On my recent trip to Ireland, I wanted to pack only a carry-on bag so that I could bypass the hassle of checking a bag (even though I ended up having to check it on the way home to bring back some whiskey!). Plus, I knew that I would likely be dressing casually the entire trip and could wear a few pieces multiple times. Also, if you’ve seen my three-part series about the trip, you know that I am wearing basically the same thing in every photo: jeans and a black rain jacket.
Because packing can often be an extremely daunting task, especially if you’re about to embark on an international trip, I thought I’d share some things I do to keep my packing as light as possible. I’ll also share with you what I packed that I ended up not needing at all.
First, here is my full packing list. The items in red are ones that I ended up not using or didn’t use enough to want to pack them again.
- North Face rain jacket — This was essential to the climate of Ireland. It rained at some point every single day.
- North Face fleece jacket — I brought this along as a warmer layer than the rain jacket, and it definitely came in handy. When we were at the Cliffs of Moher or anytime we were near water, this was the perfect layering piece. I would actually put this on and zip it up under my rain jacket. I really didn’t want to pack a heavy coat, so this helped me stay warm without having a giant piece of clothing to worry about.
- Madewell jeans — I wore these alone and with leggings under them when it was colder.
- 2 pair of black leggings — I have a thicker pair that are more appropriate for “leggings as pants,” and then a thinner pair that I could layer under my jeans.
- JCrew cashmere sweater — I wore this once, but decided later that the flannels were warmer for extra layers and the sweater just got shoved the side.
- 3 tank tops — I wore these under everything and just rotated them for each day.
- 3 cotton t-shirts — These were a good second layer for under my flannels or sweater.
- 2 long-sleeved tees — I wore these the most as second layers, so next time I would pack more long-sleeved tees instead of short-sleeved.
- 2 Madewell flannel shirts — I wore one of these every single day. They are comfortable and warm and were easily stripped off if needed.
- JCrew chambray shirt — Again, I only wore this once, and always wore the flannels instead.
- Anthropologie swim suit — I only needed this for the last hotel we were in, but I’m glad I packed it so I could enjoy the hot tub after freezing in the rainy weather.
- Everlane pajama shirt — This is my favorite thing in the world, and it was easy to roll it up in the bag without taking up too much room.
- Underwear/bras/socks — Obviously.
- JCrew rain boots — I knew the weather would be fickle, so I packed these for rainy walks and such. They are relatively comfortable and kept my feet dry and warm.
- New Balance sneakers — I wore these a lot, too, and were a good alternative when I needed a break from the boots.
- Gloves — I only wore these twice, but I was very happy I had them when I did use them.
- Hat — I packed a toboggan but ended up not wearing it at all.
- Ear-warmer headband — I wore this instead of the hat, and still only wore it once.
- Scarf — I packed my crocheted alpaca scarf because it is the warmest one I own. It’s heavy, but I’m glad I packed it, because it kept me cozy and matched everything.
- Waverly crossbody bag — A crossbody bag is a must when you’re traveling, people. The strap on mine actually broke in New York, but it has another hook, so I just adjusted the clasp and it was fine.
- Jewelry — I wore the same simple items each day, and really could have packed less than I did.
- Umbrella — We all just wore our rain jackets and never bothered with the umbrella.
- Daytripper bag — This was my other carry-on item. I actually packed my purse inside of it and carried other essentials with me in this bag on the plane.
- Extra Contacts — Just in case.
- Contact solution — Obviously
- Glasses — I am blind.
- Toothbrush/toothpaste — Obviously
- Makeup — I wore very minimal makeup when we were in Ireland, because that’s how I roll these days. Plus, no one really wears a lot of makeup there, so it doesn’t matter.
- Skincare — I have to pack my skincare stuff with me, no matter where I go. So I used travel toiletry containers and sample-sized items for my carry-on.
- Hair products — I packed dry shampoo and a leave-in conditioner that Kyle and I both use, and that’s it.
- Curling iron — Never once curled my hair. Definitely could have left this at home.
