Travel Packing for Women: 10 Expert Tips to Pack Light

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I used to be the world’s worst packer.  I would have the heaviest bag, yet never have everything I needed.  My gigantic suitcase permanently sported the “HEAVY BAG” tag, but I always seemed to be lacking some key piece that I needed for my trip.  Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things in my many years of overpacking…and wanted to write this post to share my best packing tips for women.  I only wish I had known these tips all along!  It would have saved me quite a few backaches, heavy bag fees, and emergency shopping trips.

packing list for carry on bag

My Best Packing Tips for Women

So for all of you habitual over-packers, people with packing anxiety,  or just people who love lists of packing tips (like me) – here’s a few of my best packing tips for women.

I’m listing the ones that you might not hear all the time – so I hope there’s something new here for everyone!

1. Pack reversible clothing

There’s no easier way to create more outfits with fewer pieces than by packing reversible clothes.

If you need some ideas, check out the first post I wrote on reversible clothes for travel, as well as my post on reversible dresses for travel.

When I researched all of these posts, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many stylish options out there.

2. Pack an extra black t-shirt, no matter where you’re going

I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me.  I have a plain black fitted t-shirt that I bought from Gap years and YEARS ago – it was on sale for $5.  I bring it with me on EVERY trip.

It’s my plan B if I need an extra top – whether it’s because I spilled on what I originally planned to wear, my trip was unexpectedly extended, or I just need a fresh, clean layer.  It can be dressed up or down and literally goes with everything.

Here are a few great options for well-made, versatile black t-shirts that are perfect for traveling.

Another great option is this t-shirt which is a bargain.  Sweet.

For more options on clothes that are perfect for travel, this travel capsule wardrobe has the only 15 pieces of clothing you need for your next trip.

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3. Wear your biggest shoes and heaviest layers on the plane

Sometimes I think this goes without saying, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen friends try to shove boots in their suitcases while wearing sandals on the plane.  Keep your biggest stuff out of your bag, and you’ll have room for that much more. For more help, check out how to pack a suitcase to maximize space.

Oh, and I swear you can pack for any trip with just two pairs of shoes.  So that will help, too.

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

4. Leave your hair dryer at home

Ah, the old hair dryer dilemma.  To pack, or not to pack?

I used to never leave home without mine – and now it never, ever comes with me.  But hotel hair dryers are the worst.  So whaddya do?  I have a few strategies that I use to avoid hotel hair dryers whenever possible.

For more travel hair tips, check out my favorite travel size hair products.

5. Dresses are your best friend

Dresses are an amazing way to carve more space out of your suitcase.  One piece = an entire outfit.  Sheath dresses are my go-tos for work travel, followed by dresses with sleeves – and maxi dresses are my staple for vacations and personal travel.

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6. Keep your phone charger IN your handbag

I am all for keeping one’s handbag as light as possible – but always, ALWAYS put your phone charger in your handbag, so that it can stay close to you at all times.

You never know when you might be separated from your carry on bag, and if you’re like me and use your phone the entire flight – you don’t want to arrive at your destination with no juice.

7. Never put any of these in your checked luggage…

Never put prescription medicine, travel documents, or valuable jewelry in your checked luggage.  Keep them with you at all times!

Leaving any of these items in a checked bag can be a recipe for disaster!  I usually avoid this possibility entirely by traveling only with a carry on bag, but even then, there are times when carry-on bags are gate-checked – meaning you can’t keep tabs on it.  So do yourself a favor and keep this stuff in a bag that will be WITH YOU – like under the seat in front of you.

For more help deciding what to pack where, check out this post on what to put in carry on vs checked bags.

8. Fit your toiletries into a one-quart bag.  Here’s how.

OK – if I can do it – I swear you can, too.

I’m not super high maintenance but I do have a lot of stuff.  Hair products, skin care, makeup, etc, etc. – it’s not easy to fit the entire lineup in a one-quart bag.  I’ve learned how, though, with a strategy that I wrote about in this post on packing beauty products for travel.

My secret weapon is these containers.  Why?  They’re SMALL – so you can fit a bunch of them in your one-quart bag.  They have white lids, so you can label them.  And most importantly – they don’t leak.  You can get a pack of six on Amazon for less than eight bucks – I haven’t seen them cheaper anywhere else.

I also wrote a few more posts on this topic which might help, including where to find travel-size beauty products.

