How to Pack 2 Weeks in a Carry-On

Welcome to the Little House, Pinterest friends! If this is your first time to Little House. Big Heart. be sure to check out our other travel related posts here! Please feel free to ask any questions you might have about packing light in the comments below; I’ll answer them as soon as I can! You can also email me at littlehousebigheart {at} gmail {dot} com.

It can be done. Let’s just start there. It is possible to pack for a two-week European vacation of uncertain weather in a standard, airline approved carry-on.

How to Pack 2 Weeks in a Carry On

Before you start packing light there’s a few things you need to consider.

First, take a look at the forecast. For us, the weather is really uncertain. It’s supposed to be cold and rainy in Munich and Innsbruck, but then get warmer and sunnier as we go south to Rome. This means that we have to plan for packing rain boots, rain jackets, and lots of layers.

Next, consider how you’re traveling. We’re allowed two checked bags each on our international flight, but aren’t using them. Why? Because the idea of lugging gigantic wheeled suitcases on and off trains, through cities with cobblestone streets, and up and down stairs at  B&Bs is a nightmare  – one that we lived on our Europe trip last year and have no desire to repeat.

Take a look at your carry-on bag. The ideal carry-on has crazy wheels (that spin in all directions), tons of pockets, and reinforcing on all the external seams. We got my carry on from Tuesday Morning for about $90. It’s London Fog brand and is, if you’ll allow a little nerdy humor, a little like a Tardis (it’s bigger on the inside). This puppy has more pockets, nooks, and crannies than any suitcase I’ve ever seen. It’s sturdy and unique looking; I’m not likely to walk off with the wrong luggage.

London Fog Carry On Suitcase

London Fog Carry On Suitcase Inside

Next, contemplate what you plan on packing. Before this trip, I’d take an outfit for each day. Now, I take just enough clothes to get me through a week. Yes, this means that we have to do laundry mid-trip, but we don’t mind. If we can’t find a laundromat, we’ll just hand wash everything and hang it to dry. As for detergent, we plan on grabbing some once we land. No point bring it along for the flight if we can just pick up a bit later.

So what exactly did I pack for two weeks sightseeing in Germany, Austria, and Italy?

I packed four pairs of pants: one pair of colored jeans, one pair of skinny jeans, one pair of boyfriend capris, and one pair of (longish) shorts.

4 bottoms

I packed one maxi skirt and one dress.

2 dresses

I packed six tops: one long sleeved striped tee, two basic V-neck tees in white and black, one black camp shirt, one chambray button down, and one tank top.

6 tops

I also packed three jackets: one jean jacket, one olive military jacket, and my Columbia rain jacket.

3 jackets

I’m surviving with only three pairs of shoes (not counting my rain boots): one pair of flat sandals, one pair of heels, and my Sperrys (for walking).

3 pairs of shoes

I also packed a few accessories: three belts, two scarves, and a few (cheap) necklaces.

accessories

I also packed enough unmentionables and undershirts to get me through a week.

To pack all this, I folded and then rolled each piece as tightly as I could. This method not only saves space, but keeps your clothes from getting to wrinkled. Once rolled, I packed everything into three packing cubes. [EDIT]: My packing cubes came with an old luggage set, but if you’re looking for some I’d suggest these from eBags. They have the same sizes I used here and have some really fun colors.

packing cubes

I’ll be wearing the jeans, chambray shirt, and Sperrys on the plane. Everything else tucks away nicely in my carry on. I make sure to use every avalible bit of space: stuff belts in shoes and socks anywhere you see a void.

Suitcase Packed

Finally, I threw my rubber boots in on top.

Suitcase Packed with Wellies

Everything else – my toiletries, makeup, kindle, and whatnot – live in my tote bag.

2 weeks

And that’s it. Two weeks in a carry on!

We’re so excited to be going and even more excited for all of the FABULOUS guest posts coming in the next two weeks! I hope you enjoy reading their posts as much as we have!

Have you ever packed for two weeks in a carry on? Could you do it?

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69 thoughts on “How to Pack 2 Weeks in a Carry-On

  1. Awesome tip about the packing cubes! Makes everything neater and easier to find. I have to say though, I refuse to wear jeans on the plane – too uncomfortable. My mom, who travels a lot, once told me to wear a long, loose dress and that’s what I’ve done ever since. It’s super comfy : ) although I’m pretty sure people think I’m weird for wearing a dress on the plane, I swear it’s like wearing a nightgown.

