Hiking Boots to High Heels in 1 Carry-on: Here’s Your Packing List

That’s my suitcase. Those are my hiking boots. Inside are high heels.

Last November I traveled solo to England for 2 weeks and enjoyed a range of activities all out of a carry-on.

Managing all my clothes and gadgets in one carry-on is important to me when I travel solo. I don’t want to be weighed down by more luggage or held up at the airport for check in or out.

I did a Halloween punt on the Cam river in Cambridge, walked the Lake District, wandered fashionable Bath and went to a trade show and other meetings in London.

Some people wonder how it can be done with just one carry-on.  I have to admit that this was a greater challenge than most trips but I did manage. Here’s how.

Don’t pack the bulky things.
First, I wore the bulkiest items on the plane – makes sense. I never packed my hiking boots. For most moving around, I tied them onto my carry-on. However, this isn’t possible at the airport. There, I changed into my hiking boots and packed away the shoes. I wore my bulkiest pants, sweater (with t-shirt underneath) and waterproof rain coat. Once on board, I tucked the coat away with my carry-on in the overhead bins and took off my sweater and used it as a blanket.

I grant you, this was a logistical plan executed with military precision — I wouldn’t want to travel this tight all the time — but it did work.

Solo Travel Packing List – the essentials
First pack the basics. These go on every trip with me:

    • All paperwork, hotel confirmations, flight information, passport and travel insurance info.
    • Ipod and power connector
    • Book to read, notebook, pen
    • Computer and ac adaptor (computer and all of the above go in the outside pockets)
    • Phone and cable
    • Camera and cable
    • Vitamins, supplements, water bottle
    • Tiny first aid kit
    • Conditioner, hair product, face cream, makeup, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste

Solo Travel Packing List – clothes
Then pack your clothes. This is where there are variables and you must be strategic. It’s easier for men so I’m going to focus on women’s clothes.  To have clothes for a range of activities choose one color palette. Mine was black and gray with purple as an accent.

    1. Shoes – one pair street shoes one pair heels. (Remember, I’m wearing my hiking boots on the plane.)
    2. Pants – one pair dressy casual pants, one pair black dress pants. (I’m wearing jeans.)
    3. Tops – one blouse, one light sweater, one camisole (that works as an under layer for hiking and under a jacket for business), colorful t-shirt. (I’m wearing a casual sweater and t-shirt)
    4. One cardigan and one light jacket that dress up or down depending on jeans/pants and accessories – both work with the cami and t-shirts.
    5. Belts, jewelery, scarves – to dress up casual clothes
    6. Umbrella, scarf, gloves, rain pants, hat, vest, pair of sunglasses
    7. Pajamas, underwear, socks

Sounds like a lot but it’s not. Rinse clothes out when necessary. Count what you didn’t use when you get back and don’t pack it again. The dressy casual pants were never used by me. They’re cut next time.

This works because I don’t usually buy much when I travel. This trip I bought a new pair of boots but because I leave with only a purse and my carry-on bag, on the way home I tossed my purse and and booths into a tote bag and got on board. Easy.

  • felicia

    One space saver is to pack panty liners (from any drugstore or grocery) instead of underwear. I figure one or two per day. When I solo-ed around England for two weeks, I took a netbook, and reserved all my B&B’s on the road. Kept my itinerary super flexible, and almost everywhere has accessible wifi. Safe travel to all.

  • Julie

    Great suggestions!

  • Julie

    Love your blog – the color plan is a good one! Much as I love jeans, I find them way too heavy for travel. Travel pants by companies like REI, Columbia or North Face are fantastic – lightweight, wicking, quick-drying and often have hidden zippers for money and docs. For dressy occasions, wrinkle-free lightweight travel pants from companies like Chico are a good bet and skirts (NOT minis) are also good – and in the summer I LIVE in my Patagonia dresses – ball them up in the bottom of your bag, shake them out and you look fantastic! For shoes, I use trail runners – good ones work for working out, seeing sights and hiking (they’ve done the Samaria Gorge in Crete) – much less space than hiking boots and then I just need one pair of comfortable dress shoes. I’d NEVER take heels traveling; I expect my travel gear to be versatile – there are plenty of fabulous walking shoes out there. For a beach trip or if you’re using shared bathrooms add flip-flops. Bras: go wireless if you can; in some cases even use sports bras – saves a surpising amount of space. Underwear: Ex Officio, REI and others make pretty, comfy panties you can rinse out each night – I never take more than 2-3 pair, even for a 2 week trip! Scarves are great accessories, cover-ups and take almost no space. Do NOT take expensive jewelry – plenty of fantastic/pretty/fun costume stuff out there. I second the small flashlight. Check the carry-on restrictions of your airline carefully; carry-on makes for much faster, easier travel but many budget European airlines and VERY tight restrictions.

  • http://solotravelerblog.com Janice Waugh

    Hi Nancy,

    Thank you for your kind comments. My work is pure pleasure.


  • Nancy DeYoung

    This is my first posting…have not traveled outside U.S. since 9/11..very tied up with work but now retiring so getting ready to go again. I LOVE your site..so many great tips and letting us read and feedback is just fabulous! Travel is in my opinion the best thing you can do with your money and time…opens the mind and heart to new people and ideas! Thank You for creating this forum!

