How to Pack Light Enough to Fit 6 Days of Travel Into a Carry On

6 days, 2 flights, 2 hostels, 1 greyhound bus & 1 shuttle: How I condensed a solo trip to Colorado into one carry-on sized suitcase & one backpack.

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If you’re anything like the majority of Americans, chances are you probably over-pack for almost every vacation, ever. I used to be that way, too (um, of course I NEED six shirts for a two night trip because, what if I spill wine on myself literally both days I’m there? Twice??).

But now, with a few learning experiences under my belt combined with what I can only imagine is literal hours of my life spent watching YouTube videos on the subject, I can (semi) confidently say that I’ve (just about) perfected the art of packing light.

I hesitate to use the term “minimalist” in this post because, while I definitely have pared back my material possessions quite a bit (living in a 250 square foot studio apartment for two years will do that to you), I still don’t know if I would go so far as to say I’m actually a minimalist. I am, however, channeling the core ideas of minimalism for this particular challenge, though, as I tried (and succeeded!) to pack everything I needed for six days spent solo-tripping through Northern Colorado.


What to Pack: Only the Essentials

When traveling solo, you’re kind of forced to be a bit of a minimalist, unless you want to be lugging around heavy bags by yourself. Being a woman that also wants to look at least somewhat presentable most of the time, it does get a little tricky.

Every single article you will ever read and video you could ever watch about how to pack light will tell you to pack what you think you need, half that, half it again, and then you have what you actually need. I’m not sure how true that actually is, but I’ve been able to about half what I usually bring just by giving it a little more thought.

Here’s the exhaustive list of (mostly) everything I brought with me for 6 days/5 nights in Denver & Fort Collins, Colorado:

  • 1 sweater

  • 2 hoodies

  • 1 cardigan

  • 1 tank

  • 2 pairs of leggings

  • 1 lighter long sleeve shirt

  • laptop/phone/respective chargers

  • 2 notebooks

  • 2 beanies

  • 1 pair of jeans

  • hair straightener

  • 1 bathing suit (outdoor hot tub in my hostel!)

  • 1 sports bra

  • socks/undies (not pictured)

  • 1 towel

  • 1 pair of flip flops

  • 1 pair of sneakers

  • shower stuff & makeup

  • 1 book

  • 1 light coat & 1 puffer vest

  • 1 lock

  • hair dryer

I’m sure I’m probably forgetting some stuff but, you get the picture.


Travel Tip:

If you’re going somewhere for an extended period of time, check to see if your hostel/hotel/Airbnb has laundry facilities, or even if it’s near a local laundromat. The cost of doing even just one load of laundry while you’re there might just save you some trouble when packing for your trip. I did one load of laundry at my hostel in Denver, which is how I got away with packing so little for almost a week-long trip. 😉

It’s also important, I think, to note that if you’re trying to pack light, you’re probably going to have to be comfortable in simple outfits like hoodies and jeans that mix and match easily. I only brought one pair of jeans for the trip since I knew I would be doing a load of laundry while I was there, and I wore them on the plane to save even more room in my bag.


Packing Cubes: Worth It or Nah?

Before this trip, I was actually pretty indifferent towards packing cubes, and still sort of am, to a point. I didn’t really see the point, honestly, but I did end up buying these ones with an Amazon gift card I got for Christmas because, why not? They were only $20, even if I did end up hating them.

Except, I love them.

The one thing that’s really nice about these packing “cubes” (they’re not really cubes) in particular is the fact that they help to compress your clothes down as tight as possible, getting rid of any dead space between them so you end up with more room in your bag for other/more stuff.

I was originally a fan of the rolling technique when packing, which definitely helps eliminate some space, but I really couldn’t believe how much I could fit into these compressed AF bad boys.

You can see in the below pictures - three packing cubes (of all different sizes) hold all of my clothes except for two hoodies, one towel, and my shoes, and fit perfectly into one side of my suitcase. There’s pretty much no way I would have been able to strategically roll and position ALL of those clothes into one side without them. For reference, my suitcase is approximately 27" H x 17" W- they don’t make the one that I have anymore (how rude), but I recommend this similar one if you’re in the market for a carry-on sized suitcase.

How to Pack Lighter | Minimalist Packing for Solo Travel
How to Pack Lighter | Minimalist Packing for Solo Travel
How to Pack Lighter | Minimalist Packing for Solo Travel

The Results:

Some final thoughts I’ve taken away from this personal challenge:

  • I need to figure out a way to just roll with the natural hair look. I ended up having to leave out the brown sneakers in the above pictures to make room for my hair dryer and straightener. Meh.

  • That being said, everything else fit into my luggage and backpack just perfectly.

  • I literally forget my toothbrush on every trip I take, ever. Shout out to all of the local corner stores I’ve hit up to buy dollar toothbrushes. You the real MVPs.

  • The whole compression magic thing will make your luggage smaller, NOT lighter. Deceptive. And heavy. Still worth it though.

  • Sort of wish I also found a way to bring cute going out shoes. Catch me out here at a bar in Fort Collins wearing ratty ass hiking boots. At least it’s pretty on brand for me.


Have you tried packing cubes, or would you try them?

Thoughts on how I can make my natural hair look more presentable?

Are you judging me for forgetting a toothbrush?

Comment Belooooow!

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