How to pack?  What to pack?  What to pack in? The packing dilemma continues to be a big one, and everyone has adopted their own method for packing success. For me, successful packing means never having to check luggage, whether you’re traveling for a weekend or a month. And if you’re traveling for a month, I challenge you to follow these easy steps to be able to fit everything you could possibly need (and nothing you don’t) exclusively in carry-on luggage.

Step 1: Pre-Arrange Your Outfits to Maximize Mixing and Matching

Packing for 30 days does not mean you should pack 30 outfits.  An ideal travel wardrobe is one that can be mixed and matched into a variety of outfits. At least a week before your trip, lay out all of your favorite clothing items and accessories,then start coordinating. Avoid playing the “What If?” game when packing. What if I get invited to a fancy party? I’ll need a floor-length gown. What if I end up hiking Mt. Everest? I’ll need a winter parka. Weed out items that don’t coordinate, that are too bulky, and that just don’t make sense for your particular trip.


Step 2: Use These Packing Lists as Guides

For Women:  
2 pairs of flats — they take up no room and are most comfortable
1 comfortable wedge shoe — easy day-to night shoe
1 dressy shoe — for night or fancier event
1 pair of sneakers or casual shoe – for working out or hiking
6 bottoms (pants, jeans, shorts)
2 skirts — not easily wrinkled
2 dresses – that can go day to night
12 versatile tops
2 long sleeve shirts
1 thin, but warm sweater or pullover
1 sarong
2 scarves/wraps
15 pairs of underwear — hand wash mid-way through your trip
2 sets of pajamas

For Men: 
2 casual shoes that can go from day to night
1 pair of flip flops
1 dressy shoe — for night or fancier event
1 pair of sneakers — for working out or hiking
8 bottoms (pants/jeans/shorts/swim trunks)
6 button-down shirts
12 t-shirts
2 long-sleeve cotton shirts
1 thin, but warm sweater or pull-over
15 pairs of underwear — hand wash mid-way through your trip
5 pairs of socks
2 Belts (rolled)

Step 3: Pick a Carry-On That’s Spacious and Pliable

I have found that hard case carry-ons, while they are rugged and durable, don’t expand enough for me to fit everything that I need. I prefer a soft carry-on that has a little stretch. I own this Bric’s X-Bag 21” rolling duffle carry-on, and I am happy with the spaciousness of the interior compartment and thankful that it has met all regulations for carry-on luggage, even on small shuttle flights.

Step 4: Pack From the Bottom of Your Body Up

Think about packing your suitcase from your feet up. Shoes go on the bottom, then start building two stacks. Pants always go on the bottom, then sweaters, long-sleeve shirts, tank tops, then scarves.

Step 5: Compress

Don’t forget to use your compression straps to tighten down each stack of clothes. They will not only keep items from shifting around, but they also create extra room around the edges and on top of your clothing stacks. Use that extra space to stuff scarves, bras, belts, bathing suits, socks, etc.

Step 6: Where to Put the Laptop?

Many carry-ons have a separate outside compartment especially for a laptop, which are ideal, but I can even fit my laptop on top of all my clothes inside the compartment.  It easily slides in and out at security.

Step 7: Invest in a Large Tote For Your Personal Item

Don’t forget that you can bring a carry-on suitcase plus one personal item on any flight, so maximize the size of your personal item and go for an oversized tote bag. I picked up this Day Gweneth Bag in Copenhagen and love how flexible and open it is. It fits everything! In this tote should be all additional items for your month around the world like toiletries (all 3 oz. and under), medications, camera equipment, cosmetics/shaving kit, sunglasses, jewelry, wallet, passport,etc.

Happy packing!

