How to Pack for Any Trip in a Carry-on

Want to know a secret? You can pack for any trip in a carry-on. Two weeks trekking in Nepal? Done. Wandering the islands of New Zealand? Yup. Winter in Central Europe? Of course. No matter what, you can pack efficiently without sacrificing style and options. Note that I said packing efficiently – that doesn’t necessarily mean “packing light!” Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.

Invest in a packing cubes
My number one tip for packing efficiently is investing in the wonderful invention that is packing cubes. Not only do these handy items help keep everything super organized, they also help compress your clothing so that you can fit more into a smaller area. I usually pack one with nicer shirts and pants, one with workout clothes, and one with outdoor apparel (say, hiking gear).

Pick a color palette
One great way to avoid overpacking is by selecting a few colors and selecting clothing that falls within your chosen palette. For a recent trip, I chose orange, blue, and black, so I was able to mix and match all of my clothing without ever worrying about running out of options.

Buy a versatile jacket
We all know that the hardest part of packing is bringing along that bulky outerwear! I’ve found that the best solution is to find one great jacket that you love and can wear in a variety of seasons by simply changing the layering underneath. My personal favorite is the Lena Insulated Jacket! It’s been all over the world with me and I get compliments on it everywhere I go.

Charles Bridge, Old Town, Prague. Pictured in Lena Insulated Jacket

Be realistic
The most common mistake people make when packing for a trip is thinking that they will have time to make multiple outfit changes in a day for different activities. If you’re anything like me, your travel days are crammed with as much fun stuff as you can fit in! Often, the last thing I feel like doing is wasting time by heading back to my accommodations and changing. I pack far less now simply by being honest with myself about my schedule and travel style!

Don’t overpack for winter
When it’s freezing out, you’re going to be wearing your coat everywhere, right? That’s why it’s unnecessary to pack tons of different clothing options for what you’re wearing underneath your coat. After all, your pictures will all look the same regardless, and you’re not likely to be sweating much due to the weather. I pack no more than one shirt/sweater for every two days of winter travel, max. Make sure your winter coat is a stylish one, though! I love the Arktik Jacket!

Taking in the nighttime views in Budapest. Pictured in Arktik Jacket

Leave your high heels at home
Travel almost always involves a lot of walking, which is why I long ago stopped bringing high heels anywhere. If I’m going somewhere where I think I might need nicer footwear than my hiking boots and flip flops, I’ll throw in a cute pair of flats. They pack down much smaller, and no one is looking at your feet anyway!

Limit your footwear
On the topic of footwear, people almost always pack too many types of shoes. I bring the following: hiking boots or running shoes, depending on the destination; flip flops; close toed walking shoes, like Toms; and a cute pair of neutral flats. That’s it. All of my shoes except my hiking boots or running shoes pack down extremely small, so there’s little space lost!

Put half of it back
Next time you’re packing for a trip, try this: lay out everything you think you need, then put half of it back. You’ll probably have the right amount of clothing.

All smiles wandering the streets of Prague. Pictured in Airstorm Jacket

Buy versatile clothing
If you’re an active traveler, like I am, it really helps to have clothing that can take you from the trails to the vineyard. That’s part of why I love KUHL so much! Their clothing is designed for activity but doesn’t skimp on style, either. I can go straight from a hike in the mountains to the local brewery without missing a beat in Mova Skinny Pants (my personal favorite clothing item) and the Kahera 3/4 top!

Bring your favorite clothes
It’s so simple, but some of the best packing advice I ever received was to simply bring my favorite clothes. We often buy new clothes for trips, but in reality, it makes more sense to bring clothing that you already know you feel great in and love. I pack the same gear for pretty much every trip because I already know I love it, which ultimately means I don’t need to pack as much. I don’t need a ton of options when I know I like the options I have!

A huge part of what makes packing so easy for me is having a great travel wardrobe. These are some pieces I’ve taken with me around the world and won’t leave home without, even 26 countries later!

Travel Favorites

  • Lena Insulated Jacket – My go to travel jacket! For warmer weather, the non-insulated version is also great.
  • MØVA Skinny Pants – There’s a reason I own these pants in five colors! I wear them for everything from traveling on long flights to hiking and going out to eat. They feel like leggings but look like pants – the best of both worlds.
  • MØVA Aktiv Dress – You can hike in it or wear it for a fancy night out! I’ve done both.

Strolling vineyards in New Zealand in MØVA Aktiv Dress

  • Karisma Tank – Warm weather? No problem. The Karisma Tank is perfect for activity because it doesn’t show sweat!
  • Splash Short – The multitude of fun colors these shorts come in, plus their excellent technical fabric and solid construction, make them the perfect travel shorts.

    Cooling off next to waterfall. Pictured in Karisma Tank and Splash 5.5 Short

  • Airspeed Shirt – The Airspeed shirt is a great layering piece for long hikes or working outside! The lightweight fabric shields your skin from UV rays while staying totally breathable. This is my go-to trekking shirt!

    Watching the storm roll in from Queenstown Hill. Pictured in Airspeed Shirt

  • Kahera 3/4 – I get compliments on this shirt every time I wear it, and that’s reason enough to pack it.

    Exploring the cobblestone streets of Prague in Kahera 3/4 Top

Take it from a recovered chronic overpacker: it is possible to pack efficiently, bring only what you need, and maintain plenty of choices!

Danielle Cemprola

Danielle Cemprola is a 50-time marathoner, world traveler, and lover of mountains everywhere. She spends 80% of her money on plane tickets and the remaining portion on race registrations and tacos. Follow her adventures at The T-Rex Runner.