Travel Anywhere, With Only a Carry-On

Going somewhere? Learn how to efficiently pack a carry-on before your next jet set! 

I’m flying to Spain tomorrow, and I’ve put myself up to the ultimate test — I’m only allowing myself to bring a carry-on sized suitcase, my camera bag and a backpack. This might sound kind of normal but, for me, this is really lightening the load. Especially for an overseas trip. As hard as I try, I always overpack, always. I think I’m cursed or something. I’m always that girl in the airport struggling because I have too much $h*t with me. I fear trying to order a coffee or snack. Why? Because reaching for my wallet while trying to keep my heavy bags stay up on my shoulders so that the shoes (which I had to take out of my suitcase because it was over 50 lbs) crammed in on top don’t fall out, therefore causing a scene and making my face flush red from embarrassment, is really hard to avoid. It happens every time. Every. Damn. Time.

So, how do I up my travel game? Practice makes perfect. I pulled some clothes from the studio, grabbed a carry-on sized bag, and made an official “pre-game.” Yes, I fake packed. Because, why not? It helped me visualize and plan out exactly what I was going to take with me, so that when it comes time to actually pack up (aka tonight), I’ll avoid sticking in those extra things that aren’t necessary.

If travel is on the horizon for you, too, and you need a little packing 101, here’s some things to consider:

1. The first thing to think about is weather. Is it sweater weather? Or are you headed to the beach? If it’s cold where you’re going, well, my apologies, because sweaters and coats immediately take up more room than bathing suits and shorty shorts. It’s okay though.., you’re just going to have to layer. The weather in Spain right now is slightly bi-polar — warm during the day, but chilly at night. Some pants and a light oversized jacket I can easily layer with should solve this problem.

2. TAKE ONLY WHAT IS NECESSARY. The thing that always makes for overpacking — “options,” I always thought having options and packing more was better than getting to a destination and regretting not having something. This thought process has only weighed me down (literally) in my lifetime of travels. If you don’t absolutely need it, DON’T BRING IT! Worst case scenario, you can always make a purchase along the way or when you get to wherever it is that you’re going.

3, Is your carry-on bag up to par? The shape, size and overall design of the bag can really make a difference. The average allowed carry-on dimensions are 9 inches wide, 14 inches long, and 22 inches high. I’ve been using a slightly dome-shaped carry-on for the past 3 years. It looks like a small duffle, but with wheels and a handle. It works, but I know there’s better options out there. Shop around and find one that best fits your needs. And make sure the wheels and handle actually work. You don’t want to be pulling a suitcase with a bunk wheel, or rather, pushing if the handle won’t slide all the way up.

After all things considered, it’s time to pack. Here’s what I’m bringing:


2 pairs of shoes –– I bring a pair of boots with me wherever I go. They’re comfortable to walk around in, and can dress up a look if need be. Then sneakers for everything else, because anything can be done in a pair of sneakers, amiright?

Spring Valley Ankle Boot, Match Low Trainer

3 pairs of pants –– A black pair for night, a pair of jeans for the day (or night, because denim always works), and then a pair of soft, casual harem pants that can double as something to sleep in.

501 Ct Jean, Rolled Crop Skinny, So Cool Harem Pants

4 tops –– a white tank, 2 white tees and a blouse. I like to pack pieces made of cotton — they’re easy to wash, dry fast and don’t wrinkle as much as other fabrics.

We The Free Essential Tee, We The Free Goalie Tee, We The Free Park Slope Top, FP X Woodstock Gauze Open Shoulder

2 pairs of shorts –– Denim cut-offs are a must. They can be paired with almost anything, and you can get multiple wears out of them before washing. I also like to bring a pair of soft lounge shorts. They’re great for sleeping, don’t take up a lot of room, and are good to have in case you want to work out or take a hike and need something extra comfortable.

Bandit Denim Cutoffs, Circle Terry Short

1 dress — I like to bring a dress because it’s easy to outfit around, and can be worn for multiple instances. I’ll typically bring one that’s lightweight and flowy, something I can throw on with a pair of boots or over a swimsuit.

