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How I Packed for a 10-Day International Trip in a Carry-On

How I Packed for a 10-Day International Trip in a Carry-On

As you know, I recently traveled to Italy and Israel on a 10-day trip. And I only brought a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.

I wasn’t sure that I could manage to just take a carry-on. But I hate checking luggage.

Maybe it’s part of my control issues? Or maybe it’s that I lost my contacts and medicine and glasses on the trip to South Africa? {Yes, I’m a bit paranoid about losing luggage after that experience!}

I also love a good challenge. So I decided to plan ahead, research out what I should bring, and then make it my personal goal to pack everything in a carry-on and a backpack.

How I Packed for a 10-Day Trip in a Carry-On

How I Did It

I knew that we were going to need some dressier options, but that we were also going to be doing a lot of walking. I also wasn’t for sure what was going to be appropriate attire — whether people would be dressed up or more casual.

I also knew that the temperature was going to be fluctuating quite a bit, we’d be outside a lot, and we would be gone from our hotels for long stretches of time. I also knew that we’d need outfits for during the day and then dressier outfits for the dinners at night.

With this in mind, I brought a lot of mix and match outfits — almost all that had multiple layering options. All totaled, I had around 16 outfit options. And I was so glad I had that many options, since I ended up wearing almost every single one… and I even repeated a few outfit in the evenings!

How I Packed for a 10-Day Trip in a Carry-On

What I Packed

2 pairs of jeans (1 dressier, 1 more casual — I’m a huge fan of jeans from Stitch Fix.)
1 pair of slacks
1 denim tunic-type dress
5 pairs of leggings (to wear with longer shirts and under knit dresses)
3 knit dresses (I got mine from Stitch Fix, but they are sort of like these.)
1 cardigan
5 long-sleeved knit shirts (I got a few of these in different colors. They are so comfortable and cute!)
4 short-sleeved knit shirts
2 tank tops
2 camis
1 long black skirt
1 black dress
2 shorter skirts
1 sweatshirt
1 pair of shorts
1 tankini top/shorts — for the Dead Sea
1 leather jacket
4 scarves
5 pairs of shoes (Toms, dressier flats, Sketchers — I love these!, flip-flops, and KEEN sandals)
curling iron/brush
small purse-like backpack (so I didn’t have to lug around my big backpack most of the time!)

In my backpack (here’s the backpack I have), I brought 4 books, my computer, my chargers/adaptors, make-up, contacts, hair/face stuff, an umbrella, sunglasses, sunscreen, medicines, essential oils, and my journal/Bible/notebook.

What I Didn’t End Up Needing

I ended up wearing everything I brought except the one black dress I brought, two knit skirts, and the Keen sandals. Here’s why:

  • The night we were supposed to dress up, I opted for a black skirt and nicer shirt instead of the black dress I had brought. We went to the Wailing Wall that night, it was cold, and we had to do quite a bit of walking, so I thought it was a better option since the skirt was longer and more comfortable.
  • It was colder than I thought it was going to be, so two knit skirts I brought just didn’t work for the weather. I could have worn leggings underneath them, but they weren’t really the kind of skirts that worked with leggings.
  • Because it was colder than I expected, I opted for my Sketchers instead of Keens on all of the days where we did a lot of walking. I was so happy I had “splurged” and brought 5 pairs of shoes because it was so nice to have multiple comfy options when we were on our feet and walking so much of the time!

How I Packed for a 10-Day Trip in a Carry-On

What I Wished I Had Packed

The biggest thing I wish I would have brought was at least a few snacks. Granola bars, trail mix, or something like that. There were a few times when I was really hungry when I wished I had packed a few snacks.

Also, we did a LOT of walking, so most nights, my clothes were sweaty and I ended up hand-washing most of them and then hanging them in the bathroom to dry (that way, I wasn’t putting sweaty clothes back into my suitcase and could also re-wear the items later in the trip, if need be).

