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Is It Possible to Pack a 2-Week Wardrobe in a Carry-on?

You bet! It’s so easy with these six packing tips

VIDEO: 4 Tips to Pack a Carry-on Bag

Whether you’re a frequent flier or jet away occasionally, traveling with a full-size suitcase has lost its appeal. More people choose to ignore baggage claim chaos, lost luggage and checked baggage fees — by taking just a carry-on. It’s easy to pack, hoist and maneuver, but how do you fit all your stuff in a smaller bag? As a beauty and fashion editor, I learned to pack light for location photo shoots from models who never checked luggage. My foolproof strategy has been updated and is easier than ever. Here’s how to wing it with maximum style and minimum stuff for 14 days.

1. Buy an updated carry-on in a standard airline size.

Upgrading your suitcase is the key to making the just-a-carry-on idea work. New designs are lighter in weight but sturdier and easier to lift and drag, even when fully packed. Size matters and varies airline to airline (so check your airline for exact specs when booking), but know that 22 by 14 by 9 inches fits in most overhead bins and holds plenty. The new carry-ons feature telescopic handles that adjust to your height, and most have expansion capabilities, so purchases made on your trip are not a problem. (Check tip number 6 for more on that!) Look for a “spinner” with four wheels for quick turns, a secure stand-alone, stress-free maneuvering down narrow plane aisles, and dashes to the gate. Examples include the TravelPro Platinum Elite Carry-on Spinner ($314, and the Samsonite Freeform Carry-on Spinner ($150, Carry-ons with technological updates, such as the Weego Smart Carry-on Luggage in Silver ($130,, have an external USB port to charge your devices (great during delays, but be sure the batteries are removable) and/or TSA-approved locks for increased convenience and security. “Smart” bags have a pocket for your battery with a cord in it that threads through the suitcase and connects to the charging port. Make sure your battery and the cord are compatible since some are USB or USB-C. If the plane is full or the aircraft is small, your carry-on might still get checked at the gate — so always add a luggage tag inside and out for an instant ID.

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2. Use your body and travel outfit as extra luggage.

Wearing a pulled-together, neutral-toned outfit of your bulkiest items (including shoes and coat/jacket) saves suitcase space and offers climate control for freezing airports, planes, hotel lobbies and inclement days. Staying stylish en route can also help you snare upgrades and better service both on board and on arrival. I often see 50-plus women wearing super casual outfits or leggings to fly. That’s a mistake. Airlines may hassle over carry-on weight but never on how much you’re wearing to board the plane. It’s easy to look polished but stay comfy with a layered combo that lets you add or subtract warmth. One no-fail outfit that works regardless of destination is the long-sleeve Gap Modern Crew T-Shirt in Navy Blue & White Stripe (; trim pull-on Athleta Brooklyn Mid Rise Ankle Pants in Black or Navy ($99,; a relaxed Loft Girlfriend Cardigan in Deep Space Blue ($38,; a lightweight Old Navy Women Oversized Double-Breasted Trench Coat in Shore Enough ($70,; a large, soft HappyLuxe Wayfarer Travel Scarf UPF 50 + in Classic Jersey-Navy Blue ($46,, which works in flight as a rolled pillow or blanket and protects you from seatmates with coughs or colds; and rubber sole loafers or the Sperry Crest Twin Gore Slip-on Sneakers in White 1 ($70, Yes, bring the trench coat. On rainy days and chilly evenings, it’s the one piece everyone regrets not having.

