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How to pack a week’s worth of clothes in a carry-on


It only takes the airline losing your luggage once to never want to check a bag again. Add in the fact that checking a suitcase can cost $50, wastes precious travel time sitting around a baggage claim, and there’s a lot of incentive to carry-on. Here’s how I manage to fit a week’s worth of clothes in my overhead bin bag.

Pack complimenting clothing.

How to pack a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on

If you stick to a complimentary color palate, you can make just a few pieces work double or triple duty. For example, pick a white button down shirt, a blouse with a fun print and cozy sweater. Next, a great pair of jeans, dressier black pants and a chic pair of joggers or khakis. You can mix and match all of the shirts with all of the pants, creating nine outfits. Throw in a little black dress and you’re prepared for anything!

Three pairs of shoes, max.

How to pack a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on

I know I’ll get a lot of flack from shoe lovers, but look– this is about practicality! I wear one pair of shoes (hopefully the biggest ones, like a pair of boots), then make sure to pack a chic pair of flats (leopard print is my go-to!), and maybe a pair of sneakers if I have time squeeze in a run. Think of it this way– you could check your bag full of shoes, or you could buy a great new pair with the $100 you’re saving on not checking a bag both ways.

Accessories are your friend.

You might be feeling a little bor-ing with your limited wardrobe options. Cheer up, friend! This is what statement jewelry is for. Pack a few chunky necklaces, bracelets, fun earrings, and definitely a scarf (which I use to roll up all of these accessories). I always pack a tube of great red lipstick, which takes an outfit from a 6 to a 10 in seconds.

Waste no space.

Every suitcase has nooks and crannies that are often overlooked. For example, the space on the bottom of your suitcase between the sides of the roller handle. I make sure to create a base layer of stuff in my bag– like socks, undies, and other small items– to fill up that otherwise wasted space. Every square inch counts!

Forget toiletry travel sets.

How to pack a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on

Big box store offer lots of great travel items, but re-useable containers for your shampoo, conditioner and soap are not one of them. Unless you’re traveling for a month, you do not need much of any of these products (plus, I am tired of decanting my shampoo!). I say pack sample sizes of your favorite goods. Talk to folks working at the beauty counter, at stores like Sephora or Ulta for free samples; or buy smaller containers of favorites at the drug store or Target. You could also check out a Birchbox membership for a few months to really stock up on samples of nice products. They’re the perfect size for travel (and don’t take up much space). Be sure to pack your liquids in an exterior pocket for easy access in the security line.

Packing cubes for the win.

How to pack a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on

Let me shout it from the rooftop: If you’re not using packing cubes, you’re doing it wrong! They keep your bag organized, and I love the ability to move a packing cube from my suitcase right into a hotel dresser drawer (how often do you think those things get cleaned? Exactly.). A cube also makes it easy to roll your clothes, which takes up less space. High-five!

What are your best tips for carrying on? Share in the comments!

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How to pack  a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on

This Post Has 55 Comments

  1. Big fan. Washcloths are a necessity for me, an opinion not shared by European hotels. I find disposable facial clothes (the dry ones that lather up with water, not premoistened makeup wipes) to be a convenient substitute. Also a great way to get the dust of a day’s adventure off your face before bed. My alternative is buying a stack of inexpensive washcloths at Walmart and tossing them in the trash daily after use. At the end of the trip I have the space they took in my suitcase available for treasures I’m bringing home.

    1. Great point….although I realize European hotels are not favorable to supplying washcloths, I always bring my own; with the exception of my last trip to Ireland a few months ago when I forgot to pack washcloths. Try finding a store that sells them, no such luck. The thing of it is, is that I knew better.

    2. I totally agree about the washcloths and buy a pack and throw them out as you do. I just don’t feel like I can get clean without a washcloth and European hotels do not have them. They think we’re crazy!

      1. I take a few of my old washcloths with me when traveling in Europe and dispose them on the way. I found small pelleted ones that expand when wetted. They are a great single use alternative and super packable.

    3. I do the same thing with washcloths – one for each day of travel unless I will be staying somewhere that has a laundry. The Walmart cheapies are great for that purpose.

