Packing for 17 days in a carry on

This post is an attempt to answer several questions from different people about packing so forgive me if I bounce around a bit.

First of all, I have to tell you guys that if we are driving somewhere, we bring ALL THE THINGS. Seriously. Multiple clothing & shoe options for each day, lots of entertainment (coloring books, reading material, games, etc), cameras, laptops, blankets, pillows, fitness stuff, and suitcases packed FULL. For a simple weekend trip we usually bring enough for a month. 😉

However, if we’re flying… we are no-nonsense, essentials-only packers. This is simply because we don’t like checking bags. If my bag has to be checked, it will no doubt get lost. When we went to Italy in 2013 one of our bags got sent to the wrong place so we spent 2 weeks living out of one carry-on size backpack. This made us realize how little stuff we actually NEED when traveling. So for this trip when we packed, we packed light.

packing light for europe.jpgWhat you see in this photo is everything we brought on our entire 17 day journey! Two carry-on sized bags and 1 personal item.

Our choice for carry-on size backpacks: 

We each carried one Osprey Porter 46 backpack. These aren’t cheap, but they are excellent quality. They are standard carry-on size and you can easily put the straps up to carry the bag like a suitcase as well. We loved all the extra compartments on these bags! Plus they were very comfortable to carry and easily adjustable. Best of all, they also have a front panel opening. So they open like a suitcase. I LOVE this feature! It makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for in the bag. For a size comparison, here’s the backpack next to my standard rolling carry-on that I usually fly with:

osprey 46 next to carry on.jpg

And here’s a peek inside my bag once it was packed:


For bottoms I brought 2 pairs of shorts (1 athletic, 1 regular), 1 pair of yoga pants, and 1 pair of skinny jeans. I also brought 3 dresses to rotate through. In Christopher’s bag he packed 3 pairs of shorts and 1 pair of linen pants as well as 1 casual button up shirt. To save space in our bags (and because planes are cold!), we wore our warm clothes on the plane (a cardigan & scarf for me, a jacket for him). We both wore sneakers on the plane and packed Chacos for beach days. We brought the barest essentials as far as extras, entertainment (1 deck of cards plus books & music on our phones), and toiletries went (1 quart size bag each, thankyouTSA) and that was that. 🙂

How we pack our backpacks:

We packed our outfits (minus pants) for each day in these gallon-sized bags (see below). Each bag has a date on it and then into that bag Christopher and I put one shirt each, one pair of undies each, and a pair of socks each. That way we are sure we won’t clash and we don’t have to figure out what we’re wearing each day. For this trip we brought 8 different gallon-sized bags with outfits that we washed half way through the trip and then re-wore for the second half of the trip. We also had a 9th bag for our swimwear and a 10th for one long-sleeved shirt each. So each of us packed 5 gallon-sized bags in our backpacks.

clothes in ziplock bags

I posted about this before we left and I had several of you ask me how I actually rolled the clothes up in each bag so I made you a super quick video tutorial:

Very basic. Very simple. A lot of blacks, whites, greys, and blues. But very practical which worked well for us. 🙂

Our choice for a personal item:

We carried the Travelon anti-theft cross body bag as our personal item (we would swap it back and forth since it got heavy). We bought this bag in 2013 for our Italy trip and it has been awesome! It has traveled to most major cities with us. Inside this bag goes our itinerary for the day, snacks, travel journal, lip balm, medicine, band aids, headphones, flashlight, deck of cards, cell phones, power brick for charging cell phones, a credit card (other credit cards, passports, and cash were carried in these money belts), and my DSLR camera.

camera-and-bagChristopher with the cross body bag and me with the DSLR camera (at the Roman Forum)

How we pack and travel with a DSLR camera when flying:

When we fly, I don’t bring my whole camera bag. Which means that we only bring one DSLR camera and only one lens for it attached already (on this trip we brought a Nikon D750 and a 50mm 1.8/f). We also brought a little point & shoot camera (Nikon S8100) that has served us well and is perfect for beach days (if we are planning to swim, I usually leave the DSLR in the room because I don’t want to leave it unattended on the beach). And honestly, cellphones these days take awesome pictures and video as well. The DSLR goes into a protective sleeve cover (I have this one, but when I searched for it just now, I also saw this other one and it looks even better so I might be purchasing it in the future). And then my camera is either worn crossbody if I know I’ll be using it a lot (which is pretty much always, haha!) or it goes our Travelon bag.

Whew! That was a lot of information. Let me know if I left anything out or if you have any questions! 🙂

So tell me, how much do you usually pack for trips? Do you pack less when you fly?

Love Rach



35 responses to “Packing for 17 days in a carry on

  1. You two are rock stars!!! I overpack! I wish you could come help me pack for Hawaii in June!

  2. WOW! I feel like this is a challenge I need to try! And I love the idea of putting outfits in bags together.

  3. Can I just say, WOW!! I have saved this and will reference if and when we go overseas again or even stateside for a length of time. This is brilliant, like you should go on a talk show and show everyone how it’s done!! LOVE the gallon bag idea!!