Button Up Dress

1 jacket –– Packing a not-too-heavy oversized jacket that’s oversized is good for cool weather… really, it’s just great to have a jacket along, in my opinion. (And it makes the best blanket or pillow for the airplane! ;) )

Solid Knit Mixed Cargo Jacket

Then, of course, socks, undies, bras and one swimsuit get thrown in the front/inside zipper pockets along with my makeup bag & other toiletries.


To finish, I’ll throw my laptop, chargers, wallet and passport in my backpack, make sure my camera is charged up and all proper gear is in my camera bag, and then it’s adiós!!

+ Where are you traveling next? Do you have any packing tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Follow Jana on Instagram and Twitter!

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

Last year when I went to Mexico with only a carry-on, compression bags were my savior!

7 years ago

This is a nice suggestion but …where on any blog, website, or anywhere on the net can I find a comparable suggestion for a 70 year old. Sure, I could use your suggestions if I wanted to look as if I had raided my grandaughter’s closet. Just saying.

7 years ago

I admire people that can do this… really! I wish I was able to travel with one bag but my camera, go pro, and laptop are the only things that fit in a carry on. Of course, I should leave my computer at home but sometimes I love making sure I took the right picture of a place. I don’t think I would go 10,000 miles just to take it again.

7 years ago

I am packing challenged…this is a great way to try and keep it easy!

7 years ago

Such a great post! I’m headed to Montreal for the last week of March, so I’ll have to try and put some of these tips to good use. I’m a notorious overpacker, so the only packing tip I can share is the ranger roll. It saves SO MUCH room while packing and your outfits are already sorted!

7 years ago

OMG where is the carry on from? it looks adorable! Could you please tell me where you get it/brand it is? THX!

7 years ago

Judi, the 70 year old, makes me smile! so no cut of jeans shorts for you? I am sure there are “travel friendly” skirts, you know, the kind that needs no ironing and can be stuffed in the corner or any bag. I feel so fortunate to have found one at our local thrift shop!
As a general comment to the blog: years ago I traveled to Germany with 2 little girls, each of us had a back pack (their school bags) and one carry on. 3 week visit with family and friends, so that cut down on some items we did not need to pack; yup, we did just fine and the air port check in gave us HUGE eyes :)

My rule of thumb has become: if there is some thing I really need I can buy it and thus have a souvenir. My travel and fly days have decreased a lot, but my goal still is to make it with a nice sized back pack some day :)

7 years ago

The one thing I find really difficult when packing is if I’m planning on working out, I need to pack workout clothes + sneakers. In general, shoes usually take up the most space. One time I actually had no more room in my luggage so I had to wear four different shirts layered under a big sweater when I went to the airport.

7 years ago

Worried about an airplane? My husband and I took 5 grandkids to Virginia from Kansas City, MO. (ages 7, 8, 9, 10, & 15.) The trip took 10 days in an SUV – great seating, but extra small cargo area. So I allowed each person 1 medium size backpack (except hubby as he’s 6’4″ so he got the only carry on) My list for each of us was: 1 pr underwear / day, 3 pr short-top socks, 1 pr tennis shoes, shorts & Tees to sleep in, 1 pr jeans, swimsuit, 4 pr capris/short, with 9 Tees, I sweat shirt or a hoodie, plus they were to wear sandles . shorts & tee. Then we put all our toiletries together in another back pack with any regular medications along and hair needs and sunscreen. In the car each person got a beach towel rolled like a sleeping bag contained by an elastic headband. They could either sit on the towel to cover a hot seat or cover up with it when grandparents had the air conditioner on. I prepared one activity bag with 8 different entertained each half of a day riding plus a bunch of extra car travel games. Along the way no one could believe nobody had more than 1 backpack. It was a great trip and we got to visit my hubby’s mom. I have a lot more tricks up my sleeve but this was all that that pertained to packing.

7 years ago

Yes! Please say what brand your suitcase is! I’ve been looking for something similar for years and haven’t found anything quite right. This is perfect though!

7 years ago

My issue is always with the liquid restrictions for carry-on items! Between makeup, contact solution, and hair products I’m forced to check a bag. Any suggestions?