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The suspense, the excitement, the “Aaah I can’t wait to get there” feeling of going on a new traveling adventure is something everyone, or at least us – the wanderlust souls, live for. Booking air tickets, searching for the perfect hotel with the best room view is what makes our soul tingle with joy and fill our hearts. There’s nothing more exciting than planning a new trip, searching for the absolute best itineraries, which will help us get the most out of it.

And then, there’s packing for the trip. It’s not that packing is so much of a hassle… Well, at least it wouldn’t be if you could bring all the perfect outfits you imagined yourself in for the perfect Instagram photos on the perfect locations. But, with all the brazenly expensive baggage fees, that is just impossible. And, let’s be honest, there’s nothing elegant and stylish in dragging your big suitcase through the airport, waiting for it at baggage claim, while you could be sipping a mojito by the pool…

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Carry on only travel? Yes, packing in your carry on can be challenging, but there’s also a plus side to it – getting on and off of your flight feeling light and breezy, and starting your much-anticipated adventure as soon as possible.

Shop one of my favorite carry-ons on Amazon

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So, where do you start when you’re packing in a small carry on?

Start with good research – where are you going? What is the weather forecast for the period you’ll be visiting the place? Are there any cultural customs regarding clothing you should take into consideration?  Are there any events happening at the time of your visit? Should you prepare some kind of special outfit for it? Packing for 2 weeks in a carry on bag?

PRO TIP: I usually use Skyscanner to check the best flight options. They have tons of deals.

Also, think about the events you’ll be attending – maybe you’re visiting a friend and you know you will go out partying. Or you’ll do some business while you’re visiting, so you might have to dress a bit more businessy for that occasion.

The key to packing well is thoroughly planning out your trip – where are you going, what will you be doing, what places you’ll visit. When you know all of that, you can pack accordingly, without any fear you forgot to pack something. This might be a bit of a downer for the adventurous kind of travelers, who like to do it on a whim, but then again, if you don’t mind traveling on a whim, then you won’t mind if you don’t have just the right clothing for every situation, right?

Now that you’ve thoroughly planned out your trip – here are some tips and tricks that will help you with choosing the right outfits and packing them in your carry on.

one bag travel tips - how to pack light

Pack outfits, not clothes

While this is an advice that is so worn-out, it can’t be avoided or emphasized enough –because it’s really easy to pack your favorite pair of pants that go really good with that one shirt. Yes, that one shirt. The thing is, no matter how hip and great those pants are, you should really think about packing pieces of clothing that can really go well with multiple pieces of clothing. This way, you can combine, mix and match, which is how you’ll get several different cool outfits, that are appropriate for different occasions from just several pieces of clothing.

If you’re having trouble deciding which clothes you should choose, a thing that always helps me is to think about clothing essentials every woman should have in her wardrobe and then adjust it for my trip.

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This is how my list would look like, for, let’s say, a week-long summer city break in Lisbon:

  • 6 shirts (mostly plain colored, maybe you could fit in one or two with a print)
  • skinny jeans
  • black, elegant trousers
  • 2 shorts
  • 2 sundresses (one maxi, one midi, wrinkle-free material)
  • slinky, maxi, black dress
  • cardigan (plain colored)
  • a colorful scarf or two
  • backpack (check with the airline if you can bring a personal item, along with your carry on, most of them allow it)
  • small, evening bag
  • statement jewelry
  • sunglasses 
  • comfy, white sneakers
  • flats
  • heeled sandals
  • basic make-up
  • sunscreen!
  • undergarments
  • charger

Do take into consideration that this is my packing list – it’s made for my trip only, but with a few adjustments, it can guide you through your packing process.

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So, why are all these items on the list?

Firstly, the shirts. As it says, they should be plain colored, so you could mix and match them with different bottoms. That one’s pretty obvious, right? Same goes for skinny jeans, black trousers, shorts, and undergarments. 

Bringing a maxi sundress can be useful if you’re planning on visiting some religious places, such as churches or cathedrals. Also, they are comfy and simple to pack – ideal for summer trips.

