How to Pack Light for Months in a Carry-on Bag

packing for months abroad

Before leaving for China this summer, I knew two things:

1. I didn’t want to bring a lot of stuff with me. (Implication being: I wanted to bring stuff back. Oh, the shopping!)

2. I didn’t want to get completely bored with my clothes. (I’m kind of girly–what can I say? I didn’t want to feel like I was wearing the same thing every day.)

So, I set out to create a capsule wardrobe: a packing list of clothes that would all mix and match to create a range of different-looking outfits.

Here is the result. Twelve pieces became forty outfits.

My packing list:

  • 2x shorts (one denim pair; one lightweight, fast-drying gray pair from Columbia)
  • 2x dresses (one black and white striped maxi; one black sleeveless knee-length)
  • 1 skirt (long, black)
  • 2x tank tops (one black, one striped)
  • 4x shirts (two graphic tees, both light-colored; one lightweight pink long-sleeve cotton top; one cotton blue button-down shirt that could be used over other tops)
  • 1 cardigan (black, lightweight)


  • 2x scarves (one polka dotted; one patterned)
  • 2x belts (one brown; one pink and gray)
  • Jewelry (minimal: pieces that matched everything)


  • 2x pair of flats (one brown; one black)
  • 1x pair walking shoes (Rocket Dog brand)
  • 1x pair flip flops

Note: I was traveling during summer, and every place (except for one very brief stay) was hot, so I did not bring any long pants. To make this wardrobe work for more varied climates, you could easily swap out the shorts for convertible pants with zip-off legs that become shorts.


For more:

What I packed in my two travel bags for China

Which packing method really packs the most clothes?

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