13 Responses to “How to Pack for a Month in Carry-On Luggage”

  1. Marsha

    Great article Courtney – thanks for sharing these great tips. I often attempt this method and then panic at the last second and throw in a few extras. Then I say to myself when I get there – ‘why did you do that, you didn’t need it’…
    Thanks again

    • Courtney Scott

      Agreed! It’s always those few extras that you think you might need that push your packing over the edge, that’s why if you master mixing/matching and editing out unnecessary items, you’ve already won half the battle. It’s also fun to pick up items on vacation. Some of my favorite clothing items are from travels abroad. So glad you found the article helpful, Marsha!

  2. Linda

    Your right this is a wonderful bag. The problem is, they do not ship to the United States. :-(

  3. gail

    Does anyone now where we can buy this carryon tote? I loved it when I saw it on the show and woud love to have one. As posted before thy don’t ship directlyto the US but does anyone on here now if they are sold at any stores in the US?

  4. Peter

    Courtney..are the compression straps built into the luggage or are they bought separately ?

  5. eliza

    I’ll be the lone dissenter. let’s see 30 days, 6 pair of pants. can we say Yuck. that means I’m wearing the same thing at least twice. Sorry maybe I’m a heavy perspiring but the same funky jeans for 3 nights is not a vacation.
    Lastly, I really don’t go to Paris to wash shirts and undies in a sink. which brings me to ask… Where do you dry this stuff at. I’ve been to Europe a dozen times and the bathrooms are the size of shoe boxes.

    To each his own but most European airlines allow you one checked bag, and if I’m going away for 1 month its usually overseas. I’ll stick with them.

    Interesting article though.

    • Courtney Scott

      Hi Eliza, thanks for your feedback! Actually six bottoms, plus two skirts, two day dresses, and a sarong that can be worn for a couple of beach days will really get you a long way. Of course, packing in a carry-on suitcase is not for everyone! I’ve been known to wash and hang dry a few items along the way, and definitely prefer that than being stuck waiting for, or tracking down lost luggage. Thanks for checking out our blog and happy Labor Day travels.

  6. Maddie B

    Courtney, what brand is that duffel bag with the compression straps? My sister loves it and I’m looking for a christmas gift for her!

  7. Mint Springs Farm

    I loved it when I saw it on the show and woud love to have one.

  8. julie

    No way this would all fit in a carry-on suitcase and a personal ‘oversized tote’. New rules have made carry-on suitcase sizes even smaller. (Good only for the luggage industry – now we all need to buy smaller luggage)
    I just came back from 13 days in London and Paris. I tried to pack very carefully and still I brought a few things I did not need.

    For your women’s list I think you went overboard with 6 bottoms. I think 4 would be fine, especially depending where you are going. If you are going to Europe you wont be comfortable in jeans (unless you are in your early 20’s) and not in shorts at all, unless you are on a beach. I think ’12 versatile tops’ would be excessive and you just may not have space for them – 6 to 8 is probably more than enough. I would however, add another jacket, something light weight and rainproof.

    When I was packing for my trip I started with 11 items that all mixed and matched together to make 14 outfits. Every outfit was 3 parts, 2 on top with pants or capris or a skirt.

    Your men’s list – wow!
    I really doubt all that would fit in one carryon and a personal item.
    I would cut the 8 bottoms to 4 to 6, 6 button-down shirts would be only 3-4, and REALLY are 12 t-shirts necessary? How about he chooses his very favorite 5 or 6? And I would ask the guy to bring more socks.

    And its not that hard OR time consuming to wash 2 loads of clothes 2 or 3 times in a month. Even in Europe, the most exclusive hotels and Parisian apartments have laundry facilities.

    The allowed 3 ounces of liquid health and beauty products probably wont be enough for a month anyway. One of our first stops in Paris was to explore their grocery stores – they have every product you can imagine. My daughters and I agreed on regular size shampoo bottles and various products and we even found some we wish we could buy here in the US. That works just fine unless you are getting on a plane often in your 30 day trip.

  9. Hilary

    I use a Yoga bag as a personal tote.. And a Samsonite carry on as my actual carry on..


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