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Pro Tips: Packing A Carry-On for A Month-Long Trip

Pro Tips: Packing A Carry-On for A Month-Long Trip
Ariana Arghandewal

If there’s one thing I dislike about travel it’s dragging around a ton of stuff – or traveling with people who do. Whether I’ve traveled for a day or a month, I always manage to get by on nothing bigger than a carry-on bag. That’s not always easy when you’re traveling across different countries with varying dress norms.

Factor in the need to dress up a little for the occasional visit to a family member’s home and overpacking becomes tempting. Resist the urge! Here are a few pro tips for packing a carry-on for a month-long trip:

1 – Pack for a week, then wash your clothes. If you were to take nothing else away from this article, take this piece of advice: Pack for a week and then wash your clothes to make them last through the month. This is especially easy if you’re traveling to cities with similar climates and dress norms. You can get by with packing 5-7 outfits and then just doing laundry once a week.

If I’m traveling to a warm destination with lots of sight-seeing, I’ll usually pack 3 light-fabric pants, 2 pairs of tights,  a black cardigan, 4 t-shirts and a breezy dress or two. I try to pick a dress that I can wear to a nice dinner if I have to and the tights I can sleep or work out in. I’ll also bring a pair of Toms for the plane ride – the thick soled ones are comfortable enough to substitute as walking shoes. I’ll also throw in a pair of sandals for the beach or light walking days. That pretty much takes care of it.


2 – Light fabrics and layers are your best friend. If the above packing routine seems a little light to you, then you can certainly add to it. I always find myself with tons of extra space in my carry-on bag and that’s because I focus on bringing light fabrics and layers. If you’re traveling through cities with varying dress codes (i.e. the Middle East to Europe), you’ll want to bring layers. Maybe t-shirts and tanks for warm European weather and some cardigans or portofino shirts for a more modest dress code.


3 – Keep non-essentials to a minimum. Hopefully you all know better than to pack things like hairdryers and travel-sized bath amenities in your luggage. These things not only take up space, they also create hassles at security. I always try to keep my essential beauty products to travel-sized only. That’s not at all difficult since I’ve accumulated quite a stash of skin care and makeup samples from Sephora over the years. These come in tiny packages and are usually good for 1-2 uses. They save space, provide everything I need and save me money on travel-sized products. I highly recommend you hold onto these or try to pick some up at your local beauty store. While you’re at it, hit up the travel bin at target and stock up on small, travel-sized toothbrushes, paste, deodorants, and whatever essential items you may need.

Some of the more higher-maintenance folks will wonder if this is enough to look your best. When I’m on vacation, I’m not interested in looking my best. I want to be comfortable, I want to let my skin breathe and just relax. That means the excessive beauty products and hair gadgets can stay home for a little while.


4 – Get rid of stuff. For most people, it’s impossible not to return home from a trip without more stuff. Whether it’s gifts or clothes, you’re bound to pick up a few things that take up additional space in your bag. If you’ve packed wisely (and shopped responsibly), it won’t be an issue. But if you have no impulse control, consider what I do: Leave things behind.

I don’t travel with my best clothes and make it a point to bring stuff that I’m comfortable losing or leaving behind if necessary. So if I find a bunch of amazing traditional Afghan dresses that weight a ton and I’m on the last leg of my trip, I can give away my (clean) travel clothes in exchange for picking up new gear. There’s also something really nice about purging yourself of old stuff at the end of your trip.


5 – Packing cubes? Packing cubes are all the rage now. You can buy them fairly cheaply on Amazon, though I would personally recommend the eBags brand. Packing cubes may seem obnoxious and unnecessary, but they’re great for staying organized and making good use of space in your carry-on bag. As an organization freak, I love knowing exactly where things are and unpacking only the essentials when I get to my destination. Packing cubes really help with that. Not to mention, they keep me accountable in terms of how many items I can bring with me because of how everything fits into these cubes.

It’s absolutely possible to fit a month’s worth of clothes into a carry-on bag, if you plan it right. Minimalism is really key – stick to essentials and pack smart if you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time. Also, know that if you realize halfway through your trip that you don’t have enough clothes or you really wish you’d brought your favorite beauty products, stocking up shouldn’t be that difficult (or expensive) depending on where you’re traveling to. Plan ahead, be sensible, and allow yourself a little room to bring things back from your adventures. That will help you not only keep your luggage light, but enjoy your trip more.


What are some of your tips for packing light during a long trip?

View Comments (15)


  1. Bowgie

    August 5, 2018 at 10:12 am

    This is the best “How to Pack” guide I’ve seen. Of course, because wife and I already do everything Ariana advises. We tend to bring about 2 to 3 days of clothes, and wash dirties every night in the hotel room. Now if I can only get my wife to pack fewer skin care products and trail food snack I can’t remember the last time I checked anything.

    Here is another hint: Take a small crushable day pack in your main backpack. Use it for day trips (duh!), and hauling back stuff when you break the rule about not buying to much.

  2. koalay

    August 5, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Vacuum sealed bags. Don’t waste precious packing space on air. Plus, bugs can’t go through the plastic, unlike mesh packing cubes.

  3. Dianne47

    August 6, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Eagle Creek makes great compression packing cubes, Specter Tech is the line. Using them I can travel for months with just a carry-on and it’s super-easy to stay organized. Wait for a sale (often on as they are somewhat pricey. I also can segregate dirty clothes using the cubes, just hand wash the cube that held the dirties and hang to dry.

    In Europe many Airbnbs and a number of “aparthotels” have a washing machine (and sometimes a dryer) in the accommodation. I try to book my lodgings with a washer (or at least a self-serve laundry in the building). That way I don’t have to wash everything in the bathroom sink.