No matter where I’m traveling, I always bring a maxi, slinky, black dress with me. Just in case there’s a special occasion to attend, which calls for a bit of elegance. It’s easy to pack, it doesn’t wrinkle and with the right piece of jewelry, it always looks classy. That’s why I usually pack a small evening bag with me.

Pro tip: while packing, use the evening purse as a jewelry bag. It will save you some space and keep your jewelry from tangling.

Using statement jewelry and colorful scarfs is an easy way to accessorize your outfits, to really give them a twist, considering you’ll mostly be wearing plain-colored clothes. These items are easy to pack, they don’t take up a lot of space – so this is where you can let yourself go a bit crazy and pack several items, even the ones you might not wear on the trip at all in the end (gasp!).

doi suthep temple in chiang mai thailand

One thing you should think about is the weather and this can’t be emphasized enough. This being my list for a summer city break in a city that has a typical Mediterranean climate – I decided not to pack any jacket or a raincoat, the cardigan is sufficient. If I was traveling to a colder climate or if heavy rain was forecasted for the period of my visit, a raincoat would be a must. So, do your research and adjust your packing list accordingly.

When choosing the shoes for the trip, try to pick ones that combine well with the rest of your (packed) wardrobe. A different pair of shoes, just like jewelry can make all the difference to your outfit. A pair of great heeled sandals and a piece of statement jewelry can turn a relaxed, skinny jeans+plain t-shirt look to a casual chic look in just a few moments. Also, when choosing what shoes you’ll pack, do pack the ones that are also comfy and practical to wear during the trip. You wouldn’t like to add blister bandages on your packing list!

Here are some shoe brands that are usually quite comfy but still stylish:

Pack it away!

When it comes to packing it all in your carry on – roll it up all the way. This is the safest way your clothes won’t get too wrinkled and is also the best way to save up as much as space as you can. If you do have pieces of clothing that can wrinkle easily and you just have to pack them (e.g you’re going on a wedding during your trip) – dry-cleaning bags are your allies. Pack your clothes in a dry-cleaning bag, hang them somewhere you’ll see them and wait until the very last moment you have to go to your flight to pack them. Carefully fold them and put them on top of your clothes. It might not work the best, but it definitely will help.

Make use of all the space you have – put your belts on your jeans, stuff your socks into your flats, think of all the ways you can save some space. Packing cubes are also a good way to save some space in your bag.

When dressing for the flight, pick the chunkiest pieces of clothing. This will make extra space in your carry on. Also, all the electronics you might bring pack in your backpack, this way they’ll be safe with you.

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But, did I pack everything I need?

Well, this is something this article can’t really help you with – after all it is about how to stay stylish during your trip. But, something that you should definitely do, especially if you’re planning on traveling to destinations with different cultures than the ones you’re used to, is to consult as many travel blogs as you can. Besides this, Pinterest is a great source for finding travel inspiration. Learn as much as you can about the destination, what can you expect to find there, what you might have to pack and carry with you from home. For example, Carolin from the Breathing Travel blog has an amazing, comprehensive Thailand travel list, where you can check if you packed everything you need. If you’re planning on visiting the amazing GOT filming locations, Sarah-Jane and Mate got you covered.

Recommended: Best cities to visit in Thailand

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Wherever you plan on traveling to, keep in mind why you’re packing everything in a carry on – to avoid the extra hassle with claiming and dragging your baggage, so you could enjoy your trip to the fullest. So, try to keep that mindset during the whole trip. Maybe you won’t always have just the perfect outfit or just the perfect shoes, but you’ll have perfect memories of the place you visited – relaxed and without a worry in the world – while exploring the world! 

This is a guest post by: Hannah Belger, a writer for Breathing Travel

Hannah is a wanderer and traveler who loves writing about destinations she visited and sharing the passion she feels while getting to know new places and new people.When she is not traveling, she is pinning the places on Pinterest, and her latest obsession is Greece.

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