I’ve been traveling with only carry on luggage for more than 15 years, and it’s one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made. It takes some effort, but I promise, if you want to pack for two weeks in a carry on bag, you can totally do it. And I can show you how.
What is the benefit of packing only carry on luggage? If you don’t have any checked luggage, you never have to worry about the airline losing your bags. Traveling with carry on luggage saves you money since you’re skipping all those expensive checked bag fees. And carrying around a lot less stuff on vacation is so much less stressful and easier than lugging heavy suitcases around for your whole trip.
In this article, I’ll show you how to pack for 2 weeks in a carry on so you never have to check bags again.
For me, traveling light and carrying around fewer things when I travel is very liberating. With years of experience with traveling carry on only, I’ve gotten pretty darn good at only packing the essentials. I promise, you really can learn how to pack a carry on for 2 weeks with my advice. And you can find my minimalist travel packing list for 2 weeks at the end.
How to pack a carry on for 2 weeks
Keep in mind that most airlines allow a personal item as well as a carry on bag. So you can pack everything you need for a two week trip in a carry on bag plus a personal item, whether you prefer to travel with a suitcase person or a backpack.
Please note that some posts contain links that earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Choose the right carry on for a 2 week trip
Most of the time, I am a backpack person, and I love traveling with my 40L backpack. But for some trips, it makes more sense to take a carry on sized suitcase instead.
I have many examples of how to pack for Europe in a carry on. Recently we took a 2 week trip in Europe in a carry on, and our destinations included 5 days in Vienna, a week in Romania, and 3 days in Prague. Andy and I each had a day pack plus we had one carry on sized suitcase between the two of us.
We’ve done similar two week Europe trips where each of us has our own 40L backpack. And a few months ago, we spent 2 weeks in Portugal where Andy had his 40L backpack, and I managed to fit everything into a 25L backpack with my DSLR camera as my personal item.
It’s up to your personal preference whether a suitcase or a backpack is the best fit.
No matter what type of baggage you go with, choose the lightest carry on bag possible. Backpacks don’t usually weigh much, but suitcases can be heavy even when empty. Since many airlines have a carry on weight limit, a heavy suitcase will really limit how much you can pack.
Most airlines allow 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 35 x 22 cm) as their standard carry on size, but always check the airline you fly with. Some airlines based outside of North America have smaller limits. And while many US airlines don’t have a carry on luggage weight limit, airlines in Europe and other parts of the world often do.
Here are a few carry on sized suitcases I recommend:
- TravelPro: This is one of the best suitcase brands out there, so if you’re looking for a high quality carry on, this is a good choice.
Shop now at Travelpro | Shop now on Amazon
- Briggs & Riley: This is another quality choice for suitcases. If you’re looking for something a little more high end, check out Briggs & Riley brand luggage.
Shop now at Briggs & Riley | Shop now on Amazon
- Level8: Not exactly budget, but Level8 is a slightly more affordable option for sturdy carry on luggage.
Shop now at Level8 | Shop now on Amazon
And if you’re more of a backpack person, 40L is generally the biggest you can get away with for carry on. Here are a few carry on sized backpacks I recommend:
- REI Trail 40: I’ve been traveling with this backpack for years, and I love it, plus REI is a great company. It comes in a female version and a male version.
- Osprey: Andy loves his Osprey Farpoint 40L, and they also have a female version, the Fairview 40L.
Shop on Amazon: Farpoint 40L (male) | Fairview 40L (female).
Shop at Osprey: Farpoint 40L (male) | Fairview 40L (female).
- Tortuga: I tested out a Tortuga backpack a few years ago, and I really liked how it was shaped like a suitcase and packed like a suitcase, but it was a backpack. The model I had has been discontinued, but they have newer ones that look just as great.