  4. jonsg

    August 6, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    First: It’s not a commercial site (and I’ve no connection with it), but it’s a one-stop wisdom shop for tips travelling with just a carry-on. It’s been my passenger bible for about ten years now.

    Second: zip-loc bags. Travel cubes are great, but zip-locs help you compartmentalise to a really fine level. Bring empty extras of all sizes for extra stuff you’re bringing on the return trip! (Also, those stinky socks and used underwear.) If possible and available, pick ones that aren’t slippery, otherwise your carry-on backpack will disgorge its contents as soon as unzipped. Talking of carry-on backpacks…

    Third: whilst the carry-ons recommended on OneBag (see above) are really great, they’re also heavy. Lugging them through interminable queues, and out of the airport, will put a bow in your collarbone or a crick in your back. I use Cabin Max ( cabin-legal.convertible backpacks. My trusty Metz is only 0.66kg (1.45lbs), leaving lots of weight allowance if I’m flying on an airline with carry-on weight restrictions. I’ve not managed to break mine yet, and I’ve been travelling with it several times a year since 2011. Not bad for £24.95 (as was)! I’m thinking of getting the 2kg Palma trolley bag next. Again, no relationship with the company, just an unbiased recommendation.

  5. thoglette

    August 7, 2018 at 4:45 am

    I have an Eagle Creek garment holder which I’ve dragged around the world for a decade. I usually travel for business and can fit a week’s worth of pressed shirts in it easily. I try to book two nights in the same place for the weekend to get shirts and smalls washed each weekend .

  6. AndreaNewEngland

    August 7, 2018 at 5:15 am

    We usually try to do some hiking when we travel, so the important thing is to wear the heavy stuff on the plane. For us, it’s always hiking boots, pants and if a jacket is necessary at any point, we wear it; even though we are leaving from Tel Aviv. I also always color coordinate the outfits; usually one color (coral or blue, w/ev) with the black or navy. I almost never pack leggings though. Even though I’m slim, that would require specific, longer, tops. And no Toms, those aren’t for serious walking.

    I have to say the most amazing thing I see is people travelling with big bottles of shampoo. Insane. I have little travel sizes of all my products, even if they’re just sample containers refilled. I admit I do like to look good on holiday. The only junky stuff we bring are old undies we sometimes discard along the way!

  7. bsmits

    August 7, 2018 at 5:51 am

    My take is that I have better things to do on holiday than washing clothes. I tend to keep a bag at home to collect all disposable clothes (t-shirts, underwear) that are kinda getting worn. Take them, wear them, dispose, and then hit the local wally world equivalent to buy more. Discard when used. Cheaper than hotel laundry, and zero effort.

  8. fyree39

    August 7, 2018 at 7:32 am

    “If there’s one thing I dislike about travel it’s dragging around a ton of stuff – or traveling with people who do.”

    And I get tired of being stuck in an aisle waiting for someone to hoist their 30 pound bag into the overhead bin and, worse, waiting for them to pull it down at the end of the flight.

  9. mikem004

    August 7, 2018 at 8:04 am

    I take old shirts, underwear and socks with me. Get a few day’s worth of wear out of them and then throw them away.
    I then buy replacements from local bargain shops or markets.

  10. picturegal

    August 7, 2018 at 8:12 am

    I never take more than a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. My carry-on even holds my camera tripod. I use the packing cubes and roll my clothes rather than folding them. It is more of a challenge with my husband’s clothes, but I still manage to get everything in his carry-on. Biggest problem — his shoes take up so much room. But I’ve learned we need to travel with a backup pair of shoes after the pair he was wearing got soaking wet and moldy and it was five days before we were anywhere we could buy another pair.

  11. mpiotrow

    August 7, 2018 at 9:30 am

    @koalay, I’m wondering how you vacuum out the vacuum seal bags once you are on your trip. Or are you just talking about zip lock style bags?

  12. kkua

    August 7, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    You forgot to mention: don’t bring things you can easily (and cheaply) replace at the destination. This includes toiletries, t-shirts, undergarments, sunblock, beach gear and charging cables.

  13. SamirD

    August 8, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    I had never heard of the brand Eagle Creek when I bought my very large (and expensive) backpack for lugging books when going to college. But it has been faithfully by my side since 1996/97, and has sometimes been my only baggage since it splits off into two backpacks. Looks like I bought a very well known brand to travelers. 🙂

    One thing I’ve learned to do is evaluate my packing at the end of each trip and see how I did in terms of overpacking. That really helped me dial in my routine I’ve got now. And it’s helpful to have domestic and international packing lists, especially if you’ve got certain ‘types’ of destinations that require one thing but not another.

  14. pointchaser

    August 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    @bowgie thank you! Glad it’s useful. Very basic, but that’s who I am. 🙂 Love your tip RE a small day pack.

    @koalay you can get the same effect with trash bags. The only problem is if you’re staying at a hotel, it’s tough to get a hold of a vacuum cleaner.

    @Dianne47 that makes me think of these new “laundry bags” I came across recently. They’re the size of a drawstring bag – you drop a specific amount of water, detergent, then scrub your clothes through the bag. Sounds kind of lame but I hear it’s a good laundry alternative.

    @jonsg Will check it out! They do need a new website though….

    @andreaNewEngland good tip RE color coordinating clothes. I try to stick to neutrals. Cannot believe it when these Youtube travel bloggers pack full sized hairdryers and products into their bags. SMH, kids these days.

    @mikem004 that’s the way to do it!

    @kkua absolutely!

  15. bh22

    August 14, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Watch out when you’re in Asia. Most airlines have a 15 to 22 pound weight limit for carry-on bags. I can’t imagine surviving more than two or three days with such a low weight limit.

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