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My Packing Method for Carry On & Personal Item Only Travel

Let me start this post by saying I used to be the world biggest over packer. I always had a million things in my suitcase and used almost none of them. I though having options like at home would make it easier since I never knew what I would want to wear. Over the years and as we've been traveling more I've learned a few things about packing along the way. Part of this is being a budget traveler too. You will not see me booking a budget flight AND paying $50+ each way for bags. I make it work with the bags I'm allowed in low fares.

I've become a packing EXPERT! I am not joking when I say I have had friends and family call me or reach out to me and ask me to help them back their bags for their own travels. Keep reading to see my in depth packing method that works every single time.


This is quite possibly the most important part of this whole process. My planning method is pretty in depth and requires quite a few steps. It usually involves me checking the weather, planning outfits that I want to wear according to the weather and event, and then trying everything on. And since you know sometimes as a girl things just 'don't look good' this is also the most time consuming part of this process because I sometimes have an idea in my head and then have to change it several times before finally settling on the look.

When I plan my outfit to pack I try to also find items to pack that I know I will be able to reuse. For example shoes- I try to only pack 2 pairs (maybe three if needed) and 1 pair is always worn on the plane. Jackets are another piece that are easy to mix and math and reuse. And finally pants- you can wear jeans or pants twice on a trip and be just fine!

Then I lay everything out to help me visualize it. I also take pictures or a short video so that when I get to where I am going I don't completely forget the plan! When I lay things out I also include all undergarments with it and accessories and layers. This includes laying out jewelry, socks, underwear, jackets or other layers.

**If you have multiple outfits for one day make sure you lay those out too. This is common for me on travel days (travel day +outfit to change into), days where we have an event like a wedding at night (day time outfit + event outfit), etc.

Planned Outfits Lined Up

Planning outfits- all lined up ready to be packed

Extra items to be packed

All the extras- PJs, steamer, hat, purse, extra undergarments

2- Packing Prep

After everything is laid out this is the magical part of it all! Leave your travel day look to the side and start condensing! I usually try to fit all of my clothes in a single packing cube which almost always works! And if not or its a longer trip 2 cubes is my max. I generally do not use compression cubes and I am a huge believer in rolling all of my items into the cube. I leave bulkier items like jeans and bigger jackets folded and place them on the top of all the rolled clothes before zipping the cube up.

Clothes rolled up in a packing cube

I also use a smaller packing cube for all of my undergarments and accessories like belts or baseball hats. Unless there is a huge need for multiple purses I also try to only pack one and I carry that with me in the airport to leave more space in my bag.

I use a jewelry organizer for all my jewelry and pack that up carefully as well.

Toiletries are another story. I keep is SO simple. When I am traveling I usually forgo all of my skincare routine and just stick with the basics like makeup wipes/remover and pimple patches. These both take up such little space and I am okay getting back to it when we are home. This works especially well for shorter trips. I also am not a makeup girlie so I don't have too much makeup in general but especially makeup that I pack. Again, I keep it simple and pack things like foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara and then brushes too. Lastly I have a TSA approved size clear bag that I use for all of my small liquid items. Within my clear bag here is usually what you can find- travel perfume, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, contact solution, toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, and hairspray. These are all poured into the small 3.5oz bottles to preserve space. Lastly I have my toothbrush, pill organizer, and my curling wand. These are the basics.

backpack packed with travel toiletries ready to be packed too

Minimal toiletries ready to be packed

Depending on the need I also have a travel steamer I pack from time to time too!

One thing to note is as we travel with different people or with the kiddos or to different places in the world further from home, these item can change from time to time. The general rule of thumb though is keep it simple and less is more.

3- Packing

At this point, its a little bit trial and error. If you've played tetris its a bit like that- you have to look at all the pieces you have in front of you and see how they will best fit together. Additionally, you have to be smart about how you actually fit everything into your bag. I always start with the packing cube(s) since they are almost always the largest items. Generally that will fill nearly one entire side of your backpack/suitcase. Smaller cubes and shoes can be played with and placed above the cube to fill the empty space. If your bag has straps or a compression pad, use that to get everything even more packed down.

If I have a carry on suitcase, I always put my jewelry and toiletries in my backpack or personal item, along with overflow from things that didn't fit into my suitcase, and extra items like my electronics/charger organizer, a book, and my headphones. Again depending on the trip I throw things I need easily accessible on the plane in my personal item.

If I am traveling strictly with a backpack/personal item. My jewelry and toiletries slip right into the front of my bag. Generally I just wear my headphones on my neck in the airport if I have personal item only since they take up a bit of space and I skip the extras like a book. I use my water bottle pocket on the outside of my personal item to stick my electronics/charger organizer into and that generally wraps everything up!

Personal item backpack all packed

Everything packed into my personal item backpack!

Zip everything up and you are ready to hit the airport!

And if you are curious or interested in all my packing essentials- here are my packing favorites easily linked in one spot for you! Just click the picture below or follow this link: Packing Must Haves

packing must haves

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Maria Elizabeth

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