3. Choose a secure hands-free handbag.

Make your allowed “personal item” a shoulder bag, hobo or crossbody like the Michael Michael Kors Kensington Large Crossbody in Pale Peanut ($228, that’s lightweight, fits easily under the seat in front of you and has a secure closure to keep valuables safe. It should be large enough to fit essentials including your iPhone; wallet; meds; sunglasses such as the Prive Revaux The Hepburn Cat Eye Sunglasses in Caviar Black ($40,; readers; Kindle; a face mask; sunscreen (UV rays penetrate plane windows); and, if applicable, your passport and hearing aid charger. At the airport, you might want to add compression socks, earplugs or AirPods, wipes, hand sanitizer and toiletries in a TSA-approved plastic baggie to make security screenings easy and prevent you from having to reach for your carry-on in-flight. Remember that your smartphone has a flashlight, GPS and camera, so keep it with you at all times.

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4. Pack multitasking neutral clothes.

Stick to a color theme of neutrals, white and medium wash denim to create quick, classy mix-and-match looks. White pieces — a T-shirt, jeans or button-down shirt — brighten your skin tone and your outfits. Remember to keep your plane ensemble in sync with the color plan too since those clothes are part of your traveling closet. Everything should provide multiple wearings, day and night. Aim for a total of 12 items that work for your destination, activities, the weather and style preferences. Ignore the “what-ifs” and “should-takes.” For example, if you hate shorts and sleeveless tops, skip ’em and pair tees with wide-leg, ankle-cropped Madewell Kick Out Curvy Crop Jeans in Pure White ($128, or the Universal Thread Women’s Tie Waist Midi Skirt in Tan or Black ($25, Need a dress for evenings out and sightseeing? The Loft Tie Puff Sleeve Midi Dress in Black ($100, never misses. It dresses up easily with metallic footwear such as the Jack Rogers Jacks Weekend Sandals — Leather in Platinum ( or ballet flats and a pair of gold or silver hoops. It looks equally great with white sneakers and a brimmed straw hat or over the Kona Sol Women’s Tummy Control One Shoulder Ruched One Piece Swimsuit in Black ($40, with pool slide sandals and a ponytail. Add items that take up almost no space last — swimsuits, leggings for workouts or lounging, an extra bra and enough undies for every day without having to do laundry.

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5. Minimize your beauty routine.

First up: Follow the Transportation Security Administration’s regulations on carry-on size by transferring must-haves (your ride-or-die foundation, hair conditioner or face cleanser) to travel-size containers of 3.4 ounces or less, like the ones in the Sonia Kashuk TSA Travel Makeup Bag Kit-Clear ($9, Remember all liquids, gels, creams and pastes, including mascara, brow gel and lip gloss, must fit in a single 1-quart resealable plastic bag that’s presented at security. You can also head to your local department store or Sephora for free counter samples in single-use packets and tiny tubes (great for perfume, primer, face and eye creams) that slip into the TSA baggie. Keep simplifying. A stick foundation doubles as concealer, a lip stain pen works as liner and lipstick, and bronzing drops add a sunny glow to any skin tone without doing a self-tan. Get a salon gel manicure and pedicure before leaving home — worth it for a chip-free two weeks. Make hair accessories sub for hot tools and styling products. Stretch blowouts with dry shampoo, ponytails and buns. Let bold sunglasses stand in for eye makeup.

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6. Use compression cubes to pack.

This is the best way to stay organized and make every inch of your carry-on count. Compression cubes — a variation of packing cubes — expand as you fill, then condense your clothes with zippers designed to neatly press your stuff flat as they squeeze out the excess air. They’re especially useful when you’re trying to fit everything in a small suitcase, but they also work in larger luggage, for car travel and for storing out-of-season clothing. You can fold garments, but I prefer rolling to further minimize clothing and prevent wrinkles. Pack logically by size, filling larger compression bags with bigger/longer items such as jeans, skirts and dresses and laying them at the bottom of the carry-on. Shoes can lie flat against the perimeter of the case. Some handy cubes I’ve found are the Bagsmart Compression Packing Cubes set of 6 ($40,, the Beis Compression Packing Cubes 6pc in Beige ($74, and the Quince Eco Compression Packing Cubes (6 pack) in Gray ($50,, which offer quick ID of the contents via labels or mesh windows.

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