How to Pack for International Travel – Carry On Style!

Hi, my name is Gaby and in my 27 years of life, I have never once checked my luggage.

The Dalkin clan has done quite a lot of traveling in my lifetime, and Bruce (that’s my dad!) always insisted on carrying-on. We would hit the ground running no matter where we were going. Tennis tournament – carry it on and then leave the airport to go warm up. A few weeks in Europe – carry on so when we landed we could run through customs and get our vacation started. Surprise Vacation – carry on! Moving to college – carry on! (Although my mom sent me about 3 giant boxes full of clothes a few days later) Basically, you get the idea.

The idea of checking a bag literally terrifies me. What happens if it doesn’t arrive? It’s just something that I never plan on dealing with. When Thomas and I first started dating, I took him to Jamaica for his birthday and he packed for the trip thinking we were going to check luggage and then WAIT for it once we arrived. Boy was he wrong. I’ve converted him to the carry on only method and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

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The question I get time and time again, is how the heck do you do it for international travel! Easy – I’m about to lay it out for ya!

I’m currently down in South America, specifically Chile on an #onlyinsouthamerica adventure! Surprise!

Only in America

I’m down here for 10 days with some awesome bloggers exploring the country of Chile thanks to LATAM airlines. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I’m pumped! We’ll be exploring the entire country – from top to bottom! Desert to Glaciers. The whole enchilada. I wonder if they have enchiladas down here? I guess I’ll find out!

Anyways, after traveling to Europe, Africa and South America in the last year, I thought I’d lay out how I pack.

Here are a few pointers:

1: wear your heaviest and bulkiest clothes on the plane! For me, that usually means my big leather boots. Plus they are easy to take off and slip back on while going through security. Jackets too – plus it’s usually a little chilly on the actual flight.

2: Travel size liquids and lotions! I don’t even bother with full size shampoos, conditioners, perfume (I bring my samples) etc… it’s all travel size to make life easier!

3: Layers! I always pack in layers – things I can add to an outfit, take off if needed, mix and match… you get the idea.

4: Bring things you can wear multiple times… leggings, jeans, jackets, shoes, etc. A few lightweight scarves can totally spruce up an outfit too. Which brings me to my next point…

5: Don’t pack white or super light things. They show dirt way too easily! (Man I sound just like my mom!! Love you mom!)

6: I pack 1 shirt per daytime, and 1 shirt per nighttime. I’ll wear the same leggings or jeans a few times per trip before retiring them, but I try to bring enough tops to last me the entire time. I mean, I’m going to be in the photos after all, I can’t look the same each day.

7: Pick a color scheme and go with it! I like to keep things pretty neutral, blacks, blues, greys and then maybe work in a pop of color here and there. I like keeping with a theme and it makes it easier to pack

I organize things like this:

Toiletries:
• Drugs!! Pack ’em. Advil, sleeping pills, decongestant, emergen-C, afrin etc. Just a few in case of an emergency.
• Chap stick
• Lint roller – my best friend when I travel
• minimal make up
• face wipes
• kleenex
• toothbrush/toothpaste – obviously

Clothing:
• 2 shirts per day, one for day and one for night
• a few pairs of pants or skirts that can be mixed and matched
• 1 jacket
• 1 sweat to mix and match
• plenty of lightweight scarves
• yoga clothes for travel days
• socks, underwear, and 1 hat.

Shoes:
• I only ever bring 3 pairs of shoes – my comfy boots for daytime chic, running shoes, and a nicer pair of sandals! Done and done! Leave the heels at home ladies! Plus they suck on cobblestoned streets

Gadgets/Entertainment:
• computer + charger + ear buds
• cell phone + charger
• camera + charger + upload cord

Misc:
• copies of your passport – or cell phone pictures of it! I always have a few copies of my passport in different areas of my suitcase in case i lose it. Or I’ll keep a pic on my phone for quick and easy reference if needed.
• copies of all your flights and hotel resises

Things to leave at home:
• hair dryer – basically every hotel under the sun has them these days, and if not, I bet if you call the front desk they might be able to bring one up to you!
• super fancy clothes – plus who wants to pay for dry cleaning anyway!
• nice jewelry – no need to make yourself a target

And there you have it! I’m gone for 10 days this time around and I managed to pack everything into my carry-on plus a backpack and all together they weighed less than 33 pounds.

If you have any packing tips – feel free to shout them out below in the comments!

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45 Comments

  1. As a chronic overpacker, color me IMPRESSED. I have adopted the one color scheme plan recently and it worked very well. Still not sure if I could make it without checking a bag though…

    1. I hear ya! I think if my dad hadn’t made me all those years ago I’d probably be in the same boat 🙂

  2. I’m impressed, I’ve only ever done carry on only for a long weekend. I love sample size toiletries and have never run out of those. The only thing to watch with international travel is that anything even remotely liquid has to fit into that one plastic sealable bag and I spent ages at the airport trying to get everything in until the nice lady who was there to help told me one bulky thing was OK outside the bag as it contained solid deodorant, and that solved the problem. My tip for toiletries is take them in solid form whenever you can, Lush makes lots of stuff in solid form and it’s all wholesome and free from nasty preservatives, including shampoo and deodorant. You can cut things down to minimal useable size if you have to.

    1. I am obsessed with LUSH! They have some of the best products.

      And also – I never use plastic bags and have yet to get yelled at! Fingers crossed it stays that way 🙂

      1. I’ve loved Lush since they opened the shop in my city. I’ve even been known to sniff shops out, the one in by the Rialto, specifically!

  3. I love the tip about taking a pic of your passport and having it on your iphone or copies of it. Sooo smart!

    So impressed you are globetrotting with only 33 lbs! I am always overweight$$ and it adds up. I try to pare down and love this list!

