What’s your preferred style of packing? Do you throw everything into your bag – without planning – the night before departure? Or do you prepare and plan everything at least a week before? Guess which one I am!

My secret to travelling with only carry-on luggage is to plan my trip. Where will I be going? What will I do there? How long will I stay? And then to prepare my wardrobe and luggage accordingly – carrying only 7 kgs in total.

How do I do that? While I’m not a natural list maker, I have found it useful to create basic, essential lists, making sure I stay within my weight allocation. I hope you find these lists helpful.

The Planepack Essential Clothes List

I learnt a long time ago to only wear two colours at a time. This style has made my colour choices, particularly when travelling, easy. I was influenced by stylists who suggest that we each have our own colour ‘season’. What colour are you? I’m a winter.

My colour palette consists of one base colour (black or grey), to which I add a few coloured t-shirts to give me that ‘pop’ of colour to differentiate my outfits.

My curated colour wardrobe makes choosing what to wear when travelling very easy. Every top and bottom matches or goes with all the other tops and bottoms. This list is for a summer wardrobe.

  • 1 pair of comfortable shoes. You’ll be wearing them nearly every day so make sure they are just right, and wear them in before you travel. Choose a neutral colour that works for both day and night. And no one notices your shoes, I assure you.
  • 1 pair of crease-proof black (or another dark colour) pull-on slacks. I say ‘slacks’ because I like unstructured, soft jersey pants that wrap and fold easily.
  • 1 pair of comfortable shorts in neutral colour – preferably without zips or pockets. I favour shorts that are just above the knee, a bit like cycling shorts.
  • 1 easy pull-on skirt in neutral colour
  • 1 soft t-shirt in neutral colour
  • 3 colourful tops – these are your opportunity to bring in colour and pattern, if you wish.
  • 1 long-sleeve wrap in a neutral colour
  • 2 bras (one black, one flesh-coloured)
  • 5 black knickers
  • 2 pairs of socks matching in colour to my comfortable shoes
  • 1 pair of dressy sandals (flat or with slight heel)
  • 1 pair of thongs
  • 1 pair of leggings in neutral colour (worn on the plane)
  • 1 unstructured jacket in neutral colour (worn on the plane)
  • 1 crease-proof evening top – whatever suits you to go with the slacks
  • 1 killer necklace – this is how I add glamour to my look.
  • 1 everyday necklace (worn on the plane)
  • 1 pair of earrings (not worn on the plane as they make wearing my headphones uncomfortable)
  • 1 ring (worn on the plane)
  • 1 silk scarf (worn on the plane)
  • 1 bathing costume (two-piece)
  • 1 beach sarong
  • 1 nightdress
  • 1 soft robe

TOTAL weight: approximately 5 kgs

Surprised at how much I take? Yes, five kilograms allows you a significant amount of clothing and plenty to rotate and wear for every occasion.

Planepack Essential Toiletries List

I’m a sucker for weighing toiletries and clothes. Once you know the weights, it’s easy to add or remove products. I’ve created a handy free calculator that you can use to weigh your items on your kitchen scales.

  • 50 ml moisturiser in glass jar
  • 15 ml eye cream in glass jar
  • 50 ml perfume in glass bottle
  • Dental floss
  • 50 ml body lotion in plastic bottle
  • 30 ml hand lotion in tube
  • Lipstick
  • Compact shampoo bar
  • Toothpaste 20g tube
  • Toothbrush electric (I could cut back and take a plastic toothbrush, but I do love my electric one. I leave the charger at home as a full charge gives me two weeks of use.)
  • Cream eyeshadow
  • Comb, plastic
  • Headband

TOTAL weight: 901g

If there’s something missing from this list – like suntan lotion – I suggest you buy it on the other side.

The Planepack Essential Accessories List

In everyday life, I use a handbag organiser. This is a bag I place in my handbag to make finding contents easy. I like it as it makes changing handbags simple: I lift out the organiser – with all its contents – and put it into any other bag.

If I use the organiser when I travel, I usually carry a handbag as well as a carry-on bag. I slip my passport, wallet, reading glasses and sunglasses in the side pockets.

  • Passport
  • Wallet with card charged with local cash. I also take my normal credit card – and leave all the other shopping cards at home. I don’t want to add any unnecessary weight.
  • Reading glasses
  • Sun glasses
  • Business cards – these are useful for exchanging contact details overseas
  • Headphones – preferably, over ear (I find in-ear headphones uncomfortable and Apple earbuds fall out of my ears). I have a nice fold-up pair that packs easily.
  • Smartphone – Before I travel, I load my iPhone with books, audiobooks, videos and movies so that I don’t use up expensive download facilities overseas.
  • Phone charger – I’m always on the lookout at airports to charge my iPhone.
  • Headphone charger – I use wireless headphones and a charge powers a long-haul trip.
  • Pen that doesn’t leak – I learnt this the painful way when I discovered blue ink all over the inside of my bag. You always need a pen on board to fill out arrival forms.
  • Face mask – I recently wrote about wearing a face mask and how it cocoons me from the trials of travel.
  • Moisturiser – I like to apply this every time I wash my face during the long trips.
  • Lipstick or lip gloss – as the atmosphere on board is so dry, I like to moisturise my lips.
  • Sucking sweets
  • Light reading – magazine or book as a change from my iPhone books or videos.
  • I don’t need toothpaste/toothbrush or socks or eye patch as I get these on the plane.
  • I don’t any longer take a change of clothes in my hand bag as I’m travelling with carry-on luggage that contains all my clothes. Step on and off the plane like a celebrity!
  • Roll up grocery or utility bag – I could pack this in my cabin bag, but generally it lives in my organiser.
  • Crossbody small handbag (fits my purse, my iPhone, my sunglasses, lipstick, tissues – and perhaps a small purchase) for my day use. Sometimes I use this at airports as it’s easier to access my essential documents from the small handbag – rather than open my larger handbag. But I pack this away before check-in.

TOTAL weight: approximately 1 kg

While this sounds like a long list, there’s no one item that weighs a great deal, so you should be able to get away with only 7 kgs combining your handbag and carry-on bag.

Stick to Your Weight Restriction

I’ve only once had an airline weigh in both my handbag and my carry-on bag. Mostly, the airlines are accommodating.

The worst that could happen is that you have to send your carry-on bag into the hold, which annoys me as it defeats one of the major purposes of travelling light – you don’t want to waste your time at the baggage carousel waiting for your carry-on luggage.

But, to be fair, in the last eight years of travelling light, this has only happened to me once.

It’s best to check with the airlines before flying to determine their specific weight rules for carry-on luggage.

Are there any items you always pack when you travel? Do you have trouble sticking to the airline weight restrictions? Please share in the comments below.

Slobodanka GrahamSlobodanka Graham is a digital publisher, content entrepreneur, sketcher and extreme light traveler. Since 2010, she has journeyed with carry-on luggage only. Her website, Planepack, provides tips, advice and stories on travelling light. Slobodanka’ s mission is to help women abandon heavy luggage and travel with style and enjoyment.

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