The Art of Carry-On Packing

Following up on a recent issue on flying tips, I was asked to expound on packing. Over the years, I have gotten really good (if I do say so myself) at packing for trips without checking luggage. The trick is to think it through before you go, pack key interchangeable pieces, and to not be afraid to wash clothes at the hotel, a local fluff and fold, or even in your sink (my mom has a friend who travels with a teeny bottle of Woolite to wash clothes in her hotel bathroom). We break it down for you below.

Love, gp


My specialty is going on an overseas work trip for a few days and only bringing carry-on luggage. (Anything more than a four-day trip and I would need to check luggage.) The trick is to pack clothes that are versatile and to not be afraid of doing laundry at the hotel. Here’s how it works.

Packing List:

For a work trip, when I’m in a rush getting from A to B, a rolling suitcase is ideal. I also always bring a big bag where I keep my purse, the scripts I’m reading, my workout sneakers, headphones, and a few key things for the plane.

On The Plane:

I generally think of my plane outfit as part of the entire look for the trip, so I wear comfy clothes that I can easily incorporate into other outfits. This saves me a lot of room in a suitcase, too.


Leggings are both comfortable and warm, especially in cashmere, and are easy to dress up or down.
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T-Shirts & Sweaters

Layers are essential for changes in temperature on and off the plane. I go for a tank top, a long-sleeve, and a sweater.
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A blazer ties the whole look together and makes for a presentable outfit when you get off the plane. You can also wear it to meetings, with jeans, etc.
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Choose a scarf for a splash of color that’s big enough to cover you up when it gets chilly up in the air.
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Flats & Boots

Flats for the plane, boots for your arrival on land. The flats roll up so you can easily store them in your purse.
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The Breakdown:

Day 1: Meetings

A good pair of black trousers are a perennial essential. Pair them with a blouse, heels, and a blazer.

Day 1: Downtime

Take the outfit to dinner and drinks with boots and a pair of dark jeans.

Day 2: Meetings

For your second day of meetings, re-purpose the tee and blazer from the plane ride and pair with a flared skirt and high heels.

Day 2: Downtime

I always pack a pair of sweats for chilling out at the hotel or walking to the gym for my workout.

The City Break

The same outfit principle applies when you’re on vacation checking out a new city. You want to be comfortable but still look good and pack clothes that are versatile and go well together, so you can mix and match.

Packing List:

For this trip, you won’t need more than a big carryall for your short city visit. Again, not checking luggage will minimize your time in the airport and the risk of losing your bags.

On the Plane:

Remember our tip from the Fly Better issue? If you dress up for the plane you might just get an upgrade.

Jeans, Tee &  Jacket

Solid basics like nice jeans, a blazer, and a tee are versatile in that they’re easy to dress up or dress down during the rest of your trip.
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Wear a graphic sweater in bright but basic colors as a cover-up for several outfits.
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A shoulder strap purse is a must for a city trip. Make sure it’s big enough for a book, camera, wallet, and headphones, but small enough not to be cumbersome.
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Slip on boots that look chic and are easy to get on and off at airport checkpoints.
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The Breakdown:

Day 1: Touring

Take your airport attire down a notch for walking around the city with a pair of sneakers and a striped top. Take the same shoulder bag from the airplane for your camera, tour book, and Wayfarer’s.

Day 1: Dinner out

Keep the jeans (dark are especially versatile) and dress the rest up with a silk blouse, hoop earrings, and a bright pair of heels.

Day 2 & Day 3

Both a black jumpsuit and a black dress are easy to dress down for day and up for night. Wear the jumpsuit one day and the dress the next—and then add heels at night.

The Beach Holiday

Go for minimal packing while still maximizing the number of outfits by picking pieces in a similar color scheme.

Packing List:

White is the main color here. It stands out on the beach and is easy to match.

On the Plane:

If you wear your largest and heaviest pieces on the plane, like a pair of jeans and a blazer, then you can easily pack your bikinis and cover ups in a tote.

Jeans, Tee & Flats

Keep it simple in white with jeans (my current favorites are Rag & Bone), a tee, and a pair of white brogues.
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Love this blazer. It works with jeans, but is also great for dressing up your beach outfits.
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The Breakdown:

Day 1

Get off the plane and change into some shorts and a tee. Wear the outfit to the beach or for walking around a beach town. I picked whites and pastels here, for easy outfit switches.

Day 2

For the day you hit the beach, wear a cover up dress by Melissa Odabash with a J.Crew bikini. If you need to dress it up a tiny bit, swap in your striped BOY jacket.

Day 3

If you’re spending a day in town, take a sun dress that’s light enough for the weather but dressy enough for dinner.

Otis Batterbee’s Packing Tips

The maker of luxury travel accessories is a bit of a packing expert himself. Here, he lends us his tips.


The Travel Drawer: Before you go anywhere, start a travel drawer that includes: A passport, coin purse, travel adapters, sunglasses, phrase books, maps, guides, and swimsuits. You can take this a step further by creating The Travel Beauty Drawer.


Roll Your Clothing: I acquired this tip from a flight attendant, as they always have the smallest bags. Tightly roll casual trousers, t -shirts, and shorts, which also minimizes wrinkling. (Naturally, we don’t advise this for evening wear or designer dress suits.)


The Suitcase: While overstuffing your suitcase can damage your clothing, lots of empty space can also cause creasing. Fill up empty spaces with white tissue paper and place a towel over the top.


Security: Always remember to have two identity luggage tags on your case, including one on the inside, in case the outside label gets ripped off.


Pack it Out: Tissue paper and more tissue paper! I buy reams of tissue paper for placing between shirts and knitwear; it really is the best way to keep clothes in shape. Plus, it feels like you have been shopping a fabulous boutique when you’re unpacking at the other end!


The Travel Pouch: A shameless plug. Those leather passport and boarding pass holders are such a waste of time, as you’re forever having to take everything out anyway. In my travel pouch I keep my smart phone, passport, boarding pass, money, sunglasses, and a good book.

Garance Doré’s Packing Tips

Fashion illustrator and photographer Garance Doré travels constantly, so we asked her for advice. Side note: we loved this piece on traveling with sweatpants from her blog


Re-Package Your Beauty Products: Buy some small containers for liquids—Muji has good ones—so you can bring your beauty products from home.


Layer: Don’t fold silk shirts. Just lay them flat on the bottom of your suitcase, one on top of the other.


Pack a Steamer: Depending on where you go, bring a mini steamer. Hotel irons are a crime.


Don’t Forget:

  • some sort of pajama

  • toothpaste

  • tweezers

  • cotton pads for removing makeup

  • workout clothes


Pack Tea: It’s always good to bring your favorite tea. It can make anywhere feel like home. And your favorite oatmeal, too!


A Scarf for Carry-On: I always bring a scarf when I fly. It can double as a blanky.


Hand-wash: I recommend washing underwear by hand. It takes three seconds before bed and they’re dry in the morning.


Re-Think Jewelry: Check with your hotel to see if they have a safe. In certain places expensive jewelry can become quite a burden. When in doubt, leave it at home.

Related: How To Stay Healthy While Traveling