Packing time, carry-on style. Don’t know where to start?
Welcome to the only carry-on packing guide you’ll need. I’m a huge fan of carry-on only and backpack only travel. Why? Because no matter how you spin it, it really does make you more of an efficient traveler. Having traveled all over the world in various seasons with nothing but a carry-on, I know a thing or two about how to pack with max efficiency.
Got a summer trip coming up? With warmer weather comes less of a need for heavy, bulky items. Perfect for opting for a carry-on only! Read on to see exactly what you need to bring with you and pack like a pro!
*Please note: All of the products listed in this post are my personal tried and true recommendations and may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running. Thanks!
Table of Contents
The Carry-On Packing Checklist For Summer Travel
Why carry-on only?
A few reasons.
Budget airlines (especially in Europe) charge for checked luggage. While it may cost under $50 to buy your flight, you can’t forget about those baggage fees, which can really add up. The way budget airlines make money is by charging for extras, and that includes checked luggage. By packing a carry-on only, you avoid these fees and still be able to take advantage of the low flight prices offered.
No lost luggage. Airlines lose stuff frequently, and your checked luggage can be at risk of that. Just avoid the potential hassle. If you pack carry-on only, you’ll know that all your stuff is safe with you.
You’ll save money and avoid headaches. Traveling with a carry-on or backpack means zipping in and out of places, being able to take public transportation for cheap (instead of taking expensive taxis or shuttles), and ultimately being more efficient. Large pieces of luggage physically bog you down and will cost you a lot more money in the long run.
The Carry-On Packing Checklist For Summer Travel
Before you pack anything, it’s important to start with the skin and bones of packing. Having the right tools to put your belongings in is extremely important. The last thing you want is to toss everything for your trip into a bag with no method of organization. You’ll find yourself spending a lot of extra time later on packing and repacking once you’re actually on your trip. Trust me, your life will be so much easier when you actually apply strategy to how you pack.
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Packing Gear
You’ve got two options here. Do you want to go with a wheeled case or a travel backpack? Wheeled carry-ons are awesome in that they are pretty much weightless on your body, you just roll and go. However, if you’re going to places like Europe where cobblestones and stairs are abundant, this might not be the best option. If you’re going to very crowded places such as Mexico City, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, it might be stressful walking/dodging all those people with a rolling case.
The other option is a backpack. They can get heavy, but with adequate hip belts attached, they really aren’t bad at all. Travel packs are so convenient when it comes to hands-free commuting.
My top picks for both are:
Wheeled suitcase | I use my Monos Carry-On or my Paravel Aviator Carry-On whenever I want something sturdier. Both are investments, but they’re roomy, sleek looking, and long-lasting as heck. Plus their warranties are top-notch so I won’t have to worry about buying a new suitcase for at least another 8 years! Spinner wheel hard shell cases are the future!
Travel backpack | Personally, I’m a travel backpack kind of person; I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super intense hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology. I actually went backpacking with this pack and can attest to its greatness. Totally worth the investment. If you’re looking for a new travel bag or backpacking bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
Travel backpack | For something a little smaller and less outdoor looking, the Bellroy Transit Backpack is the way to go. It’s sleek and simple, and since it’s a travel backpack, it’s extremely durable and has lots of pockets.
Packing cubes | You need to get these lightweight packing cubes, they are amazing. However you want to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to go through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
Everyday bag | A mini backpack that can fit a water bottle is a great option. Another good option for days where you’re not feeling the backpack look is a medium-sized, cross-body bag. If you’re able to find a bag that folds flat so that you’re able to stow it in your carry-on, even better. I like the Fjallraven Kanken Mini Classic Backpack for something simple and compressible, so when I’m not using it, I can flatten it and store it in my luggage.
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Clothing
Tops | You really don’t need that many shirts, especially if you choose versatile pieces, allowing them to be multifunctional. You can go with a mix of sleeveless and sleeved, as there may be instances where you’ll need to cover up your shoulders. Depending on the length of your trip, stick with 4-5 tops.
