Clothing Packing Tips for Carry-On Only

Clothing Packing Tips for Carry-On Only

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Traveling carry-on only might seem restrictive and difficult to do, but I believe NOT checking luggage provides me with more freedom. Whether you’re trying to avoid checked bag fees, you’re worried about the airlines losing your luggage, or you just want to travel lighter, packing carry-on only is something you can easily do too. I’ll show you how!

Since you’ve committed to traveling with only carry-on luggage, the amount of stuff you can bring will be limited. So how do you decide what to bring and what to leave at home? Clothing is probably going to take up the most amount of room, but it’s also where you have the most flexibility, so it’s a good place to start. Here are some clothing packing tips for carry-on only travel.

Wear It Again

A big part of limiting the amount of clothing you pack is being ok with wearing the same thing two or even three times without washing it. I’m not talking about underwear, just shirts, shorts, and pants.

Chances are your clothes won’t get noticeably dirty in just one day. Even when traveling to a hot destination where you will sweat a lot, does it matter if you put on a shirt you wore two days earlier if you’re just going to sweat through it again?

If you’re really concerned about your clothes smelling, consider buying clothing made from technical fabrics. They’ll wick moisture instead of absorbing it, and if they do get wet, they’ll dry quickly.

clothing packing tips for carry-on only travel

Laundry Is Not a Dirty Word

It might not seem like something you want to deal with on vacation, but it’s relatively easy to do laundry on the road. The ideal situation would be to have your hotel do your laundry. Unless you’re staying at a five star resort, it should be reasonably priced. Ask the hotel ahead of time if you want to be prepared. If laundry is expensive or not offered at your hotel, look for a local laundromat.

I normally pack about a week’s worth of clothing. Knowing I’ll do laundry means I carry a lighter bag while I’m traveling, and that makes my life easier.

What materials are your clothes made from?

Certain fabrics pack up better than others. Consider clothing made from materials like merino wool since they keep you warm in cold weather, cool in warm weather, and they take up less space in your bag. They usually dry faster than your normal cotton t-shirts, which is helpful if you decide to wash clothes in the sink. And they breathe better, so you won’t sweat as much and your clothes won’t smell. Even better for wearing the same thing a few times without washing it.

Just In Case

You might be tempted to pack lots of alternative items just in case. Resist that temptation!

Think about what you’re actually going to do on your vacation, and bring clothing that fits with the types of activities you expect to do. Bringing a light jacket to the tropics in case of cold air conditioning or a cool night is fine. But you won’t need a winter coat.

If you’re expecting to go out for one nice dinner, don’t bring three outfits. Make the decision before you leave home so you don’t end up carrying around extra clothes you won’t wear.

clothing packing tips for carry-on only travel

To get the most use out of each item, make sure everything coordinates. A pair of pants that only match one shirt will just take up a lot of space.

Also, consider your personal comfort and how you normally like to dress. If you wear casual dresses most days, you probably won’t want to wear jeans on vacation, and vice versa.


Don’t pack too many pairs of shoes! (This tip is mostly for the ladies, but I’m sure there are a few guys out there who need to hear it, too.)

clothing packing tips for carry-on only travel

Not only are shoes heavy, but they take up a lot of precious space in your bag. Sturdy, comfortable sneakers or hiking boots make sense if you’re going to be walking or hiking, but one pair should be enough.

If you’re traveling to a warm destination, flip flops or sandals are useful as well, but again, stick to one pair.

And those shoes that only go with one outfit? Don’t bring them!

Remember that the main focus of your trip is the travel and the vacation itself, not what you’re wearing. You want to be comfortable and practical, but you don’t need to win any best dressed awards. Deciding what clothing you really need and leaving the rest at home will make a big difference in your suitcase.

Carry-on luggage other Travel Made Simple readers have purchased:

carry-on chart luggage travelprocarry-on chart luggage briggs riley3-samsonite4-ospreyluggage scale6-gotoob

Looking for more info about packing?

clothing packing tips for carry-on only travel

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  1. Jennifer

    I like to be stylish in everyday life so I also like to be stylish while traveling. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t pack carry-on only. To do that I bring things that coordinate and can be mixed and matched so that I don’t feel like I’m wearing the same outfit repeatedly. I also save my tattered jammies for travel and then just toss them at the end of a trip. I gives me a little space for a souvenir I might want.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      The mixing and matching is essential! I often bring a few things that I wouldn’t mind parting with so I can ditch things along the way if needed. Depending on where you travel, old clothes could be good donations too for people who need clothing.