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9. Invest in a convertible suitcase

For maximum versatility, invest in a suitcase that is a carry on size, but can expand to be a checked size.  Check out one option here – this is similar to the bag that I have.  You’ll always have a backup plan if you end up doing some shopping!

For more of my favorite travel products, make sure to check out my shop!

10. Always keep a protein bar in your handbag.

Everyone’s happier when they don’t starve.

I’ve had flights that have run out of food, have only served disgusting food, or didn’t have any food at all.  And then there’s the times when I’ve been stuck in an airport, late at night, when all of the restaurants have long since closed.  HANGRY.

Having a protein bar tucked in my handbag has saved me numerous times.  And if I don’t end up eating it on the flight, it makes for a great quick breakfast the next morning.

I usually bring one or two of these bars, since they’re relatively healthy and pretty filling.

There you have it – my best travel packing tips for women!  

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  1. After years of being an anxiety packer, taking far too much and never having the right thing I was determined this time to ‘do it right’! I have always envied those women who have and can pack a capsule wardrobe….I came across your blog and OMG think I’ve finally cracked it with your brilliant advice! Thank you

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words and for stopping by my blog! Anxiety packing….I know the feeling! I’m glad everything has been helpful and stay tuned for lots more to come 🙂
      Wishing you many happy (carry on) adventures ahead!

  2. Do you have a solution for traveling with medication? I have several meds that I take and it seems as if I spend the most time trying to figure it out. The official word is to carry everything in original containers – well after 6 or 7 of those, half of one side of my carry-on is full.

    1. Hi Jane,

      Thank you for asking – this is a great question. The answer varies quite a bit depending on where you’re going and the nature of your medications, but here’s my general advice:

      1) If you’re traveling within the US, the TSA does not require your pill or tablet prescription medications to be stored in their original bottles. (Laws can vary by state-to-state for certain drugs, but 99.9% of the time, this is unlikely to be an issue). It’s still a good idea to keep them in their original containers, but it’s not required, especially if you’re short on space and have a lot of medications. Personally, I don’t pack mine in their original containers. So the good news is that you can consolidate your meds into a smaller pill case if you’re traveling within the US. Consider that carry on space saved! I do recommend packing them in a simple pill organizer just to make sure you take your medication as scheduled. It’s much easier to miss a dose when you’re out of your regular routine. If your medications are liquids or injectables, keep them in their original labeled containers.

      2) If you’re traveling internationally, keep your medications in their original labeled bottles. Again, 99% of the time it is not likely to be an issue if you don’t, so it’s a judgment call based on where you’re going and what the medications are. To save space, you could also ask your doctor to write you a prescription for a shorter period of time (i.e. 10 days) so that the bottles you carry are smaller. Those 90 day pill supply bottles can be huge! In addition, check with the destination country’s embassy regarding any restrictions on medications. They are uncommon but they do exist.

      3) No matter where you’re going, but especially if you’re traveling abroad, keep a copy of your prescriptions with you, and keep a PDF copy in an electronic repository such as Dropbox or Google Drive. If you ever need to show your prescriptions, or get an emergency refill, you’ll have what you need.

      Finally, if you’re traveling abroad, make an appointment with your doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip to get any necessary refills, and get any destination-specific vaccines or medications (check on the World Health Organization website to see what’s required). If you have any concerns about your specific medications in your travel destination, it’s also a good time to ask for a letter from your doctor on their letterhead detailing the nature of your prescriptions. Keep this with you when you travel.

      I hope this helps and I wish you healthy travels!


  3. It seems like you have some good tips. Please give more information on the links to specific pieces of clothing in the article “MY BEST PACKING TIPS FOR WOMEN”. None of the links I tried actually went to the piece so not sure what you are recommending. Also, one shop you needed to add your email to look at the website.

    1. Hi Jodie,
      Thanks so much for reading, and also for letting me know your feedback on the post! I’ve updated several of the links that are intended to go directly to products. Some of the other links in the post go to other pages on my site that go into more detail on certain topics. I’ve added links to one of my most popular posts “How to Build a Travel Capsule Wardrobe” as well as my “Shop”; both of these have lots of suggestions for specific clothes and products that are great for travel. I hope this is helpful and I wish you very happy travels!

  4. Jessica, I’ve had so much fun finding your blog and reading through your posts! I adore your genuine personality (and all of the awesome travel/packing tips)! Thanks for sharing 🙂