There are so many benefits to traveling with just a carry-on, aside from the fact that you’ll have one less suitcase to lug to your destination. You're saving money on baggage fees (which means that you'll have more to spend on other aspects of your trip), you get to skip the long baggage check-in lines and you can breeze right out of the airport after your flight without waiting forever at the carousel for your bag to appear.
Simply put, it makes traveling so much easier. That's why, with the exception of a few rare occasions, I have pretty much been traveling with just a carry-on suitcase and personal item for the last five years. And I'm not just talking about quick trips, I've gone on weeks-long vacations, bringing just a backpack and my Away carry-on suitcase.
That being said, traveling minimally definitely takes practice. With less space to work with, you have to be thoughtful about each and every item you pack. So that means thinking ahead and planning out your outfits. I try to stick to a neutral color palette, so I know that everything will go together, and I pack pieces that can be worn multiple ways.
So in case you need a little inspiration, I'm sharing the basic formula that I follow whenever I'm packing for a trip, including some of the basics that I brought along on a nearly week-long trip to the South of France.
Carry-on packing essentials: Clothing
No matter the time of year or where I'm going, I always pack at least a few tank tops for every trip. Not only do they take up minimal space, but they're also easy to style. If it's warm out, I can wear one on its own with any of the bottoms I brought. Or, for chillier days, I can throw a jacket or button-down on top.
This tank from Old Navy paired perfectly with both jeans and shorts I brought and felt more stylish than an average tank, thanks to ribbing and V-neck design.
I love the smooth look of a bodysuit, so I grabbed this one from Old Navy right before my trip. I loved how soft it felt and how good it looked with high-waisted bottoms.
Button-downs are perfect, because they can work for practically any occasion. Need a beach cover up? Throw on a button-down. Want to dress up a pair of jeans? It can do that. Need a light jacket? This will suffice. For my trip I brought along this one and paired it with the above tank and a pair of shorts for a day of biking and exploring.
My love for button-downs runs deep. That's why I always bring a few on trips. Since the weather forecast said that it would be in the 80s for most of my time in France, I added a short-sleeved option into the mix to pair with my shorts or jeans. The one I have is no longer available, but I found this similar one from Everlane.
I always bring a backpack as my personal item, which is great for maximizing space, but it's usually too bulky to bring while walking around exploring a new city. That's why I like to stick this belt bag in my suitcase. It's the perfect size to hold my phone, keys, cards, sunglasses and a few other essentials for the day.
Jeans take up a lot of space in your carry-on, so if I'm traveling for a week, I'll try to only bring one pair. I have a similar version of PacSun's Dad Jeans that I bring everywhere with me and always get compliments on. They have a flattering high waist and enough stretch that they're comfortable enough to walk around in all day.
The name of these pants really says it all: They're easy! Easy to wear, style and move around in. They have a soft, stretchy waistband, which I really appreciated after multiple days of eating endless servings of bread and cheese.
I was headed to a sunny destination, so I made sure to pack a few pairs of shorts. I brought these ones from Old Navy and and a denim pair, but I ended up wearing these most of the time. For shorts, they actually look pretty elevated, so I felt comfortable wearing them to wineries and nicer lunches on the trip.
The trip I went on was with a friend's family and they planned most of the itinerary, so I didn't totally know what to expect. That's why I made sure to bring a couple of dresses that I could throw on for a nicer dinners, but wouldn't look too dressy if I wore them while exploring town in the afternoon. I brought a similar option from Target that was perfect for all of those activities. While it's no longer available, this affordable pick can serve the same purpose.
I also brought along this dress. While I tend to gravitate toward neutrals in general, when I travel, I typically like to bring quite a few black pieces. Not only do they go with everything, but they also don't show dirt or stains as easily!
I typically bring at least two pairs of leggings — one for the plane rides and another for walking around or lounging — and these are always one of the options I bring. They're stretchy, comfortable and hold you in in all the right places.
If you're like me and still like to sneak in some workouts while on vacation, that typically means that you'll have to make room for a few other items in your carry-on, like biker shorts, sports bras and workout tops. I brought along this tank, which New Balance sent me. It's super breathable and allows for plenty of airflow, so I can wear it multiple times before it needs to be washed.
One stylist who I previously spoke to said that a jean jacket is a travel essential — and I agree! It can be pretty bulky though, so instead of packing it, she suggests wearing it to the airport (bonus: it doubles as a pillow on the plane).
Carry-on packing essentials: Shoes
Shoes take up the most space, so when trying to pack light, figuring out which shoes to bring is probably the hardest part. I always wear my bulkiest pair on the plane (which, in this case, were my running shoes). I was planning on bringing an athletic pair of sneakers for workouts, but also wanted a more stylish pair that I could wear for any activity — and these checked that box. I ended up wearing them every day of the trip, while exploring new towns, biking around and going to dinners. They paired just as well with my dresses as they did my jeans or shorts, and my feet never hurt — even after long days of biking and walking.
I knew we would probably be going to a couple of nicer dinners, so I didn't think I could get away with wearing sneakers everywhere. That's why I slipped these sandals into my suitcase. I ended up wearing them twice with the dresses I brought, so I'm glad I did. They have slight padding on the bottom, which I appreciated. Plus, with their flat design, they barely took up any space — which is a major bonus.
Carry-on packing essentials: toiletries
For face wash, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner and more, I use these little travel jars. They're easy to fill with product (you don't have to struggle to fit it into the small opening of a squeeze container) and are simple to wash once you're back home.
I don't typically wear a lot of makeup, but when I know that I'll be taking a lot of photos — like when I'm on vacation — I like to put something on my skin to help even out texture and lightly cover any impurities. And Ilia's skin tint does that. Plus, it has SPF for sun protection. It can be easily rubbed into skin with your fingers so you don't have to bring any additional brushes.
Organization is key for packing light — and once you figure out how to fit everything perfectly in your bag, you don't want to mess it up by having to dig for that one item you desperately need at the airport. That's why I like to keep all my most important items, like my medications, passport, ponytail holders, etc. in this pouch, which I place at the top of my backpack, so it's easily accessible.
Carry-on luggage and accessories
Smart packing strategies are helpful (I roll my clothing, in case you were wondering) but they can only take you so far. An important factor to traveling with just a carry-on is making sure that you're getting as much packing space as possible from your suitcase. And Away's classic carry-on has so many features that help you maximize the number of items you can bring.
Seriously, each time I pack for a trip, I'm astounded by how much I can fit in this roller bag. It has an interior compression system, comes with a laundry bag and has a zippered pocket to help you stay organized.
My biggest tip for anyone who wants to skip checking bags is to maximize your personal item. Skip the small purse and go for something bigger. Airlines can differ on what they'll accept, so always check beforehand, but I've never had any issues bringing this backpack as my personal item.
The interior is super roomy, so I've found I can fit a pair of sneakers, at least one book and all my toiletries and tech accessories inside. It also has tons of different compartments, which helps to keep everything organized.
I'm a big vacation reader, so I never go anywhere without at least one book to read on the plane, during train rides or while lying on the beach. But books can take up a lot of space, so last year I finally invested in a Kindle and it has been a game-changer for travel. The sleek device takes up minimal space in my bag. Plus, before I leave, I download a library book onto my Kindle, and then, if I finish, I can download another while I'm on my trip!