When I tell people I can pack for a 90-day trip in a single carry-on, it always turns heads. After a lot of trial and error — including a trip last summer when I finally learned the wise saying, “less is more” — I’ve finally done it.
I packed exactly what I needed (and nothing that I didn’t) for roaming around France, Italy, and Croatia for three months. It wasn’t easy as a former overpacker (on my last trip, I packed way too many vibrant dresses and didn’t end up wearing half of them), but this summer I got it down to a science. With a slew of mix-and-match linen sets, comfortable but stylish sneakers to wear with everything, and a few handy hacks, this summer’s 90-day adventure is perfectly packed in a carry-on — with a little wiggle room to boot.
My fellow travelers, it is possible to pack for three months if you pack light and have the right gear — starting with my trusty Samsonite carry-on that has sneaky amounts of storage to the strategic clothing choices I know I can wear with anything. And, I’m willing to divulge my secrets, all in the name of avoiding checked luggage fees. Here are the 13 things that helped me fit three months’ worth of travel gear in one carry-on.
Carry-on Luggage With Sneaky Compartments
If you have any chance of fitting three months of clothing into one carry-on, you need to pick the right one. I’ve tried many of the newer, more trendy suitcases, but nothing compares to my old, reliable flame: Samsonite. Their Elevation Plus Carry-On Spinner Suitcase is well-equipped with sneaky compartments and built-in compression so you might not even really need packing cubes. At $219 you also can’t beat the price, especially since there are built-in interior pockets and a packing compression system. And bonus: there’s also a “QuickEntry” pocket on the outside that pops open for laptop or iPad storage — so you can really pack it all in one space. My favorite, though, is the removable pouch that perfectly organizes chords.
To buy: samsonite.com, $220
Compression Packing Cubes
Okay, just because you don’t need packing cubes with my Samsonite carry-on doesn’t mean they don’t save a ton of room. It’s a tried-and-true packing hack that maximizes storage space (even Rick Steves himself told Travel + Leisure readers to use this packing hack). These genius Bagail compression packing cubes not only organize your belongings, but they also flatten them down to free up space. One fellow T+L writer swears by them for fitting two weeks’ worth of clothing in her suitcase. Just wait until she sees how much I can pack.
To buy: amazon.com, $25 (originally $30)
A Weekender That Fits Under the Airplane Seat
A sizeable weekender that you can fit under the airplane seat as your personal item is worth its weight in gold — and you still don’t have to check luggage. Samsonite’s Mobile Solution Classic Duffel is my current go-to as it has interior and exterior pockets to store things like journals, pens, my passport, and weekend essentials. During a 90-day stay in Europe, I can leave the big carry-on at my home base and use the weekender for day trips. I can also tuck my purse into it so it’s my only personal item, and slip it over the handles of my rolling carry-on. My one tip is not to stuff it to the brim before you take off — leave at least half of it vacant for shopping and picking up wine or whatever else you accrue on the trip.
Beauty products take up a lot of space, especially if you’re trying to fit multiple sizes of oddly shaped bottles into one toiletry bag. But thanks to Cadence capsules, I get organized with a set of six containers that hold all of my liquids and fit together seamlessly — the ultimate space-saving hack. They’re customizable, leakproof, and magnetic, holding everything in place instead of total chaos closing all over your weekender. If you’re unorganized like me, these capsules will make you feel like you’ve got it all together and they’re easy to pack and unpack if you move around a lot like I do.
I fill them full of vitamins, skincare, haircare, and lotion — some favorites include Youth to the People’s Kale and Green Tea Facial Cleanser (like green juice for your face), Sephora’s Brightening Dual Facial Enzyme Exfoliator (it’s so affordable at $14), and Oribe’s Bright Blonde shampoo to keep my locks vibrant while away from my colorist. These little things are an absolute game-changer.
To buy: keepyourcadence.com, $76 for 6-set (originally $84)
Comfy Sneakers That Go With Everything
If you want to pack for 90 days in one suitcase, I have news for you. You should only bring two pairs of shoes (that’s right!) — one pair of sandals that can dress up a look but still comfy enough to walk around in, like my Birkenstocks, and a pair of classic white sneakers. And you should wear your heavier pair on travel days so they don’t take up space in your suitcase.
I never leave home without my Gucci Ace Bee Embroidered Sneakers, which are now rugged from lots of mileage and fond memories. I love that they make for a stylish, polished pair of kicks that go with any outfit and any occasion that I can wear with blazers, dresses, casual outfits, and beyond.Adidas’ Stan Smith sneakers are a fraction of the price of my beloved Gucci sneakers at $100 but offer a similar vibe and are still super comfortable.
To buy: zappos.com, $100
The Perfect Black Dress
The number one secret in my arsenal for packing light? A black dress. It goes with everything, and I mean everything. It can be paired with white sneakers and a jean jacket for walking tours around a new city and it’s equally easy to jazz up with heels and jewelry for a fancy Michelin dinner or a winery. Or, you can simply wear it to a beach bar with Birkenstocks — the possibilities are endless.