Choose the right personal item
Most airlines allow a carry on bag PLUS a personal item, so it’s like a nice little bonus to help you pack carry on for 2 weeks. If you’re not sure what the difference is, a carry on item is the bigger backpack or suitcase that goes in the overhead compartment. A personal item is a smaller bag, like a purse or small backpack, that must fit underneath the seat in front of you.
A small purse won’t give you much more space to carry things. But with a small backpack or a larger purse, and you can fit quite a few things in there, giving you more space for packing your necessities.
If I’m traveling with my 40L backpack, I won’t bring a second backpack as my personal item. It draws too much attention and I feel like there’s a higher chance a gate agent will make me gate check something.
So instead I’ll take a big purse or I’ll use my camera bag as my personal item. I’ve traveled carry on for so long I don’t often need much more than my main bag anyway, but if you’re new to packing in only a carry on, a decent personal item could make a big difference.
When I travel with a suitcase, I might bring my smaller 25L backpack. Although I’m starting to feel like 25L is pushing the limits as airlines get stricter and stricter, so a better choice would be something 20L or smaller.
Most airlines don’t have specific limits on the size of your personal item, but it must fit under the seat in front of you. I have seen a few airlines that do list a size, and the most common size seems to be 15.5 x 11.8 x 4 in (40 x 30 x 10 cm) so that’s a good guide. If your airline doesn’t specify, I wouldn’t be too worried about going a bit bigger.
- Travelon Anti-Theft Cross-Body Purse: This is a great option for keeping your important things safe while you’re sightseeing.
- Osprey Daylite Daypack: I love Osprey bags, and this is a good option for a small backpack to use as a personal item and day pack.
Shop on Amazon | Shop on Osprey.
- Fjallraven Kanken Backpack: This one is great because it’s so lightweight and it can pack flat if you have something else you’re using as a personal item. That way you can use this as your day pack when you arrive.
What to pack in your personal item
Since your personal item goes under the seat in front of you on the plane, this is where you should keep important items I’ll need during the flight. Things like tissues, hand lotion, hand sanitizer, Kindle, headphones, any medicine I might need on the flight, and maybe even a granola bar.
Yes, I did mention some liquids there. I take them out of my liquids bag and put them into my purse after I’ve cleared security. This is a personal preference though, and if I’m carrying a small backpack as my personal item, I would probably have my entire liquids bag in the backpack.
I also like to keep things in my personal item that I don’t want to be too far away from me. This includes my wallet, passport, and even my laptop if it fits in my personal item.
Check the weather
A couple of days before your trip, check the weather forecast for your destination. You probably have a general idea already of what the weather is like where you’re going. But by checking the forecast right before your trip, you’ll have a more accurate view of the conditions.
So if your destination is having a heatwave or a cold snap or lots and lots of rain, you can prepare for that without packing a bunch of stuff you won’t need. For a 2 week trip, it might not be so accurate further out, but this will give you a general idea.
I’ll usually add my destination(s) to my weather app a few weeks before my trip so I can keep tabs on the weather where I’m going. Then I’ll check it consistently the week leading up to my trip.
Pack coordinating clothes
With the right clothing, you can easily pack for 2 weeks in a carry on bag. Choose clothing that coordinates with everything else. Using a similar color palette helps with this, sort of like a mini vacation capsule wardrobe for two weeks.
A lot of my clothes are black, gray, purple, and blue, so almost everything works with everything else. Anything I own that doesn’t fit with these colors get left at home because I don’t want to have an item I can only wear with one other item.
If you plan on dressing up for any part of your trip, like a fancy dinner or a show, pack one nicer outfit or dress that you can wear more than once. Or pack versatile items that can easily be dressed up with accessories.
This shirt from Bluffworks is cute but casual, so it can be dressed up or down. And it’s great for traveling since it’s made of quick dry fabric.
In order to pack less and be prepared for changes in weather, pack clothing that can be layered. If it’s warm during the day and cool at night, you can wear a short sleeve shirt and layer it with a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, or cardigan.
