What to Pack for a Trip: Travel Packing Checklist for Carry-On Only (2023)
I talk about packing a lot on Travel Made Simple. I try to travel carry-on only whenever possible because I love the freedom of having less stuff to carry around with me. So today I want to share my travel packing checklist with you so you’ll know what to pack for a trip.
I pack the same things for nearly every trip I take, which makes my life easier. So what’s on my packing list? Take a look below! Here’s what I pack when I travel, and remember, everything listed here fits in my carry-on bag because I love traveling light.
What to pack for a trip
What I pack for a trip won’t exactly match what you pack for a trip because we’re all different. I don’t wear dresses, but maybe you love them. I’m a woman, so some items listed might not apply if you’re a man. I usually travel with my husband, but sometimes I travel solo or with a friend.
My packing list is also not designed for technical trips, like camping or skiing. You’ll need different things for that kind of trip, and you might even need to check luggage depending on what you need to bring with you.
This packing list is flexible, so adjust it according to your specific needs and style. But this should give you a solid base and help you cut out the unnecessary stuff that’s holding you back from skipping the checked bags.
How much clothing is on my packing list
Clothing usually takes up roughly half of my bag, maybe slightly more. I strongly believe that you only need a week’s worth of clothing no matter how long the trip is.
If you’re packing for a weekend trip, you’ll need even less.
Because in most situations, you can wear the same shirt more than once before washing it. You can wear your jeans multiple times before washing them.
And if you’re traveling for several weeks, you can’t realistically pack clothes to last that entire time anyway.
It’s ok to do laundry in the middle of your trip, I promise.
So here’s what clothing I normally pack for a trip:
- 5-7 shirts (short sleeve for warm weather trips, long sleeve for cold weather trips)
- 1 pair of jeans (I might bring two for a cold weather trip longer than a week)
- Something to sleep in (for me this means gym-style pants or shorts and a t-shirt)
- 4-5 pairs of socks
- 8-10 pairs of underwear (usually 1 per day; I’ll do laundry on longer trips)
- 2 bras
If it’s a hot destination, I’ll throw in one or two pairs of shorts, plus a bathing suit if I plan on going swimming. Or a ball cap style hat for a hot destination if I’m going to be outside a lot, though usually not a city trip.
I’ll include a winter hat, gloves, and scarf for a cold destination.
I also always bring some type of lightweight jacket in case of rain, or a hoodie, even for warm weather trips, in case of cold buses, trains, or planes. Usually I wear or carry this, so it isn’t taking up space in my bag.
Quick dry fabrics
Recently I’ve started buying shirts in quick-dry fabrics. They’re wonderful for travel because they don’t smell as quickly when you sweat, which makes it easier to wear them again.
They also pack up smaller than cotton, which is great for saving space in your bag. And if you have to wash a shirt in the sink, it’ll be dry before you wake up the next day.
There are several options for quick dry clothing, such as merino wool or nylon blends. But the tag will usually say “quick dry” in the marketing text since it’s a great selling point.
Even at home, I air dry my quick dry clothing since they dry so fast. The heat of the dryer can shrink them, so be careful if you do use the dryer.
As for shoes, pack shoes that are comfortable to walk in. If you’re packing nice clothes or you’re a dressy person in general, you’ll want some dressier shoes, but I still recommend ones that aren’t too painful for walking.
Going somewhere beachy? Don’t forget your flip flops or sandals.
Also, don’t bring any shoes that only go with one outfit. It’s a waste to carry around bulky, heavy shoes you’re only going to wear once.
Overall, limit yourself to 1-3 pairs of shoes tops.
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Toiletries on my carry-on packing list
Since I almost always travel carry-on only, I have to limit the liquids I pack. Luckily there are lots of solid toiletries that can easily replace your liquid items.
Here’s my standard toiletries packing list:
- Shampoo and conditioner (Check out my favorite solid shampoo and solid conditioner on Amazon.)
- Shower gel or bar soap
- Toothbrush and toothpaste (Why not try solid toothpaste?)
- Contact solution and case
- Nail clippers and nail file
- Brush and hair elastics
I almost never wear makeup, so I almost never travel with it. I know that might make me a little weird, so if you like wearing makeup, be sure to pack yours.
But limit yourself to just the essentials to save space, and make sure any liquid makeup gets packed in your liquids bag. You can read more about taking makeup on a plane here.
As I mentioned, I now use solid shampoo and conditioner. I thought I’d just use them when I travel, but I actually like them better, and now I use the solids all the time.
I’ve found lots of other wonderful non-liquid products to replace the liquid versions, and it has made packing much easier. Things like solid sunscreen, bug repellent, perfume, and more.
Read more about solid carry on toiletries here. They’ll change you’re life, I swear.
For liquids you’re not willing to leave behind, I use refillable containers that are 3.4 ounces (100ml) or smaller, like these from GoToob, and pack them in a quart-sized zip top bag.
It’s a good idea to bring a few extra bags in case one rips. I also love toiletry bags for small non-liquid items so they don’t get lost in my luggage.
>>Read: Is deodorant considered a liquid?
