Five Great Tips for Carry-On Packing

As a follow-up to my post on packing tips for a long trip, I’m kicking off this weekend with five great tips for carry-on packing. These techniques can be used to pack for a trip of any length. I tend to stick with just a carry-on and a backpack or purse if my trip will last less than one week. In fact, I only brought a carry-on and a backpack for my recent trip to California, and that was 10 days! Even if you’re the type of packer who likes to prepare for all contingencies, you’ll find these five tips useful for making the most of limited space.



1. Stick to a list.

This tip might be the same whether you’re packing for a longer trip or just a weekend away, but making a packing list and sticking to it is critical. Think about exactly what you plan to wear on each day and evening of the trip, and only pack enough clothes, shoes, and accessories to fit your visual. Don’t add in anything extra because it “might” come in handy, unless it is your umbrella or sunglasses (these are small and get a free pass!) Once everything is in the suitcase, take something out. There’s ALWAYS something extra you can remove ๐Ÿ™‚ Below, you’ll see my California suitcase. My one item would have been the running belt – I ended up not wearing it for the half marathon or for running on any other days.


Suitcase Carry On




2. Invest in travel-size toiletry containers.

These will come in handy if you’re a frequent traveler. Buying the travel-size versions of your regular products will get very expensive very quickly. If you buy a reusable set, you can fill the smaller bottles with your regular shampoo, conditioner, soap, and such each time you need them, and you’ll be able to fit everything easily into the small Ziploc bag of liquids that is permitted in a carry-on suitcase by the TSA. You’ll end up saving money and space. One caveat is that, if you’re a female and you use a lot of liquid products, you’ll need to choose carefully what to put in the bag – I don’t really wear makeup so space is not an issue for me, but it’s something to consider.



3. Keep clothing simple.

When you’re thinking about what to wear each day, try to start with a few basic pieces – a cute dress, a pair of black leggings, a pair of jeans – that you can accessorize differently to get more use out of. My rules of thumb are to bring only pieces that mix and match well (no patterned tops I can only wear once and that only go with one skirt!) and to try and bring clothes I can wash by hand. Pretty much anyone’s undergarments, bathing suits, and workout clothes are washable in a sink with some Woollite (one of your travel-size liquid essentials) and reusing these is key. If you’re going on an active vacation, you may be able to get away with bringing mostly wash-and-wear workout clothes. That’s how I was able to spend 10 days in California with just a carry-on and a backpack – even after the races at Disneyland, I wore workout clothes to tour the parks, and I mostly wore them in the heat in San Diego as well. I brought a cute sundress for a few dinners out!


Duds for the Disneyland Half Marathon...

Duds for the Disneyland Half Marathon


...also wore well for exploring a lighthouse.

…also wore well for exploring a San Diego lighthouse.



4. Treat your feet.

Shoes are some of the biggest space-suckers in any suitcase, and being able to keep the number of pairs to a minimum will create much more space for the rest of your things. I somehow managed to bring four pairs to California, by wearing one pair of running/walking sneakers, and packing my race sneakers, tennis shoes, and flip-flops. But in the end I could easily have done without the tennis shoes – I wore them once with my sundress, but I could’ve worn flip-flops. And if I wasn’t running in races, I would have just brought one pair of running/walking sneakers. It’s the race-cations that make the shoes add up. A good mix is one pair of shoes for walking/running/whatever exercise you do, one pair of nicer shoes if you plan to go out on the town, and maybe a third pair if the destination requires (flip-flops for the beach, for example). If it’s winter where you’re going, walking shoes and boots. A bonus of minimizing the footwear is your feet get a nice treat. By wearing sensible walking shoes unless it’s time for a nice evening out, you won’t get aches and pains from fancy sandals or high heels.


Cloudsurfers - my running shoe of choice

Cloudsurfers – my running shoe of choice


Eliza B. Flip Flops

Eliza B. Flip Flops



5. Make the most of what’s at your destination.

If you are going somewhere with access to a washer/dryer (or just a washer) and it’s free or costs very little, you can pack 1/2 or even less of what you normally would for a trip of any given length. That’s how I made 10 days in California work with just a carry-on. I used a washing machine halfway through. I made running clothes do double duty on either end of that by hand-washing in the sink with Woollite and hang-drying, which works great with the synthetic wicking materials most running clothes and undergarments are made of. If you aren’t able to use a washing machine you can always hand wash some clothes, and the items you can’t are also likely to be able to go a few wearings without the need – jeans, sweaters, and such.

Also, if you were planning to buy items to pack, you can order online and have them shipped directly to your destination, which is a space saver on the outbound trip. You’ll need to leave some room in your suitcase for any acquisitions, of course. I did this for California by ordering BodyGlide and some non-perishable snacks on Amazon and the box was waiting for me when I got to my hotel. I ate all the snacks and the BodyGlide didn’t add much extra (what I needed to save room for was race shirts and my gleaming, rather heavy, RunDisney medals). 


packing light



I’ve managed to minimize packing for the most part, so much so that on my two-night trip to Nashville this weekend I won’t even be bringing the carry-on. I’ve got everything I need in just a backpack and a small tote-style purse. En route home, I’ll just have the backpack because the purse folds up and fits right in if there are no crush-ab;e snacks on top. That may seem a little extreme, but keeping these tips in mind will definitely save you lots of space and time!







Do you tend to pack too much or too little?


How many days do you think you could vacation with just a carry-on bag?








ยฉ 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.


6 thoughts on “Five Great Tips for Carry-On Packing

  1. Great tips! I’m all about travel-sized containers (and extra plastic + sandwich bags!) I think in about a month, I’m going to try for 2 weeks with just a carry-on! I’ll let you know how that turns out, hahaha. ๐Ÿ˜›


  2. I always over pack and it’s such a pain in the butt. I can typically get away with a carry on for a long weekend, but otherwise I have to check ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I need to take your advice and finish packing, then remove at least one thing from my bag. I went away for a week in August and didn’t even wear half the clothes I brought ! Yikes!


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