How much clothes to pack for 2 weeks?
I typically pack one week’s worth of clothes for any trip that is one week or longer. So for 2 weeks, I’ll still only pack one week’s worth of clothes.
This is because I pack quick dry shirts that can easily be worn a couple of times before washing. And I am willing to do laundry, or even just wash a couple things in the sink, during my trip.
Limit your shoes
I never pack more than one or two pairs of shoes for any trip. Comfortable shoes are important for walking since you’re likely to be on your feet a lot while traveling. And then for any dressier events, pack one pair of shoes that will work for all of your nicer outfits. Preferably something also comfortable, lightweight, and easy to pack.
Think ballet flats or other slim shoes, not heavy, chunky wedges. And please, no stilettos, especially if you’re taking a two week trip to Europe where you’re likely to walk on lots of cobblestone streets.
Shoes can be heavy and they take up a lot of space, so it’s important that you don’t pack too many pairs. And avoid shoes that only go with one outfit. That would be a lot of space taken up by shoes you’re only going to use once.
How to pack toiletries in carry on
If you want to pack for 2 weeks in a carry on, you can’t bring full sized bottles. But I promise, you don’t need that much anyway.
Buy travel sized (3.4 ounces / 100ml or smaller) versions of the products you use for your trip. If they don’t have smaller sizes, you can buy refillable bottles like these to bring carry on friendly amounts of your favorite products.
Another way of reducing your liquids is to use solid versions. I started using this solid shampoo and this solid conditioner years ago, and I love them so much I use them even when I’m at home. They’re fantastic, and they come in all different variations for different hair types, so you’ll definitely find one that works for you.
As for makeup, get your makeup routine down to the bare necessities. I hardly ever wear makeup, but I realize that makes me a little weird compared to most women. When I do travel with makeup, I have eyeliner, matte mousse (this basically acts like foundation and powder in one), and blush.
Keep in mind that some makeup, like mascara and foundation, counts as a liquid and will have to go in your liquids bag.
Read more about how much liquid you can bring on a plane.
Don’t pack your hair dryer
Chances are your hotel or apartment rental has a hair dryer. Start making it part of your hotel checklist so you always book a place that has a hair dryer. I know hotel hair dryers are usually horrible, but it’s still better than lugging around your bulky one from home.
Plus if you’re traveling to Europe from North America, you will either have to have a plug adapter AND a converter, or you’ll have to buy a dual voltage hair dryer. Both options will most likely still not be as powerful as what you’re used to at home.
I feel strongly that you really shouldn’t pack a hair dryer for most trips.
If possible, style your hair without a hair straightener or curling iron for your two week trip. But if you just can’t do it, choose one, not both, and make sure you have a dual voltage version like this.
Reduce your electronics
Unless you’ll be working while you’re traveling, you probably don’t need to bring your laptop. Really think about whether you will use your laptop, and if at all possible, leave it at home.
I’m sure you want to take pictures, but chances are your phone will suffice. I blog for a living, and even I only use my phone about 75% of the time. Most recently, I brought my DSLR on a safari in Zambia and to the Azores islands in Portugal because I knew my phone wouldn’t quite cut it, but usually it’s easier to skip it.
A Kindle is great for reading on the plane or on trains. And of course you need charging cords for all your tech.
Don’t forget to pack a plug adapter like this one if you’re traveling to a region that uses a different plug style. Europe uses different plus than North America, so you’ll need an adapter to plug things in. The one I linked to also has USB slots.
Use packing cubes
Packing cubes can really save space by compressing clothing, and they’re great for organizing your clothes and other things. For a 2 week trip, I’ll pack a week of shirts into a packing cube, and it will take up a lot less space then packing them loose.
Here are a few packing cubes we use:
And the organization they provide is super helpful. It makes it easy to find shirts, for example, because I know which cube has my shirts.
