Woman packing a suitcase

How to Pack a Carry-On Bag for 2 Weeks Effectively

Do you need to learn how to pack a carry-on bag for 2 weeks (or more)? It is more than possible, my friend. With the right packing light strategies and methods, you can easily travel with just a carry-on. Let me show you how.

Has this ever been you? 👇🏽

woman sitting on an overstuffed suitcase to try to close it

You try to keep what you bring on your vacation to a minimum, but the suitcase keeps getting more and more stuffed. No amount of body-slamming is helping, so it’s time to buy a larger suitcase.

My Overpacking Days Are Over

Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, am I right?!

There are so many times that I packed multiple bags just for a weekend away. I would just start packing with no real direction other than the probable weather of my destination. Before I knew it, my first bag would be overflowing so I would reach for another or find a larger bag.

I overpacked because I wanted to be prepared. In all honesty, we don’t always know what to expect on a trip. So, we pack for every possible scenario and end up bringing way more than we’ll ever need.

Other times, I overpacked because I was simply excited. It seemed like the perfect time to try out that new cute dress or adorable shoes. Not only did that lead me to bring more than I actually needed, but it also left me with some remorse. (Packing new clothing or makeup is never a good idea!)

So, I decided to limit myself to a carry-on when traveling. That way, I couldn’t overpack and I had to learn to be intentional about what I did bring along. Around the same time I had also been pursuing a more minimal lifestyle in general, so this was a natural decision for me.

The Benefits of Carry-On Only Travel

Carry-on only travel has become increasingly popular. Many of us have checked bags for years simply because we could, without really giving it much thought. But, when you do think about it, it just makes more sense to pack light by bringing only travel essentials in a carry-on. 

Here are the main benefits of carry-on only travel:

  • Having only a carry-on saves you time. You save time when you are packing, and you save time at the airport. You don’t have to wait in line to check your bag. And, you don’t have to wait for your checked bag at the luggage carousel.
  • Only having a carry-on also saves you money. Bringing both a carry-on and personal item onto the airplane is free!
  • Carry-on only travel eliminates the risk of the airline losing your luggage. This is an over-packers worst nightmare, especially if your overpack to be prepared for anything.
  • Having only a carry-on makes it easier to keep track of your luggage, making it less likely that your stuff will get stolen.
  • Carry-on only travel results in less luggage to lug around. I know this is obvious, but do you realize how much easier your life will be without all of that extra luggage? Especially if you are also keeping track of multiple people (like kids), only having a small carry-on with you is a lifesaver. (Not only that, but it also makes it so much easier to travel via train or bus once you get to your destination.)

Seriously, doesn’t carry-on only travel sound so much less stressful?

With a little bit of intentional packing and preparation before you leave, it can be easy to pack light for your trip. Keep reading to find out how to pack a carry-on bag for 2 weeks!

How to Pack a Carry-On Bag for 2 Weeks

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of carry-on only travel, it’s time to discuss how to pack light for 2 weeks (or more!) as promised.

These travel packing tips and tricks I’m about to share with you will help you fit everything you need in a carry-on. Keep in mind as you are reading that carry-only travel is about packing only the essentials. What is essential to each of us varies slightly, so I will begin by giving you some general tips.

1. Buy a quality carry-on suitcase.

Before you do anything else, make sure that you have a quality carry-on suitcase that meets airline carry-on regulations.

Many people prefer a hard case carry-on for durability and the fact that you can’t end up with a bulging, overstuffed bag. If you travel a lot, this is probably the way to go. This will ensure that your carry-on is slim enough to fit easily in the overhead compartment and make it easier to take it on a bus or train.

However, if you are newer to packing light, a carry-on that’s soft and expandable may be a better fit. This will give you more flexibility as you experiment with what travel essentials you actually need to bring. So, if you are wary of your ability to pack light and fit everything in a suitcase, start with a soft case!

2. Choose the clothing you bring wisely.

I would argue that wisely choosing the clothes you bring is the key to how to pack a carry-on bag for light travel. There are two important components of bringing the right clothing.

First, you simply need to bring less clothing by packing clothes that can be mixed and matched to create several outfits.

Without versatile clothing, you will have to bring way more clothes in order to put together outfits. (You can see what I brought for a 10-day trip in my post on packing light.)

This is so much easier if you already have a minimalist capsule wardrobe. I’ve had a capsule wardrobe for 2 years now, and I’ll never go back. A capsule makes it so much easier for me to put together outfits because everything I own goes together so well.

Your travel wardrobe is just a smaller sampling of your full capsule wardrobe. Easy peasy!

You simply bring enough neutrals to mix and match your clothing. This also makes it easier to pack fewer shoes and bottoms, which add the most bulk and weight to your luggage.

Second, you should bring clothing that doesn’t wrinkle and can be easily washed.

