Packing in a Carry On for Long (or Short) Trips

Packing in a Carry On for Long (or Short) Trips

Yes, this is all I took on a two week trip to Italy and I am going to share it with you.

How to pack for a trip efficiently.

Whether it is a weekend trip or a two week adventure, I pack in a carry on sized backpack typically less than 25 pounds. People who have witnessed this packing are always in awe and exclaim they could never travel without their 40 pounds of vacation gear.

I used to be one of them. On family trips to Florida, I had a huge rolling suitcase packed to the brim with many “just in case” or “you never know” items and weekend trips were never less than a two duffle bag event- traveling back and forth from college was at least a backpack and duffle bag!

But I knew my packing had to adjust. We were planning a two week trip through Italy hitting 9 cities along the way- some just day trips- so we were doing a lot of moving. How was I going to be able to lug a suitcase through the cobblestones of Italy? On and off of every train? What to do with it when we did our day trips transitioning from one hotel to another? It was not plausible, or at least I did not want it to be. How was I going to protect 40 pounds of a suitcase from pickpockets? Or pay the extra fees on the airlines to check a bag? There were too many reasons against using a suitcase. And so, I took to Google to educate me in the art of packing light. 

I found some extremely helpful tips from multiple blogs and reviews that aided the packing traditions I now follow. I hope you find something here useful. What I have learned is whether you are going on a weekend trip or two weeks, you need about the same amount of packing. Toiletries can take up a lot of room and you need it regardless of the length of your trip. Each time we going on another trip, new tricks are added and tried and some variations occur as each trip does not have the same needs.

Check out this packing video of our trip to Barcelona!

The bag

I think this has been the item that has been the most life changing in my packing. When I started looking for a bag, I wanted a suitcase for my back. I did not like the traditional concept of a backpack where you need to back down and up- what if I needed something that is at the bottom of my bag while we are in transit? Was I to remove or rummage through all the items on top of it? It was not my ideal situation. Finding a back with a zipper around concept was not easy, but I did eventually find the dream bag: EBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender ConvertibleReasonably priced, tons of storage and pockets, carry on approved size, and the large compartment zips completely around the perimeter of the bag to open like a suitcase. This is THE bag for traveling and I recommend it to everyone. After multiple trial runs for not only being under the weight requirement, but for how to get everything to fit efficiently, I developed a map on how to pack the bag as well.  

The cubes

Packing cubes was a recurrent theme on every blog I sifted through.  The packing cubes truly help organize your things and make them compact so you have more room. It also helped since we tend to move from city to city frequently to have the cubes act as their own drawers so we never felt the need to unpack completely- just taking the cubes out. I highly recommend giving these a try if you haven’t done so already- there are plenty varieties of these on Amazon or Ebags

The toiletries

This was tricky. How can I bring a compact carry out with the 3oz fly limit? Face moisturizer, body wash, sunscreen, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, along with the endless liquids for a two plus week trip and one ziplock bag. Fortunately, there are some nifty things on the market that help you conserve space in that ziplock bag for those items that, alas, will never be solid. Lush has done a great service to the travel world by creating their solid products and was an easy way to make liquid items I planned on packing vanish., including shampoo. Neutrogena also makes a solid sunscreen that applies like a deodorant stick. While these changes may require abandoning your beauty routine, sticking to solid options helps you conserve space.

The shoes

Stick to one or two pairs of shoes max- comfortable shoes that go with everything. Shoes can make or break a trip, especially when the trip requires a lot of walking (for us, miles a day). It is crucial to find the right show for you. After months of keeping an eye our for shoes that hit my requirements of comfortable but stylist, I was fortunate to stumble upon Puma ballet flats and I have not used any other shoe for our travel since. Unless your travel situation requires, dressy shoes and heels are unnecessary. If you want the option to dress up an outfit for an evening, opt to bring jewelry as it takes up far less room and weight in your backpack.

After that, everything else kind of falls into place- making sure your clothes have more than one use/purpose and that you can mix and match all the items in your bag so the space that clothes takes up is useful.