I also have a separate packing cube for underwear. I wouldn’t want my underwear loose in my bag anyway, so having all my socks, underwear, and bras in one little cube is very helpful.
Sometimes I’ll also pack an empty cube to use for dirty clothes. Then I can keep the dirty clothes away from the clean clothes, and it still takes up roughly the same amount of space.
Makeup bags are also great for organizing smaller items, like cords and chargers, or medicine. I often travel with a pile of granola bars, which I pack into a small cube or a makeup bag.
We have packing cube from several different companies. I’m a bit addicted to packing gear, but also certain packing cubes work better in different situations, so I like the variety. I like having the different sizes because the work with different things that I’m packing. Usually underwear works best in a smaller cube while shirts work well in a medium or larger one.
Don’t pack too many just-in-case items
A lot of people think they can’t pack for 2 weeks in a carry on because they feel like they have to prepare for every possible scenario. This leads to over-packing and checking luggage.
Worries like, what if it’s unseasonably cold or warm will lead you to pack clothing you don’t need. Or you’re giving yourself multiple choices when you only need one or two outfits for a specific activity.
What do you actually use in your day-to-day life? What things have you typically used (and NOT used) on past trips? If you always pack a dress, just in case, but then never wear it because you don’t like wearing dresses, then leave it off your packing list.
Tons of travel packing lists suggest bringing a sarong because of its multiple uses. But I almost never use mine at all, so I no longer pack it when I travel.
And remember you can buy almost anything where you’re going. If you’re wondering how to pack for Europe in a carry on, you can always find a store that sells toiletries or just about anything else you forgot or didn’t pack enough of.
Contact solution is what always gets me on longer trips. For a two week trip, I might have to buy contact solution along the way, and it’s always easy to find at drug stores or optical shops.
The only exception is if you’re going somewhere remote, but you’ll likely need a completely different kind of packing list for that kind of trip anyway.
Wear your heavy things on the plane
Be strategic about what you wear on the plane. Whenever possible, wear heavier or bulkier items on the flight. This will save space in your luggage for other things.
I love wear leggings in my day-to-day life and when I travel, but I also pack jeans. Since jeans take up more space, I will almost always wear them on the plane.
When traveling with sneakers or boots PLUS sandals or dress shoes, wear the bigger shoes and pack the slimmer ones.
I almost always travel with a hoodie because it can get cold on planes or trains. So I wear it or carry it on the flight.
Are you traveling in winter or going to a cold destination? Carry your winter coat. A coat or jacket won’t count against your carry on allowance, but it will take up a ton of space in your luggage, so just carry it and put it in the overhead with your suitcase.
I’ll usually use a carabiner clip or luggage strap to attach my jacket to my suitcase or backpack. That way it doesn’t get separated, and I don’t forget it at the end of the flight.
And if you’re traveling with bulky sweaters for a cold destination, you might want to try compression bags like these. I haven’t used them but I know several people who swear by them.
Re-wearing clothes and doing laundry
Another thing I think is important when it comes to packing for 2 weeks in a carry on is the idea of wearing something more than once. And no, I’m not talking about underwear.
But you really can wear a shirt two or even three times in most cases. You can wear your jeans for soooo many days before they really need to be washed.
So when I pack for two weeks in a carry on, I only bring one week’s worth of clothing. Recently I’ve taken several two week trips with one week of clothing, and I wore each shirt twice, which easily got me through the whole trip.
If you can do 2 weeks in a carry on, you can easily do one week in a carry on.
Another option is to do laundry or wash a few things in the sink. I know you don’t want to do laundry while on vacation, but it means you can more easily pack a carry on for 2 weeks. Washing a few things in the sink takes almost no time, and with quick dry clothing they’ll dry overnight.
Washing a few quick dry clothes in the sink is also faster and cheaper than going to a laundromat.
I use these laundry detergent sheets to wash one or two things in the sink. They’re small, so you can’t do a full load of laundry with one, but for handwashing a couple things, they’re great.
