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How to Pack for the Holidays in Just One Carry-On


Shop my travel outfit: blanket scarf/wrapturtleneck, leggings, booties, tote, carry-on


Do you always pack WAY too much stuff when you go home for the holidays? (Or for any trip for that matter?)

For whatever reason, it seems we always put holiday packing off until the very last minute, where we’re forced to run around like a tornado throwing anything and everything we might need in a giant suitcase, schlepping it to the airport (or into the car) and hauling pounds and pounds of stuff we don’t actually need home for a week or more.

This used to be me, until I got so fed up with paying for baggage fees and wasting hours waiting for baggage claim that I couldn’t take it anymore, and figured out a better solution. Yes, it does take a TINY bit more planning to fit everything in one carry-on (barely!) but when you crack the packing code, you can put together a mini travel wardrobe that results dozens of different outfit combinations. (And yes, contrary to what you’ve convinced yourself is possible–you really CAN pack for the holidays in just a carry-on.)

Here’s your packing list.


1 Carry-On Suitcase

First thing’s first, you can’t pack effectively in one carry-on if you don’t have a great carry-on to begin with! I own this 21″ Delsey Chatalet roller suitcase and I never imagined that one could be so obsessed with a suitcase. It fits SO MUCH stuff in it, has multiple compartments for easy packing, a combination lock for security and locking wheels, so it doesn’t go rolling down the terminal. I packed for 8 nights in Paris in this no problem, and could’ve actually fit more in it, had I wanted to!

1 Festive Button-Down

A button-down is one of the most versatile items you can pack in your carry-on. Choose one in a festive color and you can make it work for just about any kind of holiday occasion. It’s easy to dress up or dress down!

1 Polished Blouse

I love a good blouse. You can pair it with just about anything for any occasion–from Christmas shopping to coffee with Grandma, to a dressed up Christmas Eve. Choose one that ties in a bow for the perfect feminine touch!

1 Turtleneck Tee

I wear my turtleneck tees MULTIPLE times per week. They’re the perfect under layer–if it’s freezing, you can wear one under your crewneck sweater, cardigan, or even your button down. Or, if it’s a normal temperature (AKA you DON’T live in Chicago) it looks just as cute by itself, with a cute scarf or necklace!

1 Pair Dark Skinny Jeans

Dark skinny jeans are the most versatile pair you can bring with you. Why? Because they’re skinny enough to fit into any type of boots you happen to pack in your suitcase and they’re nice enough to wear with heels to dinner or a party. High-waisted jeans are definitely the most flattering rise, and they make you look like you have legs for days, but any rise of dark jeans will work great!

1 Pair Ponte Pants

Ponte Pants are essentially thick, quality leggings that look much more chic and polished than regular leggings! Actually, you can even make them look more fancy than jeans! (MAGIC!) Prefer leather leggings? Those work here too 😉

1 Pair Skinny Cords

My favorite new thing! I just ordered these skinny cords in “deep green” and they are amazing! So comfortable and they have stretch in them, so they’re actually flattering (compared to other cords I’ve tried on that have been miserable fails). I also love these in this pretty wine hue, too. They are such a nice alternative to jeans and are a fun way to mix up any outfit!

1 Pair All Weather Boots

If you’re traveling somewhere where snow is involved, all-weather boots are pretty much a mandatory. Last year when I went home to Oregon for Christmas, I brought my heavy duty Sorels with me, but they aren’t exactly the most versatile pair of shoes, you know?

I soon realized, as long as I won’t be trekking through feet of snow for hours, I much prefer this pair. They’ve got a rubber bottom and leather upper–the riding/rain/snow boot combination makes them so much more wearable. I even wore them to the theatre last week and didn’t feel underdressed!

1 Pair OTK boots

Another item that is super easy to dress up or dress down. (I own this pair and I’ve been wearing them at least 5 days out of the week.) I prefer flat OTK boots because they’re comfortable and you can wear them all-day Christmas shopping, and easily transition them to dinner or out for drinks!

1 Pair of Heels

Honestly, I’ve never needed heels when I’ve gone home for the holidays. But if you MUST bring one pair, I’d suggest a pair of gold pumps–because everything matches gold!

1 Puffer Coat

Well, this is kind of a given. It’s freezing out. Chances are, you don’t really need a bunch of different coats–you’re only going to need one–and it’s the warmest one in your closet. (I mean, you aren’t going to a bunch of fancy dinners, are you?) After YEARS of suffering through blistering cold Chicago winters, I’m so excited that I finally got a Canada Goose puffer. (Blog post coming soon!)

1 Set of Pajamas

I spent a large part of my adult life sleeping in old sorority t-shirts, but when I finally purchased real pajamas, I knew I could never go back. When I travel, I like to bring one pair of nice pajamas. This comes in handy especially if you’re staying at someone’s house (your parents, your sister’s, grandparents–whatever) because you can walk downstairs in them in the morning and not feel like a complete schlep. Plus, they’re sooo comfortable!

1 Crewneck Sweater

Why a crewneck sweater? Because unlike the turtleneck sweater, you can layer a lot of things underneath a crewneck! Remember that button down? That turtleneck tee? Those look so cute (and warm–warm is important) underneath, and provide an endless amount of outfit combinations!

1 Skirt

Throwing a skirt into the mix really diversifies your travel wardrobe, because it makes each of your tops that much dressier! I really love faux leather skirts, but a regular mini would work great too! Sticking with classic black will allow you to pair it with anything, but a plaid mini would be even more festive!

1 Versatile Dress

Are you sick of hearing the word “versatile?” (SORRYYYY.) Dresses are ALWAYS a good idea. If you pick your dress right, you can easily getting away with packing only one. Not too long, not too short–a dark color that can be casual or dressy depending on what you wear it with–yep, this one’s just about perfect.

1 Small Purse

Who wants to pack multiple purses? I know I personally don’t. Too much to deal with–pick one small to medium-sized purse in either black or tan, and you’re set. (You aren’t going to a fancy gala, are you? You don’t need more than one purse!)

1 Tote Bag

I never travel without my classic leather tote bag. I love this one in particular because it’s super roomy–it fits my laptop, notebook, all my essentials, AND my purse. (You know, those maximum number of carry-on restrictions. UGH.)

Would you ever try to attempt packing for the holidays in a carry-on? Do you think it can be done? What are your travel tips?