Perfect Your Packing Lite: How to Pack a Carry On for 5 Days

How to Pack a Carry On for 5 Days

Have you ever wondered how to pack a carry on for 5 days? You landed at your destination, and then you remember that you have to wait at the baggage carousel for your checked bag to emerge? What if you didn’t have to wait for your bag and you could get right to having fun? If packed properly, a carry-on bag is all you need for a five-day trip.

In this guide, we’ll give you some tips on maximizing your carry-on space so you can make the most of your bags and master packing light.

Why carry-on?

Carry-on travel gives you freedom, plain and simple. For example, if your flight is canceled and you’re offered a flight to another destination, you can just pick up your bag and go instead of waiting for your luggage to be transferred. And if you’re like me, every second you spend at baggage claim is time that you would rather be spending on your actual vacation. If you want to get right off the plane and right to the beach, pack a carry-on and get right to relaxing.

When you think of packing a carry-on bag, you most likely think of air travel. However, our packing tips work great for road trips as well. When you’re packing a car for a road trip, you might start out thinking that you have a lot of space, but that quickly becomes taken up by camping equipment, coolers, and family members’ bags. If you stick to a carry-on-sized suitcase, you can use more of that available space to keep you and your family comfortable in the car.

Planning Tips: How to Pack a Carry on for 5 Days

If you plan right, a carry-on bag is all you need for a five-day trip. As you may already know, we’re all about planning how you pack at She Packs Lite. We’ll ditch all of the unnecessary items you usually bring on trips and show you how easy packing light can be.

Start with a realistic packing list.

If you’re going on a five-day trip and only bringing a carry-on, you need to get real with yourself about what you need. Our travel capsule system is a great starting point and will ensure you have all bases covered when it comes to clothes. Being realistic with your packing list doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your travel style either. The good news, if you follow our 5-4-3-2-1 packing method, you have dozens of outfits while you’re away.

Set yourself up for success with the right bag.

To travel with a single carry-on, you need to have a bag that meets the airline restrictions for carry-ons. Most new suitcases that meet these guidelines have a tag on the front that says so. If you’re used to checking your bags, I guarantee that a big suitcase will not cut it for carry-on. The first step to packing a carry-on for five days is actually owning a carry-on bag.

Find a good “personal item” bag.

As you probably know, when you fly, you’re usually allowed one carry-on and one personal item. Your smaller roller bag will serve as your carry-on, and you should make sure that you have a smaller bag, potentially with some kind of backpack straps, that can fit under your seat as your personal item. You also want to make sure this bag is comfortable to carry. One-strap shoulder bags can start to wear on you the longer you have them on, especially if you have a lot in them.

If wearing a shoulder strap bag or crossbody bag is comfortable for you, brands like Eagle Creek make excellent options that will give you a bit more packing space in addition to your larger carry-on bag.

This summer my Baggallini 3-in-1 Convertible Backpack is my personal item for all my travels. I recently took it on a road trip to Tomales Bay, and cannot wait to bring it on our trip to Portugal! I love the flexibility of using it as an arm bag, a crossbody, or a even backpack if you need to free your hands up.

The Baggallini 3-in-1 Convertible Backpack on a recent trip to Tomales Bay

Plan your activities ahead of time.

Sometimes it’s nice to be spontaneous on a short trip, but if you know what activities you’re going to be doing when you get to your destination, you’ll be able to pack appropriately for them. For example, if you’re going to be doing some outdoor activities, you’ll want to be sure to bring proper footwear like athletic shoes and appropriate clothes. If you plan on going on a day trip, you’ll need comfortable shoes that you can walk long distances in.

Check the weather at your destination.

Going to somewhere with a colder climate will completely change your packing list. Although it’s much easier to pack for a week-long trip to somewhere with hot weather, it’s not impossible to pack a carry-on for a longer trip to cold places. It’ll just take a little more planning and consideration on your part. For example, you can wear your coat and heavier shoes on the plane, so they don’t take up space in your suitcase.

Decide if you want to do laundry on your trip.

If you’re concerned about how much space your clothes will take up in your bag, consider doing a small load of laundry while you’re away. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, there may be a washer, dryer, and detergent available for you to use. When you are staying in a hotel, you can often find a laundry service nearby that can do a load or two for you during your stay. Planning on doing some laundry will give you a little more freedom to pack those few extra small items or maybe that cute bulky sweater.

Packing Tips: How to Pack a Carry on for 5 Days

Trying to fit enough clothes for five days into one carry-on bag can seem intimidating, but with the right amount of planning and with the right packing method, you might even find yourself with some extra room at the end.

Pick a packing process.

Some people prefer to use packing cubes when they’re getting ready for a trip, while others prefer the rolling method. Personally, I do both! With the exception of bulky items, I roll my clothes before I put them into packing cubes. The kind of method you use will depend on personal preference, so whatever works best for you is the method you should pick.

Start with bulky items.

Bulkier items are usually the most challenging to find space for, so start by packing them and get them out of the way. Putting bulky items at the bottom of your suitcase or packing cube will usually provide you with many empty spaces that you can then put smaller items in. You can also stuff dirty laundry in between bulky items on your way home.

