This post includes affiliate links. I also received a Poppet Classic Cardigan in exchange for coverage in this post.
Since we are currently in San Francisco on the start of our epic Pacific Coast Highway road trip, I thought I’d share how I pack for our trips in a carry-on. My husband and I always pack carry-ons instead of checking any baggage when we fly. This is partly because he has separation anxiety when he isn’t near his luggage, and partly because it is just easier to not have to deal with baggage claim when we arrive at our destination. And since I have had my luggage lost by an airline before, I certainly don’t mind not having to check luggage.
There are some challenges produced by packing for an entire vacation in a carry-on. First of all, there is the space concern, because carry-on luggage is restricted in size. Then of course, you must fit all your liquids in a quart sized bag! I will be detailing what I am actually packed for our 11 day trip and products that I have found especially helpful while packing for a longer trip in a carry-on.
The Bag to Use for a Carry-On
I actually don’t own a rolling suitcase. Up until now it has actually been more convenient to have a backpack, which is easier to navigate over uneven streets and up to third floor walk-up Airbnb apartments. It is also easier to squeeze into small spaces and to move around when you are moving from city to city on a trip. This backpack is similar to the bag that I have been using for both international and local travel for 10 years. It is made out of durable polyester that holds up excellently to the snags and rough handling that your bag will endure during a trip. It has a padded back and straps (and an optional strap to carry the bag over the shoulder), as well as a waist and sternum strap to better distribute the weight of the bag. It also has two great features that my bag doesn’t: it opens from the side (instead of the top) like a standard suitcase and has a laptop sleeve.
The Bag to Use for your personal item
I am incredibly practical when traveling, so you won’t find me with a fancy purse or a tote bag as my personal item when flying. I have had my day pack for even longer then my backpack, but my one qualm with it is that it isn’t waterproof. This day pack is like mine, with an outside pocket, main compartment, and two water bottle pockets, but it also is waterproof to keep your belongings from getting wet.
Products to make packing a carry-on easier
Packing cubes– One way to make your life easier is by using packing cubes. It makes things more organized inside your suitcase and also limits the clothes explosions that will normally occur when attempting to locate something in a packed suitcase. I use a small one for my intimates and socks, a small one for pajamas and items such as bathing suits, and a large one for shirts, dresses, and leggings. The organization largely depends on the season and weather where we are traveling to, since colder weather means bulkier clothes.
3-ounce containers– Travel sized toiletries that you buy at the store are never big enough to last an entire trip, so it is best to simply transfer some of your favorite products into 3-ounce containers (which are TSA compliant). Containers can now be as big as 3.4 ounces, but most sold are only 3 ounces.
Zip-lock bags– They have multiple uses, take up little space, and I always end up using every one I bring on a trip. They can hold small items in your carry-on, hold dirty intimates on the road, be a place to store wet items, and turn into a bag for snacks or trash.
Fun luggage tag and lanyard clips -Just because you are packing a carry-on doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take safety precautions. I always use a luggage tag (it is possible that your bag will have to be gate checked) and clip the zipper pulls together with lanyard clips to prevent them from popping open or someone easily helping themselves to something.
How to Pack a Carry-on: Clothing
Here are the clothing items that I packed for our trip. There is a full length pocket inside my bag that I use for shoes. Bulkier items such as pants and sweaters go on the bottom of the bag. My large packing cube with shirts and other items goes on top of them and then the two small packing cubes on top of that. My toiletries bag and liquids bag go in the bag’s external pockets. I wear any bulkier items such as my heaviest shoes and my coat to the airport so they don’t need to be packed.
