Tips for long-term trips: How to pack for a week (or more) in your carry-on bag | Hello Pretty Bird! - A beauty and not-so-glamorous lifestyle blog

09 July, 2015

Tips for long-term trips: How to pack for a week (or more) in your carry-on bag


Here's an interesting factoid for you: I spent approximately two years in my twenties living out of a bag while traveling from place to place. In other words: Backpacking! As such. I have a lot of experience with travel (including my time working as a travel agent in an honest-to-goodness brick-and-mortar agency, but that's another story for another day). Packing for backpacking trips can be a bit challenging—you need to be prepared for a variety of scenarios, but at the same time you don't want to have too much stuff, because you literally have to bring it with you everywhere.

These days I'm not going on lengthy backpacking jaunts, but I still apply some of the packing know-how I gained along the way to my regular vacation suitcase. For example, Stan and I are about to go on a four day trip, and we've decided to share a carry-on suitcase—gasp! He was a bit intimidated by the idea when I first suggested it, but packing light can actually be very easy if you're mindful about what you choose to bring. Today I'll be sharing some of my tips for packing, and how I manage to pack for a week (or more) in one carry-on bag!


Before you get started packing your carry-on bag, it's important to know what you're actually allowed to bring. Size restrictions can vary a bit from airline to airline, so before you do anything, look up the luggage policy for the carrier you're flying on to find out the maximum dimensions for carry-on luggage. Some carriers also have weight restrictions. I have to be honest, I can't remember the last time a domestic airline within the United States actually weighed my bag, but it has happened to me in other countries—better safe than sorry.

Don't forget that most airlines will also allow you to bring a personal item—like a purse or briefcase. I have a massive purse I use for just such occasions... it's small enough to fit in front of me, but large enough to hold books and snacks and whatever else I might need during the actual flight. And don't be afraid to do a little bag-ception: If you have a small purse and a tote bag full of snacks, you can put your purse inside the tote bag while checking in and stuff. Mind-blowing!

Oh, one last thing: If you haven't purchased your actual bag yet, pay attention to the weight. Some bags are surprisingly heavy. What's the use in having a bag that weighs 10 pounds when your luggage allowance is only 15 pounds?

So my general rule of thumb is this: Unless you're going somewhere where there are absolutely no laundry facilities, pack about a week's worth of clothing. Fitting a week's worth of clothing into a carry-on can still be tricky though, so I recommend following what I like to call The Packing Pyramid:

Here's the logic behind The Packing Pyramid:
  • Socks/underwear: You're probably not going to wear these more than once, so pack one for every day of the week (plus maybe an extra or two in case of emergencies).
  • Tees/tanks/leggings: Worn under other clothing to keep them "fresh". You may be able to wear these more than once (or rinse them in the sink if necessary), so pack a couple of each.
  • Slacks/dresses/shirts: Your "hi, I'm a presentable human being" layer. Unless you're going to a business conference or some other occasion where you need to look really polished every day, you can easily get away with rotating just a few of these.
  • Outerwear: Coats, shoes, sweaters etc. How many of these you'll need depends on the climate where you're going, but under most circumstances you're not going to need more than one coat, more than two pairs of shoes, etc. And don't forget that you can wear your bulkiest coat and shoes on the plane to save space in your bag. To quote my penny-pinching dad: "The airlines weigh your bag, but they don't weigh you." Bless his pockets stuffed to the brim with who-knows-what.

Now that we've talked about how much to bring, let's talk about what to bring. I'll keep this brief: Choose "multitasking" clothing. If you're a woman, I strongly recommend that your first "multitasking" garment be a black jersey maxi dress.

Why a black jersey maxi dress?
  • Black goes with almost everything
  • It's casual but can be dressed up with the right jacket/accessories
  • Jersey is easy to wash and black is forgiving of minor stains
  • More discreet than a dress with crazy colors and prints (and therefore easier to wear more than once in a week)

In short, a true clothing multi-tasker. Keeping that in mind, I think it's wise to choose other garments that are neutral so you can mix and match as you please.

