How To Look Fabulous While Traveling With a Carry on

Hi, my name is Stephanie, and I am a recovering over packer. In the past, I would need one luggage, a carry-on and a backpack for a weekend getaway. If I was not bringing my entire house on my trip, it did not feel right. After several stints in rehab, obtaining a sponsor, and attending tri-weekly OPA (Over Packing Anonymous) meetings, I am here to say, you too can overcome this ailment. Now I can travel for weeks and months at a time with only a carry-on and a backpack.

The old me 🙂

Benefits of Team Carry On

There are many reasons why I left over packing behind. The main one is because it saves time. I don’t wait in long lines to check my bag, and when I arrive at my destination, the fun begins immediately without a stop at baggage claim. With TSA Pre-check, online check-ins, and electronic boarding passes, I zoom right through. WIN! Another reason is that it saves money. I long for the days when airlines would allow a free checked bag, provide meals (not snacks), and give free water and air. However, many airlines now charge for everything. I save approximately $50-$100 round trip because I don’t check any luggage. Can you imagine how much it would cost to check bags every time you hopped to another country in Europe? Yeah, it adds up.

Opting for a carry-on also makes it easier for me to travel for extended periods of time; from city to city, country to country because I’m not lugging a bunch of bags behind me. Also, as a solo traveler, there’s the safety factor. I like to travel light and not feel constricted so I can move freely, quickly and easily. Lastly, I don’t have to deal with delayed, missing, or lost luggage (after you’ve had to wear your male friend’s clothes for three days in NYC waiting on your luggage, you’ll understand ;-)).

What I Pack

First, check the weather and customs of your destination(s) to pack appropriately.

Here’s an example of my checklist (depending on length I may take all of these things or less, but everything fits in my carry on and backpack):


  • 1 pair of my favorite blue jean
  • 1 skinny black jean or trouser
  • 1 black legging
  • 1 short
  • 4-5 tops
  • 1-2 skirts
  • 3-5 dresses (I love dresses because they are easy to pack and you only need one piece instead of two so if I’m traveling for a while, I bring lots of dresses)
  • 3 bras and enough underwear to last me a week (if I am there more than a week, I’m doing laundry)
  • 1-2 bathing suits (if needed-seriously no one cares if you wear the same bathing suit over and over on the same trip-wash them after every use and keep it moving)
  • 1 leather jacket (if needed)
  • 1 coat (if needed)

Shoes (4 only)

  • Sandals (If going to cold climate substitute for boots)
  • Tennis shoes
  • Heels
  • Flip flops (comes in handy for lounging or showering in hostels)


  • 1 purse that you can wear day and night
  • Jewelry- one necklace, earing, watch, and ring.
  • 1-2 scarves (if needed)


  • Phone (my one and only camera and Kindle app to read books)
  • Photography accessories for phone
  • Tripod with timer, selfie stick (no judgment)
  • iPad or laptop (I don’t bring both; iPad also contains Kindle app for my books)
  • Portable chargers
  • Cords
  • Universal Power Adapter and Converter
  • Headphones

Makeup (Simplify makeup routine, you don’t need 36 eyeshadows when you’re traveling – seriously no one cares)

  • MAC palette with 4 eyeshadows
  • Foundation
  • Mineralize powder
  • Concealer
  • 1-2 lipstick
  • Mascara
  • Brushes


  • Medication
  • Tea
  • Earplugs
  • Sleeping mask
  • Evian Mineral Water Facial Spray


Travel-size everything you need and then buy what you run out of if you’re traveling for more extended periods. I’ve had some TSA agents tell me I’m only allowed one Ziploc bag, but I always have 2-3 and as long as they’ve met the 3.4 ounces rule, they let me through (one day I may meet THAT ONE until then I’ll take my chances). This is the part where I also recommend that you simplify your skincare routine. My motto has always been less is more.


As a black woman, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this part as our hair maintenance is critical to us. I am natural, and I love my braids. I stopped being a product junkie years ago because it was cramping my style. Once again, I recommend that you simplify your routine because you can’t lug all those products around. I use products that have multiple uses for my hair and skin to keep things at a minimum (for example coconut oil removes my makeup, moisturizes my skin and hair), and remember travel sizes.

How I Pack

Packing cubes, love em! They are amazing and allow you to pack a lot of clothes, keep them organize and help with wrinkling. There are plenty of brands on the market; I purchased a set of 4 on Amazon and have had it for two years now and completed many trips with it.

Once I have all my items, it’s time to pack. I wear my bulkier pieces including tennis shoes, or boots, and coats on the plane.

Carry on Luggage

  • Place your shoes at the bottom of your carry on, making sure to store all your socks, tights, and any clothing accessories in the spaces between the shoes and in the shoes to take advantage of every available space
  • Fold or roll your clothes neatly (I’ve tried both, and I don’t have a preference-they both get the job done) and place in packing cubes
  • Pack makeup, toiletries, and hair products in separate pouches/bags and keep on top or close to corners


  • Place all necessary documents (passport, visas, vaccinations, credit cards, money, etc.) and miscellaneous items inside purse and place purse in the backpack (when I need anything it’s easier to pull out my purse with everything in it)
  • All electronics
  • Use an organizer for cords and accessories

This is a picture of my carry on when I was heading back home after 2 weeks in Morocco and lots of shopping in the souks. I still packed clothes that I did not wear.

This is what I pack in my carry on for a weekend/long weekend getaway.

I’ve traveled for up to a month in a carry on and backpack and still felt like I overpacked. My ultimate goal is to travel for a year with just a carry on and backpack. I’m up for the challenge.

So are you #TeamCarryOn or #TeamCheckedBag? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Gone Solo