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How to Pack for a Month in Carry-On Luggage

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 1Pre-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.

How to pack for a month in carry-on luggage - mix and match outfits

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 pijamas

For Men: 
2 casual/cool shoes like Toms or Converse that can go day to night
1 pair of flip flops
1 dresssy shoe – for night or fancier event
1 pair of sneakers – for working out or hiking
8 bottoms (pants/jeans/shorts/bathing suit shorts)
6 button-down shirts
12 t-shirts — I love American Apparel
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.

how to pack for a month in carry-on luggage - oversized tote Day Gweneth

How do I pare down my toiletries?

Dear Editors,

OK, so I’m fine with packing fewer clothes, making pieces do double-duty, etc. How in the world do I pare down my toiletries? For a short trip, I can skip my shampoo/conditioner, maybe even body lotion. But what about sunscreen, day lotion, night lotion, hair products, etc. I’ve managed to downsize before, but I’ve had to do without certain things I like and usually come home with fried hair and rebellious skin. Any tips, please?


Hi Melissa,

I’ve been hopping on and off of planes on a regular basis for years, and guess what? I still haven’t mastered this one yet! I, too, have products galore and struggle when I’m forced to choose which ones I must leave behind when I travel. Over the years, I’ve managed to develop a few toiletry strategies that I follow…all works in progress. Here they are:

What are the size limits of a carry-on suitcase?

Dear Editors,

What are the size limits of a carry-on suitcase?


Dear Rosanne,

I’m glad you asked this question. Many casual travelers believe that as long as they limit their carry-on baggage to one suitcase, they’re good to go. Not true. Every ticketed passenger on every domestic airline (with the exception of Spirit, which charges for carry-on bags) is entitled to one piece of luggage and one personal item (such a a purse, diaper bag or laptop bag). However, that piece of luggage must be regulation size. And while there is no industry-wide standard, your carrier will have on its web site the exact dimensions your bag must adhere to in order to avoid being sent back to the check-in counter to pay for a too-big bag.