Woman with Suitcase in Window

9 Simple Tips to Pack Your Life Into Just One Suitcase

One suitcase. The thought alone gives me anxiety.

Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.

As a girl in my mid-twenties, packing all of my clothing and shoes into just one bag seems nearly impossible. Counting each one of my eyelashes would be easier and frankly more fun. When I go on a two-day getaway an hour from my house, I usually leave the door with three suitcases in hand.

Here’s the scenario: two days… that gives me four outfits. For those perfectly picked out outfits, I need shoes. And purses. Cardigans too. But what if a sudden climate change makes it impossible for me to wear outfit #1? Or I accidentally spill red wine on outfit #2? What if my friend arrives wearing a similar outfit to #3? I then bring an extra four alternate outfits. And shoes and purses to match. It’s just good sense.

Then toiletries. What about makeup? Hair dryer? Towels! Did I bring socks? Underwear? Books to read? Okay, I need my lavender eye mask. And viola, this is how I get from one small carry-on to three oversized suitcases. Instead of calling myself “high maintenance”, I prefer “well-prepared”.

Woman with Suitcase in Window
© Donnie Nunley

This time, however, packing is different. I am about to embark on a six-month journey across the world, and I’ll be traveling through several different climate zones. Since bringing twenty-six bags is not exactly practical, the goal was to pack everything into one measly suitcase without being a disheveled mess and still prepared for any occasion.

Over this tedious and time-consuming process, here are nine tips that I came across that work even for a neurotic, over-packer like me.

#1: Pack Your Necessities First

Let me be clear: this means only the things you absolutely cannot live without. For example: your travel documents, money, medicine, a cell phone, camera, computer, foreign power adapters, underwear and socks. (*Please note: Your velvet jumpsuit is not part of this category.)

#2: Back to Basics

A basic T-shirt and pair of classic jeans can go a long way. You can dress them up or dress them down. Basic flats, boots and heels are a better way to go than your outlandish blue pumps or those leopard print booties that you will realistically only wear once. Be sure to pack your neutrals across all wardrobe categories.

#3: Think Practical

You can thank me later when you’re able to spend money on a cocktail instead of laundry.

It’s tempting to bring that silk shirt and white blazer but do you really want to do your dry cleaning in a foreign land? Bring clothes that you can wash easily and don’t require an iron. You can thank me later when you are able to spend your time and money on a cocktail instead of laundry.

(** By this point you should have already nixed at least 30 percent of your wardrobe. You are welcome. **)

Cat standing next to antique suitcase
No, you shouldn’t pack your cat © Robert Couse-Baker

#4: Don’t Bring Anything You Love Too Much

This is a hard-earned lesson I got from a trip to Ukraine. Back when I was six, I packed my favorite toy in my luggage and due to a Baggage Claim mishap … My Little Pony became some thief’s Little Pony. Never again will I pack my best friend in a suitcase.

#5: Plan for (All Types of) Weather

This is a seemingly obvious one but you won’t believe how many times my travel buddies and I have failed to bring a jacket on an unpredictably rainy adventure and got stuck spending twenty bucks on trash bag ponchos. Please avoid this fashion disaster, for everyone’s sake.

#6: Accessories

Bring ’em on! They take up little room and spice up any outfit. You know that T-shirt you wore to bed last night? Pair it with some bling and you are ready to hit the clubs. It will be very Hipster Glam.

However, remember what you learned in #4. Don’t bring anything you are afraid of losing. No expensive heirlooms from grandma and perhaps you should switch out your wedding ring for a CZ cut.

#7: Toiletries

For basics like shampoo, body wash, lotion, toothpaste etc… consider buying them abroad. The travel size bottles at your local convenience store are usually a rip-off and you end up needing more than just the three pumps they contain anyway.

If you still feel inclined to bring them, just visualize the massacre in your bag if one of them explodes from the inevitable changes in air pressure.

Miniature woman traveler figure standing on paper map
Remember to pack small! © Kate Ter Haar

#8: Watch Your Weight

After you’ve managed to pack everything into just one suitcase (bravo by the way!) make sure your suitcase isn’t the size of Kim Kardashian’s booty. Weigh it before you pay it. Baggage fees are Satan’s gift to the world.

#9 … and Lastly (and Most Importantly)

Remember, you are traveling and seeing the world … who cares what you wear! Hell, you probably won’t even remember. Things are things, they’re replaceable. If you wake up tomorrow and have nothing but the clothes on your back, so be it. You’ll realize just how little you truly need when you are experiencing something new and beautiful.

Bon voyage!

  1. Funny and informative! Really enjoyed reding it.
    BTW, read your tumbler blog, pretty awsome. Looking forward to read more about your experiences in Africa.
    Stay safe.

  2. With three little kids I can’t really imagine packing my whole life in one suitcase, but this is still a very useful read and it gave me some ideas. One more tip from me, when you pack your make up, put a cotton pad on the compact powder and then close the lid, it will prevent breakage!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's Make Sure You're Human ... * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe to Our 'Under the Radar' Newsletter
If you love travel, you're gonna love this!