Bag: eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender; packing cubes (Amazon or eBags); crossbody purse



Liquids/travel size

  • Tooth paste
  • Purell
  • Travel size body lotion
  • Travel size l’occitane hand cream
  • Travel size conditioner
  • Travel size face wash
  • Gum
  • Face moisturizer in repurposed container
  • Travel size liquid bag


Side pocket: Rain cover for backpack – the Ebags bag is not waterproof and since we were going to be doing a lot of walking- regardless of the weather – we needed our bag to stay dry. This tiny bag extends over the backpack to provide waterproof coverage. 

Umbrella- new addition to the packing list is the light weight and compact umbrella. While small, it does the job of fitting in a jacket pocket and extremely light- the carrying case is great as well because you can store a wet umbrella without wetting anything else in your bag.


Front zipper compartment: first zipper flap

  • Passport copies
  • Various chargers
  • Headphones
  • Euro plug with USB


Front zipper compartment: second zipper flap

Yes, we did do laundry while we were there. For us on a two week trip, it was critical to keep our packing load light. We would do laundry in the sink of our hotel room with the laundry soap sheets and used the laundry line to dry our items while we were sightseeing for the day.



Front zipper compartment

  • Keys (on key ring in bag)
  • Band-Aids (you never know)
  • Sunglasses
  • Foldable/collapsible water bottles – for easy transport when not in use
  • Northface rain jacket – this packable jacket is perfect for taking up little space and lightweight without compromising protection for rain coverage. Definitely work the investment! 
  • Camera
  • Draw string bag
  • Nuts, Kind bars- on the go snack!


Front zipper compartment: Small packing cube

  • Straightener
  • Medications
  • Deodorant  
  • Bar of solid soap
  • Contacts
  • Solid sunscreen
  • Lush solid shampoo
  • Razor /Spare razor head
  • Toothbrush with sanitizer pod
  • Hair Brush
  • Jewelry
  • Makeup bag (foundation, brushes)
  • Eye makeup bag (shadow, liner, highlighter)
  • Hair accessory bag (headband, sock bun, bands, bobby pins, hair ties, hair clip)


Laptop Compartment

  • Travel Itinerary Folder
  • Pens
  • Kindle
  • Travel Journal


Main compartment

  • Medium packing cube
  • Large packing cube
  • Plastic bag for dirty laundry
  • Flip flops
  • Boat shoes (note- I only ended up wearing the Puma ballet flats so these shoes were dead weight!)


Main compartment: Large Mesh Zipper for jacket


Main compartment: Medium Packing Cube

  • Bras
  • Underwear- there is no need to bring one per day if you are planning on doing laundry on your trip (even if it is sink laundry!). Divide the number of days in half and that is an appropraite number for a long trip. 
  • Belt
  • No show socks – same logic as above if doing laundry on your trip
  • Two scarfs


Main compartment: Large Packing Cube

  • Two pants (top left)
  • Two skirts (middle right)
  • Black cardigan (bottom right)
  • Three basic tank tops (middle bottom)
  • Three long sleeve shirts (middle left)
  • Seven tops (bottom left)
  • PJs (top right)


What I wore on plane

  • Jeans
  • Belt
  • Basic tank top
  • Basic short sleeve shirt
  • Puma ballet flats – these have become my go to shoes- stylist and comfortable
  • Ring, earrings
  • Bra, underwear and socks


  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Lip balm
  • Glasses and case
  • Hair tie

There you have it! When you have this base, then you can adapt what you need for the trip you are going on- regardless of the length of time or weather conditions you may encounter. I have been able to use this carry on backpack from two weeks in Italy in the fall, to five days in Paris in the winter, as well as many domestic weekends trips, that have included an array of activities- such as sightseeing or hiking. You really can adjust to pack from any location, activity, or weather condition. Specific needs for men? Click here for the Packing in a Carry On for Long (or Short) Trips- Men’s Addendum for more packing tips!

Have a good packing tip? Feel free to share!

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