How to pack it all up
The way you pack can make a big difference.
I love using packing cubes for shirts and underwear, but I rarely use them for pants. I find the bigger packing cubes to be less helpful, but organizing things into smaller cubes is a really space saver.
Everyone has a preference about rolling vs folding your clothes. I feel like rolling my clothes is a good way to save space. I even roll my shirts that get packed into a packing cube.
Test it out because certain fabrics or shapes will work better folded up small and some will work better rolled. Pack up one way and then the other to see which actually works best for you.
Find all the little nooks and crannies. Once you’ve put your packing cubes and other loose items into your bag, you will inevitably have some tiny spaces around the edges and in between things. Fill those with smaller items, a loose pair of leggings, whatever fits.
And play around with things. You won’t always find the best configuration on the first try. But by moving things around, you’ll find the best way to use every possible inch and centimeter.
If you’re packing shoes, put small items inside the shoes. This can be socks, or a small bag of makeup, or some charging cords. Whatever fits so you’re not wasting that space inside the shoes. And you may want to put your shoes inside a shoe bag like this so you don’t get your dirty shoes all over your clothing and other items.
Jacket pockets are another place to put a few things if you’re in a pinch. For cold weather travel, put your gloves in the coat pocket, and if your hat or scarf fit, put that in there too. I’ve also put random small but heavy items in jacket pockets when I’m nervous about the weight limit. Something like my power bank.
Tips for 2 weeks in a carry on bag recap
So how do you pack for two weeks in a carry on? Start with having an open mind about changing the way you’ve been packing. Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way:
- Choose the right carry on suitcase or backpack, and choose the right personal item.
- Check the weather a few days before your trip.
- Pack coordinating clothes and shoes, and stick to 1 or 2 pairs of shoes. 3 pairs max only if you really need them.
- Reduce your toiletries and makeup, and try some solid alternatives to reduce liquids.
- Reduce your electronics and only take what’s necessary for your trip.
- Use packing cubes and makeup bags for organizing and compressing to save space.
- Don’t pack too many just-in-case items.
- Wear bulkier items on the plane.
- Re-wear clothes and do laundry if necessary.
What’s on my minimalist travel packing list for 2 weeks in a carry on
This will change slightly from one trip to the next, but in general, my travel packing list doesn’t change too much. If I’m traveling for two weeks, here’s what I pack in my carry on and personal item.
- 7 short sleeve shirts – Try these cute quick dry shirts from Bluffworks.
- 1-2 long sleeve shirt
- 1 hoodie
- 1 pair of jeans
- 3-4 pairs of leggings
- 10 pairs of underwear – Try these Exofficio quick dry underwear.
- Thinx period underwear: I always use Thinx period underwear, so I’ll pack them if I’ll have my period while traveling. Use that link for $10 off your first purchase, and I’ll get $10 too.
- 6 pairs of socks
- 3 bras
- 1 shirt to sleep in
- 1 rain jacket (or winter coat for cold weather trips)
- Comfortable walking shoes, maybe ballet flats (depends on the trip)
- Solid shampoo and solid conditioner
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Shower gel or bar soap
- Hair brush
- Lotion, lip balm
- Contact solution
- Wound cream and bandaids
- Laundry detergent sheets
- Prescription medicine
- Glasses and sunglasses
- Deodorant and razor
- Nail clippers (NOT scissors) and nail file
- Solid sunscreen and solid bug repellent (depends on the trip)
- Minimal makeup (depends on the trip, often I don’t bring any)
- Phone, power bank, Kindle, cords
- Water bottle
I hope this helps you understand how to pack for 2 weeks in a carry on. Give it a try! I love traveling with only carry on luggage, and I bet you will too.
You might also enjoy:
- Can you bring hairspray on a plane?
- Can you take batteries on planes?
- Is Your Layover Long Enough?
- What NOT to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag: What is Not Allowed on a Plane