How To Pack for 3 Months in a Carry-On

At the end of July, a big change happened in my life.

I embarked on a two-day road trip that temporarily moved me from the DC metro area, where I've been for the better part of the last 17 years, down to the northwest Florida for the next 3-5 months.

Because I was driving, everything I brought with me had to fit in my little Ford Focus (I was not about to drag a trailer along with me), but beyond that I had a personal goal of fitting all my clothing for the next three months into a single carry-on.

That might sound like madness. Three months?? In a carry-on?? Yep. And, as predicted, I made it happen and today, I'm going to share with you how — with a few modifications.

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Before we get super nit picky about things here, I technically had two bags that contained my clothing — nearly everything went into a single carry-on, while my undergarments and shoes were packed in the bottom half of a weekender bag.

The reason I packed that way is because of the nature of my travel and time in Florida. All I had to do was pack the stuff so I could fit it in my car, because once I arrived in Florida, it would all be unpacked and placed in a dresser.

However, if I was taking an extended 3-month trip where I would consistently be traveling, I would've made a couple of modifications to the packing list that would have allowed me to fit it all into the one carry-on, and I'm going to share all of those tips and tricks with you today. 

THE PACKING LIST

Before we get started with all the tips and tricks, you're probably wondering, what exactly did I bring?

The short version is I brought somewhere between 80 and 90% of my wardrobe. The long version is the breakdown as follows:

11 tops
4 cardigans
3 skirts
6 dresses
2 pairs of jeans
2 pairs of shorts
1 jacket
7 pairs of shoes
2 belts
5 scarves

4 workout tops
4 lounge tops
4 pairs of workout bottoms
3 pairs of lounge bottoms
2 swimsuits
4 everyday bras
5 sports bras
12 pairs of underwear
8 pairs of socks
1 set of pajamas

That may simultaneously seem like a ton and not a lot at all, and it's a little bit of both. But the truth is, this what my wardrobe looks like now. I've pared down a lot over the last couple of years, so it was really easy to sort out what I needed from what I didn't without having to leave much behind at all.

THE (BIGGER) CARRY-ON

The bag I packed everything in is none other than The Bigger Carry-On from Away Travel.

I recently decided to streamline my luggage from a full set containing a large suitcase, carry-on, and toiletry bag to just a carry-on. I did a fair amount of reading and research about a good option and ultimately went with Away.

On top of (clearly) having plenty of space, Away's suitcases are of an incredibly high quality, have a couple of super helpful features (like two USB charging ports in the bag), and they have a lifetime guarantee on their products. And I've heard nothing but great reviews from everyone I've seen who has one.

So now that I've shared both what I packed and what I packed it in, let's get to the how shall we?

KEEP CLIMATE IN MIND

When I said I packed 80-90% of my wardrobe, I really wasn't kidding.

The only things I left in Virginia were my winter coats and sweaters, a pair of boots, a few scarves, and a couple of shirts — all of which I would not need due to the climate and temperatures in Florida from late July to late October.

And that brings me to my first tip for packing everything in a carry-on for an extended trip — keep the climate in mind. 

If you're trying to pack for multiple climates, your pieces aren't going to mix and match as well, plus with colder climates comes bulkier items like coats, boots, and sweaters.

Florida from late July to late October mostly goes back and forth between hot and hotter, which means I wouldn't have a need for those bulky items and instead could focus on sandals, lighter cardigans, t-shirts, etc.

But even if you're trying to pack for a cooler climate, don't despair! It's still possible to avoid lugging a giant bag around with you! This is a situation where high quality items will really help you out and layers will be your best friend.

By packing some lighter clothes but layering them, you'll be able to fit more individual items in the bag, and if you have a really high quality pair of boots and a high quality coat, you can most likely get away with bringing just one of them, even for an extended trip. And all you have to do to save the precious space in your suitcase is wear them during your travel days and you'll be good to go!

THE ROLL IS GREATER THAN THE FOLD

This next tip isn't so much related to the types of clothing I packed or how much I packed, but the actual way in which I packed them. Specifically, by rolling instead of folding.

I don't remember when or who first told me that rolling takes up less space in a suitcase than folding, and at first I thought they were crazy, because how could the same item of clothing take up less space just because of how you put it in the suitcase? But I've packed by both folding and rolling, and it never fails — when I roll, I'm able to fit more in the suitcase every single time.

A bonus of this is that, if you're careful about how you roll, items that often crease or wrinkle won't do so as quickly as they would if they were folded! 

VERSATILITY IS YOUR FRIEND

I've said it before and I'll say it again — the hallmark of a simplified wardrobe is that the more versatile your wardrobe is, the fewer items you need to bring (or have) and this same principal applies to packing for an extended trip in one bag.

Yes, most of what I was packing for this trip was lighter weight, smaller clothing, but I also didn't have nearly as much of it as I used to because I've curated it and so much more of what I own is far more versatile than it used to be.

This is a big advantage when it comes to shoes. No matter what you do to them, shoes are going to take up the same amount of space. But because all of my shoes go with basically every item in my closet, I'm able to bring one pair of ballet flats and one pair of dress sandals instead of multiple and I don't have to worry about them not coordinating.

And, just like with the rest of my wardrobe, all my shoes have been purchased from high quality brands and I know will last me a long time, so I don't have to worry about only have one of a certain kind.

A COUPLE OF TWEAKS

I mentioned that for this actual trip I packed everything except my undergarments and shoes into the carry-on. It's important to note that this also excluded any toiletries you might bring for an extended trip, so in addition to the principals that helped me pack as much as I did in a carry-on, I wanted to share a couple of additional tweaks I would've made to truly fit everything you'd need into one carry-on.

1. REDUCE LEISURE

I brought all of my workout attire and nearly all of my leisure attire with me for this trip because I'm going to be living more or less normal life while I'm here, which means I'm going to be working out regularly and there will be days where I just lounge around in my yoga pants.

It's not to say that you wouldn't have days like that during an extended vacation, but they probably wouldn't be as frequent — especially the lounging around in yoga pants days.

2. LIMIT TOILETRIES

I've always kept my toiletries to a relative minimum, primarily because I don't like to spend hours and hours on that kind of thing. But when I pack for any trip, I reduce even more and take advantage of space saving options.

I have a relatively compact (discontinued) toiletry bag from Vera Bradley and whenever I travel, all toiletries (including makeup), jewelry, and hair products (excepting something big like a blow dryer or curling iron) have to fit in that one bag.

You can save space (and money) by using something like shampoo and conditioner bars, instead of a mini bottles, and forego some extras like shaving gel (seriously...dry shaving isn't that bad) or hair products. I also limit hair accessories like dryers and curling irons, even leaving all of them at home if I'm able, and letting my hair dry and keeping it free of product as much as possible.

3. PLAN FOR EVEN MORE VERSATILITY

Even though most of my wardrobe is quite versatile, there are a couple of pieces that are less versatile than the rest and can only be worn a couple of ways or with one or two other pieces. If I was running short on space, I would've left these behind in favor of some of the more versatile pieces in the wardrobe.

Have you ever taken an extended trip in just a carry-on? I'd love to hear any tips and tricks you have in the comments!