  2. Gina

    Definitely agree on the shoe thing! One thing about flip-flops, too, you can usually buy them once you get there for pretty cheap. I did that when traveling around Thailand. I didn’t need them for most of the country, but wanted them in Ko Phi Phi so I bought a pair from a street vendor for $2 and then just left them behind when it was time to move on.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Very true, I’m a big fan of buying things as you need them, especially if it’s something you don’t need the whole time. And $2 is totally worth not having to lug them around if you know you only need them for a little while. I’ve done that with beach towels too.

  3. blaze

    We’ve done carryon only for the past 15 years and don’t even own large luggage anymore. We did a one month European vacation with our kids several years ago and we each took just a wheeled carry on. We packed a week’s work of clothing and washed at the end of week 1, 2, 3 and arrived home in our last clean clothes. We still took way too much. My DH had 2 days of business meetings during the trip and part of our 30 days was a 12 day cruise which involved formal nights, so even with my DH packing a jacket, shirts, ties, dress pants, shoes and a lap top it is possible. Actually the formal clothing and the computer probably took up 1 suitcase so without that 4 of us could have done just fine with 3 carryons between us. For myself I take a lot of black basics and a few bright colored items that all mix and match. I pack a tiny cardboard jewelry box with earings, and I take a plain black wrap and one multi colored one (black plus all the bright colors I bring). They act as headscaves where needed, and can dress up basic tops and pants for going out in the evenings.
    Tip: on days when you are switching locations, where your most bulky shoes so they never have to be packed.
    Check out Icebreaker brand tops. They are marino wool, they’re ultra fine and not itchy, and wick moisture away. The big deal with them is that you can wear them for many days without ANY odour. Mentally I still need to wash them after three days, but it wasn’t because they smelled. If you can get three+ days out of a shirt you really only need 2-3 in your bag. They wash in the sink and will be dry in the morning. I’ve stopped bringing tops with me that require a proper laundry and only bring my Icebreaker tops and a couple of sport tops that can also be sink laundered. If you bring all black pants, capris, shorts they can usually go a long time before they need a wash.

    The best laundry set up I ever found was a laudromat at the beach. You could relax in your bathing suit while everything else got washed.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      I love that you pack so light! Access to laundry is key to packing light, but even short of that, you can always wash a few things in the sink. The shirts you mentioned sound awesome, I’ll have to look into that. I usually wear a t-shirt 2, maybe 3, times when I’m traveling and just try not to worry about it, but having something specifically made for that would be great! Oh, and your beach laundry place sounds perfect!

  4. Ali P

    “consider your personal comfort and how you normally like to dress”.

    THIS. It’s taken me a long time to come to understand this. And even now I still think about packing the practical lightweight cargo pants that I’d never wear at home (and wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing elsewhere) or the top that goes with everything but I don’t love the fit of, or… I could go on. They’re just not me! Not at home, not on the road.

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      I bought a pair of those cargo pants once, the kind that zip off into shorts. I think I wore them twice in 5 months of traveling because they just weren’t me. I’m glad you figured out what works for you while traveling, and that it’s normally the same as when you’re at home!

  5. Nicola D.

    I got to your site via yTravel Blog. Love the tips on travelling light. I need to learn how to stop packing the ‘what if’ things. Mostly you will be able to buy whatever it is you need if ‘what if’ happens. I have a friend who buys enough very cheap panties (knickers) to last her entire trip. She throws them away as she goes along – saying she doesn’t want to be dropping her underwear off at the laundry. If she runs out, she finds another place that sells cheap underwear and just gets some more. Everyone has their own way of doing things.
    I love all the tips given here.
    Great site!

    1. Author
      Ali Garland

      Thanks Nicola, I’m glad you’re enjoying my site! I usually pack at least a few pairs of underwear that I’m willing to throw out along the way. Same with shirts really. Sometimes it’s nice to just chuck something to lighten your load. Your friend sounds a lot like my friend. We were on a trip together once and she decided if she could find underwear for less than the cost of doing laundry, she’d just buy new ones. She was successful!

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