- 3 pairs of leggings or comfier pants (one worn on flight)
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 1 pair of active pants
- 3 pajama bottoms and 3 t-shirts
- 3 sweaters (1 black cardigan, 1 Poppet, and 1 comfy thermal)
- 8 shirts (tanks and tees that can be worn by themselves or layered with a sweater)
- 1 convertible dress (similar here)
- Bathing suit
- Coat- will be a waterproof windbreaker for the warmer weather in California
- Walking shoes (worn on flight)
- Lighter weight sneakers
- Boots (that can be dressed up or down)
- Flip-flops (for wearing in hotel rooms and at the beach)
I especially love convertible and easily packed clothing items when traveling. Which is why I love my new Poppet Classic Travel Cardigan. It it is sewn into it’s own waterproof carrying case and when worn the case is hidden inside, camouflaged by the pleats in the back of the cardigan. I wasn’t really sure how that part would work, but it’s completely invisible (no lumps or bumps) and even features a tiny pocket perfect for concealing your cash or credit card while out on the town.
You might think a cardigan that ends up stuffed in a bag would leave less then desired in the style department, but I was pleasantly surprised by how flattering it is. It is extra soft, with some stretch, because it is made of a rayon jersey and spandex blend. The sleeves feature a ruched design on the forearm and the front has a draped waterfall effect. I personally love that it can be dressed up and down, because it is comfy enough for touring during the day and can be dressy enough to wear over a dress at night. If you want one, grab it now at the Poppet website, because there are some incredible sales going on and certain sizes are already sold out! And if you’d like to see it in action, make sure to visit my Instagram during my trip.
How to pack a Carry-on: Toiletries and first-aid
Items marked with a star are liquid and must be in your quart sized bag.
What I include in my carry-on’s first aid kit:
Although most places you travel to these days will have some type of drug store, do you really want to go running around town for a band-aid or Tylenol when you get a blister or a headache? Packing a few things in your carry-on to deal with minor first aid situations can help health hiccups to not be a huge disruption on your vacation.
- Cortisone cream*
- First aid ointment*
- Stomach medication- Imodium, Pepto, and Tums
- Allergy medication
- Pain medication
- Dramamine (there are variety of formulas available, but I recommend the long lasting less drowsy)
- Non-liquid cold medication such as Theraflu
- Compact scissors (those with a blade under 4 inches are allowed by TSA)
- Wet ones or hand sanitizer*
- Vitamin C drops, tablets, or Airborne
- First aid kit including band-aids, first aid tape, sterile pads, alcohol swabs, gloves
What I include in my toiletries bag in my carry-on:
Since you are limited to what liquids you can fit in a quart sized bag, often packing toiletries in a carry-on can be a bit of a challenge. I get around this by only packing the liquids that I absolutely need. Since am not picky about body wash I usually just use the ones provided in the places we stay at. However, I am about my shampoo and lotion, so I will be packing those even though they are provided. Traveling is also a great time to go minimalist with your makeup (check out my tips for that). I use clear topped makeup bags for both my first aid supplies and toiletries.
- Conditioner (also can double as shaving cream)* (will use at hotels)
- Body wash* or soap to avoid another liquid (will use at hotels)
- Toothbrush (mine is foldable)
- Face wash*
- Feminine products
- Extra pair of contacts*, contact solution*, contacts case
- Makeup (mascara* and BB cream* is all I need)
- Ponytail holders or other hair accessories
How to pack a Carry-on: For on the plane
One thing you don’t have to worry about when packing your carry-on is lost luggage, but your carry-on bag will still be largely inaccessible during a flight. Pack your personal item bag with anything you will need during the flight or that you fear getting broken. I also make sure I leave space in this bag for any souvenirs we may pick up to bring home.
- Wallet and identification
- Phone charger
- E-reader and charger or Ipad
- Portable charger
- Print books and/or magazines
- One of your sweaters
- Prescriptions/ first aid items
- Candy or snacks
- Pen and notepad
Other helpful things to pack:
- Plug adapters (if traveling internationally)
- Travel laundry kit (if you are planning on having to wash out items in the sink)
- Money belt (especially if you are traveling internationally and will be carrying a passport)
What is your “can’t live without” item that you would make sure fit in your carry-on?