Electronics: what to bring when traveling
I need my laptop to work, and I often work while traveling, so I probably pack more electronics than you might need. Seriously consider leaving your laptop at home when you go on vacation.
I love my Kindle because it allows me to bring as many books as I want without adding lots of weight to my bag.
I can’t imagine traveling without a camera to take pictures, and an extra memory chip is worth the tiny space it takes up. Although if you use your phone as your camera, that’ll take up even less space.
Don’t forget all the necessary batteries, cords, and chargers for your electronics. Plug adapters are vital if you’re traveling to a country that has different electrical outlets than your home country.
Read more about taking batteries in luggage.
I typically don’t recommend traveling with hair straighteners, hair dryers, or curling irons. Most hotels will have a hair dryer.
If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll either need an electrical converter or a dual voltage hair appliance, and even still, many of them only work properly at lower heat levels.
But if you really want to bring yours, read this post find out everything you need to know about traveling with hair straighteners, hair dryers, or curling irons.
Other essential items on my travel packing checklist
Of course there are other essential travel items that you should pack for a trip. And there are certain things that are personal to you that might not be on my list.
Pack any prescription medication you might need. I recommend packing a little more than you’ll need to get through your trip in case your return flight gets delayed and you get stuck for an extra day or two.
You should also pack over the counter pain medicine and wound cream. You can buy most first aid items almost anywhere you go, so I typically don’t pack too much of this kind of thing unless I’m traveling somewhere remote.
I wear contact lenses, so I also bring my prescription glasses when I travel. Sunglasses are essential for most trips, too.
>>Read: Can you bring toothpaste on a plane?
I’m sure this is obvious, but don’t forget to pack your ID, credit and debit cards, cash, and passport (for an international trip). It’s also good to have a pen and a little notebook.
Depending on the trip, I might also pack a small flashlight or even a headlamp. This is especially important when traveling to developing countries where the electricity is more likely to go out.
And finally, one of my most important travel essentials is tissues. Pack one or two of those little tissue packs, you never know when you’ll need it.
Whether it’s dry air on the airplane that irritates my nose or a public bathroom with no toilet paper, a pack of tissues will always come in handy.
>>Read: Can you take disinfectant wipes on a plane? Plus how to disinfect your airplane seat!
My favorite carry-on luggage
One of the most important parts of traveling carry-on only is making sure your luggage is small enough.
I love this eBags luggage because it holds so much while still managing to stay within the carry-on luggage size restrictions of most airlines. It doesn’t have a good hip belt though, so I wouldn’t use it on a trip where I’ll be walking around a lot while wearing the backpack.
I also tried their packing cubes, and I was amazed at how helpful they are. Packing cubes can really help you more easily fit everything you need into your carry-on bag.
REI travel backpacks
My other travel backpack is the REI Trail 40. (They have a men’s version too.) I’ve taken it on many trips and never had a problem bringing it on the plane as a carry-on bag. It holds everything I need and has great support from the straps and hip belt.
Another great bag I never travel without is a stuff bag, which folds up into itself. It works great as a day pack and can be packed up into my main bag when I’m not using it. We own several, and one of our favorites is the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack.
Tortuga Setout women’s backpack
And because I’m addicted to travel backpacks, I’ve recently tested out a couple more. I really like the Tortuga Setout 35L women’s backpack because it’s specifically designed for females.
It has a dedicated laptop sleeve, lots of great pockets, and it’s comfortable to wear. This backpack opens like a suitcase, which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.
Click the link above to get the bag, or check out my full review of the Tortuga women’s Setout backpack here.
If backpacks aren’t your thing, check out our post about the best carry on luggage. It also has advice to help you choose the right piece of luggage for your needs and travel style.
Get the printable packing list for carry-on only travel
I’ve compiled everything into a detailed travel packing checklist to make it easier for you to pack and not forget something important.
April 14, 2021 @ 2:24 am
There should be more things like books and pillows blankets there is a lot more things
April 14, 2021 @ 5:58 pm
Hi Steph! I did mention bringing a Kindle so you can have as many books as you want with you on your trip. I’d never pack physical books because they’re heavy and take up too much space. If you like travel pillows, by all means you should bring one. I can never one that works for me, so I gave up! And a blanket…if you want to travel with a blanket, go for it, but I feel like that takes up too much space for so little use. This packing list is mostly for traveling with only carry on luggage, no checked bags, so I need each item I pack to have lots of use and take up as little space as possible. But it’s not one-size-fits-all, so maybe you have room for a lightweight travel blanket instead of something else on my list that you don’t need. Always adjust for your own travel style!
October 27, 2020 @ 5:58 pm
So for the first time I will be traveling “carry on” only….your article has been a tremendous help! Thank you!!
My question is….can you address my “personal” bag that I also can bring on the plane? I’m using my large purse as that item and want to know what I can and can’t put in it? Curious if I can put additional liquids as long as they are small (3.4 ounces) in my purse?