  2. Some of this is valuable. A lot is useless. For example:
    * Some of us have health issues and must carry our medicine, medical equipment, assistive devices. If we’re going to be gone more than a week it means carrying bottles of medication. So where, exactly?
    * Some of us wear larger size clothing and it doesn’t fit into tiny cubes quite as nicely.
    * Where did she pack her makeup?
    * What are you supposed to do if you are traveling to different climate conditions. She hasn’t packed either a sweater or a jacket. One of my recent trips took me from the Arctic Circle to the tropics.
    * Nowhere in this “helpful” video does anyone ask what to do if the limited supply of clothes get dirty or torn. Personally, I travel with a pretty complete sewing kit and travel size detergent.
    * Nowhere does she suggest you carry some way to wash dirty underwear–or even a means of keeping it away from the clean clothes. What if menstruation makes its presence known? Assuming your cycle is regular, and you know when it’s coming, where do you put your tampons or pads? What if your cycle ISN’T regular and it comes while you’re away with your one carryon bag?

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

    1. Read this after watching the super-helpful packing video. I’m definitely getting cubes and will now be using of the space between the rails. Thanks!

    2. To be fair, this simply categorized under “Tips” as How to Pack a Week’s Worth of Clothes into a Carry-on. It’s not an exhaustive list for all your personal and individual necessities on a cross-climate trip.

    3. Wow, I hope you don’t travel a lot, as you sure seem quite unhappy! This was meant for a light packing tip, so knowing all the issues you brought up in your negative comments clearly makes it impossible to pack in such way . You know the old saying, can’t pack a 10 pound of potatoes in a 5 pound bag.

    4. You pack based on the climate zone you are traveling to. If your going somewhere cold you wear your heave jacket and pack things to layer…I’m not petite either but once you have traveled a few times you learn what you really wear and leave the rest behind…also I always rent apartments where there is a w/d to clean my clothes after a weeks wear

    5. I try to go carry one exclusively, even for longer vacations. And, I take EVERYTHING, I am well prepared for almost any situation (ie. Small umbrella, lightweight package down jacket, first aid kit, lots of shoes, etc) so, to be able to take everything I want, I also take a backpack (which counts as your personal item). The combination is equivalent to a larger suitcase. Of course, I want a cute purse to use at my destination, therefore I pack it empty on my suitcase. Make sure the backpack you choose has a slit to Slide Over your carryon handle.

    6. Danny, Let me address your points:
      – I take double the amt of my normal meds, in a 7 day pill sorter. Fits in a zip loc bag between the 2 handle supports of the carryon, along with a lot more!
      – I wear plus size clothing. Search YouTube for “Ranger roll”. It’s a packing game changer!
      – Makeup is pared down to daily essentials. Love the bare minerals starter pack sample size. Makeup for 4 weeks! Moisturizer is put in a travel size container (you don’t need 6 oz for 2 weeks!) It fits in a baggie inside a shoe.
      – Climate changes: I wear an all season hooded car coat, with a removable lining on the plane. Beret hat and cashmere lined leather gloves are in the jacket pockets. It goes in the overhead compartment. Under that I have on a blazer (usually navy.) A tan blazer is put in a compression bag and becomes the first “layer” in the carryon, underneath the packing cubes.
      – Laundry: A quick tip is to use disposable underarm shields in your clothes. I bring 1 oz of Dawn in my liquids bag, along with 2 Tide Pods. When I’m rolling my clothes, I put a dryer sheet in the middle (cuts down on wrinkles and clothes smell great.) You have your fabric softener if needed.
      – Underwear protection: pads are a fact of life – either for menstruation or urinary leakage. I put them in zip lock bags. These go between the handle supports of the carry on, under the cubes/ blazer bag.
      – Toilet Paper: If you’re going out of country, especially across the Atlantic, then you need to bring TP with you! I do “pulls” of tp and roll them up, putting 4 pulls into a zip lock snack bag. They get tucked into the cubes between rolls.
      I hope this helps!

      1. Katy, thank you for the tip about TP. I completely forgot about it. When we went to Germany/Paris in 2004 they didn’t provide TP. Thank God I had tissues in my bag otherwise I would have been in a shits creek. literally!!. Now I’ll be going to Paris in July for a Wedding and I’m already packed. LOL everything is in zip lock bags and mini container for shampoo & containers. I wash the empty containers and refill them up. I don’t continue to buy the minis. I also take a pack of wipes, Lysol spray and mini fabric spray. buying the mini towel is a Great idea. I will have to get some. Thanks for all you wise advise.

    7. It sounds like you prefer to travel with more, that’s OK. But there isn’t anything wrong with these suggestions—they will probably work best for people who feel confident that beauty lies on the inside.