Pants | Bring 1 pair just in case there happens to be a chill at night or if you plan to attend a more formal event. For summers, in the face of humidity, go with something loose and light. Jeans can be way too hot for summer travel. When I went to Europe last summer, my legs would almost immediately start sweating once I began walking. It’s pretty uncomfortable, to say the least.
Shorts/skirts | 1-2 pairs will do. If you plan on wearing more dresses, you can cut out some tops and bottoms.
Leggings | Useful if you plan on working out, hiking, or want something to lounge in on the plane. I love leggings and can’t take any trip without them.
Dresses | 1-2 long dresses for the summer season. Long or flowy dresses/skirts are really good for days when you plan on visiting places like cathedrals or temples (no bare shoulders or exposed knees, so be prepared). If you plan on going out at night, aim for one of the dresses to be appropriate for both daytime and evening looks. It’s all about versatility!
Rule of thumb: I always bring 2-3 outfits less than the number of days I plan on traveling. I know historically I tend to not wear everything I pack, so I’ve adjusted for this in the packing process. You should evaluate your situation and adjust for it as well!
Underwear and socks | Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. These are light enough where overpacking is not a problem.
Bras | Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. Because I’m pretty active, I typically bring 1 regular bra and 2 sports bras. Throw them in the wash as needed.
Shoes | When traveling with a carry-on, it’s tough to bring multiple pairs of shoes. Bring one extra pair at most. Your first pair should definitely be a pair of comfortable walking shoes with good support and traction. Your other one can be a pair of cuter shoes when you want to dress up a bit more. For the second pair, consider sandals (or something breathable) in summer since they’re light and not bulky.
I alternate between my Birkenstocks and Ilse Jacobson Hornbaek slip-ons — both allow you to walk miles and miles. Going with the waterproof Birkenstocks will allow you to hit the beach and walk with comfort as well!
Cardigan or lightweight jacket | For those unsuspecting chilly nights.
Shawl / scarf | One of my must-haves! I’ll always have a medium sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, but you can also use them as a coverup in churches, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
Swimsuit | 1-2 depending on how much you plan on beaching.
Sleepwear / loungewear | Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Accessories
Sunglasses | Because it can get really bright during summer afternoons.
Jewelry | Optional. I tend to skip jewelry on most days (even if i’ve packed it) because either it’s too hot/humid to want to deal with something sticking all over my neck, or I just forget to wear it.
Wearable technology/activity trackers | Because we love data, technology, and convenience. Won’t you want to track all those steps you’re racking up on vacation? Can’t go wrong with the Apple Watch, it just does so much!
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Toiletries
Squeeze bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes, but I found the large GoToobs to be the best for the duration of my trip. I put face wash in one of the large ones and it lasted me all 3.5 months without a need for a refill!
Hand cream, body lotion, face masks | Highly recommended. You’ll likely be in shorts and tanks, so lather up and show off that glowing skin!
Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save yourself face from premature aging and sunburns with a daily moisturizer with SPF.
Shower supplies | Buy in your destination country and only as you need them. Don’t stock up or else you’ll end up carrying too much extra weight.
Dental supplies | Same as above.
Deodorant | Optional. You’re going to be in the hot sun most of the time, so bring deodorant if you sweat or stink. (I don’t really have odor in my armpits so I didn’t need this– less weight to carry!)
Makeup | Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. But it’ll be hot, and you’ll be sweaty or beaching so much that you won’t need too much. Bring only what you need.
Dry shampoo | I try not to wash my hair everyday, but at the same time, summers are hot. Dry shampoo came in handy very frequently.
DIY survival kit | Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable). Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
Extra plastic baggies | Because you never know, but they always come in handy.
Tissue/antibacterial wipes | Sometimes, your hands get dirty. Sometimes, there’s no toilet paper in the public bathrooms.
Laundry soap | Optional. Bring a super-concentrated soap so you can do your own laundry if you’re going to be taking a long trip. By doing your own laundry, you can save on those insane dry-cleaning fees hotels charge!
Quick-drying towel | Optional. These are light and quick-drying. Useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel. This one is a great option.
Earplugs | Very much necessary if sleeping in communal rooms. Bring multiple pairs with you, because it’s so easy to lose these bad boys in your sleep.
