Traveling with One Carry-On Suitcase

Do you LOVE to travel? 
Do you want to spend more time exploring
and not hassling with a 2nd suitcase?

Having traveled extensively around the world for up to a month at a time, I’m here to tell you how simple it is to tote one carry-on suitcase and a small day-pack. 

I am highly adventuresome and prefer to stay in airbnb’s (usually someone’s home), though most recently, I ended up sleeping in a corner of an international airport and in the back of a rental car. But that’s a different blog post.


Let’s start off with what to pack. First, I always go online to check the weather and pack according to what I plan to be doing. ‘Cause who wants to be stuck with just a pair of shorts and flip-flops in Iceland? 

Next, think about layers to accommodate the various weather conditions and temperatures throughout the day. Choose a neutral color like black or tan for pants and a jacket, then add a contrasting color for punch for your other clothes. I stick to just one or two contrasting color. My travel clothes are wrinkle free and quick-dry.


Lay out the clothes you plan to take, grouping like things together. Set aside the bulkiest items to wear on the plane; i.e., comfortable walking shoes, socks, pants, top, sweater or jacket. After all the side-ways smirks on the plane, I stopped wearing my wet-suit and snorkel. Hey, they wouldn’t fit in my carry-on.


What to pack: 


A copy of each: passport, country visa and inoculation requirements (if necessary), emergency contact information 
  • A slender travel alarm clock
  • 1 pair of pants (the other pair you are wearing on the plane)
  • 1 capri pant
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 dress
  • 1 pair of nice looking water sandals (I love my Teva’s)
  • 2 pair socks
  • 5 pair underwear
  • 3 camisoles with built-in bra
  • 3 short sleeve tops
  • 2 long sleeve tops
  • Toiletry kit or makeup bag placed inside a ziplock bag
  • Travel size (3 oz or under) shampoo and conditioner placed inside a ziplock bag
  • 1 T-shirt to sleep in
  • 2 sarongs (one for the sand, the other doubles as a towel). I also can wear these as a skirt, blouse, dress, cover up)
  • 1 swimsuit, swim cap and goggles
  • Travel hat that packs flat
  • 1 light-weight sweater (I pack fleece only if it is thin and can double as my sweater)
  • 1 light-weight polyester-filled jacket that can be rolled up tight (wear on the plane)


The first things that go in the carry-on suitcase are your shoes, placed at the bottom (where the wheels are) with the “pinky toe” side down (oppose your shoes, toes to heels).

Before you actually start packing, roll up your socks and put them inside your shoes. I tuck my shoes in a plastic bag.

Each piece of clothing gets folded in either thirds or quartered then rolled up. I put the heavier clothes at the bottom, next to the shoes and continue folding, rolling and packing.

My toiletry kit, makeup and shampoo are nestled as close to the shoes as possible. I like the heaviest items toward the bottom.

If you find you need more space in your suitcase, lift the plastic liner from the bottom of the suitcase to reveal the valleys between the structure bars. I used this space for my folded camisoles and underwear making sure not to go above the bar.

Note: After you have finished packing and are about to walk out of your house remembering one last item, there is room at the top of the suitcase because everything has shifted down.


I always bring a small good-looking REI daypack which doubles as my purse. My daypack always has a sweater, light-weight rain jacket (which doubles as a wind breaker), water, a snack, small notepad, pen, and sunglasses.

For the flight, I tuck in a light-weight book, reading glasses and a sandwich. I have a zippered travel case which includes 1 eye mask, ear plugs, ear buds to watch the inflight movie, socks, a blow up pillow and a thin fleece blanket.

If I know I’ll be flying the “red eye”, I bring a camping pillow that compacts way down (in addition to the blow up pillow).

I don’t travel with an iPad, phone, Kindle or computer because I don’t want to constantly be thinking about how to keep them safe from the elements and from thieves. Traveling without these gadgets allows me the freedom to be more immersed in the culture and have more time to interact with the locals. Internet cafes are readily available if needed. 

Please note that this is how I personally travel. While researching to write this blog post, I was amazed at the number of ways there are to pack light. I recommend you check out YouTube for packing tips based on how you like to travel; i.e. 5-star hotels vs. backpacking trips. I found those and everything in between.

Bon Voyage. Happy and Light Travels!

 This post was created by the following NBOC member
  Laurie Light of  Laurie Light, Professional Organizer