    8. Yes…we get the point. Do you really have nothing better to do than criticize someone offering assistance to others? Well it’s very annoying 🙄 and unnecessary. Take the advice or don’t, but no need to be belligerent.

  3. I ❤️ to travel. The one thing I did last summer traveling to Europe is to not waste your personal item on a purse. Use a larger size bag to fit important items AND your wallet, etc, from your purse. Also, I started buying very small reusable containers for hair products that come in larger “pretty” containers. I try to always keep travel size toiletries ready to go for a quick 2-3 day trip.

  4. On a recent trip to Australia and New Zealand, I had 4 intracountry flights on JetStar and Quantas.
    They each allowed 7kg (about 15#) in carryons, including any handbag. And they weighed your stuff at the check in desk and again at the gate in some cases. I used an underseat bag for this trip which was lightweight and I’m so glad I did. My husband used a standard 19 inch carryon and had a hard time keeping under the weight limits. We brought a luggage scale and used it before every flight. Alternative would have been paying excess baggage charge (not a small amount) on every flight. Samantha’s tips are fine for standard flights but check the airline requirement for carryons (dimensions and weight) very carefully.

  5. Thanks so much, Samantha. Your advice is terrific and with a few minor changes with regard to clothing, works just as well for men as it does for women. Keep up the great work and I’m really enjoying “Places to Love”.

  6. Sweater? Pool/beach sandals? 3 tops? Are things not being washed? Swimsuit? Makeup?
    I would add:
    Pashmina style wrap
    2 more tops either mid-long, or long sleeves
    Skort/shorts
    Do not bring light colored pants! Too vulnerable for stains!

  7. I love my samantha brown carry on bag. But when traveling to different climates my suitcase is loaded and heavy. I’m short also and lifting it to the carry on compartment is difficult . Sadly , no one , not even stewards want to help. I now fly Mostly on southwest and always check my bag. I bring a smaller piece that will fit under the seat on the plane.

  8. Wondering if bag featured is one of SB’S line or a stock photo. I love the throw back shabby chic look.

    Loved article and video, by the way. I have always wanted to be SB when I grow up!

    From someone who’s followed her via travel videos before her blog. A teacher who really wants to be a travel host lol.

  9. I have found that using the “Kondo” folding method is the best for packing. You can fit a lot in a little space and you can see everything you have at one time.

  10. I, too, bring facial washcloths with me on trips. I have found the Erase the Face brand from Beth, Bath & Beyond to be excellent. To save space, I cut the cloths in half and hem them and get more bang for my buck. Doing this also saves space. The fabric is very soft snd squishy and they pack well. They are designed to be used without soap for removing makeup but I like to use facial soap anyway.

  11. I have always gone by the three shoe rule as well when packing. It does really help. When it comes to washcloths, microfiber ones work really well. You can buy them at the dollar store. They remove make up really well without make up remover or cleanser.

  12. Dollar tree sells little folded washcloths that unfold when wet….perfect for packing! Loved the flat shoes! Do you know the brand?

  13. We all get tired of decanting shampoo, but buying sample-sized toiletries encourages the manufacture of more plastics, most of which are not recyclable, and invariably these end up polluting the beautiful places we want to see during our travels.

  14. When flying you can have a carry-ons, plus your purse. I usually use a large tote-like purse. That way I can have a book/e-reader, scarf or sweater/light jacket, extra belt, etc. and it still counts as my purse.

    1. I am a flight attendant in Australia and most of the domestic flights allow 7kg for carry on including your purse. I found it the same in the UK and Europe except you had to put your purse inside your carry on as they only allow 1 piece. If you don’t want to get charged $60 per kg overweight at the boarding gate then I’d recommend paying $35 to check in 20kg (domestic).

  15. I’m a reduce/reuse type so I’ve found that baby washcloths get the job done, take up less room and dry quickly when laundered.

  16. For up to 14 days I use a carry-on bag and a backpack (as my personal item) to bring on the plane on my way out. I put a large folded up canvas bag in the backpack. Then on the way home I put all my clothes in the canvas bag and check it and then I carry on all my souvenirs in my carry-on and backpack and can take those on the plane with me. That way my souvenirs are safe with me and make it home all in one piece.