Keep everything essential in your shoulder bag.

One benefit to flying with a carry-on is that you get to keep your bag with you while traveling. However, on the chance that the overhead storage space is full, you might be asked to check your carry-on suitcase anyway. That’s why we recommend keeping essential items like medications, phone chargers, travel-size toiletries, and an extra pair of underwear and socks in your small bag. That way, you have easy access to everything that you might need.

All liquids MUST be travel-size

You might be used to putting some of your liquid toiletries in a clear bag for airport security, but if you’re traveling with only a carry-on, everything must be able to fit in this plastic bag. If not all of your beauty products come in travel-size containers, you can buy small bottles to fill or purchase some at a convenience store when you get to your destination.

Designate outfits for travel days

One good trick to minimize the number of clothes you have to pack is to have a designated plane outfit. If you’re only going to be on the plane for an hour or two, you can re-wear the outfit that you came in on your return trip. When you get to your hotel room, just fold and set aside your travel outfit and change into something more comfortable for the day. That’s one less outfit that you have to pack in your carry-on.

How to pack a carry-on capsule

A travel capsule is a great way to make sure that you have all of the necessary clothing items you might need for your trip. And if you do it well, you can have a week’s worth of different outfits by mixing up the different pieces you bring. If you need a refresher or want to learn more about our recommended travel capsule system, you can read more here.

Decide on a color palette.

Picking a color palette will ensure that the different pieces that you bring as a part of your travel capsule all work together when you mix and match them. If you’re unsure about a color palette, sticking with neutral colors is your best option. This way, any combination of outfits you create with the different pieces you bring all create cute, stylish outfits.

Bring three pairs of shoes.

It’s a good idea to have a few different kinds of shoes for all the activities over the course of your trip. For example, if you’re going somewhere with warmer weather, you might bring flip-flops for the beach, dress shoes for dinner, and a pair of athletic shoes if you’re out walking around or exercising. The best way to make your shoes do the most for you is also to bring the best pairs of shoes that work with multiple outfits. This way, you can avoid having to bring a pair of shoes for each outfit.

Customize based on your trip type.

We like to think of a week-long trip as something fun, but sometimes they’re business trips. You can still use the same concept of a travel capsule for your business trip rather than a family trip. You’ll just have to tweak it a little to make sure that your clothing pieces are more work-appropriate instead of casual wear.

Pack versatile tops.

As you know, the 5 in our 5-4-3-2-1 method represents the number of tops that you’ll allow yourself while packing your travel capsule wardrobe. Since you’re going to be packing more tops than anything else, make sure that they work with a variety of different outfits for a variety of different activities. Tank tops can be great in the warmer months, but if your tank top doesn’t match with any of the other bottoms you’re bringing, it kind of defeats the purpose of this packing method. Sometimes it’s helpful to layout the different outfit combinations you’re thinking about before packing to ensure they all work together.

Customize based on the time of year.

Like we mentioned, the travel capsule wardrobe method of packing still works in cold weather, but the items that you pack for those trips will be much different than the items you pack for a five-day trip in warmer weather. One of the nice things about traveling during warmer months is that you can make a little space go much farther than when you’re packing sweaters and jeans. Warmer trips also mean that you’ll pack some things you don’t need for colder trips, like more swimsuits, hats, or sunglasses.

At She Packs Lite, we know that traveling with carry-on luggage can seem challenging if you’re used to checking bags, but we genuinely believe that it’s the best option and will make your travels much more enjoyable and stress-free. Try it next time you travel, and you’ll become a believer too. Safe travels!

FAQ: How to Pack a Carry On for 5 Days

Can I use a carry-on for a week?

Yes! We are firm believers that you can make a carry-on bag work for a week or even much longer if you pack with a plan. All you have to do is do a little planning, but don’t worry, we can help you with that.

Does a backpack count as a carry-on?

Most major airlines allow you to have one carry-on item and one personal item on your flight. That being said, your travel backpack will most likely count as a personal item, not a carry-on. However, we do recommend that you check your airline’s website before arriving at the airport. That way, you can get a concrete answer on what is allowed as a carry-on, and you’ll avoid any extra bag fees.

How heavy can your carry-on be?

Again, it’s a good idea to check your airline carrier’s website to see the restrictions on your carry-on bag’s maximum size. Some airlines just have dimensional guidelines that you have to meet. Others have weight requirements that you have to meet. These will vary, but you can be sure that your carry-on bag will have to be much smaller than the bag you usually check to your final destination.

What is not allowed in a carry-on?

One important thing that is not allowed in a carry-on bag is the full-size liquids like shampoo and conditioner that you may be used to packing in a checked bag. All of your toiletries and liquids you take with you have to be 3 ounces or smaller to comply with TSA guidelines. Luckily, you can buy travel sets at drugstores that come with bottles that meet these guidelines. For other things that are not allowed in a carry-on, refer to the TSA’s website, which spells out what you can and cannot have more specifically.

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