I found that hand-washing worked okay for most things, but I wished I had brought actual detergent instead of trying to just use bar soap or body wash that the hotel had on hand. It wasn’t as effective and it didn’t get all of the sweat smell out of everything.

But other than snacks and laundry detergent, there weren’t any other items that I really wished that I had brought. Which I was shocked by — especially since I felt like I had packed quite light and was sure I had forgotten something!

How I packed for 10 days in a carry-on

All in all, the decision to only bring a carry-on and backpack was a huge success and I’m so glad I decided to challenge myself to make it happen!

I know that many people have traveled for much longer time periods with less stuff, but I am happy that I brought what I did and ended up using almost every single item that I brought. I’ll definitely be packing in a similar manner on future international trips!

What are your best tips for traveling light? I’d love to hear!

Related posts: 10 Things You Should Bring on Long Flights With Young Kids & Our Super Simple Method for Packing Our Kid’s Clothes for Trips

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  • Anne says:

    What size was your carry on and back pack?

    • It was a 22-inch carry-on. The backpack was just a regular backpack. I can’t do a big bulky backpack because I’m on the petite side.

      • Shannon says:

        I am not sure how you fit all that into a carry on! And that was a lot for the back pack also! We travel quite a bit and we have done just carry one for some trips. That was impressive though!
        Israel is still on our list!

  • Dixyann Smith says:

    We packed for two weeks in Kauai with carry-ons. We even packed snorkel gear (I can’t do rentals, the idea of someone else’s mouth on the snorkel grosses me out). I may have forgotten to pack something quite important, but we managed. Our hotel had laundry, so we did laundry twice.

  • Cathgrl says:

    Where did you get your purse sized backpack?

  • Christy says:

    Oh my gosh, how in the world did you fit 5 pairs of shoes into a carry one? I took a similar trip to Israel and think you did a terrific job of packing. I like the motorcycle jacket, think I might order it. Thx. It looks great with the scarf.
    Did you pack pjs?? How did you carry your camera? I usually travel with a backpack, but this last trip I took a extra large purse that could hold my camera. We walked so much, my shoulders were aching with that purse..I’m back to the backpack. Also, I take snack size bags and fill them with powder detergent. Especially when I travel with my family..seems someone has something sweaty or muddy that needs washed out.
    Glad you had a great trip, love your blog.

    • I wore my bulkiest shoes on the days we were flying and that helped. And then I just squeezed the other shoes together and tucked them on the sides of my luggage. I packed one pair of comfy pants and a tee for PJs.

      I actually ended up not bringing a camera. I just used my phone! It worked for me.

      • Kristin S says:

        That was my question but not just shoes. How in the world did ALL OF THAT fit in a carry on? And they’ve started weighing carry ons and that’s foiled some of my plans.

        • I have packed so many times that I’m really, really good at fitting a TON into a suitcase and backpack. I also wore my bulkiest shoes, bulky hoodie, and carried my jacket and a book on the plane there. Plus, I brought a few things that I intentionally planned to leave behind — a few clothing items I was planning to get rid of anyway, a few books I’d gotten free, and a few other hygiene bottles, etc. That made room for the few things I bought there to take home.

          Rolling clothes is key for me, as is how I group things in the suitcase. I’ll have to do a video or picture tutorial sometime. It also helps that I’m smaller so my clothes take up less space than someone who was a lot taller.

          I’ve not had a problem with them weighing carry-ons before. I think this one weighed 25 pounds, if I’m remembering correctly.

  • Antonella says:

    Hi Crystal,
    any tips on how you actually packed so much in your carry-on?

    all the best

  • Danielle says:

    Wow, Great job!! I second the detergent for hand washing options on a trip like this. The little samples that come are good for carry-ons, or sometimes you can find really small bottles in the travel size or detergent aisle (trial size).