If you've been on a flight before, you probably know about the 3-1-1 rule: Each passenger is allowed to carry on one clear quart-sized zipper bag containing liquid/gel products. Everything in your bag must be in a container that's 3.4 oz (100ml) or smaller. Pretty easy to remember, but hard to stick to when you're a cosmetics junkie and are packing for the long haul. So here's my advice for making the most of your scant liquids allowance:
  • Figure out what you can get or replace whilst away. For example, shampoo. Are you staying with a friend? At a hotel? In a city that has lots of affordable drugstores? Then chances are you don't really need to waste your precious liquids space on something like shampoo. 
  • Remember that solid cosmetics don't count towards the liquids allowance. By solid cosmetics I mean things like solid stick deodorant, bar soap, and even bar shampoo. If you're going away for a long time and won't have a way to replace your personal care items, solids can be a really useful (and budget-friendly) alternative. Likewise, don't waste your liquids bag space on stuff that doesn't need to be in there—things like eyeshadow, pencil liner and whatnot should go in a separate bag because they don't need to be presented at the security checkpoint.
  • Ain't no party like a sample party. Are you the sort of person who hoards beauty samples? Well if you are, good news: Now's the perfect chance to use them! Sample-sized cosmetics take up less room in your bag, and you can toss the packaging if you finish them before you come back. Lighten that load!
  • Decant! Decant! Decant! If you've got liquid products that you just can't live without, consider decanting into smaller tubes and jars. I use little bead jars to hold face creams and refillable squeezy tubes to hold looser, more liquidy products. (I found some 3 oz empty squeezy tubes for about $1 each in the travel section of Target, by the way!

One last thing: Bring extra clear plastic bags. Chances are your original bag will get busted up in transit, plus it's always useful to have a couple of plastic bags around in case you're trying to isolate leaking products, wet socks etc.

You know what sucks? Being in a strange city and suddenly feeling under the weather, uncertain where to go to get the stuff you need to feel better. Of course one can't anticipate every circumstance of this type, but I like to be prepared with a basic kit that contains a few each of:

In other words: Enough basic remedies to get you through until you figure out how to source more or get medical attention.

For feminine hygiene stuff, I recommend bringing at least two days' worth, because you never know when you're going to be stranded somewhere. I remember this weekend years ago when there was a crazy storm in Chicago and I was stuck in my boyfriend's house for a day and half. Of course there are loads and loads of tampons to be found in the city of Chicago, but I couldn't get to them in time, so I ended up shoving a wad of paper towels in my pants. Seriously, nobody wants that. Anyway, moral of the story: I've always packed a day or two's worth of feminine supplies in my bag since then, and you totes should too.

Tampax Pocket Pearl tampons are great for travel because they're individually wrapped in easy-to-open packaging and extremely compact, which makes it a breeze to tuck them into your emergency kit (or into random crevices of your suitcase if you've run out of room!) They also have an extendable applicator and built-in Backup™ Braid to help stop leaks—everything you would expect from a full-sized tampon, but in small, easy-to-pack package. They also come in a variety of sizes and multi-packs—woo!

My packing philosophy for entertainment is also fairly simple:
  • Pack multi-taskers. For example, a tablet computer that can also function as a video device and/or e-reader, an e-reader that's loaded to the gills with books, or if you're really tight on space, a smartphone that has... well... everything.
  • Consider leaving your laptop at home. Unless you're going away for a work or study-related trip, chances are you won't really need your laptop, and it will just weigh you down. For e-mail checking and general internet browsing, smartphones and tablets really are enough most of the time.
  • Have a backup (but not a backup for your backup). I'm a big fan of e-readers—having hundreds of books inside one device is pretty much the best thing ever. But the problem with electronics is that you can't always use them... sometimes you run out of battery, sometimes they break, sometimes the airline tells you to turn them off even though they don't have WiFi capabilities. I like to pack a single magazine or paperback book for those occasions. Just one. Well, maybe two if Stan is with me. But I have yet to encounter a situation where I needed a backup for my backup form of entertainment, seriously.

One final nugget of wisdom on that subject: Nowadays a lot of small devices (tablets, readers, phones etc.) use the same kind of mini USB charger. You don't need to bring a charger for every single device you own—personally I think one for every two devices is sufficient. Those wall plugs don't weigh a lot, but they take up room!

If you have trouble packing within limits, I strongly suggest doing a trial run a few days before you actually go on your trip. This will give you a chance to figure out which items are taking up too much room in your bag and have some "do I really need this?" contemplation time. Remember that less is almost always more, and it's better to come home with extra stuff (yay souvenirs!) than it is to lug around a bunch of stuff you didn't really need for the duration of your trip.

What do you think of my packing tips? Do you have trouble packing light?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own. Be sure to look for Tampax Pocket Pearl on special endcaps or in the feminine care aisle at Target! For more information, check out my full disclosure policy. #PocketPearlatTarget


  1. Such a great post! I have done the bag within a bag packing several times. I love the emergency kit. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a trip and forgot to take tampons with me. Definitely something you don't want to forget!

  2. It's one of the beautiful and useful posts I have come across. Great tips . posted on MAC AMBERING BLUSH

  3. Those are the most fashionable tampons I have ever seen in my life.

  4. Haha! I think I'm going to have to agree with you there. Anything to make that T.O.M. more fun, I guess.


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