The Carry-On Only Packing List for Women

The Carry-On Only Packing List for Women

By Jenn Sutherland-Miller

Women have a reputation for overpacking. For some of us, that’s well deserved, but we all know that men overpack too.

Ladies, these packing tips are for you. No matter where you’re traveling, use this packing list to make sure you have everything you actually need – without bringing half your closet.


Quick Tips for Packing Light

At first the idea of packing only a carry-on travel backpack can seem daunting, but really it’s not. Once you see how much space 45L actually is, you’ll realize that you’ve got plenty of space to bring everything you need for a whole week or even longer.

The basic principles of packing light, for carry-on only are as follows:

  • • Choose the right (sized) bag
  • • Add organizers (and use them!)
  • • Invest in multi-purpose items
  • • Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes
  • • Pack only what you need
  • • Stuff your bag's pockets
  • • Take advantage of airline personal item allowances
  • • Wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane


Carry-On Packing List for Women

No matter where you’re going, you can use this packing list as a starting point. Once you have an idea of what to put in your bag, we’ll go over tips on how to develop a travel wardrobe you love, pack light, and ways to adjust this list for different types of travel.


Clothing, Shoes, and Accessories

Most experienced travelers pack the same basic wardrobe, no matter where they’re going. Of course if you’re traveling in winter, you’ll add warmer things, and in a warm climate you’ll swap out pants for a sundress. But the basics of what you pack don’t change that much from trip to trip.

Layer up, focus on items you love wearing, and pack the following clothes: 

  • • 4-5 tops
  • • 1 long sleeved shirt, sweater, or blazer (for business trips)
  • • 1 jacket
  • • 2-3 bottoms
  • • 1 dress (which means fewer pairs of bottoms and tops)
  • • 2-6 pairs of underwear, depending on your trip length
  • • 2-6 pairs of socks, depending on your trip length
  • • 2-3 bras (sports bra and everyday)
  • • 2 pairs of shoes
  • • 1-2 swimsuits, depending on your destination
  • • 1 set of PJs
  • • 1 set of workout clothes
  • • 1 scarf, shawl, or sarong — for more conservative destinations


Toiletries and Makeup

Like your travel wardrobe, you'll also want to simplify and shrink your makeup, toiletries, and beauty products when you're on the road. Decant bigger bottles into travel-friendly bottles. Swap liquids for more compact and airport security-friendly bars and powders. And, even if you love makeup and have a seven-step skincare routine, stick to the essentials. 


Electronics and Travel Essentials

Even if you made sure not to forget that one red lipstick that makes you feel like a badass babe, you're also going to need to pack the following travel essentials:

  • • Adaptor (international)
  • • Laptop (optional)
  • • Chargers
  • • Headphones
  • • Notebook and pen
  • • Phone
  • • Travel blanket

Now that you know what to pack, here are some tips on how to pack it all smartly.


Choose Your Travel Day Outfit Strategically

The first rule of travel day, especially when traveling carry on only, is to wear the bulkiest items you're taking. This means your heaviest shoes, jeans and chunkiest sweater. Beyond that, there are some considerations for choosing a travel day outfit that is both stylish and comfortable to wear on the plane and beyond. 

What makes a good travel day outfit? Look for a combination that is: 

  • • Stylish
  • • Comfortable
  • • Good Quality 


Pay Attention to Detail

Layering is a good idea on travel days, because we all know that feeling of freezing in the airport air conditioning and then sweltering while we wait after boarding the plane. If you're flying between climate zones (hello winter escape!) this becomes more important. 


Keep Your Personal Style While Traveling

You don't have to pack a wardrobe full of clothes that don't feel like you. To maintain your travel fashion without a wardrobe revamp: 

  • • Identify your favorites
  • • Identify items that do double duty or layer well
  • • Use accessories to make outfits "pop"


Develop a Capsule Wardrobe

Developing a consistent set of clothes that you wear most of the time (at home and while traveling) is called building a capsule wardrobe. The basic idea is that you develop a uniform of good quality, reliable pieces that reflect your style and that you love wearing. Then, build on those with a few accents and accessories. 


The "rules" of developing a capsule wardrobe are as follows: 

  • • Buy quality, not quantity 
  • • Choose fabrics carefully
  • • Harmonize color schemes
  • • Stick to 10-12 items you can mix and match

Also consider how easily certain fabrics wrinkle resistant fabrics to begin with. And what about swimsuits? Pack one. Always. Even if you're headed to Antarctica!


Choose Clothes You Can Layer

The key to packing light is beginning with the right base layers. Choose items that are:

  • • Mix and match (in the same color family and neutral)
  • • Quality fabrics
  • • Layerable
  • • Comfortable and make you feel great 


Consider Travel Specific Underwear

What goes under your base layer… underwear… matters too. Maybe you’ll travel with the same underwear you wear at home, but maybe you’ll make some choices specific to travel. Choose underwear that are comfortable above all, but also wash and dry quickly. Bras are trickier. Wear the one that’s hardest to pack on the plane. Then, consider how you pack the rest.


Destination Packing Lists for Women

Let’s face it. There are places in the world that are more complicated for women to travel. The Middle East and India, in particular, get a lot of press as being difficult for women to navigate culturally and in terms of requirements for dress.

Can you still travel carry-on? Of course. When in doubt, pack a shawl to cover your shoulders, and choose shorts and skirts that cover your knees. Save your bikini for the tourist beaches.



Download the full issue of the January-February 2024 Healthy Options News Digest here.

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