We have all seen the scenario unfold. The travelers who need a bellhop to transfer a mountain of luggage from the curb to the check-in counter. They kick or push matching suitcases forward in the line as they scoot their way through the queue. I have been there myself, packing what seemed like my whole house for one trip …but what if this luggage shuffle and need for a bellhop was avoidable?

While packing carry-on only may seem next to impossible for families with small children or for certain trips, many of us can do without superfluous items that spill over into larger suitcases. Not only is it easier to travel carry-on only – there are convenience and monetary benefits to packing light. (Traveling with hand-luggage only eliminates the need to pay airline fees, speeds up the check-in process..AND reduces the potential for stress when luggage does not arrive at the final destination.)

The question is…how do you pack carry-on only?

Ok, ok…admittedly there are trips that require more shoes and layers than fit in a carry-on (especially now that size requirements for most airlines have shrunk to minuscule sizes). Ski trips are a good example, especially if you are bringing equipment like boots and helmets. But when it comes to packing for a long weekend or even a five-seven day trip, smart planning can make your carry-on dreams a reality.

How to pack carry on only | LiveDoGrow

My best packing tips to travel carry-on only involve a bit of planning (and possibly shopping) – but are worth it to avoid the hassles (and fees) of checked bags.

1. Invest in (and pack) mix & match outfits.

Yes, I am one of those people whose clothes all look the same because I have the same styles in different colors…and you know what? I am ok with that, because it makes packing much easier.

One of the best ways to travel with a carry-on only is to ensure that you can mix and match your outfits. Layered looks with tops that are interchangeable make transitioning from day to evening easy. After learning about Aventura Clothing through my role as an ambassador, the bulk of my mix and match travel wardrobe consists of pieces from this lifestyle apparel brand. A few simple cardigans and tops paired with either a skirt or capris make packing for a multi-day trip easy. Another benefit of choosing multiple pieces or outfits from one brand is that often the colors compliment each other (which helps avoid an all black wardrobe). (Not that all black is bad– everything goes together and can be very chic…but I try to add color when I can.)

My favorites from the spring/summer Aventura line are the Penelope top (it layers perfectly and looks great even on its own), the Kierra cardigan (the a-line cut is very complimentary and the detailed back is beautiful) and the Kyle Wrap (lightweight enough for warmer temperatures but perfect for air-conditioned rooms or cooler evenings). I usually pair these tops with either the Ballari skirt, Sinclair skirtArden capri or a pair of Everyday pants from Lucy (like yoga pants but dressier!).

(I also always travel with at least one scarf that I wear on the plane- for when it gets chilly.)

Aventura for travel

Some of my favorite Aventura Clothing pieces that make packing for travel easy.

2. Plan out your clothes for each day and activity.

I am a visual person, so the only way to plan out my travel attire is to lay everything out on my bed. Granted, there are trips where spontaneity rules the itinerary , but for the most part I try to imagine major activities for each day (or evening) to consider what I might need. Even on short trips, assembling everything that I think I may need helps me “reduce the bloat” of “just in case” clothes. (Seeing everything together also confirms the mix and match potential).

One everything is laid out, everything goes into Eagle Creek packing folders and cubes. These systems help maximize space and keep things organized. (I often just transfer my cubes or packing folders directly into dresser drawers in hotels.)

Travel packing Tip | LiveDoGrow

3. Pack travel size liquid laundry detergent (or buy some when you arrive). 

One of the ways that I manage week-long trips with only a carry-on is to wash clothes in the bathroom sink for re-use. Especially with lingerie and workout clothes made of quick drying materials, it is easy to wash and wear pieces multiple times during a trip. My Aventura pieces are washed in the evening and dry nicely on a hanger during the day (the clothing is made with eco-friendly organic cotton which makes it very soft and easy to care for). Of course, washing your travel wardrobe becomes even easier if you are staying somewhere that has laundry facilities (or want to pay for laundry services).

4. Downsize how many shoes you think you will need.

Shoes are one of the bulkiest items to get packed, whether traveling by carry-on or with checked luggage. I try to wear my bulkiest shoes while traveling (with a pair of fuzzy socks to wear while going through the TSA lines and while flying for comfort). As much as I love some of my shoes, my favorite pairs often stay at home opting instead for pairs that are comfortable and practical for my outfits. The carry-on packing shoe key revolves around limiting myself to three pairs of shoes: my running shoes, a pair of flats and a pair of  “fancy” shoes or sandals to wear with my skirt or slacks.

5. Go light on toiletries.

While I love my favorite hair products and moisturizer, I have learned to bring the minimum when it comes to toiletries. I keep a collection of product samples from make-up counters to use while traveling and rely on hotel products (or a local store once I have landed). If it fits in my TSA approved Quart size Ziploc bag, it comes – if not, it stays home.

Once a traveler learns how to pack carry-on only, it is hard to go back to checking luggage. Truth be told, these packing trips apply to how to pack for longer trips that require the extra bulk of added suitcases.

Not convinced? Read more travel packing tips and resources from family travel experts:



As part of the Aventura Ambassador program, I received three complimentary outfits for review, but have since added (and added and added) to my collection because I love the pieces so much. All opinions are my own.

Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.


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