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Pack for a week in one carry-on backpack

Wouldn’t it be great if you could pack for a week in one carry-on backpack? Not only will you avoid paying ridiculous airline luggage fees, but you will also avoid the long wait at the luggage carousal, the airline will never lose your luggage, and you will be more mobile wherever you go. Rolling luggage up and down the crowded, uneven cobblestone streets of Europe is not my idea of fun.

If you don’t think you can let go of your checked luggage, don’t worry, I didn’t think I could either – but it’s a lot easier than you might think! The past six months in Europe have taught me a thing or two about traveling light, and even when we take the train instead of a plane, I still pack like a minimalist. There’s something freeing about only having to worry about what’s on your back.

After trips to Portugal (5 days), Spain (6 days), Greece (6 days), and Italy (10 days), I feel like I have mastered the art of simple, stress-free travel. Here are 12 tips to help you pack light the next time you go traveling:


1. Find the perfect backpack

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t cheap out on, it’s your backpack. Whether you’re traveling for 7 days or 7 months, your shoulders and back will thank you for spending a bit of extra money on a pack that is comfortable and durable. But since we’re focusing on short-term trips, I really like the Deuter Giga Office backpack because it’s well-built, has multiple compartments (including one for my laptop), and it complies with RyanAir’s extremely strict carry-on luggage restrictions.

Another benefit of the Deuter Giga Office backpack is that the laptop sleeve is the perfect size to fit a flat purse. Since RyanAir only allows one carry-on (and your purse counts as a carry-on!), you will have to decide whether to skip a purse altogether (which is difficult), or stash a flat purse into your backpack.

This Deuter backpack has 3 compartments – perfect for organizing all of your stuff.
This Deuter backpack has 3 compartments – perfect for organizing all of your stuff.

2. Check the weather

Long before I actually leave for my trip, I’m monitoring the city’s weather on my iPhone app. Call me crazy, but I want to know exactly what is in store for me when I head to a new city. For example, on my recent trip to Greece, I knew it was going to be sunny and hot, so I left the sweater and jacket at home, and only brought a thin wool cardigan. It was perfect for the (somewhat) cooler evenings, kept me warm on the plane, and took up minimal space in my backpack.


3. Know what you will be doing

If you know you’ll be hiking in the Swiss mountains, you know you won’t need to pack a skirt and ballet flats. And a weekend in the city probably means you won’t need your hiking boots. Think ahead. Planning a general itinerary before you get to the airport means you will be packing properly, instead of packing for every scenario.

A weekend hiking meant I didn’t have to pack any city clothing. Photo by Nicolas D Robitaille.
A weekend hiking meant I didn’t have to pack any city clothing. Photo by Nicolas D Robitaille.

4. Limit your footwear

I used to bring three or four pairs of shoes with me on every trip, but I would never wear them all. Since we almost always walk around 20km each day, I make sure to bring a comfortable pair of shoes. As a footwear minimalist, I encourage barefoot or barefoot-like options such as VIVO (pictured below, middle), Vibram FiveFingers, Camper, and yes – even TOMS (pictured below, left). The only other pair of shoes I bring are a pair of well-made sandals that I can walk all day in.

From L-R: TOMS Cordones (my everyday walking shoes), VIVO (light hiking option), Born sandals.
From L-R: TOMS Cordones (my everyday walking shoes), VIVO (light hiking option), Born sandals.

5. Pack versatile items

The one item that dresses up any outfit is a scarf, so I always make sure to bring one with me. It will dress up a pair of jeans, keep you warm on the plane, and can also protect your hair if it gets windy or starts to drizzle. I also bring tank tops and short sleeve tops in neutral colours, so that they are easy to pair with cardigans. Dressing in layers makes the most sense for me, because I’m always either too hot or too cold.

This is a sample of the types of shirts I would bring with me. Layering is key!
This is a sample of the types of shirts I would bring with me. Layering is key!

6. Try for light, quick drying fabrics

There are plenty of companies that offer fashionable quick drying clothing – because nobody wants to look like a hiker unless you’re actually hiking right? :)

I found great options at my favourite stores like J.Crew and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Other great brands include Patagonia, Icebreaker, and Arc’teryx.

Quick drying fabrics mean you can wash your shirts at night, and wear them in the morning.
Quick drying fabrics mean you can wash your shirts at night, and wear them in the morning.

7. Assess your items before packing them

Packing them directly into your suitcase before you have a chance to edit out items will result in bringing more than you need. I like putting them into piles, and then editing out the things I really don’t need. Only then will I start putting them into my backpack.


8. Roll your clothing

Instead of folding your clothes or packing it flat, rolling your clothes up together will save you space and help keep your clothing wrinkle-free.


9. Be ruthless with your toiletries

Not only do liquids take up valuable space and weigh your pack down, but airport security is extremely strict about liquid container sizes, and the overall amount of liquids you can bring with you. So save yourself the hassle and embarrassment of holding up the security line-up and carry only the liquid essentials in a clear ziplock bag.

Pictured below are great travel sized bottle options from Nalgene (this is the one I use), GoToob, and Plane to See.

These TSA compliant toiletries bottles are a great purchase for any traveller.
These TSA compliant toiletries bottles are a great purchase for any traveller.