    For those that take longer or more roughing it trips, my husband will tell you I always say bring duct tape and super glue (You probably wouldn’t need it on a nicer trip like this?) But if you are on a mission trip peace corps, etc, in the middle of Africa, it is nice to be able to fix your glasses when they break (!); make hangers out of plastic bags, sticks, and duct tape; or duct tape your suit case back together when it rips (!), etc. (all true stories, unfortunately 😉

  • Lynne says:

    Thank you for pointing out that you brought multiple shoe options. When I am trying to pare down my packing, shoes are usually the first thing I think to remove because I feel like they take up so much space. However, after reading this post, I have a different view on the importance of not skimping on shoes. Thanks!

  • I always travel with just a carry on. It’s so much easier to carry around. If you think through what you’ll need and make sure everything coordinates, it’s not too hard. You did an awesome job! I always bring granola bars too. You can take the out of the box and squeeze them in you suitcase pretty easily. Thanks for sharing so much about your trip!

  • Kay says:

    Our family of 4 is planning a 9 day trip this spring. We need luggage. I know you guys do a lot of traveling. Do you have any recommendations on luggage? (Carry-on’s or to be checked)

    • Almost all of our luggage is Genius brand. We’ve, for the most part, been very happy with it.

    • Guest says:

      Hi Kay – We just took a family of four trip with flying and while I’ve always been a carry-on only kind of girl, we decided up front to each have a backpack (which we each already have) and to check two bags (clothes, etc. of one parent/one child per bag). I am SO glad we did because we had short layovers in some cases and trying to haul carry on bags and herd along small kids through airports would not have been a good situation at all. In each of our backpacks we carried one change of clothes (in case our luggage was lost or something happened in transit), any meds (parents only in this case), snacks and entertainment. Because backpacks can be worn, the kids could carry their own as could we. We bought our luggage with a coupon from Belk. 🙂

      • Amy M. says:

        That’s very similar to what my family of four did when we flew recently. We actually just paid to check one bag. The kids and I put our clothes in there (and I tried to pack similar to Crystal on this trip with mix and match stuff so it wouldn’t take too much space). Then my husband took his clothes and stuff in a 22″ carry-on and all four of us each carried a backpack with the items you listed. It worked out well!

        Crystal, like the others I am impressed you managed to pack so much into a small carry-on! Nicely done! I love how you thought through your options. I will reference this next time I am trying to pack light. 🙂

  • Kate says:

    I do this a lot – two weeks in a carry-on is pretty typical for me. Unless it’s really warm and sweaty, I definitely plan to re-wear stuff a second time after a good airing out – if you have decent personal hygiene, wearing a tshirt twice is not the end of the world. I mix and match, wear lots of scarves to change things up, everything Crystal mentioned. Travel-sized cosmetics, obviously. I buy those face wipes instead of a liquid cleanser – the pack gets smaller as you go, unlike a bottle which won’t.

    Dress strategically on the plane – wear the jeans, sneakers and sweatshirt; pack the leggings, flats and windbreaker.

    I always find that it’s easier to get everything to fit when I’m packing to go away than it is to re-pack when I’m getting ready to come home, probably because I’ve always picked up souvenirs. In that vein, a few tips I’ve picked up over the years:

    – Plan to leave stuff behind. The undies that are on their last legs, a shirt that’s not quite as flattering as you’d like, the sneakers that will need to be replaced in a couple months anyway. Not that you want to look like a slob while you’re traveling (and I don’t!), or be uncomfortable, but you can be strategic about it. I also leave books behind – I’ll pick up a few cheap paperbacks at a used book sale or something, and toss them when I’m done.

    – I always pack one of those cinch-sack backpacks in my suitcase. It takes up almost no space when empty, but it can be a day pack for walking around, and can turn into extra bag to carry if you’re traveling between hotels or cities while away, and can ultimately be your carry-on on the flight home and you can check your suitcase if needed (it’s so much less problematic to lose a suitcase on the way home!).

