Winter Travel in a Carry-on?

Are you an over-packer? Not sure what you will need and what the weather will hold?

The unpredictability of late autumn or winter travel can leave you stressed and with overstuffed luggage. Pushing the limits of your suitcase, leaving no room for souvenirs, or maybe even breaking weight limits on luggage restrictions, costing you money at the gate. Checking  extra luggage is expensive, upwards of $100 (US) per bag, per person in many cases.

So, what are some of the ways that you can reduce your costs, avoid overpacking, leave room for souvenirs and still be prepared for what the weather may hold?

  • Use a hard-sided, rolling carry-on  – This will ensure that your items are a bit better protected against the elements. Typically, a carry-on is no more than 20″ tall. However, some airlines will list it as 22″. I stick to 20″ to be on the safe side and avoid penalties or surprises at the gate.


  • Take a soft-sided duffel bag – Make sure all of your clothing (or at least most) will fit in the duffel bag. It doesn’t need to be very big, but it will provide you with “overflow” on your return flight if needed. Roll this bag and put it into your carry-on. When flying home with souvenirs, if you need to check a bag, you can check the duffel with your clothing in it and keep your souvenirs in the carry-on with you in the cabin. NOTE: If your duffel fits the dimensions of a “personal item” then you don’t have to check anything. Just be sure your other personal items fit in one of the bags. 


  • Limit your shoes! – I love shoes. I collect shoes. But when space is limited, and the weather unpredictable, it is best to keep yourself to 2 or 3 pairs at most. Honestly, I think 3 is pushing it. Unless you are 💯 percent sure you are going to require a dressy pair of shoes, go with comfort and function. Stick to 1 pair of waterproof, warm shoes and 1 pair of comfortable walking shoes. I also pack a pair of inexpensive ($2 or less) flip-flops/thongs for the shower (if we stay in a hostel) and for lounging around. I choose ankle height, warm slip on boots which can be worn with leggings, jeans or even tights as well as a pair of comfortable slip-on or low-top sneakers.


  • Mix and Match Layers – Now we get to the most important part, clothing. Especially during cooler months, layers can get bulky, quickly filling your suitcase with just a handful of items. To avoid this, I keep my items to a fairly monochromatic color palette so items can be mixed and matched to make multiple outfits.
    • 1 Pair of Jeans – I like jeggings since they don’t shift or dig when sitting for long periods. The form fitting nature of the legs will be slimming as well as wear well with any shoe type or layers of clothing. If you need a nicer outfit, add 1 pair of black jeggings or ankle length slacks.
    • 1 Pair of leggings – I stick to basic black or dark gray. If you know that it will be very chilly, you can go with fleece lined if you feel you need the extra warmth.
    • 1 Sweater – Stick to a lightweight, soft wool in a neutral shade. Cashmere or Moreno wool will provide warmth without bulk. I make sure the fit is a little on the loose side, not too form-fitting so that I can layer it over another shirt easily and still have a coat/jacket fit nicely. Again, I stick to Black or Dark Gray as it will go with anything else I pack or buy.
    • 1 scarf20161101_123042-1BIMG_20161109_100544We like to pack one warm scarf, typically a blanket scarf, as we are likely to purchase another one when traveling. By sticking to a blanket style, it is able to be worn multiple ways as well as use it as a lightweight blanket when traveling. (I use my scarf to add color to my outfits, so it often has reds greens and blues.) A pair of gloves may be a good idea too.
    • 4 shirts – 2 long sleeved and 2 short sleeved. Keep them simple, lightweight fabrics which will allow for layering under the sweater and that are comfortable with jeans or leggings.  You can find these in lightweight base layers which are often wool as well. You can go with prints here if you want! 
      • 1-2 Tank tops – I often include 1-2 tank tops as well. They don’t take up much space and they can offer a  light layer under a sweater or flannel shirt.
      • 1 Flannel shirt – I prefer to choose an additional layer like a lightweight plaid flannel shirt. This can be used with a tank top, over a short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirt as well as under the sweater depending on the weather.
    • 1 sweater dress (Optional) – If you know you will need a nice outfit, try a sweater dress. It will be warm, easy to dress up and comfortable without wrinkling when packed in a suitcase. 🧳 If you pack a dress, be sure to pack thick tights just in case it is very cold.e7d3c9e5-3525-43c5-bfe5-982f923fd366
    • Undergarments, Socks and PJs– I keep it simple. 2 Bras, 3-5 panties, 3-5 socks, pajama pants & top, and a small travel bottle of laundry soap/powder. I pack minimally here as I can easily wash the small items by hand in a sink, no matter where I stay. I got mine at REI.


  •  1 coat 🧥  –  If you are going where it snows at all, or has frigid wind, make sure you have a warm winter coat. This does NOT get put into your luggage. You carry this bad-boy when commuting or you wear it. Make sure it fits over the bulkiest outfit you can put together. Belted styles will also help to nip in the waist over fewer layers. A 3-season type option may be a good idea. You can take the outer layer as a windbreaker/rain jacket and the inner layer insulates you and can also be worn alone. (North Face and Columbia have great options.) 
    Lena Jacket - Kuhl @

    The Lena Jacket by Kuhl can be found at and is a great option!

    • 1 Lightweight jacket – Wind resistant, rain resistant. If it isn’t cold enough for the winter coat, you have a second option. Don’t get too carried away with the thickness of this one. It needs to fit into your suitcase without taking up more space than 1 pair of jeggings/jeans.



  • 1 Personal bag/day bag – I like to use a backpack or a crossbody bag like a satchel or messenger bag. I have one that converts to a backpack and is big enough to hold my laptop or lightweight jacket if I need to.



I purchased it on Etsy from WigWag. The soft canvas also allows me to stuff it into another suitcase if I need to. A small clutch may also be handy and not take up much space if you need a nice outfit.


So, you have your wardrobe figured out…but how is it all going to fit?  

    • If you roll your items, flat fold/roll your socks, and place your shoes in large ziplock bags, you can fit a lot more into your small suitcase.
  • Stuff sacks!

    Photo from

    • Stuff sacks are your best friend when backpacking or minimalist packing. They are a compression bag which will allow you to place your rolled items into it, then compress the air out.
  • Keep your toiletries to the bare minimum. Take travel sizes of everything and make sure it all fits into ONE Quart sized bag as that is all TSA will allow. No more than 3oz per liquid bottle. Unless you are roughing it in the wild, you will be able to find toothpaste, deodorant, contact solution etc. at shops. You will just need to ask someone for assistance if you can’t find what you need. 

And there you have it! One week or more worth of winter packing in a single carry-on!

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wonder always, for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee

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