10. You don’t need the big make-up bag

I used to bring my hair straightener and blow dryer with me on every trip, and they would just sit in my suitcase. During the summer, I just pull my hair back into a simple ponytail, or I’ll french braid my hair. The heat and humidity will ruin anything a straightener and blow dryer could accomplish, so there’s no reason to bring them. Plus, do you really want to be spending extra time getting ready in the morning, when there’s a new place to explore? :)

The same goes for make-up. I don’t wear a lot of make-up on an everyday basis, but when I travel, I only bring the essentials.

This is all the make-up I bring with me – all packed in one clear Ziplock bag.
This is all the make-up I bring with me – all packed in one clear Ziplock bag.

11. Leave the “what if” items at home

Don’t try to jam heels and a mini skirt into your bag “just in case” you decide to go clubbing – because chances are, you won’t go. If you’re uncertain about an item, it probably means you don’t need it.


12. Create a list

It could help you to create a list of things you need to bring with you. Here’s what I brought with me on my recent 6-day trip to Greece.

Bags:
  • Deuter Giga Office backpack
  • Roots leather flat purse
Shoes:
  • 1 pair of walking shoes (my TOMS or VIVOs)
  • 1 pair of sandals
Clothing:
  • 1 pair of pant
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 3 tank tops
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 cardigans (black wrap, 3/4 sleeve grey)
  • 1 lightweight scarf
  • 7 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of PJs
  • 1 bathing suit
Electronics
  • iPhone 4S + USB cord
  • Canon Powershot G10 camera
  • Amazon Kindle
Toiletries
  • Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, sunscreen
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant
  • Mascara, eyelash curler, eyeliner, pressed powder compact
  • Face cream, eye cream, make-up remover
  • Microfiber travel towel



And there you have it – how to successfully pack for a week-long trip. :)

Do you think you could pack for a week with one carry-on backpack?

Krystal Yee

Krystal Yee is a travel blogger and personal finance expert with substantial media credits to her name. Lover of off-beat travel, hiking, French macarons, barefoot shoes, and her iPhone. Excel spreadsheet addict. She is currently living in Vancouver, plotting her next adventure.

Comments

Jen @ Master the Art of Saving

I keep trying to be more of a minimalist, but I never seem to get there. I don’t know why I think I need so much stuff, but I’m sure I’ll eventually realize that most of it goes unused.

Congrats on the new site Krystal, it’s pretty cool. :-) Love the tips too.

Ashley Krista

I’ve always packed like this and people often comment on how little I’ve brought!

Robyn

Not only can I pack for a week in a Kelty redtail 26L backpack, I can go for a 12 day trip in three climates.
One trick that works for me is reducing liquids.
My next trip is a simple weekend, but bb cream, sunscreen, hand treatment, and mouthwash are my only liquids (TSA definitions). Shampoo and conditioner are solid, tooth powder instead of paste.
A tin of Shea butter for skin and hair seems to not be a liquid.

I plan packing around opportunities for hand laundry.
Lace undies with cotton crotch words as well as technical fabrics, and don’t cost $30. I bought a 5 for 5 deal at target.

I went with two packed bottoms and one for travel day wear.(multiple airport days)
Three packed shirts, one for travel days.
One very compressed lightweight parka.

I had shoes that almost did the job from -3F and snow to 70F and sun, easy snow hiking, city walking as transportation, standing at trade shows for two days, paved trail city walking. Almost did the job. ;)

My tech is stripped down: iPhone, iPad, both chargers because they are just different enough, a backup battery for the phone, earbuds.
I have kindle app on the iPad and I buy one magazine every coupe of flights. I have to be distracted at takeoff. And inflight magazines suck. So I might have the local alternative paper, a scavenged newspaper, or I’ll treat myself to a nice magazine.

My personal care products, including a sewing kit, cannot be more than a zip case. I got it from work when a “free gift with purchase” promo ran out. Someone else wanted the stuff inside, and had tossed the zip case. So I have it. It’s nice. Two-sided, fits a lot. I have to watch the weight on it! If I didn’t have this, I’d be using some 1/4 packing cube or a mesh zip bag from the dollar store. Keeping it together is the real value. No lip balms in odd corners.

I find if you keep your stuff together, and don’t carry a lot of it, an underseat bag suffices, with room for a cross body bag to slide on top. (Mine houses iPhone, iPad, snacks, flattened water bottle/pouch, wallet, boarding passes, etc. usually the belt TSA told me to take off gets shoved into the cross body bag. My belt is a stealth money belt.
Oh, and scarves are your friend, bring a couple as belts, scarves, compression straps. I even used mine as table coverings, one day.

Valerie

Thanks so much for this, just what I was looking for. I am planning on taking most of the things mentioned (minus things I could purchase at the $1 store when I get to where I’m going) to save even more room. I would actually be taking less clothes as well. I am looking at backpacks now (trying to stay within $25-40 as I wouldn’t be using it much at all). I was wondering if all the things you mentioned, if you think, they would fit in http://www.amazon.com/Case-Logic-VNB-217-17-Inch-Backpack/dp/B002J9HBSE (that’s the cheapest of the ones I am looking at). I am looking at a laptop bag because I’d want the option to take my laptop if needed/wanted. I was also planning on using ‘travel space bags’. Would you recommend them as well or just the army roll technique? Thanks so much!

SethT

I was able to pack this plus 2 extra pairs of shorts in a small club america back pack.