So naturally, the first thing I packed for my 90-day Europe trip was this Quince black linen smocked midi dress in black. It’s smocked so it cinches the waistline for a super flattering fit and it’s linen, so it’s breathable for the summer heat. I’ll probably wear this all summer long if I’m being honest. And between you and me, you can find a wear-with-anything black dress for even less at Amazon, like this adorable sleeveless smocked tiered midi dress for just $40.
To buy: amazon.com, $40 (originally $50)
A Mix-and-match Linen Set
While I’m quick to say I rewear everything for long trips — I mean, you have to in this scenario — there are ways to avoid wearing the same outfit over and over again. The best way to switch up your outfits without taking up more precious carry-on space is to pack a few solid mix-and-match sets in neutral tones for endless variety.
Because Europe is sweltering in summer, I go for linen two-piece sets (all hail linen for allowing heat to escape the body), and for that, Quince is my go-to. A nice lookalike for less is Amazon’s best-selling two-piece linen blend set. Pair the top with other bottoms you’ve packed, including one showstopper skirt (like one from Mara Hoffman, which also can be worn as a dress with the right belt).
To buy: amazon.com, $37
Versatile Birkenstock Sandals
Just like you need a comfortable pair of sneakers, a pair of walking sandals that can go with anything is a necessity for a 90-day trip — and it deserves a spot as one of two pairs of shoes you’ll pack. I always toss a pair of black rubber Birkenstocks in my bag as they’re good for polishing up an evening look and also essential for beach days since they’re waterproof.
To buy: zappos.com, $50
Spoiler alert, these reusable silicone storage bags aren’t just for food. I am obsessed with these bags for long trips since they have endless uses, especially for storing liquids and toiletry items (and they take up less space than your average toiletry bag). Even if you don’t fill it right away, pack it anyway — during your travels you’ll find a use for it, whether it’s a waterproof beach bag for keys and sunscreen; to stash cheese in from a fromagerie so it doesn’t melt on your belongings en route to the Seine River; for razors and tweezers to stay contained; and even a smaller one for jewelry. I also like to put loose Euros, metro cards, and receipts in the tiniest bag and pop it into my purse so I can easily access it when I need to.
To buy: amazon.com, $24 (originally $30)
A Functional Crossbody
Traveling for 90 days with one carry-on? You get space for only one purse, and you’d better make it functional and versatile enough for all your needs. My Gucci GG Marmont Mini Bucket Bag is my travel go-to as it has a card holder built in and has just enough space for a passport, phone, and my NARS lipstick to fit inside (and even a small Stasher bag with Euro coins) — and the gold chain makes it a little more dressy for fancier evenings out. Anything else? Don’t need it. And it makes for the perfect crossbody bag. If the price isn’t right, check out Travelon anti-theft crossbody, which has a space for everything you need but nothing more, plus anti-theft zip closure that will keep the pickpocketers away.
To buy: amazon.com, $38 (originally $75)
A Lightweight Rain Jacket
Over the course of three months of traveling, you can bet that it’s going to rain at least once. And that’s why a rain jacket deserves a spot in your suitcase — but, with the right model that’s lightweight and packable, it won’t take up too much real estate. I have an older version of this Arc’teryx Atom Lightweight hoodie that ultimately outlasted my marriage and then some. I originally purchased it around 2011, and it’s been around the block. It’s the best, most lightweight jacket that rolls up so tiny into the corner of my carry-on. The waterproof shell is perfect for those unexpected summer rainstorms. I’ve used it for everything from keeping me warm on a cooler night to hiking in elevation to actually sitting down by a river (or even on the beach) and using it as my protective seat.
To buy: rei.com, $230
Just because you’re packing for 90 days doesn’t mean you have room for 90 outfits — you’re going to have to wash some clothes along the way. During summer in Europe, washing linen pieces and staples in the sink is not uncommon, and that’s why I never leave home without these. Unlike liquid pods, you’ll never have to worry about spillage and they take up virtually no room in a bag. Target’s Ever Spring has a new line of detergent strips, including free and clear, lavender and bergamot, and lemon and mint. Lemon and mint is my favorite, especially when air drying laundry like a European (no dryers) — it just smells so fresh and so clean!
To buy: target.com, $12 for 64 strips
A Travel Pillow With Extra Storage Space
Last but not least, I’ll leave you with this life-changing packing hack a fellow T+L writer just divulged. Buy a travel pillow like the Dot&Dot Twist Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow with a removable foam insert, take that stuffing out, and replace with clothes. Voilà — you just scored three more days of packing space and got it through TSA without having to pay for a checked bag.
To buy: amazon.com, $25 (originally $32)
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13 Genius Travel Accessories That Helped Me Pack for 3 Months in a Single Carry-on