  17. I use one large packing cube for my rolled up shirts and extra pair of pants. My second large cube goes empty in the bottom of my suitcase. Then dirty clothes get stashed in this cube during the week. By the end of your trip you should have one empty cube again! Sorry, but throwing away washcloths or underwear sounds wasteful. Bring one washcloth and reuse it. Fold it up to pack in a ziplock bag in the pocket of your suitcase before you leave. I always have a couple bags stashed there. Yes, refilling small bottles gets tedious, but I try to use less plastic when possible. Oh, and a small cube fits my clean underthings, then folds flat when empty. I have only brought along one extra pair of shoes and been fine, though I admit I am not a shoe person. Thanks, Samantha, I really enjoy your shows!

    1. If you’re using a washcloth just for your face, reusing it is fine. But if it’s for your entire body, you really shouldn’t reuse it without proper laundering. I throw mine away unless I know there will be a place to launder them.

  18. I will be traveling to Europe for 5 weeks this fall. I will pack a carry-on and a knapsack as my personal item. I pack a small daypack in my carry-on. My best tips are to get compression packing cubes, pack easy to wash and dry underwear (Bali has some wonderful lightweight bras with interchangeable foam cups) so I can pack 10 bras and 10 pairs of underwear in one small compression packing cube. I also pack nylon pants and tops and can generally get a weeks worth of clothes in my bag. Two pairs of shoes max. I keep my bag weight to around 30 lbs. My knapsack gets my kindle, chargers, medicine, headphones, passport, etc. I generally check my bag on the way home. That leaves me with my two backpacks as carry-ons on the way home. I’m okay if it takes awhile for my dirty clothes to get home if they lose my bag on the way home.

    1. Wow, 10 bras? I bring three at most because I can get a couple of days use out of one and then wash it in the sink.

  19. I stuff my shoes with “stuff”—socks, jewelry in little pouches, crinkly-fabric scarves, etc. Not only is this a space saver, stuffing the toes helps keep their shape. Naturally I wear the bulkiest shoes on the plane.

  20. Regarding the carry-on … I also use a backpack as my personal item, carry a small purse inside, but keep my meds close. Also, always roll a pagmina that is multi use …even as a small throw on the plane. My itinarary and toothbrush. Lastly, it has pockets for chargers, and a water bottle!

  21. I always bring flip flops for hotel room. Don’t like walking barefoot on floor, carpet or bathroom. I do have thong sandals that can work as well and can also be used to walk around. Between meds, chargers, small toiletries bag and clothes, I need at least 22” and backpack.

    1. Agree with you about the hotel floors. I bring a pair of Walmart ballet slippers that can be thrown away after my last hotel stay. They are about $8 for two pair and very lightweight and easy to pack.

  22. When I may need to wash undergarments or do some sink laundry, I carry an all purpose soap, un scented liquid soap that is for washing my body but is a passable detergent for some quickie laundry.,
    The person who suggested packing a canvas bag for clothing so souvenirs can go in the carry-on on the way home is brilliant! As someone who loves buying souvenirs for people back home, this is very useful information.

    1. Shrink bags. Dirty clothes go in shrink bags. It keeps dirty clothes from clean and makes room for souvenirs at the same time. Packing cubes are essential. Especially if they’re compression cubes. Roll up anything that doesn’t fit well if folded. Packing folders are best for nicer shirts and blouses to keep them less wrinkled and easier to access, especially if living out of a suitcase. I use tissue paper and/or dry cleaning plastic to fold and pack between my husband’s nicer shirts.

  23. I don’t think I could pack a week’s worth of clothes in a carry on but I do have a tip to share. Before I travel I buy all new stuff – underwear, socks, t shirts, shoes….etc. When I travel I pack all of my OLD stuff. On vacation, at the end of each day, I throw out the old things I wore that day. At the end of my trip I have so much extra space!

  24. When my husband and I traveled in India, laundry was done by hand, inexpensive and amazing except it really wore out my clothes. So I would leave clean, folded, clothes on a chair in our room when we left- hoping someone could use them. More room for souvenirs!

  25. Check out TruEarth laundry sheets. One sheet is about 1.5×3”. I tear a small piece off for a hand washing in the sink. Easy to pack, take up no space, environmentally friendlier than large plastic bottles. I use them at home all the time too. https://www.tru.earth/

  26. I carry a small empty spray bottle that I fill with water at my destination. lightly mist clothes to release wrinkles. works great.

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How to pack a week's worth of clothes in a carry-on
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