky t-shirt, three t’s, and a scarf that all were some variation of coral.
  • Choose your clothes based on comfort and appropriateness: this wardrobe is for a casual vacation, not a business trip, so there’s more in the way of t-shirts and flip-flops than slacks and dressy blouses. It doesn’t matter, though, for these tips to work – pack what works for your planned activities.
  • Lay all your clothing choices out: whether the bed or floor, lay out everything you’ll need, including underwear and jewelry. This is an important step. It allows you to see how everything looks together, how you’ll be able to make outfits with the items, and helps to make sure you don’t forget anything.
  • As you lay out your wardrobe, group items together: put t-shirts in one area, bottoms in another, and so on. Edit as you see that you’ve pulled out too many shirts or that there’s an item that doesn’t make enough outfits.
  • Make sure that each bottom or top goes with 2-3 other items: since you’ve already picked neutral basics and only one accent color, this shouldn’t be too big a deal – everything should pretty much go with everything else.
  • Decide on shoes: think light, comfortable, and double-duty: for Arizona, I chose flip-flops for the pool, flat sandals that would work for walking as well as be a bit casual-dressy, comfortable walking flats (Recognize them from this post? They were my staple shoe in Europe, too), and left my bulky shoe for the plane ride – a boot here, but I like to travel in Keds or Converse-type tennis shoes, too.
  • Plan to wash items: there’s no reason to bring 8-10 pairs of underwear or 12 shirts for a 2 week trip – if you will not be at a place where you can wash, then at least pack lightweight items that can easily be hand washed and will dry quickly.

Traveling Outfit for 1 to 2 Week Packing Tips - An Oregon Cottage

Traveling Outfit Tips:
  • Use the same colors as your travel wardrobe: your traveling outfit should fit seamlessly with your packed clothes, so plan it as you’re laying out all your clothes.
  • Plan to wear your bulkiest items: lightweight jacket, belt, boots or tennis shoes.
  • Dress in layers: this is the only way to deal with the different temperatures at home, on the airplane, and at your destination. If you know all your temperatures will be similar or you’re particularly hot-blooded, you may not need to worry about this. In my example, it was around 38 degrees at home, I always get cold on airplanes, and when we arrived in Arizona, it was almost 80 degrees – quite a jump.
Clothing Tips for Traveling with Temperature Changes:
  1. Choose narrow-legged pants that can be rolled up or down.
  2. Wear a tank top that you could wear on it’s own, if needed, as a first layer and top with a button-up shirt with sleeves that can be rolled.
  3. Add a light jacket that fits your needs (if it’s going to be rainy, make it a water-proof jacket) – this canvas jacket worked in both Europe and Arizona for me, as it’s lightweight, comfortable, and surprisingly warm when worn with layers.
  4. Bring a coordinating scarf for chilly flights, rolling to use as a pillow, or even to throw over your head if you’re surprised by rain.

How to Pack for 1 or 2 Weeks in a Carry On Bag - An Oregon Cottage

So how did I fit more than 30 clothing items – a pair of shorts, capris, jeans, a skirt, a flowy long-sleeved shirt, chambray shirt, t-shirt cardigan, regular cardigan, six t-shirts, a swim suit, two tank tops, socks, underwear, a set of pajamas, and three pairs of shoes – plus all my toiletries, into one carry on sized suitcase?

My secret weapon: Zip-Top Gallon-Sized Baggies!

You guys won’t believe how much you can fit in your carry on by putting a couple of items into gallon-sized zip-top baggies and pressing the air out. I was completely amazed when I first tried it! I actually was able to bring more to Europe than I originally thought I could after packing with the baggies.

I came up with this idea as I laid out all the clothes I wanted to take to Greece and couldn’t figure out how I’d fit it all on a carry on, which was important because we would be doing some train travel in Europe and we didn’t want to be dragging a ton of baggage. I remembered those infomercials with the bags that you store blankets and such in tightly by using a vacuum to suck out all the air. Then I thought of the straw-vaccum method I use for freezing garden produce, and I thought – why not try it with the clothes? And I was amazed – it worked great!

How to use baggies to pack:
  • Used baggies for the soft items – not jeans (or at least I didn’t – it was hard to fit them into a baggie).
  • Add as many items to the baggie that will fit (usually about 3 t-shirts, two shirts, or swimsuit/underwear) folding or rolling them as you like.
  • Zip the top, expelling as much air as you can.
  • Now, open a 1-inch section of the top and press down on the baggie hard to remove even more air. Seal quickly.

Packing for 1 or 2 Weeks in a Carry On Suitcase - An Oregon Cottage

How to Pack a Carry On Suitcase Using Baggies:

  • Start with shoes and pants. Fold denims/bottoms and place in suitcase in a stack. Place sandals/flats around edge of suitcase with the soles towards the edges. Fit other shoes (in a shoe bag if you have) next to pants stack.