    • Aww, you are so sweet! I would be terrible on a talk show because I ramble so much, ha! I’m glad you liked the post, though! It has definitely been a trial and error process for us. I hope you like this method whenever you try it! 🙂

  4. I am always amazed when I see people in a small carry on for a long trip but when you really think about it, you don’t need much to get through your day to day! We drive to our destinations 98% of the time though so I end up bringing the whole house!

    • Girl, it’s so true! When you really think about the most essential things, it’s so little! But seriously, I’m like you – if we are driving somewhere then the house comes with us. Seriously, we can fill up the entire car for a weekend trip (I’m not even kidding). 🙂 And if the dog comes with us too then his kennel and all his stuff comes too. Literally the car packed full!

  5. I’m always amazed at people like you who can pack so much into a carryon! We did do it for over a month in Europe five years ago, but I’m not sure I could handle it now! 🙂

    • Girl! Go you guys for doing it for a full month! It’s so amazing how little you actually NEED when you stop and think about it. If I didn’t hate checking bags then I probably wouldn’t be so serious about packing light. Well, that and the fact that we were bouncing around from hotel to hotel all throughout this trip so dealing with moving multiple bags (especially on a train) sounds awful. But yeah, I bet you could totally still do it with the right motivation! 🙂

  6. This is a post that I KNOW I’ll go look for later in your archives when we are planning an international trip! Thanks for all of the info! (I’ve done that with some of your posts before–right now the one that comes to mind is your post with your recipe for homemade laundry soap, which I have been making and using for years now! )

  7. You guys have perfected all of this!! I love this. I want to travel with you.

  8. Informative posts about what works for you when it comes to travel are so helpful. I love your method for packing… it seems to really simplify everything.

  9. So so clever!! These are great tips. I especially love the ziplock bag idea. It is amazing that you guys went overseas for 17 days with two total bags. I think shoes are what trip me up. (Is that a pun?) They take up so much room and I tend to overpack on shoes because what if I NEED some obscure pair. I never do. I need to get over that!

    • Oh yes! I understand that! If we are traveling by car then I definitely pack multiple pairs of shoes for EACH day, ha! You just never know which shoes you’ll want to wear. Flying is my one exception. I just hate dealing with checking bags enough to give up cute shoes for a trip like that. 😉

  10. Hehe we are packing TWINS! When I road trip, I bring everything too. But when I fly, it’s bare essentials, especially with beauty and stuff, I can make whatever I need. I’m so glad you included the info on the cameras–off to get that bag now! Love reading how you pack!

  11. Putting outfits in zip lock bags is absolutely genius! I’m most definitely trying that for my next trip. Also, total props for being able to pack like this. I go away for a night and have about 5 bags full of things I insist I need!

  12. i am the same – driving? pack all the things? going away for a weekend? pack all the things? 2-3 weeks across the world? pack as little as possible! lol for the same reason too. my bags have been lost and damaged, plus i just despise baggage claim.
    i have a crossbody bag from the same brand, it’s not the exact same but very similar. i love it! i make KC carry it when it gets heavy too.
    i love packing posts a little too much so this was super fun to read. love how you all put things in baggies, so smart! i change my mind too much and always decide on the day out of multiple outfits planned, and as the trip goes on the remaining outfit options get less and less. KC doesn’t plan at all and ALWAYS forgets something, like flip flops/sandals when we are going to a pool or beach area, or a jacket when we are going to Dublin. lol.

    • Girl, yes! I love your travel posts because we are so alike in how we pack and travel in a lot of ways! 🙂 I’m so with you on hating dealing with baggage claim and lost bags and even moving multiple bags around during big trips where we’ll be moving from city to city. I can’t even imagine dealing with multiple bags on a train.

      So funny that KC forgets stuff when he travels! I’ve forgotten a jacket before too (or thought it wouldn’t be that cold) so I have random long sleeve shirts or jackets that I’ve bought from different places we’ve traveled. In fact one of my favorite pairs of socks is one I bought when I was FREEZING in Chicago and not dressed warmly enough. We stopped at a TJ Maxx and I bought a pair of the warmest socks I could find to layer over my regular socks under my boots. And I love those socks. It’s been 5 years and I still wear them all the time! 🙂

  13. Travel MAVENS. So impressed with your packing skills, lady!

    Le Stylo Rouge

  14. Love a packing post! Your bag is so neatly organized 🙂

  15. Pingback: Europe 2016 (plus future plans) |

  16. We love our Osprey travel bags! We were able to do 17 days in Germany last year with them:D We had to do some laundry in the sink a few times, but it was totally worth it to not have huge bags to lug around!

    • Yes, exactly! So worth it to do laundry halfway through instead of bringing multiple bags. And I love hearing that you like your Osprey bag too. I did a lot of research before I chose those bags and I felt pretty confident in my choice, but I didn’t know anyone personally who had used one so that made me a little nervous. But they turned out to be awesome! We’ve even used them on two short trips since then! 🙂

  17. You guys are seriously impressive packers! We always seem to pack heavy as I’m always packing food whenever we travel overseas, haha!

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