  4. I am so impressed that you can systematically pack for a ten day international trip and make it all fit in a carry on! The idea terrifies me, but I think I’ll give it a try starting small. When I go home for Thanksgiving from college I will try to bring a small suitcase and a small tote instead of a large suitcase. I guess I have to start somewhere, right? Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. I love bringing odd things home like sand from every beach I go to. A piece of art, maybe a book. I will pack clothes I no longer want and after I wear them, I leave them for housekeeping and at the end of the trip I have plenty of space for all my memories!!

    1. great idea!! I left a ton of clothes when I went to Guatemala for a summer – and when I walked through customs back home they looked at me like I was crazy to come home with one a backpack!! 🙂

  6. It’s all very well for Americans as your carry-on size is larger than the Australian size, and the larger would not be acceptable in Oz. Friends of mine came with carry-on, but was unacceptable and had to be checked through!

  7. So nice to hear there is someone else out there that does this! I always pack in the smallest suitcase I can and a large shoulder bag/backpack if needed and friends & family look at me like I’m crazy — I even managed to do this for an 11 day trip to Scotland which involved hiking boots and much heavier clothes than normal. I just got back from a wedding and we got stuck with the last boarding group and they ran out of room for carry-ons for the last 15 or so people and they forced us to check our bags at the last second — I was so annoyed!

  8. Ooh, love this post. Packing is the most stressful thing about traveling. Shots, fine. Airsickness, seasickness – whatever. But packing. oy. Question for you – what kind of carryon bag do you use? Love following your trip. xoxo

  9. I like to pack light too and another thing I’ve started doing is carrying a travel size bottle of Woolite (well, really, it’s an old travel size bottle of shampoo that I used up and fill-up with Woolite). Did this for a weekend camping trip and it was amazing! Now I bring a bottle on every trip so that I can handwash delicates at the hotel, etc.

  10. I am going on a 3 week trip to Kazakhstan in May. Not sure what to expect and how to pack. I’ve been told there is still snow on the ground in April. Makes me want to pack everything but the kitchen sink.
    I love the idea of only taking a carry on but hesitate since not sure it will fit everything. Any advice? Thanks.

  11. I have a vest with 18 pockets. It is unbelievably light and handy. I can stuff all kinds of things I previously had put in my backpack. They’re quite inexpensive and really convenient..

  12. Are you saying that you take 20 tops for a 10 day trip…a new one for every day and every night?
    The lady going to Kazakhstan would have to take 42 tops for her trip with your 2 shirts per day suggestion. I don’t understand.

    1. Thats how I do it!! But if I was gone for more than 10 days I might do 1 shirt per day to save room

      1. I’m going to Portugal next week and I will pack my planned 6 tops and when I’m done packing will add as many shirts as I can fit in on top! Thanks.

      2. I went to Ireland,Scotland & England for 18 days, I took one shirt per day, one sweater for layering, several leggings….wore jeans, and took jacket on plane. Wore my walking shoes on plane, one pair of sketchers in small carry-on….left several tops to make room for small souvenirs.

  13. I have a winter trip to pack for. Any packing tips would be great. I am going to wear my coat, gloves, and boots. How do I pack the heavier winter clothes? Thanks,

    1. wear your heaviest clothes on the plane so they don’t take up room in your suitcase for sure!! Winter is for sure harder since the clothes are bulkier – but try bringing things that you can repeat so they get a few wears out of them! xx

  14. I love this! I’m about to go to Central America for 10 days and while I almost always only carry on (wasn’t possible for 6wks in the Middle East), I like to search around for tips others might have that I hadn’t thought of. I’m a little surprised you bring so many shirts, but if you’re saving so much space by omitting other things, why not? (I take less clothes than you, but probably more gadgets.) I know you already said minimal makeup, but one thing I’d add to this is tinted sunscreen. You can get a high SPF that’s water resistant, light, and non-oily that is tinted to replace foundation.

  15. Hi Gaby! I’m curious what brand of travel pack you use. I’ll be going to Costa Rica this summer for 5 weeks and am having the hardest time deciding on what bag I should buy. I’ve been looking at the Tortuga (name of the brand and the bag), but I’m very indecisive. Any suggestions?

  16. I NEVER check a bag. Went to Mexico for a month with a Bean backpack/suitcase. Took a couple of dresses, about 7 tops, 3 pants, 2 shoes, etc. No problem. A backpack is so very convenient in the airport – two hands free! I even had room in my bag to bring back a 4/7 great rug from Oaxaca!!
    Also went to Germany in January for 10 days. Took 5 sweaters, two pairs of pants, leggings, a dress, nice cadigan, and it was fine! (of course wore my boots and puffer coat on the plane.)
    Just be prepared to wear the same thing several times. Not a big deal

    Also, I’m a grandmother – not exactly a spring chicken, but used to backpacking, so it sort of comes naturally not to bring too much stuff.

  17. 2 tops a day??? That’s crazy!! Unless you’re doing serious physical activity, you can definitely wear a top more than once. Rarely do I need to wear two different shirts a day. Assuming you shower regularly, a top to sleep in could be worn multiple times. Also, most importantly, if you are traveling for more than a week or two, you can always do laundry, especially if you’re traveling with someone else- get enough for a load quicker and save $$. Also doing laundry on a trip reduces the amount of stinky clothes to carry around.

  18. Hi , my husband and I plan to have 1 carry on each travelling from Australia, Hawaii , U.S, London, then Europe inc river cruise? So we don’t have to pay for checked in luggage in US We will be away 6.5 weeks, any ideas???

  19. I finally told my husband we were doing this for our next vacation. As a trial I met him in Honduras with my carry on, and it worked perfectly! (Although I still had to wait around because my friends completely overpacked.) This will be perfect on our next trip though!! Now we just need global entry.

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