Is your baggage weighing you down? Let go! And travel with just a carry-on bag. Yes, even on long trips to Europe or elsewhere abroad. You’ll feel liberated and have a much easier time getting around. Plus, with many airlines now charging extra for first checked bag even on long-haul routes, you’ll save some money as well.
Packing for a Long Trip in Just One Bag
Essentially, what you need for a week away from home is the same amount you need for 2-3 weeks or even months. What you give up in choice, you’ll gain in simplicity due to less options. If you’ve ever wondered how you could possibly go on a multi-week trip abroad with just carry-on luggage, I’m here to explain what to bring, what to wear, and how to pack.
What to Bring on a Long Trip
As I said before, this is not much different than what many people bring on short trips. The key is to keep it as light as possible, because many airlines have weight restrictions for carry-on luggage. Some will include a personal item, such as a laptop, in the weight restriction, but most will only weigh your carry-on bag, so you can leave a personal item off the scale if an airline requests to weigh your carry-on. Read your airlines’ bag policy and weight restrictions carefully and pack accordingly.
On a longer trip, my rule of thumb is to bring a total of around five outfits to wear while traveling. It’s possible to go with less, but this amount fits easily in one bag and is a good starting point for travelers who are used to carrying more in checked luggage. I’ve created a list of what I generally bring with me for any trip from a few weeks to a few months.
These items cover a wide range of climates and activities. The key is to have layers of lightweight clothing. Of course, this list is more specific to male travelers and every individual will have some variations, but you can use this as a guide to help you when you pack. Ladies…have a look at these ultra packable dresses and some travel-friendly dresses with pockets for some clothing ideas. Just don’t pack too many shoes!
- 3-4 T-shirts
- 1-2 Pair of shorts — These convertible pants from Columbia give you pants and shorts in one.
- 2 Pair of pants
- 1 Belt
- 1 Long sleeve dress shirt
- 1-2 Short sleeve dress shirt (if only going to a cold climate, substitute an extra long sleeve or a nice looking sweater)
- 5-7 Pair of underwear / socks
- 1 Swimsuit
- 1 Hoodie
- 1 Lightweight waterproof jacket
- 1 Baseball cap or sun hat
- 1 Beanie / toque
- 1 Pair of lightweight waterproof gloves
- 1 Pair of universal shoes (everyday)
- 1 Pair of hiking boots or running shoes
- 1 Pair of sandals or flip flops
- Laptop (if necessary) with protective sleeve
- Chargers for devices and portable USB charger
- Accessories (usb stick, cables, etc.)
- Universal power adapter
Toiletries / Personal items:
Make sure your liquids are TSA compliant.
- Small reusable bottles filled with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and sunscreen
- Pocket laundry wash
- Toothbrush, shaver, comb, deodorant, medications, etc.
Travel Documents & Money:
- Passport / ID, itinerary, wallet, USD cash
- ATM card with no fees
- Credit card with no foreign transaction fees
- Travel pillow
- Travel towel
- Eye mask
- Small amount of duct tape or electrical tape
- First Aid
- Water bottle
- TSA luggage locks
- Dry sack
- Small bag for dirty laundry
- Zip-lock bags
- Drawstring bag
- Book or eReader
Obviously, not all of these items are essential, but they all fit in my carry-on bag and I find them all very useful on the road. Slight adjustments are made depending on the type of trip. Traveling for a wedding or formal event? Throw in a lightweight blazer or wear it while flying to save space. If you’re worried about stinky clothes, remember that there are affordable laundry services all over the world. Bringing along pocket laundry wash or travel sink packs can get you by in a pinch.
For colder climates, you’d be surprised how well you can keep warm with just a few layers of the right clothing. Adding a thin layer of long underwear will do wonders and won’t take up much space or weight in your bag. A waterproof windbreaker as an outer shell along with a hat and gloves will keep you warm in most places around the world. Growing up in northern Minnesota, I know this isn’t true everywhere. When I visit for the holidays in November or December, I just strap my winter coat on the outside of my carry-on.
What to Wear for Travel and How to Pack Your Carry-On
Before you start packing, set aside what you plan to wear for your flight. It’s best to have a few layers and wear bulkier items to save space and weight in your bag. If you’re traveling from a warmer climate, attach heavier clothing on the outside of your carry-on or pack on the top so you can put it on once you arrive inside an air-conditioned terminal. You’ll want something long sleeve inflight since the AC on aircraft can sometimes get out of control.
As for packing the bag, rolling your clothing will save the most space in your bag and also keep them from getting too wrinkled. You can use empty space inside shoes to stuff your socks and also stuff smaller items in the corners of your bag once you pack the larger items. Place your shoes inside a drawstring bag to keep other items from getting dirty and you’ll also have an easy beach bag with you at your destination.
Rolling up an empty daypack and placing it in your carry-on bag is a great idea if you’d like to have a smaller bag to use at your destination. You can also pack this with inflight essentials to keep under your seat once you get on the plane or while waiting at the gate. Zip-lock bags help keep things organized and can also be used on the road to keep things dry in the rain. I also like to use the small bags from old amenity kits to organize my electronics. The most useful items for packing are the carabiners and bungees. These are incredibly useful to attach items to the outside of your bag that you want to access easily.
Carry-On Bags to Fit Everything You Need
The type of carry-on bag you choose can make or break your trip. I always prefer to go with a medium sized backpack with the ability to strap things on the outside of the bag. If you prefer wheeled luggage, there are many great rollaboard options as well as hybrid backpacks with wheels. If you’ll be living out of your bag for an extended period, you’ll want to choose something that has multiple pockets to keep your items organized. Here are a few bags I recommend.