carry-on bag

Just a Carry-On Bag? // How to Pack Like a Minimalist

July 30, 2018

How to pack like a minimalist with only a carry-on bag?

I rode on my first plane when I was 14 years old. I was traveling to Washington, D.C. to see our Capitol with a group of friends and the second that plane took off, I was hooked. My parents did not fly often, but they encouraged us to explore the world as much as we could. I knew nothing about travel and, as I mentioned, I was not traveling with family so my guidance was limited.

Always an adventurer, the idea of traveling did not scare me and I always tended to jump into things with little fear. Planning? That was on the back burner when I was that age. I didn’t think much through and true to an adventurist, I flew by the seat of my pants. Once I got hooked on traveling, I learned pretty quickly that I needed to start planning to make my trips less stressful and more enjoyable.

After I got a taste of traveling, I knew I wanted to incorporate it into my life in every way possible. I have always made it a priority to attend family trips and take vacations but also held career positions where I was provided the opportunity to travel. Realizing quickly the benefits of traveling lighter, I began to love it even more.


carry-on bag


No matter how long the trip, or where I’m headed, in the true minimalist style you can see me wandering through the airport with my crossbody bag and my carry-on roller suitcase… And that is all folks!

How is that possible? What if you’re gone for an extended period of time, you can’t only pack a carry-on roller suitcase!

Oh, honey, but you can.

It may seem odd or even impossible to some that a businesswoman can travel that light and still look professional, but it is possible. I spent a 3-week span away from home at one point in my career. It was specifically for work but it was a healthy mix of business and personal. Implementing the tips below helped me manage the stress of being away from home for an extended period and helped me focus on necessities and not overpack.

Traveling seems to be a word that encourages many people to cringe when they hear it. Whether it be because it’s exhausting, takes planning, envisioning the idea of cramming all your stuff in a small bag or whatever the reason it stops many people from jumping on a flight.
As with many things, I believe it is about perspective. If you are viewing it as work, it will become work. If you view it as an adventure, you will feel differently.

Depending on what stage of life I have been in I travel quite different. I have traveled single, married, married and breastfeeding infants, alone, traveling with a family of 4, traveling with friends and all these require different preparation. However, the benefits to packing minimally in a carry-on bag outweigh the stress of multiple bags of luggage any day and I have outlined some of my best tips and they can be applied to traveling at any stage.

Imagine the freedom you will feel walking past the carousel looking at all the people waiting for their checked baggage, hoping it is there. Imagine for a minute knowing where all your belongings are at any given moment because they are within arm’s reach. You will never again have to fret about lost luggage.

I want you to love traveling as much as I do, so hopefully, my minimalist traveling tips will help you through your next traveling adventure!

You might like:
Traveling solo – 5 things you will gain from a solo adventure


1. Don’
t check your bag at the airport


Only pack a carry-on bag and if necessary a small personal bag/purse. Regardless of where you are going or how long you are staying, commit to this and it will set the stage for easy, minimalist style travel. You will save money on checked baggage fees and time on waiting for your luggage to come around the carousel. And, not to mention the time saved waiting for lost luggage and never having to hear the words “we lost your luggage” again, in addition to eliminating the stress of managing multiple bags. If you are traveling with someone, only allow a carry-on bag per person. (This goes for kids too!) My daughter and son typically share a bag, which we as adults also do if we are traveling for a shorter period.

If you need car seats or anything like that, I highly recommend renting them. We have done this many times and it is safer than allowing your car seat to be tossed around with checked baggage. Plus, the rental fees are minimal and completely worth it.

carry-on bag

2. How to pack your small carry-on bag

Packing a small carry-on bag can be tricky, especially with all the TSA regulations, but it is possible! I have laid out a detailed example below.

If you are gone for 7 days, to a warm climate pack the following:

    • 2 of your favorite shorts
    • 4 of your favorite shirts
  • This alone equates to 8 outfit choices!
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 2 sundresses
  • 1 workout outfit
  • 1 pair of ‘fancy’ shoes, 1 pair of flip flops
  • Pajamas
  • Undergarments
  • Swimsuit and coverup


Now, remember, this does NOT include the outfit you will be wearing as you travel. That is a strategy itself that I will expand on in a minute.
Then, when you are ready to pack them, roll your clothes. This is an old hint, but a good and necessary one when you are packing light.

Regarding your toiletries, pack the following in your carry-on bag:

(and remember the rule of 3 oz bottles of liquid)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hairspray
  • Face wash & moisturizer
  • Foundation and powder
  • Blush & brushes
  • Eyeshadow
  • Eyeliner
  • Eyebrow pencil
  • Mascara
  • Hairbrush, comb & ponytail holders
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Vitamins

This should fill no more than a small plastic bag the size of a Ziploc.

You might like:
Minimalism for beginners – how to get started


3. How to dress for your day of travel

It is very important to remember your outfit for travel should be multiuse. That’s why I always dress in layers. Typically, this eliminates my need to pack some of the things I listed above and instead wear them. Also, planes fluctuate in temperature quite a bit so keep that in mind as you prep your outfit.