    • That’s kinda funny because my husband, who is a very casual Aussie bloke took years of convincing to let my kids (boys) wear anything other than a collared shirt on a plane! And I’m talking right from when we started having kids, so from babies.

      Plus, since I’m a very casual Aussie chick, I find jeans much more comfortable than a dress 🙂 But the longest I’ve ever been on a plane is just a couple of hours, so I can’t talk about flights that would go longer. But one day I’d like to go to Hawaii so I will definitely be trying your tip (might wear jeans and pack a dress in my carry on, just to see which one is better).

    • Ditto. But I dislike wearing jeans most of the time. I always wear dresses, leggings and tights on the plane. I like to “dress up” for flights but in a comfortable way. People look at me funny, yes, but I’m used to that.

  2. I am in LOVE with the print on the tote bag! I bought the ruffled top and have been coveting the bag too…you convinced me! I hope it’s still available! Have fun on your trip!

  3. All the budget airlines in Europe (easyjet et al) charge ridic amounts for checking baggage, but also only allow ONE item of luggage – no handbag or tote, just the large bag. They’re pretty militant about it too.

    I’ve been away for quite a few five day trips with just that amount of stuff… Most of the stuff I like to pack I take no matter how long I’m going (like toiletries, kindle, things like that) for so longer would probably be ok (and like you say, you can wash clothes).

    I often carry loads of things in a tote and then wear them all / stuff them all in pockets for boarding. That’s my tip!

    Have fun!

    • That’s a great tip, Annabel! We fly a budget airline here in the States that only allows one carry on, as well – but it has to fit under the seat. If you put it in the overhead, they charge you $25!

      And I had enough room in my roller to fit everything that’s in my tote, so if we did need to downsize, I’d be able to!

  4. When I was 16, I went abroad for 3 weeks and brought a GIANT suitcase (I could’ve fit in it). We traveled all along the Mediterranean and it was so obnoxious dragging/carrying such a big thing. Never again! On our honeymoon, we had one carry on and one checked suitcase (although it was on the small side) which was manageable since there were only 3 hotels.

    Love the tip about packing cubes (I had never heard of them before!). I usually wear the heaviest clothing items on the plane so I would’ve been that girl with rain boots 🙂 I do have a question – what about things like razors or misc. items you’re not allowed to travel with. Do you buy them once you get there?

  5. I’m mega impressed! For my 2 weeks in Italy my mom and I both had a carry on (think backpack/large bag not luggage) and each had a full size suitcase. We also bought a carry on sized luggage when we bought more than would fit in our current luggage for the way home. Thankfully our trip was fully chartered on a bus so there was little luggage carrying to do ourselves! 🙂

  6. When traveling in Europe, I ONLY bring a carry on, like annabelvita said (about the budget airlines), no matter how long I’m there. I have different packing requirements depending on the location I travel to. For Europe, I’ll pack everything I need because the exchange rate is greater than ours, therefore more economical to just bring stuff from home. However, when going to London, I always leave a bit of space in my bag for Primark purchases. 😉 For Asia, I pack all the toiletries I need because I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the same stuff, but leave behind a dress or top so I can pick some up while over there since they have such great bargains. Traveling abroad with a backpack is much better as the roads are not always even, making traveling with wheelies a pain in the butt – plus there are SO many stairs everywhere! Traveling in North America is always fine with a wheelie. I love packing cubes – I even use them on weekend trips. Have a great trip in Europe! I’d live there if I could. ~M.

  7. I packed for a month in a carry on. Pack your bag. take everything out get rid of half your stuff and then re-pack. I took six pairs of long pants, A soft unlined leather jacket, Nylon rain coat, 2 pairs of shoes, six tops, two sweaters, one belt, sufficient underwear and I still had room to buy a couple items to bring back. My niece said to me “Aunt, how can you pack for a month in a carry on bag and still be appearing in different stuff everyday? How do you do that?’

  8. For our 10 day trip to Scotland last year I went thrift store shopping (which is the only way I’ve bought regular clothes for years anyway) for about half of what I packed. I bought stuff I liked but could stand to part with. No one item over $3.50. On the last day I bagged up about half what I packed and asked one of the women at the hotel if she would mind taking to a charity shop for me. This left lost of extra space for stuff we bought to bring home. And yes it was an under the seater!

