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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 16 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.

  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!

  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.

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