How To Pack For Two Weeks In A Carry-On

Tomorrow is the big day–I’m leaving the States for a trip around the world (I’m not kidding, I make a full circle around the globe through my travels!). And although I am a bit nervous (okay, a lot nervous) I am super excited as well.

This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this and luckily I’m a pretty organized, planner-oriented person. I’ve been making lists on lists of what I need to pack, what I don’t need to pack, and things I am forgetting about (I had to run out JUST today to grab an adapter because my mind totally blanked on me on that one, which would not have been good!).

And here’s my disclaimer that you CAN pack two weeks worth of clothes in a carry-on if you are not a light traveler (AKA me.). I honestly didn’t think I would be able to do it, I mean I use carry-ons for weekend getaways so by all means don’t let me pretend to fool you. But here I am–thinking I am one cool chic for being able to do so much with so little. Less is more right?

The main reason I really wanted to be able to get everything in my carry-on was the fact that I have three flights to my destination and three back home. Thats a lot of opportunities for my belongings to get damaged, lost, or fall behind while I move farther away from all that I know. I didn’t want to risk it, so I convinced myself I could do it and didn’t look back.

Starting to realize exactly how much attire I would need for 14 (actually scratch that 17) days meant I had to wear my bulkiest clothing while traveling. This honestly isn’t a big deal since I always get cold on planes and get to wear my comfy Patagonia fleece to stay warm. I’m also wearing my gym shoes (the biggest pair of shoes I’m bringing), a T-shirt, and my athletic leggings. These are all things I can and will wear again once in Africa and will keep me comfortable while sitting on a fifteen hour flight (is the trip even worth it haha?).

So here’s what I packed in my actual carry-on:


  • Shoes: Flip flops and Chacos (I’m wearing my running shoes)
  • 5 t-shirts
  • 5 neutral colored shirts
  • 1 crewneck
  • 1 light rain jacket
  • 1 pair of capris
  • 3 pairs of neutral colored shorts
  • 1 pair of athletic cropped leggings (I’m wearing one pair of full-length athletic leggings)
  • Bathing suit
  • Dinner dress
  • 1 nice shirt
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • Hat
  • Undergarments and socks
  • Non-liquid toiletries (prescription medication, a brush, contacts, ibuprofen, toothbrush)
  • CSU flag

The great thing about my carry-on and having extra space (Wow, I know!) is that I can put things in there from my backpack to lighten the load walking around the airport. I’ll add in my laptop charger and maybe a book that I’m not reading yet, so I am not weighed down walking to my gate or waiting in lines.

I also am bringing a backpack for the rest of my essentials:

  • 2 books
  • Laptop
  • DSLR camera and charger
  • Polaroid camera and film
  • Passport and ID, medical vaccination papers, proof of Visa requirements, money
  • Liquid toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, bug spray, deodorant, chapstick, sunscreen, toothpaste, inhaler)
    • And all less than 3 ounces in a TSA-approved clear bag for fast clearance through security
  • Adapter
  • Water bottle
  • Journal

Plan ahead: It was a lot more doable than I ever imagined it would be–and the backpack helps a lot. Although it is bulky right now, I will have all my belongings with me at all times (knock on wood) and not have to worry about grabbing luggage between flights or it getting stuck at my previous destination. Fitting two weeks worth of my life into a 14×22 inch suitcase was manageable and easy with appropriate planning and understanding that I may have to wear one or two shirts more than once.

Look at the weather: If  you have an upcoming long-term trip, look at the weather and the activities you’ll be doing. For me, I brought versatile outfits that will be able to withstand the 85 degrees during the middle of the day but also the chilly mornings and nights (50-60 degrees) as its the cold, dry season in Africa.

Neutral colors: It also helps to pack in neutral colors (I have to due to my wildlife program and safari’s anyway), but it helps add more bang to your buck. I can match my shorts with every shirt I bring (as I’m not supposed to bring bright colors for the animals sake) and make tons of outfits between all that I have.

Lose the Shoes: Its also good to limit yourself on shoes as those can start taking up a lot of space pretty fast, so really really try to leave some behind. Am I honestly going to be wearing converse in the national parks? No. Am I really going to want my nice sandals for miles of walking? Absolutely not.

Rule of Thumb: A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in the past week or so for yourself, don’t bring it (I’m talking toiletries and such). Theres no way you’ll even think about it once you leave the house, and if you haven’t touched it in the last seven days, you really don’t need to pack it.

Cut Down To Half: As for shirts, bring half of what you think you would wear (its so easy to pack a ton of t-shirts and then never wear them) and try to bring only one pair of each type of pants if you’re in a large range of temperature. So one pair of jeans, one pair of capri’s, etc. As for shorts, those are okay for the more the merrier and even better when you can match them with several things.

Leave space: Lastly, leave a bit of space for souvenirs (you can’t not get one!). Since I’ll be bringing back gifts for my family, I need to make sure I have room to get them back home. And I know I’ll want something for myself as well, so think ahead of when you’re coming home while you’re packing to leave.

Otherwise I think you’ll be good to go!

And that last thing I’m bringing on this trip is a sense of adventure and love. I can’t wait to be there, but I also am going to miss home a lot since I just got here. I have worries about making all my flights, getting my Visa at the port of entry, and getting to the program headquarters, but I am going to just take it a step at a time. There is so much to remember and prepare for, but I’ve had the amazing help of my team leader and feel that I am ready for the experience of a lifetime.

Here’s to the first big adventure in Africa!




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