  9. True story: I packed for a 7 week study abroad in a carry on 2 summers ago! Honestly, I’m not really sure how I did it, but it made me feel awesome when the flat I was staying in was on the 9th floor of the building. Rolling is definitely a life-saving technique, and I definitely packed in a minimalistic way (I was prepared to re-wear the same thing quite a few times). Still, I had space to bring home souvenirs for my family! (Plus, I threw away 2 pairs of shoes before I came home…they were thrashed.)

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  11. I love this post! It is very similar to what I do but I always seem to throw in extra tank tops at the last minute. And I have a toiletry problem. Oh bother.

    ANYWAY, I want to ask what you do for a bag/backpack when you’re out sightseeing. Do you use that large tote (or do you recommend using ones “sightseeing” bag as the second carry on/ personal item)?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Jess! So glad you stopped by!

      Kevin packs his toiletries, iPad, etc in a small backpack (I think it was a freebie from his job) that we use as his second carry-on and our daypack. Anything of his that doesn’t fit in that I throw in my tote (for the flight, that is).

  12. I am traveling for an 8 week clinical affiliation in Italy at the end of this year, during those 8 weeks we will be making weekend trips. At the end of the 8 weeks, my boyfriend is then coming over for 10 days to travel to Austria, Germany, and Belgium. I was planning on packing a checked bag as well as a carry on, but after your post I question if this is a good idea. Tips and or suggestions on how to survive for 10 weeks in a carry on? In Oct/Nov/Dec?

    • Hi Hillarie! That sounds like an amazing trip! Congrats!

      10 weeks is a long time, but I’ve heard of people packing for longer in a carry-on. I think the keys for you would be LOTS of layering materials, wearing your bulkiest things on the plane (especially your coat/boots), and taking a duffel for taking souvenirs home. Also, you might consider taking some items you’re okay parting with along the way should you happen to find something you like more out shopping.

      If you’d like more explicit help, email me at littlehousebigheart (at) gmail (dot) com and we can break it down to the nitty-gritty!

  13. When my family travelled to England when I was 13, we each had one carry on each (all duffels). We did the laundromat-halfway-through thing and it worked great. I still travel carry-on only whenever I possibly can. Knowing that I can usually pick up anything I’ve forgotten once I get where I’m going really cuts down on the stress of packing “everything”.

    • So glad you stopped by LHBH, Kerri! We are complete converts to carry-on only packing, too! Now that we know we can do it, there’s no reason not to!

      And I agree; you can get anything you need once you land at most destinations, especially European cities. You might not end up with the brand you’re familiar with in the States, but it’ll get you by!

  14. I would love to learn how to do this for a trip in winter time, I’m thinking it will be a nightmare because winter clothing is not something I even wear where I live.

    • Hi Wanda! I’ll definitely do a winter version if it would be helpful! We don’t really wear winter clothes down here in Dallas either, but since my folks are in Indiana, we do quite a lot of traveling with winter stuff (and always in a carry-on)!

      They key, though, is layering. If you take several thin layers rather than one bulky one, you can maximize the combinations/outfits you can make while still keeping the amount you have to pack carry-on sized.

      • I saw another idea that used compression bags instead of cubes for packing. This seemed to be the most promising with bulky sweaters and such, and would probably work with heavy ski jackets, etc. Have any of you tried them? The only drawback seems to be in the wrinkling dept.

      • Tonya, I haven’t used compression bags, but Kevin used them on his month-long backing trip in Europe. I think they’d work wonderfully for bulky items, but if it can get wrinkled, it will.

  15. We traveled to Istanbul in March and I wish I had found this before that trip. I felt as if I did a good job of only packing essentials, but the cubes would have been so useful! I think for anyone who is planning on staying for a few days at a time at multiple places they would come in so handy and make repacking between destinations a breeze too!

    • I hadn’t used them before, but I won’t travel without them now! It forces you to stay organized and helps repacking for the return trip: I just dedicated one to dirties! So glad you stopped by, Jaime!

  16. When looking for carry-on luggage when traveling in Europe, check the height! Many European airlines only allow 20 inch bags in the overhead, while most US-based airlines allow 22 inches. Many baggage companies offer both sizes, so if you plan a European vacation, you may want to consider a smaller bag or risk having to check it in–Air France is notoriously stringent about this.

  17. When I lived in Europe, i learned really fast how to travel light but no way did I think you were gonna get all that and rain boots in a carry on. Wow!! I have never seen the packing cubes…going on a 10 day trip in a few weeks, I am going to have to look for those. Thanks for these awesome tips!!

  18. What is your suggestion for packing for a cruise that includes formal night? There’s laundry/pressing service on the ship.

