I have gotten pretty good at traveling with just a carry-on now. After years of travel I no longer pack a large suitcase full of clothes I don’t even end up wearing – I have learned how to be shrewd with my packing.
But just because I pack carry-on only for most of my trips these days, that doesn’t mean that I don’t pack stylish clothes. I used to pack clothes that weren’t really ‘me’ because they were the type of clothes that I thought people wore when traveling.
I would pack lots of pairs of shorts even though I barely wear them at home. I would take practical shoes that were boring and ugly. I wasn’t being me.
But I don’t do that anymore.
Now I know that I can pack clothes that I actually want to wear, including a range of different outfits, while still traveling with just a carry-on. You just need to know a few little tricks to make it work.
Carry-on Packing Hacks for Stylish Travel
1) Layering is Key
When choosing a travel wardrobe to fit into a carry-on, layering is key. Rather than taking one bulky sweater, why not take a long sleeve top, and a stylish cardigan instead? Or you could pack a couple of dresses and a pair of leggings rather than a couple of pairs of pants with two different tops.
These layered options would take up less room in your bag and the outfit can be broken down and matched with other clothing. You could wear the vest or dress on a hot day by itself or layer up if the day is colder.
Layering means you are more prepared with clothing for all weather conditions you may encounter on your trip, and you will end up with more outfit choices.
2) Wear Bulky Clothes on the Flight
Sometimes you need to take bulky winter clothing if you are going somewhere cold, and that can be challenging if you are only taking a carry-on. The best plan in this situation is to wear your bulkiest clothing on the plane.
This may mean you won’t be super stylish while flying (hello hiking boots with woolen sweater, leggings, and a dress), but you can get changed as soon as you get to your destination.
3) Take Stylish Shoes That are Also Comfortable
You don’t have to sacrifice style for comfort when it comes to shoes – there are some great options out there that deliver in both departments.
I am a BIG walker and my favorite way to explore a new place is to walk around aimlessly for hours, getting a feel for it. I pretty much live in boots in winter and sandals in summer, so I found a pair of boots and a pair of sandals to fit my needs.
My boots have cushioned soles and arch support so I can walk around all day long without hurting my feet, and I can then dress them up at night with tights and a dress.
And for hotter destinations, I have a pair of Birkenstock sandals, which support my feet but also look cute with my summer dresses and skirts. My feet have definitely thanked me for it.
4) Pack Clothes you can Mix and Match
If you have limited space in your bag you want to make sure that every clothing item that you pack matches with at least a couple of other items. You want colors that complement each other and styles that go together.
When only taking a carry-on, it is not the time to take those sandals that only go with one particular dress or that top that only goes with your black jeans. Every item in your bag needs to earn the right to be there.
5) Wear What you Would at Home
Traveling shouldn’t be any different than being at home in regard to what you wear – in most cases at least. Pack the clothes you actually like and what you want to wear (all the dresses on Lyst!), then you really will be making the most of the space in your bag – simple.
6) Pack a Sarong Instead of a Beach Towel
Beach towels are bulky so are not a great option for carry-on travel, so take a sarong instead. Sarongs are lightweight, dry easily, and can double for a beachy dress or skirt. I travel with at least one sarong on nearly every trip that I take.
7) Take a Backpack Instead of a Suitcase
What I have found when traveling carry-on only is that Airline Staff are much less likely to check the weight of your bag if it is a backpack rather than a suitcase. Backpacks also generally weigh less than a suitcase so you will have more weight allowance for your belongings.
I have an Osprey 40L Fairview and I think the size is perfect. I wouldn’t go larger than that to keep it carry-on size, although you could go smaller – anywhere between a 30L to 40L would be a great size. This bag is a great choice, and it’s affordable too.
8) Roll your Clothes
An oldie but a goodie, rolling your clothes is a great way to make the most of the space in your bag while also stopping your clothes from wrinkling.
You can fit rolled clothing into all the nooks and crannies in your bag so there is no wasted space, and for a perfectionist like me, it makes your bag look nice and tidy and it is easier to find things.
9) Use Packing Cubes
Packing cubes were a game-changer for me and are helpful on two levels: they keep your clothing organized, and they save space. I have two packing cubes: One for underwear, socks, scarves etc, and one for tops and dresses. You can get different sizes to fit your needs.
To best utilize a packing cell, roll your clothing, as I mentioned above, then cram as much as you can into it. It creates more room in your bag by tightly holding everything together in each cell.
10) Keep Some Room in Your Bag
Always make sure to leave a bit of room in your bag so you can do some shopping in your destination!
11) BONUS: Travel Insurance
One of the most important things you need to remember to get for your trip is travel insurance. Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap and easy to claim with.
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
I hope some of these carry-on packing hacks are helpful. Let me know if you have any tips for carry-on travel that I might have missed.
If you enjoyed this post, check out some of my other travel tips:
- Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List for One Month
- Summer Packing List for 3 Months in North America
- 21 Tips for Becoming a Green Traveller (and Saving Money!)
- The Ten Commandments of Housesitting: How to be the Best Housesitter
- How to Escape the Crowds in Waikiki
- How to Live an Amazing Life When You’re Not Traveling
- How I Save Money to Travel