  • Heather says:

    I did a 2 week trip and a 3 week trip to Europe with a carry-on only. I took way less clothes than that though. It’s true that in my photos I am wearing the same outfits over and over, but I didn’t care! The photos are more for the sights than my lack of fashion. Laundry detergent is must, but finding a local laundromat mid-trip is a good way to go instead of hand washing in sinks. Plus a laundromat will give you a chance to meet locals. Bring a plastic bag to put your dirty clothes in so they don’t mix with your clean ones until you can wash them. But when you’re not actually travelling with the suitcase zipped up, make sure to open up the garbage bag for air circulation purposes (like at night).

    Band-aids for blisters are important, and take very little space. Didn’t have any on my first trip, couldn’t find how to say it in our pocket German dictionary, and so ended up sticking my foot up on the counter of a pharmacy to show what I needed!

    My family of six did a trip to Yellowstone and surrounding areas last summer with only carry-ons. Totally do-able. HOWEVER – be warned that sometimes the airlines will make you check your big carry–ons anyway! It happened to us. There was no charge, but it meant we had to wait at baggage claim, and did not have access to everything during a long day of flying. So put your most essential things in a purse or small backpack.

    • Cindy says:

      I would love to hear tips about your Yellowstone trip.

      • Heather says:

        There’s a ton to see and do. Old Faithful is super crowded. As soon at it erupted hundreds of people all raised their phones in the air to record it. That was a more fascinating site than the geyser. My favorite was all of the other countless geysers and hot springs that were NOT swarming with tourists.

        Check a guidebook out of the library.
        Even in the summer you will need to pack pants and a jacket.
        With young kids, we did not do anything back country. Just stopped frequently to take mini-hikes, so no special equipment was needed. Just a backpack and snacks.

        For food, we brought a soft cooler bag (easy to pack on plane), and filled it with ice each day and our lunch and snacks. Try to do a big grocery shop in a city before you get up there, as there are NO big chains or good prices. We found a Sam’s Club in Rexburg, ID, I think it was The town of West Yellowstone had a great Chinese restaurant we ate dinner at one night. The proprietors barely spoke English, and asked us if we wanted forks, as they were not usually handed out. There are a lot of Chinese tourists that go to Yellowstone.
        It was a great trip, and I found it all more breathtaking than I had expected.

  • Aimee says:

    I studied abroad for a summer during graduate school and everything I had was in a backpack. The freedom of limited (but cute!) clothes was fantastic.

    Twenty years on 🙂 I still try to err on the side of less. It seems sacrilegious to post this on a money saving site – HA! – but after years of reading Anne’s positive reviews of Tieks on Modern Mrs. Darcy, I broke down last year and bought my first pair. They are AMAZING. We recently went on a family trip and I had my Tieks and one pair of sandals and it worked out great!

    • I’ve heard SO much about Tieks! I always get my shoes with gift cards pretty much and I’ve yet to figure out a way to get Tieks with a gift card… so I still haven’t taken the leap! 🙂

      • Aimee says:

        They truly are worth the money (if the individual has it of course – not suggesting debt!). Would recommend starting with a non-patent. My first pair were the cardinal red and then I bought a pair of obsidian black. I am really enjoying the patent ones but they take a little longer to break in (like weeks instead of immediately perfect like the first ones).

  • Meegan says:

    Thanks so much! Our family is moving overseas in a few months and we were advised to trim our clothing down to bare bones….but we’re going to an area that has both hot AND cold seasons. I wasn’t sure where to start…. your list definitely helps! Blessings to you!

  • Jennifer says:

    What about underwear! Did you bring more than one bra?