- Hairbrush — Honestly, I probably could have left this at home. I was a hippie this whole trip.
- Passport — Can’t leave home without it.
- Outlet adapter — If you are going to a different country, you need one of these. It worked for my phone charger, but not for anything else really. So keep that in mind
- Water bottle — I think Kyle got sick of carrying this around in his backpack, but it did come in handy several times.
- Instax camera + film — I used this several times, and I love Instax photos, even if it’s sort of a hassle to pack around the bulky camera.
- Earbuds — For in-flight movies!
- Eye mask — For in-flight naps!
- Phone chargers — I purchased a power bank from Amazon before we left, and it was a life-saver. Best purchase ever. We all literally used it every day.
- Book/notebooks/pens — I never read one page of anything except pamphlets and stuff we picked up along the way. We watched movies on the plane, and I did a little writing, but not any reading.)
- Digital camera + charger — Kyle took a few photos with our digital camera, but we pretty much exclusively used our phones, which is sort of sad, but it’s just more convenient.
As you can see, I pretty much used or needed everything I packed. Yay! I truly wore some combination of the same 10-ish items the entire trip, and it never really mattered that I was wearing the same outfit. But what you really need to know about packing is what to pack with — packing cubes to the rescue.
I ordered Kyle a set of packing cubes for Christmas because our gift to each other was really the trip. Later, I ordered myself a set, and they are truly a game-changer. Our sets included four different sizes of packing cubes, so that helps keep everything organized.
I used the largest one for pants and thicker layers like the sweater and fleece North Face jacket. I put the flannels and t-shirts in the medium one, and then used the two smaller ones for underwear, socks, and the like. These help keep all of your clothes together without having to dig around in your bag for something specific. When you are moving from place to place on a trip, rather than staying in one hotel or location, this is super helpful.
These packing cubes also keep your clothes from getting more wrinkled. I know my clothes look really packed into those cubes, and they are, but if you roll your clothes (I know this feels so wrong, but trust me), it actually prevents them from looking worse. When you roll your clothes, they aren’t all being stacked on top of each other, which is what causes the wrinkles anyway. If you make sure to pack items that travel well, this will also help!
Also, you should pack something to put your dirty items in, so they aren’t mixed together with your clean items. Because that is really gross, guys. I bought these mesh bags to separate the dirty from the clean, and then when we arrived home, I just dumped all the dirty stuff in the hamper. Super easy and less disgusting than your dirty socks and underwear floating around with your clean ones.
I had originally planned to use my awesome Getaway bag for my carryon, but at the last minute, I changed my mind and decided to use my smallest suitcase, because I really needed the wheels. When you’re racing through the airport, you really need those wheels, man. I’m glad I did this. Kyle used a duffle bag, which was fine, but I still think he would have loved some wheels by the end of the trip when he was just sick of carrying the damn thing.
I also packed my Daytripper bag (a smaller version of the Getway bag), which I used for the things that wouldn’t fit into the carry-on bag, plus my essentials during travel — my wallet and passport, my toiletries, a scarf, my notebook, glasses and contact solution, and my camera. Also, just a side note, I am SO glad I didn’t bring my laptop. I had originally planned to bring it, but now I have no idea why. I wouldn’t have used it and I would have just been dangerously carrying it around everywhere. So unless you REALLY need a laptop on a trip like this, just leave it at home.
When packing light, it really depends on the trip itself to what you bring, obviously. When Kyle and I went to Jamaica for our honeymoon, I only packed a carry-on then, too, but of course, the clothing item I packed for that trip were not the bulky flannels and layers I needed for Ireland. You can definitely fit more bikinis in a carry-on than you can sweaters.
I think the most important thing to remember when packing for a trip is this: you are going for the experiences. Don’t fret too much about what you’re going to wear, because you should focus on what you’re going to do when you get there! Of course, you want to be comfortable and dressed appropriately for whatever adventures you find, but at the end of the day, it’s not about your outfit, it’s about what you get to see and smell and hear and taste and hear and feel.