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How to pack for a month in a carry on

Packing light is HUGE for making a trip easy and simple! Here’s a complete list of how to pack for month in a carry on bag.

Packing for a month long trip? Here's how to do it with only carry on luggage!

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When I was eleven, my grandfather died somewhat suddenly. He had cancer and we were sad and I still miss him, but that’s not the point of this story.

The point of this story was that my parents told us to go pack for a weeklong trip, bringing nice clothes and play clothes and things to entertain ourselves and our cousins while the grown ups made arrangements and grieved. We were to jump on a cross-country flight in the morning.

My middle school self packed in my new duffle bag, a birthday present, and threw in clothes and books and games and my entire nail polish collection.

There were two problems with this: unlike everyone else’s luggage, my beautiful giant duffle bag didn’t have wheels. My dad, always the gentlemen, hauled my two-ton bag of stuff through the airport like a champ but gave me crap for packing so much. This only got worse when they discovered I’d brought all 40 bottles of nail polish I owned. The entire extended family teased me mercilessly, and one aunt in particular still brings is up every time I see her. It’s been fifteen years, people!

I will point out that every single woman there used my nail polish that week. So I think I won this round.

Don't waste a long layover! Here's how to spend 12 hours in NYC!
Nothing like having to cart your luggage through NYC all day to motivate you to pack light!

All of this to say that I’m now a MUCH better packer than that. I’ve been lucky enough to have taken several month-long trips to Europe in a carryon. I spent 3 weeks in New Zealand living out a bag smaller than my microwave.

Packing light isn’t as hard as you think!

Tips for Packing for a Month

  • Plan ahead: If you want to do this, you absolutely cannot start packing the night before. It won’t work. Start pulling things out at least a week before – you’ll need to look at everything together, even if you have to keep wearing that favorite pair of jeans before you leave.
  • Stick to basics: I’ll be the first to admit that I love color and pattern and struggle with this one the most. But seriously, make everything match everything. I always pick either brown or black accessories, not both. Throw in a scarf or two to mix things up. Or even better, buy one along the way as a fun souvenir!
  • Plan to do laundry: I can’t stress this enough. Bring a week’s worth of underwear (or less) and find laundramats or wash in the sink.
  • You don’t need much in terms of tech and toys: I’ve never take my laptop because smartphones are wonderful and many hostels have computers you can access. I rarely take my iPad, but occasionally do just in case. Most of the time I can live without it.  My weakness is books, so I try to go the audiobook/ebook route, and any paperbacks that make the cut are dense (so I don’t need ten of them) and I always leave them in hostels once I’ve finished.
  • Plan to wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane: one less thing to stuff.
  • Use packing cubes: whether you’re using a backpack or a wheeled suitcase, it keeps things organized. Which is perfect if you’re trying to quietly get dressed in a dorm full of sleeping travelers. They don’t have to be expensive: I have these and love them.
There's a bit of an art to packing light. Here's a few tips to get you started!
Here’s what I packed for a month in Europe!
  • Channel your inner minimalist: When it comes to toiletries, what can you abosultely not live without?  Cut your routine back to its bare essentials for daily use. Things you use weekly, skip. You don’t need seven shades of eye shadow. If you’re traveling with someone, team up on shampoo/soap/toothpaste.  You can buy sunscreen there if you’re worried about liquids.
  • Pack clothes you don’t mind ditching: The fashionistas will probably disagree here, but I love doing this. I always pack clothes I wouldn’t be sad to lose if my luggage disappeared. Then I take it a step further and pack about half things that are worn out, which I leave or donate along the way. It frees up space in your bags for purchases!
  • Strategize: I’m a huge proponent of just taking one suitcase, and a carryon at that if you can help it. But if you do take two, have a system. For plane travel, that means split your underwear & essentials in case one gets lost. I’m currently spending nine weeks (!!) out of suitcases, so I confess I have two. But one has my PJs, toiletries and most-worn clothes while the other holds my coat, extra shoes, and less used items. This way, if I’m only staying somewhere one night, I just bring in one bag and leave the other in the car.

Here’s a basic list to get you started:

Packing for a month long trip? Here's how to do it with only carry on luggage!

Keep in mind, this needs to shift for weather, activities, and purpose of travel. All my previous trips involved backpacking, so I either skipped or made do for any nice events. (On one I ended up going to a ball! Luckily a friend lent me a dress. But that’s another story.)

I just ventured out for a two-month jaunt in the southeastern US, and I confess my list is a bit longer than this. But between a wedding shower, a theme party and a black tie gala, I needed a bit more nuanced options, shall we say. I still managed to pack everything in two suitcases, which thanks to Southwest Airlines were free to check! Anyway, give yourself some wiggle room, but keep in mind that you’re the one who has to haul everything back and forth every time you move.

There's a bit of an art to packing light. Here's a few tips to get you started!
Always packing too many books. ALWAYS.

I created this list for my month-long trip to Europe in 2016. For more of our itinerary and travel guides, click here!

What’s that one thing you always take on trips? For me it’s my camera, I can’t live without it. Comment below, I’d love to hear!

20 thoughts on “How to pack for a month in a carry on

  1. Great post! I must confess that the one thing I struggle with when travelling is outfits picked up for the purpose of taking memorable pics! So, you get the point! The build up makes the difference! When I travel, that happens over the summer, so, the packing can become overwhelming sometimes!

    1. I completely get that – everyone wants great photos from their trip! My usual approach is to do it a bit like a capsule wardrobe: basics that I love, along with some scarves or jewelry to personalize the look.

  2. Heading to England for 2 weeks and I’m using your list as my inspiration. I’ve never traveled with just a carry-on. Major uncharted territory 😂

  3. I always take my travel watercolors and a small water color paper pad. I bring dish soap for washing in the sink. Love your idea of donating clothing!

  4. I never take more than three pairs of knickers. I wash them out when I’m in the shower, or by hand, and dry overnight. And only take knickers that are quick drying. I prefer merino Icebreaker brand that dry quickly and keep you fresh with their no stink qualities.

  5. This is super helpful! I too was a “pack everything” kinda gal. We’re a family of 4 and heading to Europe in a couple weeks. Its up to me to get us organized and your list is super helpful!

  6. I take my journal to capture conversations, things I read, historical facts about the places I go, t-shirt logos or sayings, funny events, thoughts & ideas I have along the way.

  7. I am about to leave for Hawaii and will be going to Florida, New York and Canada before returning home. Your list is very helpfull and now I feel well prepared. Apart from my CPAP, which is a machine that helps me breath when I sleep, I have to take my iPhone, to keep in touch with home via facebook, navigate between accommodations and watch videos during waiting times. Thanks so much. Diane.

    1. That sounds like a FANTASTIC itinerary, have a blast! My mom uses a CPAP and manages to make it work in a carryon as well. Bon voyage!

      1. I usually do laundry about once a week. If I’m traveling around, I’ll occasionally book a place with a washing machine and take advantage! If you’re worried about running out of underwear, I’ll do a sink wash if I’m running low!

        My trip was great – I’ve actually done the month-long travel several times now and it works like a charm!

  8. When I saw the title of your post I was like, “fingers crossed she tells the nail polish story and mentions ME!” I feel like a muse.

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