  • Christine says:

    -create laundry kit – – – camping websites have biodegradable soap, clotheslines w/ suction cups and mini scrub brushes which fit in quart size ziplock bag.
    -wear long pantiliners – keeps them fresh between laundry
    -microfiber clothing – dry faster than cotton.
    -zip lock bags
    -bandanas: functional and can be dressed up or down, used as hair accessory
    (in italy i put ice in zip lock and wrapped bandana around my neck it to keep cool)
    -baby wipes: squat toilets are common in europe and messy, some public bathrooms don’t have tp, soap&water, simply to freshen up during the day.
    -mini first aid & sewing kit from dollar tree
    -ear plugs
    -money belt i didn’t think i would use but it was great to keep hands free, not worry about a purse.
    -inflatable pillow
    -mini combination lock to keep backpack locked (attach to zip pulls)

  • Eleanor says:

    I love the Travel Fashion Girl website for tips and tricks on packing light for a variety of climates, trip, and trip lengths. There are many interviews with women who live and travel around the globe, plus packing lists! I even use the lists as a basis for capsule wardrobes.

  • I’m so amazed that you were able to fit that much into a carry-on! I was expecting to read how you wore the same shirt 10 times and brought one pair of shoes.

    You should totally do a video tutorial on how to pack a suitcase!

  • Emily says:

    A couple of years ago I used to travel quite a bit for business (still do from time to time), but picked of a few tips along the way. Here’s a few that I didn’t read above:
    -Don’t ignore the outer pockets on your suitcase. Use every square inch!
    -This may seem obvious, but coordinate your clothes with your shoes–for example, only bring black flats, black sandals. Your clothes will coordinate with black shoes. (I’ve traveled with bag checkers who outfits that need both black and brown shoes because of the outfit choices they’ve made.)
    -Bring a foldable duffel (I always pack mine in an outer suitcase pocket!) to bring back souveniors. So if needed, you can check your suitcase on the way home. Much less tragic if your suitcase is delayed when your back home.
    -Finally, I know Crystal (and others) have mentioned this, but don’t underestimate the importance of snacks!! Granola bars, beef jerky and I like these little “go picnic” boxes (can sometimes find these on sale at target)

    Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us!!

  • Sue says:

    My 2 most favorite places are Italy and Israel…been to both twice. You packed more than I do in that carry on and I usually am gone 2-3 wks. Love my Sketchers also! Toms don’t work for me b/c no support but usually pack a few pair of sandels that have support. I never go anywhere anymore without a rain jacket..mines thin , lightweight but waterproof. Suggestion for laundry soap..I bright a couple of laundry sheets (soap is embedded but not liquid) and tear them into pieces to don’t need a full one for a couple of clothes to wash…..I got them during the couponing craze for free but never use them at home..LOL..Love these traveling posts!!!!

  • Great job lady! I’m so glad you were able to do it. 🙂

  • Julie C says:

    Great tips, everyone!!

    Crystal, Why not an ebook read on a larger i-phone? Surprised you wanted the weight of FOUR books! Did I read that correctly?

    Thanks for sharing.


    • I am SUCH a real book person… I just can’t enjoy a book as much if I can’t underline in it and feel it in my hands!

      • Oi says:

        I love real books too, but Kindle lets me take hundreds at once. I always take 1-2 paperbacks that I don’t mind losing or leaving behind, along with Kindle, as you never know when you might run out of power!

  • Julie C says:

    I’m in the market for a piece of rolling luggage and would love your tried and true suggestion for a smooth-rolling, not-too-heavy carry on that works great! I’m hoping to find a piece that works well with another bag riding on top (looped through the telescopic handle) while pulling it through hotels as my fibromyalgia flairs horribly while traveling. Thanks so much!

    (Any bad luggage options would be good to note also so we can all avoid those, too!)

  • Cindy says:

    I’m curious how you liked your Toms? I’ve thought about buying some but wasn’t sure how comfortable they would be for travel and a lot of walking.

    • I have LOVED them! I got them from a sale on Zulily and have fallen in love with them. They were great for travel — especially on the days when we weren’t doing a lot of hiking-type walking.

  • Elsie says:

    I love that you brought 4 books!

  • Kylie says:

    Helpful post!

    Would love to know how you used essential oils on the trip and if you found them helpful?

