How to Travel for Two Weeks With only a Carry-On
Growing up with parents in the airlines business, traveling was a very serious endeavor. You had to be flexible, quick on your feet, and most of all, prepared. We were lucky enough to be able to fly on passes which made travel easy and accessible in many ways, but it also made it rather, well, unorthodox. We would often show up to the airport planning to go one place only to wind somewhere else completely. “Oh the flight to New York is full? Well how about San Francisco, anyone?” It was an amazing way to grow up and in fact I think that sort of fly by the seat of your pants traveling, (yes, pun intended), taught me to be adaptable, patient, and of course, prepared for the unknown. We had a few hard and fast rules for travel, but the number one, never to be broken rule, was always travel with a carry-on. When you are switching flights and destinations frequently, you simply can’t check bags. And as we all know, lost luggage can quickly ruin a trip. So you learn to be an efficient packer, bringing the minimum amount needed to still look stylish. Packing for a weekend, or a week even, in a carry-on, well, that’s easy. For two weeks? That’s a whole other ball game. But with a few hard-learned rules, it can be done. So, from one traveler to another, here are some tips and tricks for making the most out of that carry-on bag.
Rule #1. Focus on a neutral palette.
As much as I like the idea of bringing out all the fun things from my closet for vacation, in terms of packing it’s just a bad idea. It generally means bringing way more pieces than you ever actually wear. And my goal in packing is to wear everything in my bag at least once. The key to doing that is packing in a neutral palette. So, yes that means sticking with the black, whites, grays, tans and navy blues. Oh and leopard, my favorite “neutral.” (Trust me, it goes with everything.)
Rule #2. Pack items that do double duty.
Versatile items are key to getting as much use out of your pieces while still packing as few things as possible. My go-to travel outfit is a long black jersey skirt (with an elastic waist) paired with a black tank. When in a real pinch pull it up and it can also serve as a strapless dress. A simple shift dress (my favorite is by Madewell, found here) and a small black pouch (by American Apparel, found here) are also musts in my book. A shift dress is highly versatile and I use the pouch to both carry my essentials, throwing it into my larger bags for easy access, and to use on its own as an evening clutch.
Rule #3. Bust out the accessories!
Just because your clothes are neutral doesn’t mean your vacation wardrobe has to be boring! Accessories are where you can really liven things up. Keep things interesting with fun jewelry, belts and of course, scarves. Scarves with pops of color or pattern are definitely the way to go. Oh and did I mention leopard already? Yes? Ok, just checking.
Rule #4. No more than 3 pairs of shoes.
I know, I know. But it’s doable, I promise. Shoes take up a crazy amount of room when packing. You only need 3 types of shoes: 1. The dress shoe – heels or wedges (better for walking on streets.) 2. The cute flats – ballet or sandals. 3. The sneakers. I generally recommend a cute pair like Supergas or Jack Purcells, but if you’re the type who likes to work out during trips, I would suggest investing in a pair of running/training shoes that can do double duty. There are a lot of shoes now that are pretty chic and can look great with your street clothes.
Rule #5. Don’t pack clothing that wrinkles.
I hate ironing. Mostly because I’m awful at it. But wearing wrinkled clothing isn’t acceptable either, so what’s a girl to do? Don’t pack clothing that wrinkles. Jersey and cotton poplin are great travel fabrics. My favorite dress for this is a DVF wrap dress. It never wrinkles and always looks great. I would avoid fabrics like silk that both wrinkle and stain very easily. One day out and about and your piece of silk clothing is done for the rest of the trip.
Rule #6 Pack the minimal amount of hair care products and tools.
At home I use a ton of stuff. On vacation, I bring the minimal amount: a flat iron, a roll brush, a comb, and lots of rubber bands and bobby pins. By not bringing the hair dryer, curling iron, regular hair brush, styling products etc., I save a TON of room in my bags. But I also run the risk of looking like a deranged poodle. So here is my rationale; nowadays most hotels have hair dryers. I actually have yet to stay in a city hotel that doesn’t, and in a tropical environment hair dryers seem to be pointless anyway, at least for me. The flat iron is a must have because it is yet another double duty item. Yes it flattens, but it can also create amazing waves too! AND, in a pinch, it’s also great for getting wrinkles out blouses or hemlines (For when you forgot about Rule #5.)
Rule #7 Bring a trench coat
Seriously, it will keep you warm, dry and can go from day to night. It’s the most multi-functional jacket I own and it goes with everything.
Rule #8 Wash your clothes
Please. Heavier duty items, (such as jackets, sweaters and dresses), can get away without being washed after every wear, but for your other items, just do a simple soap and water rinse and hang it up to dry.
Rule #9 Bring more tops than bottoms.
You always need more tops. They get dirtier faster so you need to have more in rotation.
Rule #10 And finally, get creative!
You’re bringing limited amounts of clothes, so get creative with the way you put things together. A shift dress can be worn in SO many ways. Wear it alone, with a shirt under it, with a blouse or sweater over it, as a skirt, with a blazer etc. A shift dress alone could give you days worth of outfits. Tie your button down collared shirt at the waist as an alternate way to wearing the traditional top. Just get creative.
So what exactly does my carry on look like for two weeks? Here is my list for you:
- 2 Skirts – one long black jersey, one short ( black or neutral pattern)
- 2 dresses – one DVF wrap dress, one black shift dress by Madewell
- 1 pair of pants – black cropped, slim fit
- 2 button downs – chambray, white button down
- 2 t-shirts – black and neutral/white
- 2 tank tops – black, white
- 2 sweaters – cream, striped
- 1 all occasion top (multi-functional even better)
- 2 jackets – white blazer, trench coat
- 2 scarves – a pashmina for warmth, and some pretty patterns (Madewell makes great ones)
- 3 pairs of shoes – neutral heels, leopard ballet flats, pair of Superga tennis shoes
- 2 purses – one carry-on purse (in addition to the carry-on suitcase), one American Apparel clutch
- 4 belts – tan hip belt, black hip belt, leopard waist belt, another waist belt
- And lots of jewelry!
Are you traveling this summer? We challenge you to pack only a carry-on. We’d love to hear what you’re bringing with you!