  • Leggings (typically my favorite Lululemon pair that I will also use for my workouts while I’m gone)
  • Tank Top and Sports Bra
  • Sweatshirt
  • Workout sneakers and socks
  • I wear all the jewelry I will need the whole trip and this is always stud earrings, rings, and my simple necklace. All of which do not require me to remove them during my interaction with security.

carry-on bag

4. Crossbody bag or purse

As I mentioned before, I always pack a cross body bag and carry that along with my carry-on bag. This consists of all the things I need easy access to that I will need as I’m traveling.


  • Driver’s License/Passport or both
  • Cash
  • Credit and/or debit card
  • Health Insurance card
  • Ipad (if I opt to bring my laptop instead, I place that in my carry-on bag)
  • Headphones
  • Reading material
  • Lipstick/chapstick
  • Gum
  • Charger
  • Vitamin C tablets or drink mix
  • Travel Pillow
  • Tylenol (as I tend to get headaches much too often and this is a necessity)
  • Water bottle (that I fill after I get through security)


I don’t carry ticket stubs as I have all my flight information loaded on my airlines’ app on my phone.

carry-on bag

Traveling light has always been a priority to me as too much stuff causes me anxiety, and inevitably I will forget something somewhere if I have too much stuff. It’s that mom brain doing wonders for me again. The old saying holds true for me “less is more”!


I hope you find these tips helpful and they free your mind of the unnecessary stress of packing! Traveling is an experience you will never regret or forget, don’t let anything hold you back. Especially the dreaded part of packing!

You might like:
10 things I stopped buying since I started being a minimalist


Guest contributor:

carry-on bag

Angel is a creative soul who documents all of her loves in life through writing, design, and photography. She believes perspective is everything and you can overcome anything in life with a little sip of positivity and changing your perspective. Also, she is a firm believer that we were never born to be normal. Life was meant to be unsteady, and we all have the same power of influence, so use it wisely. She is a wife to a man bun hottie, a mama to a spunky 3-year-old girl and an endearing 1-year-old boy.
Post on minimalism and motherhood on her blog – Minimalism and motherhood: Is it even possible?

Connect with Angel:
Blog / InstagramPinterest

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  1. I am definitely saving this as I always tend to over pack. I end up packing clothes that I don’t even wear and then end up at the airport with a heavy bag.

    1. Cortney – I used to run into the same issue over 10 years ago prior to packing minimally. It is truly freeing when you decide to make the move to minimalist packing! I’m glad you enjoyed my article!

  2. I’m actually going on a trip next week so I will pin this to have handy while I pack. Question since you travel so much, I usually check a bag because I use a lot of supplements/herbs/vitamins. How do they reacted if you put a pill carrier or powders in your carry-on?

    1. Hi Miranda! I am the guest contributor, I am glad you enjoyed the article! I have never had security issues with all of my supplements, vitamins, even vitamin c powders. As long as you have any liquids in 3oz containers or smaller and have those within a small plastic bag, you should not have any issues.

  3. Love this article and printed it out for the 7 days check list. Going away and my husband always laughs at all the stuff I bring but when I think about it your list is really all I ever end up wearing.

  4. I love this. I blog mainly about Florida. I travel there alot from the UK. I always over pack. In fact it is ridiculous how many unneccesary items I take. This really makes me think again and I should really put it into practice. Maybe on my next trip I will follow this advice and see how I go.

    1. Kylie – it is a challenge to only focus on necessities, as humans we tend to over pack “just in case” we might need something. Truthfully that “just in case” time, doesn’t typically happen and if it does, and it is a necessity, you can purchase what you need! Feel free to follow or reach out to me directly if you would like any more tips!

    1. Chrissy – I am the guest contributor and I’m so glad you loved my article! It can be hard to know exactly what to pack, so I find lists like this helpful! I’d love for you to follow me on my website as well!

  5. Wow! We’re about to travel to Paris for 7 days and looking for tips on packing less has been an obsession for us. I am inspired by your post, but I noticed you didn’t mention the use of packing cubes. What are your thoughts on the usefulness of these? My husband and I have purchased a set for each of us. We are determined to only carry a carry on and a backpack. However, we like workout options and do so much walking that we have to rotate shoes every day to avoid sore feet. Any extra suggestions for us?

    1. I am the Guest Contributor and so excited for your travels to Paris! The nerd in me is just as excited for your desire to travel minimally! I do have a few suggestions. Packing cubes are a very neat tool, and can help with organization as I’m sure you know. I have never chosen to purchase or use them (due to my minimalist style and eliminating “unnecessary” things) but only would prefer mesh style to allow breathability. I would recommend using them in your backpack to create easy access to items without the risk of pulling everything out of it. In regard to shoes, I highly recommend wearing a great pair of workout shoes and packing another set for the rotation. You will also want to rotate your clothes, and I would highly recommend utilizing the cubes and organizing your dirty clothes into their own cube and separating it from the rest. This is especially helpful with all of the walking/exercising you’ll be doing. I hope you find this helpful! If you would like to reach out directly, please feel free! Have an adventure of a lifetime in Paris!

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