  • Laurie says:

    Were you able to fit all of your liquids in a quart sized bag? I think that is going to be my biggest challenge on a two week European trip. I have very sensitive skin so I can’t purchase items when I get there as I need to use my current products. Any suggestions?

    • You can take multiple quart sized bags, if need be. I usually bring 2-3 on longer trips.

      • Kelly says:

        This was my question as well (packing all the liquids in 1 quart sized bag). Everything I see on the TSA website says you are allowed only 1 quart bag. Planning a very similar trip next month and would love to travel with only a carry on!

    • Pam says:

      Try using a European line for sensitive skin ,like laroche posy, before you leave…then you could buy there

  • Jenn V says:

    Found this post while *googling* how to pack. I need to pack myself and three children into one suitcase for 6 weeks in Thailand! lol. I just bought our suitcase, a hard sided Samsonite 24″. I think I will also take a backback and a smaller day pack. I think I will definitely roll clothing as per your suggestion…and check out those Sketchers!

  • Michele says:

    A friend of a friend (when traveling to cities in the U.S.) packs toiletries, one spare outfit, and underwear, and then goes thrifting for outfits. Donates them before she leaves. That’s way more spontaneous than I think I could be, but it’s another option! 🙂

  • Uptown frog says:

    This is great. We went to Israel last year about this time and will be going back next year. Trying to find a packing list for Israel for this time of year is hard so I really appreciate everything you’ve got here. My only issue is that I have to pack gluten free food to take in a separate suitcase.

  • Elle says:

    I literally would have missed my first and only cruise had I been traveling with checked baggage. My flight brought me in with just minutes to spare – there was a flight delay due to a missing crew member – and I went from the airport to the cruise port in record time, because I wasn’t waiting for my luggage! I had to go on the crew gang plank, because the passenger one was already closed. It was a miracle – and it reminds me why I always pack lightly! My tip, I roll all my clothes into tight bunches and re wear what I can.

  • Rachel Burgess says:

    We went to Italy for a MONTH with only carry-on bags! No one ever says, “wow, I wish I had more luggage!” It makes EVERYTHING easier– hopping on public transportation, saving time in the hotel, they fit in train lockers, and businesses are willing to hold your bags behind the counter for those weird pockets of time when you are in between hotels.

    We save underwear that are ready to be tossed for our international trips. Then we throw them away as we use them. I have done this with other clothes/shoes, too, planning to only take them one-way. I agree, a very small bottle of laundry detergent is a must. And snacks! We have even brought full lunch items that keep well so that we can save money as we travel. Yes, part of travel is trying new foods–but we balance eating out with bringing our own so we can afford to travel more often. Also, anything that will only go “one way” leaves room for souvenirs.

    Twice we have mailed packages back to ourselves while abroad to lighten the load. This can be expensive, but bigger, light stuff works well and in both cases it was the better option than tossing stuff or dragging it along.

  • Rachel says:

    I gather all my free samples that I get and save them for travel–they usually pack really well and then I can toss them as I go. If you have products that you love, they usually have a “travel size” that will last the whole trip–these might cost more per ounce, but could be worth it for the space!

    If your trip is going to be long enough, or if you are traveling with a group, you could buy the products there and share! It can be fun shopping in a local store and hoping what you just bought is toothpaste:)

  • SusanCK says:

    That is awesome! We travel quite a bit and I feel like I always over pack just in case we don’t have a washer and dryer available to us which we usually do.
    Here’s a tip: Did you know that you can buy laundry detergent in bar form. If there are any Mexican grocery stores where you live (we have several here living close to the Mexico boarder) they usually sell them. There have been times when I was very happy that we had a bar of laundry detergent so I could hand wash something. Or you could just take a baggy or powder laundry detergent. But I’d be worried what security would thing of that and that it would open up and spill.

  • Tiffany says:

    We are going to Ukraine for an adoption and plan to stay three months. We were only going to take about five outfits and laundry detergent as well as a camping clothesline. We hope to only have one checked luggage, because some stuff can’t be carryon.

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