Packed Carry On Bag for 1 or 2 Weeks - An Oregon Cottage

  • Now start adding your baggies, fitting them around and on top of your pants stack and shoes.
  • Leave room for your toiletries bag and other items you need (I use a baggie for hair brushes, as well), fitting them around the baggies.
  • Use a quart-sized baggie for liquid items and keep that in an outside pocket of your carry on.
  • Bring only a small box or baggie of jewelry – choose just a few items that will go with many outfits. Traveling is not the time to go all out with accessories.

When you arrive at your destination, try to take time right away to hang up your clothes – the only downside to the baggies is that there are a few more wrinkles, but I found that when I hung them up right away, they were fine. It’s a small price to pay to be able to pack everything I want in a small case, I think. Oh, and of course you can keep your baggies in your suitcase to reuse for each trip.

That’s it! I actually had extra room in the suitcase above – which gave me space to buy some items on our trip. I also found that I didn’t really need the extra cardigan – next time I’ll only take one. Each time you travel, use it as an opportunity to figure out what works for you and what you need (or don’t need) for the next trip.

Now all that’s left for you to do is relax and enjoy the trip:

grand canyon from airplane - An Oregon Cottage

Oh, and be prepared for people to be amazed that you travel with so little luggage – believe me, they’ll notice!

 

Comments

  1. Wow! Great tips.

    I use to do the spread out your clothes so you could see how they go together and how many of each type you’re taking. I’d do it ahead of time so I could look at it over several days adding/deleting/changing. Alas, now I have cats so now more leaving out to study over time.

    I’ll try the gallon storage bags on my next trip.

  2. Thank you! I am definitely going to use all of these tips. I always bring too much.

  3. Thanks Jami! I am getting ready to do a week long cross country driving trip with my daughter and then a week long adventure in NY. I have been struggling with the idea that I have no idea how to pack what I need for this trip. It will include driving, flying, train, and subway with luggage so just a carry on bag would be awesome for this trip. I am going to get some gallon bags and experiment. You are the travel packing pro!

    • Awesome that I finally got this post done in enough time to help you, Barb! It’s been on my to-do list for months. ;)

      Sure hope you have a great trip – it sounds amazing. I’d love to do something like that with my daughter one day!

      • It is a trip to move her to NY. So mixed feelings about the whole thing…she is off for another adventure near her brother and far away from mom. I guess I will have more of a reason to go back and forth to NY and we are packing the road trip with fun things like a trip to Arches NP and a day in Denver before heading east.

  4. This post could NOT come at a better time… I am flying to Houston next week for a family reunion! I want to take only one bag! Thank you so much for the tips!

  5. Great tips – love the ziplock bag idea!

  6. Ann Richards says:

    You had said that jeans were too bulky to put in a gallon zip bag. Try using 1.5 or 2 gallon zip bags. I keep a few of them in my suitcase just for bulky stuff. As a family, we have been using the zippy technique for decades since we travel quite a bit. It is so useful, allowing us to not only keep items neat, packing more for long trips. It helps us to keep in under the weight limit for flying, The best bonus, keeps everything neat & easy to search by TSA agents.
    Another hint for international travelers, have your passport & other travel papers in pint sized zippies. It keeps it all together & dry too . I also suggest packing a range of zippy sizes in your suitcase for any bags that leak or if you find an extra special goodie to take home from your trip.
    Bon Voyage..

  7. I loved your post, so many good ideas! My husband and I are avid cruisers, and I do a travel blog. One of my posts is about packing light. Take a look if you like.
    http://karanandmichael.blogspot.com/2013/11/how-do-you-fit-everything-into-one.html
    enjoy and keep bloggin!!

  8. Wow! Reckon I could live out of carry-on for a month? I’m heading (from Australia) to Vegas, then driving up to San Francisco, flying across to New York, train to Boston then flying to DC, North Carolina, and a week down in Orlando (all Mid-April to Mid-May), so I have cool and warm climates! I want to pack light but will probably shop along the way. But I am going to try your suggestions! I have no coat, so am going to wear a puffy feather vest warm thing on the plane which will double as a coat. My biggest concern is shoes. I should need boots in the cooler places (Boston, NYC), I think!

    • Wow, what a trip, Katie – it sounds incredible! Yes, you’re right – the shoes will be the tricky part. If you can bring a shoe that is comfortable to wear on the plane and would work in the cooler climates, that would be awesome. I think making everything work together, dressing in layers, and washing when you can could make this totally do-able! Think light-weight & quick-drying for those washing sessions, too.

      Hopefully I’ll be able to go on a month-long trip to try this out one day – have fun!

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