    • Hi Dawn!

      I think this one really depends on the dress code of the particular cruise line you’re on. Some require dress as fancy as tuxedos while are lax enough to only request that you don’t wear shorts. Most of the bigger lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival tend towards the less dressy side, but be sure to check your cruise line’s website.

      When we cruise (and it’s always Caribbean for us), I usually take one or two jersey knit dresses. They don’t wrinkle, they’re great for throwing on over a bathing suit when you go on a shore excursion, and they’re cool and comfy. For dinner I’ll pair them with a big bingy necklace, some fun heels, and a wrap (it’s always freezing in the dining room). That way the dress serves double duty.

      As for men, my hubs usually packs a pair of golf pants. They’re lightweight, typically don’t need pressing, and roll up small in his luggage. He’ll also bring one or two buttondowns shirts to wear to dinner and couple of different ties so he can change up the look from night to night (he loves ties).

      I hope this helped! Let me know if you have any more questions!

      Anyone else have tips for Dawn?

  19. My husband and I went to Germany & Austria for 15 days in May 2012 with 1 carry-on roller bag, 1 small backpack & 1 messenger bag, all our travel in Europe was trains & public transportation. We did laundry once in the bathtub of our hotel. We took 3 bottoms each but no jeans, they take up too much room & take too long to dry, I took 2 pairs of long pants that convert to capris & 1 black yoga pant that I could also use for pajamas, my husband took 3 twill type pants & 1 sleep shorts. We took 4 tops each, all short sleeves, 1 long sleeve sweatshirt each which could also be used for pajamas, 1 hoodie each which we wore on the plane & 1 extra pair of shoes each, we wore our bulkiest shoes on the plane. Our connections from western Colorado through Denver and Dulles to Munich were tight enough that had we checked a bag, it never would have arrived with us.

    • Those are great! We looked all over Dallas for something similar and eventually just bought detergent when we needed it in Italy. We’ll definitely look those up next time we travel!

      Thanks for sharing!

  20. I would love to see a winter version… I travel to see family in Maine over Christmas (I’m from North Carolina) and it’s freezing there! I usually use a carry on but sometimes it’s too fat to fit in the overhead bin.

  21. These are some really great ideas. This is something I do to save space for goodies to bring home. I save all my underwear that’s ready to throw away. I pack this for my trip and throw them away as I go. I’ve also done this with a shirt that might have a spot on it. Pack it and throw it away after you wear it. I love to travel!!

    • Great idea, Vickie! Kevin did something similar with all his dingy, old white undershirts and boxers and it worked great!

      We love to travel, too! Once the bug bites you, it’s all over. You’re a traveler for life!

  22. Thanks for posting this! I’ve been looking into traveling for 2.5 weeks with only carryons and I think I am up for the challenge! I love your ideas! I need to invest in some packing cubes, because they seem to be great for staying organized and neat during a trip.

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  24. I am super excited to try this out for my next trip (Israel). I just got back from 7 weeks traveling Europe and you’d think i learn to pack later from last time I was there but I didn’t. I noticed that you didn’t mention shampoo and conditioner, do you just get it when you land? Also if you are taking it on the flight how do you because of the liquid restrictions when going through security with a carry on bag..

    • Wow, Rhiannon! Israel sounds amazing!

      Since we were only in Europe for two weeks, we were able to get by with the typical travel sized toiletries Although because neither of us could find “our brands” in travel sized bottles, we bought the refillable 3oz. bottles in the sample section at Target. We refill them for each trip (we’re using them this weekend, actually) and they work wonderfully.

      Have a wonderful time in Israel!

  25. I once packed for two weeks in hot (Middle East), cold (Prague in the winter) and moderate (southern Italy) in a carry on. I even had to include a business outfit. It can absolutely be done if you layer properly and bring multipurpose shoes.

    If you’re unsure if you can get detergent when you get there, Target sells little single packs of Tide that are small enough to slip inside a pocket. Also, ziploc bags are a lifesaver! Put anything liquid inside them so you don’t have any spills onto your clothes.

  26. Loved all the ideas! As a former flight attendant (5 yrs) and international consultant (20 plus yrs), I’ve used many of these ideas. Since I love to shop, either for international goodies, or for items I need/want since I live out of the US, I’ve discovered cheap fold-up duffles at Wal-Mart. They are very light weight, fit in the carry-on, and some even have wheels. Just about anything will fit for the trip back (one trip included a king-size comforter set), and they’re cheap enough to discard in a pinch.

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