October 29, 2020 @ 10:46 am
Hi Sherri! Thank you, I’m so glad the post was helpful to you! First, check the airline you’re flying to make sure you’re allowed to have a personal item. Most airlines do allow it, but there are a few that don’t. I have a helpful chart, I’ll link to it at the end of my reply here. Then, assuming you are allowed to bring a personal item, anything you can pack in your carry on bag can also go in the personal item. You are only allowed one liquids bag per passenger, so that bag can either go in your main bag or your purse. So if you normally keep a small tube of lotion in your purse, that needs to go in your liquids bag. But once you pass through security, you can put it back in your purse if you want. Just remember, if you have a layover where you have to go through security again, make sure all your liquids are back in the liquids bag. I normally pack small, heavier items in my personal item since it is less likely to be weighed by the airline, though certainly some airlines do weigh both items. Some airlines even list a separate weight requirement for your personal item.
Here’s my chart with 170+ airlines and their carry on luggage size restrictions. Find your airline, click on the name, and you’ll see all the details about what size, weight, and number of items they allow for cabin bags.
I hope this helps, but let me know if you have any other questions!
August 27, 2020 @ 3:29 pm
Hi, I’m wondering how do I pack my medications I have to take insulin 2 kinds n they need to b cold n also I need to put with an ice pack.. also pain meds n other meds..so can I carry a back pack with that n snacks n my lap top n still have a carry on bag to put up top.. i just need to know if i can carry meds n snack n lapto in a school bag back pack n then my carry on seperate.. please help
August 27, 2020 @ 4:55 pm
Hi Bella! You are allowed to travel with insulin and other medications in your carry on. Please always pack them in your carry on bag! TSA has lots of information about traveling with insulin and diabetes supplies, so go to this website and type “insulin” into the search box, and you’ll see several entries. Ice packs are allowed for medical reasons such as yours, so go to this page on TSA’s site, make sure the dropdown menu is on “medications” and read through that. Ice packs are mentioned in the “accessories” section.
As far as bringing a carry on bag and a backpack, that depends on your airline. Most, but not all, airlines allow you to bring a carry on bag and a personal item, and the personal item must fit underneath the seat in front of you. Each airline has their own restrictions as far as number of items, measurements of the bags, and weight of the bags. So as long as you can fit all your things within the restrictions of your airline, you’ll be fine. A school backpack might work as your personal item depending on how small it is. Here are a few articles on my site that might help you:
Carry On Luggage Size Chart: 170+ Airlines
What NOT to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag
Can you bring food on a plane?
May 17, 2019 @ 4:07 pm
Are you limited to one quart size liquid container per person even with checked luggage. Can you have one for carry on and one for checked.
May 20, 2019 @ 6:58 am
Hi Suzanne! The limit for liquids in your carry-on bag is 3.4 ounces (100ml) per container, and larger containers are not allowed even if they contain less than 3.4 ounces of liquid. These containers must all fit into a one quart clear zip top bag, and you are only permitted one bag. For your checked luggage, you can have as many containers as you want, and they can be any size. I always suggest packing liquids in checked luggage inside of some other kind of bag in case they break open or leak during transport.
December 9, 2018 @ 8:30 am
Hey banks I’m traveling with my family soon you were really helpful
December 9, 2018 @ 5:46 pm
Glad to help!
May 22, 2014 @ 2:22 pm
Thank you for this awesome article, graphic and download Ali. It covers all practical bases and appears that it can be used worldwide as well.
Kudos and congratulations as always for a job well done.
May 16, 2014 @ 10:49 pm
Kudos Ali – you have it down to a science!
Here’s a challenge for you…
pack “light” for a cold weather destination.
You up for that? 😀
May 17, 2014 @ 2:37 am
One bag packing for the far north can be done! It is a bit tougher but I do layers with fleece lined jeans, wear the layers includeing coat on the plane. For business trips a week or longer I will also rent a house many times (cheaper than a hotel) and have acess to a washing machine.
I refuse to check a bag!
May 17, 2014 @ 1:10 pm
Fleece-lined jeans sound nice! And yes, layers are a great way to go carry-on only in cold destinations.
November 15, 2018 @ 7:12 am
Hi can you put a curling iron in your carry on?
November 20, 2018 @ 5:06 pm
Hi Angel! If it’s a normal curling iron, yes you can pack it in your carry-on. However, if it’s one of those with a gas cartridge, that has to go in your checked luggage. Either way, I recommend wrapping it in a wash cloth or hand towel in case you have to pack it while it’s still hot, that way it won’t burn your clothes.
January 25, 2019 @ 6:15 pm
Angel, not sure if you’re going to see this, but I’ve recently found conflicting info on the TSA website about hair straighteners and curling irons that use a butane gas cartridge, so I emailed them to clarify. Those kind can only be packed in carry on luggage, not checked luggage. I’ve recently written a full post about flying with hair straighteners, curling irons, and hair dryers.
May 17, 2014 @ 12:04 pm
Thanks Maria! Yep, I’ve done it! My round the world trip with carry-on only included both warm and cold weather destinations, and I went to South America and Antarctica with carry-on only too. Bring a few heavier shirts and layer up! It meant I was carrying a winter coat to Bora Bora, but oh well.