Packing in a carry-on only for 2 weeks or more ASSUMES you will be doing a little laundry while you are away. Whether at a local laundry mat, the hotel’s laundry facilities, or your hotel room sink, doing a little laundry is a must.

3. Bring only the essential toiletries.

Another important part of how to pack a carry-on bag for 2 weeks is to only bring essential toiletries.

You already need to bring travel-size liquid toiletries to meet TSA rules and regulations. Consider if any products you use are available in a solid form. In a carry-on, you are only allowed one quart-sized bag of liquids, so choose your liquids wisely!

In addition to choosing your most important liquids, you should think about what is actually essential for you to bring.

Determine if there is anything that you are comfortable purchasing once you reach your destination. Also, consider what will be available to you if you are staying in a hotel. Things like a hair dryer, shampoo, conditioner, and soap are usually provided.

After that, ask yourself what are your essentials. Can you wear less makeup? Maybe you have products that can serve more than one purpose, like BB cream in place of foundation and moisturizer or lip color that can double as a blush.

4. Be strategic about what you wear to the airport.

As I already mentioned, certain items take up more space and add excessive weight to your carry-on bag. Items like shoes, bottoms, and outer layers should be in neutral colors so they go with most of the clothing you bring.

Because of this, after you decide what to bring for your travel wardrobe, choose the bulkiest items to wear while you travel.

If you’re bringing boots and tennis shoes, wear the boots on the airplane. If you are taking a jacket, wear it on the plane to save space in your carry-on. Of course, if you get hot while traveling, you can always take it off.

5. Be strategic about what you pack in your personal item. 

Don’t forget that even when you are only traveling with a carry-on, you still get to bring a “personal item” on the plane! Make sure that you bring something large enough to not only fit what you will use while you travel but also any valuables or other items you’re worried about.

I like to bring a backpack on the plane so that I always have a hand free for showing airline tickets and passports or buying food at the airport. I have a convertible backpack that makes it easy for me to switch between backpack and handbag.

If you don’t want to use a backpack, use a large purse or bag. You could even store a smaller cross-body bag inside the larger one to use once you’re at your destination.

6. Pack your carry-on effectively.

There are many ways to save space in your carry-on. You can roll your clothing, KonMari your clothes like a file cabinet, and nest small items inside larger ones (like putting socks inside of shoes).

One effective way to pack a carry-on is to use packing cubes. If you use packing cubes to save space and organize your clothes, try using a hanging toiletry bag so that you can lay your toiletries flat across the top.

Another effective method for packing clothes in a carry-on is to roll them. If you choose this method, I recommend using several small, slim toiletry bags (or Ziploc bags) that can be slid between your clothes or laid on top.

I’ve seen others use compression bags that help get rid of the air between clothes and save you space like a vacuum sealer. I haven’t tried these, but others swear by them.

What to Pack for a 2-Week Trip

The best way to pack a suitcase depends on what you need to bring on your trip. 

In order to get at least 2 weeks of use out of what you pack, you need to include the following in your carry-on:

  • enough clothes and shoes to create at least 7 outfits (assuming you can do laundry at least once)
  • enough (essential) toiletries, cosmetics, and medications for the whole trip (unless you plan on shopping for more)
  • a small bag or purse
  • charging cables and adapters for your devices

Some other things are going to need to be stored in your personal item (like a backpack or large purse). These include tickets, passports, wallet, keys, phone (and other gadgets), headphones/earbuds, books/magazines, snacks, and sunglasses.

You may have more than this in your personal item, especially if you have a long travel time.

For long trips, I like to have a few toiletries and cosmetics readily available in my backpack. I may even pack a pair of flip flops or a sweater depending on the weather of my destination.

It’s important to be comfortable, as well as occupied, on those long flights.

Carry-On Only Packing List

Finally, I want to leave you with a carry-on packing list. My checklist only includes what can reasonably fit in your carry-on and assumes you are also bringing a personal item on the airplane.

My carry-on only packing list makes it super easy for you pack light for your next trip!

You may need more or less than this depending on your destination, the activities you are planning on doing, and personal preferences. My list also assumes you are bringing travel-sized toiletries. 

To make it easier for you to see how it will all fit, I have the list divided by carry-on luggage and personal item. And, the carry-on bag list is further broken down by these categories: clothing, accessories, toiletries, and other items.

Now, you can easily see what to pack for a 2-week trip by using this carry-on packing list for carry-on only travel.

Carry-On Only Packing List: a simple checklist for both your carry-on and personal item

I hope my tips for how to pack light for 2 weeks, as well as my carry-on only packing list, help you easily pack light for your next trip. Carry-on only travel will make your traveling so much easier (with fewer headaches) so you can enjoy your vacation.

Make sure to stop back for the next two posts in the series on creative packing hacks to help you pack even lighter and a 2-week travel capsule!

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