Packing for 2 weeks in a carry on can be painless!
Why should you pack in a carry on for all your travels?
“How was your trip to Italy?”, I asked, dying for all the details. I loved my time there and couldn’t wait to relive it vicariously. I was shocked by the answer I got.
“It. Was. HORRIBLE. The airline lost our bags, and they didn’t get them to us for 5 days!! We had no clean clothes, no toiletries, nothing! So instead of seeing Venice, we had to waste time shopping, and bought some really expensive clothes we didn’t like to try to get us through. And then we went to Florence, and had to buy more clothes because we thought our bags would have arrived by then. Three cities later and 5 outfits each, our bags were delivered.”
Oh, how I know the pain. My family used to joke that there was a bulletin in every airport that said if April is going east, send her bags west. The airlines lost my bag every single time I traveled, and I’m not exaggerating. I got to where I packed 2-3 days worth of clothes plus all my toiletries in my carry on because it happened so often.
Not only that, but I know the pain of hauling 2 GIGANTIC suitcases up and down the steps of a hotel that was built into the side of a cliff, or up a cobblestone road to the top of a long steep hill to reach a hotel because no cars are allowed to drive the roads. Or dragging them down a deserted road from the tiny train station to the town with no taxis. My arms and shoulders ache at the memory. Some of the most incredible destinations in the world don’t have bellmen, taxis, or paved roads.
And then there was the time we had to rent a hotel room in Athens for our suitcases to sleep in because the tiny planes that go to Santorini don’t have space for bigger bags, and there wasn’t room in the rental car when we drove to the interior. My suitcases enjoyed some really quality down time at a very nice hotel. *face palm*
I finally heard about the concept of packing only in a carry on bag and my mind was blown. I could never! How could you?! What if I don’t have what I need? And then my shoulders and arms and wallet reminded me of all the previous trips. “Maybe we should try it,” they whispered.
So I did, and after TONS of research, I confess my first attempt was both a huge success and a complete disaster. I did, in fact, pack for 3 weeks for two different climates in 1 backpack. I also looked like I got dressed in the dark a lot of days. Nothing I took went together. I was mixing and matching from a wildly mismatched assortment. Looking back at the pictures I cringe, but I learned a lot. I’ve done this so many times that I have my own technique down to a science.
How to pack for 2 weeks in a carry on
I basically make a mini capsule wardrobe, but I have a math equation that simplifies it. Now let me preface this by saying I’m not a sweaty person, so I can re-wear my pants 2-3 times as long as I don’t sit on a melted ice cream cone or something.
Here is what it would look like for summer with no washing machine availability:
# of days divided by 2 = number of bottoms. In the summer my bottoms always include 1 pair of jeans because airplanes and cars are COLD, and you will have 2 travel days, guaranteed. Even in the summer the weather can get cool, especially in the evening. Theaters, restaurants, stores, all freezing. Also, I’m always cold.
# of bottoms x 2 = number of shirts. Layers (cardigan or jacket) = 2.
I lay out my bottoms and pick 2 shirts to go with each one. That really helps with the overwhelm. I take it bottom by bottom. Here is my skirt, which 2 shirts do I want to wear with it?
If you want to get advanced, you can make sure each shirt also goes with at least 2 bottoms. It multiplies your outfit options, or you can use that to reduce the number of tops you take and pack even lighter.
Shoes = 2-3. The safest bet is to keep them neutral in color so all the shoes go with all the outfits on all the days. I wrote a post about comfortable and cute travel shoes here.
Necklaces and earrings = 2-3 each. I generally take metallic colored only so that it all goes together. You could also include a couple of scarves, which I always do when I travel to Europe, even in summer. Bracelets, rings, whatever accessories you like, limit to 2-3 each.
Putting it all together
So let’s put it together for a 2-week trip.
14 days/2 = 7 bottoms.
7 bottoms x 2 = 14 tops that can be a mix of layering pieces if it’s cold.
3 shoes, 3 necklaces, 3 earrings, 1 jacket and 1 cardigan (for all the same reasons I always take a pair of jeans).
If you want to take casual dresses, 1 dress = 1 bottom and 2 tops.
For my next trip I’m taking 1 casual dress, 1 skirt, 4 shorts, 1 jeans, 12 tops, 1 cardigan, 1 jacket, 3 shoes, 3 necklaces, 3 earrings, 1 purse. I’ll let you pack your own underclothing, but don’t forget essentials like slips or camis if you are wearing anything sheer.
The easiest way of all
Even this broken down method can feel overwhelming if you’ve never done this before, so I’ll let you in on the absolute easiest way to pack for a carry on for 2 weeks. This is even easier than my personal method, because I’ve done all the work for you. The Stunning Style Summer Wardrobe Guide has all the pieces and outfits made for you! Go through and pick the number of outfits you need. You can see all the pieces in each outfit, so no forgetting items. And because it’s a capsule wardrobe, you will already overlap pieces and keep your numbers close to what I used in the formula above.
As we cruised from one gate to the next during our layover, already dreaming of the hot Thailand sun ready to warm my cold February bones, I came to a screeching halt in front of the international weather board. “ADAM!!!” I shrieked. “It’s 16 degrees in Seoul! SIXTEEN DEGREES!” In our tropical vacation fever, we forgot all about the 24-hour stay over we had planned in Seoul, Korea on the way back. Shorts and breezy tops weren’t going to do us any good in the snow. We got so, so, so very lucky. My whole family was headed to Thailand for my brother’s wedding, and one brother and his wife hadn’t left yet. She’s about my size, and my brother is close enough to Adam’s size that their ski coats, gloves and hats fit us well enough. We each already had a pair of jeans and sneakers in our bags, and they were kind enough to grab those items for us just an hour before they left for the airport.
So, check the weather at your destination. I check all the way up until the day before we leave, and adjust as necessary. Summer doesn’t always mean hot. In Paris, Amsterdam, England, Scotland, and a whole lot of other places, you could have 50 degrees or 100 degrees in July. You never know.
To help keep your pants fresh so you can get 2-3 wears, wear a panty liner every day. I know you know what I mean. Especially in the summer. #letsbereal
Don’t forget to check your calendar for your cycle and pack the essentials. I bought the most expensive tampons ever in a casino gift shop in Vegas. And they were actually made of sandpaper.
Consider the activities before you pack. What I packed for Costa Rica was entirely different from what I packed when we went to Japan, and I’m not even talking about the weather. Ziplining, Tarzan swinging, waterfall hiking, snorkeling, boating, beaching, sunbathing, and virgin colada drinking call for an entirely different wardrobe than visiting feudal castles, imperial villas, and ancient temples. This also calls for a healthy dose of reality. Don’t wear high maintenance clothes for a trip that includes a lot of walking, standing in lines, etc.
Take one special outfit if there is any chance you are going to be going somewhere special. That can also be separates, like a black skirt and black top that look like a dress when worn together.
Pack a large flat tote to use as your personal item on the way home. The creates space for any souvenirs you pick up along the way. I love my Longchamp Le Pliage tote for this bc it folds up tiny. While you’re at it, pack one in your husband’s carry on too.
I promise you can do this, and it is life changing! Your shoulders and arms will thank you!
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