Eye mask | Amazing for planes, hostel/shared rooms where the beds aren’t separated by curtains, or afternoon naps. This one is silky and very comfortable on your face.
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Electronics
Phone | Make sure you have everything right with your phone before you go. Get the battery changed, free up some memory space.
Camera | Optional. iPhones are typically good enough, but some higher quality pictures wouldn’t hurt. I go with my Nikon D5500, which produces great photos that I’ll cherish forever. If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activity (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
External battery | Crucial, especially if you’re going to be out all day exploring and using your phone for Google Maps and such. Check out this external battery.
Noise canceling headphones | Always good to be able to get into the zone and tune people out. Very necessary for plane rides. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are truly amazing.
Travel adapter | Necessary for many countries. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
Chargers | Bring multiple phone cords since they are light (and easy to misplace).
Laptop | (Optional) Depending on what you plan to do. The MacBook Pro is such a great investment. For longer trips, I’ll definitely bring my computer. There are just some things I’d rather do on a full screen rather than my teensy phone screen. I’m old school in that sense, and will often make room for my laptop if I know I’ll have a lot of downtime.
E-reader | Go with the Kindle over books if you read a lot– it eliminates a lot of potential weight from actually carrying books. What better way to spend some time poolside or tanning at the beach?
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Documents
Travel belt / money belt | Thief proof! I used a Flip Belt when I went out exploring, which doubled as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when you run, plus it’s super comfortable!
Money | A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them
Travel cards | Credit cards, debit cards, airport lounge access cards, visas
Journal or book | ‘Cause everyone could use a little alone time.
Summer Carry-On Packing List: Other Necessities
Travel pillow | This one by Turtl is THE one! It comes highly rated because it has so much support, almost like a neck brace (there’s a chunk of flexible plastic in there to prop your head up). It’s warm and super packable too.
Foldable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. This option is very compactable and can fit right in your carry-on.
Laundry bag | Keep your worn clothes separate from your clean ones, especially when traveling to high humidity climates. When it’s humid, you’ll just be sticky all day and all that stickiness will transfer to your clothes. In either case, you will inevitably have dirty socks and undies to toss in here. I have this laundry bag set, and it’s great because it includes many size options.
Small lock | If you’re staying in hostels, you may need to provide your own lock for the lockers. Otherwise, this can be used on your luggage bag when you’re traveling and checking your luggage. This one is small, TSA-approved, and serves multiple functions.
Massage Ball | One of the best things in my bag, hands down. Roll your legs, upper back, and under your feet whenever you have downtime to undo that tension and soreness you’ve built up over the course of the day. Check out this one.
Ultimate Summer Travel Packing List: Checklist
To wrap up, let’s review the ultimate packing checklist for extended travel:
- Wheeled Suitcase / Travel Backpack
- Packing Cubes
- Laundry Travel Bag
- Everyday bag
- 4-5 Tops
- 1 pairs of pants
- 1-2 pairs of shorts/skirts
- 1 pair of leggings
- 1-2 dresses
- 5 pairs of undies
- 5 pairs of socks
- 3 bras
- 1-2 pairs of shoes
- 1 pair of sandals / flip flops
- 1 cardigan or lightweight fleece
- 1 shawl or scarf
- 1-2 swimsuits
- DIY survival kit
- Extra plastic baggies
- Laundry soap
- Quick-dry towel
- Eye mask
- External battery
- Travel adapter
- Wearable technology / activity tracker
- Travel belt / money belt
- Tickets and travel documents
- Credit /debit cards
- Journal or book
- Travel pillow
- Water bottle
- Foldable tote bag
- Small lock
- Massage ball
Now you’re ready!
If you get nothing else out of this post, at least take this with you… pack light! Everyone has the urge to pack a lot of things. There’s a scenario for everything you own to have a purpose on your trip. But what usually happens is that we either wear them once or not at all. Remember to mix and match clothes and evaluate each item, only bringing it if you think you’ll use it more than once. Oh yeah, and pack early. You’ve got a lot to look forward to and a lot of trip to pack for!
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