  • Nancy DeYoung

    I bought a blow dryer in Europe that will work in all countries with 220V..I don’t like dragging converters and while I haven’t done any out-in-the-wild- travel the dryer has worked and been great…I don’t have wash and wear hair…take travel sized spray, use hotel products, I take lots of hair ties, barretts, things to get it up off my neck and secure it. These things take up no space nor add weight. I also travel with essential oils for health and wellness and first aid that take no space and go thru security with me. Minimal makeup, fresh skin due to Essential oils, keep it simple. If hair is time consuming might want to rethink style if you are going to travel a bit..long that can be put up or tied back, or short that can be made to be wash and wear. Fussing with hair takes time away from why you are traveling…much like learning to pack SMART.

  • Helen

    I often plan to leave with carryon and come home with one checked bag … it feels less like a failure then! and as I’m travelling within Europe allowing myself the nice bottle of wine, or two, is part of remembering the trip afterwards!
    I also carry one lightweight ‘shopper’ bag inside my carryon, and often sling my coat into that when putting it in the overhead lockers … mind you I am often travelling with two small boys so it is an Ikea bag and two Swedish snowsuits, my coat, hats, gloves, etc, that go into the overhead locker TOGETHER and I have no wish to be trying to find stray gloves in the overhead locker when we come to leave the plane!
    I often use the shopper on days out, to hold the waterproof jacket (this is Europe after all!) a snack or a picnic, the map – near at hand but not too obvious, often tucked into the back of a slim notebook, and the use of a shopper helps you to look more like a local than a tourist.
    Having packed ‘dress shoes’ and sandals, and read about always having flip-flops for use in hostel showers, I am now on the hunt for plain dark ‘adventure/hiking’ sandals that would cover all three roles, I rarely go out to somewhere really dressy anyway … either that or some ballerina flats that would serve as ‘indoor shoes’ or ‘dressy shoes’ but not in the shower!

  • kathy

    Here is perhaps a dumb question. So many travel with one carryon bag and a backpack. I’ve not used a backpack in the past and want to start doing so. For those who travel with one carryon and one backpack, what items do you put in your backpack versus your carryon? And what packing tips/advice can you give for how you pack items in your backpack? Thanks!

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  • AlysL

    I traveled to Paris, Germany, Prague, and Salzburg for 3 weeks last fall. I took a 20″ carry-on and a backpack. This was the first time I traveled that light and still I took items that I didn’t use! What I found the most helpful, I planned my wardrobe in advance. I set out outfits, that were all black and grey color and then tried them on and took pictures…I then packed what I thought I would take…didn’t all fit, so I cut down content. So critical for me was not being a last minute packer. One of the hardest things to carry was my camera…have a big Nikon that is heavy and bulky, but takes wonderful pictures. My trip this fall to Italy will have less items packed!

  • Sarah

    This may be a rather vain comment but I’m going to ask all the same.. What do you do about a hair dryer/drying your hair? Any tips..

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  • fred

    great packing….and yes if you take the time to think about it people often pack WAY TOO MUCH…..I like to always have dental floss as it has more than one use(try it as a fishing line, clothesline,)..a few ziploc bags–how many times have I been somewhere and I’m soaked from being at the beach and need to pack in a hurry–these are great)..a headlight( and there are some really small ones out there now that take flat batteries)..is fantastic…–how many times have I ended up on a bus or in a hostel with no night light that works….or landing in a place at night , very dark and scary!!!—I came down from Mt Chirrippo in Costa Rica a few months ago (28k to the base camp return) and boy this was the way to go as the sun quickly hid behind the mountains for the last 5 k! I also like to carry a minimalist first aid—an all purpose ointment, a few bandaids, zinc cream(many uses), needle(I have the dental floss), and an old MEC serratus pack that folds into its’ own pocket–it becomes my day bag(too grubby for anyone to steal) and then my gift pack on the return trip home!

    I wear my heavies on but then based on where I am going I prefer to leave a lot home and pick these things up–a treat….I usually wear zipped leg pants as they double as shorts,,,

    Remember—you can always buy things–I usually buy flip flops as they wear out,a t shirt or.. two…and local toothpaste…

  • Tabitha

    Love the tips here. Thanks to a cousin that was in the military, I’ve always rolled rather than folded my clothes and they take up less space (i.e. fold tee in half long ways then roll from the bottom up). I tend to buy quite a few gifts for family and such and I bring a couple “space bags” for shrinking down the clothing a little more to get space for what I buy. When I’ve hand washed items in the past, due to not packing enough socks or getting dirty, I’ve used the hair dryer or iron to shorten the drying time, plus some hotels have a clothesline installed in the bathroom over the bathtub.

  • Erika in Iowa

    I did this for 3 months with a carry-on and a messenger bag. Tech and raingear (raincoat and umbrella)go in messenger. In the carry-on: sandels and flats (wear hiking shoes), one skirt, one dress (which I will skip next time), one pair hiking pants, one pair capris (wear jeans), 2 pairs socks (wear another pair), 2 bras (wear another), 5 pair underwear (wear another), 6 thin tops with various length sleeves (wear another), one knit jacket (wear a fleece jacket), a couple of scarves, toilet kit, shower shoes, laundry bag with clothesline and you are good to go. And I only brought the skirt and nicer tops and knit jacket because i had to go to some conferences. Do laundry every couple of days in the sink. Don’t forget your money belt for passport and other can not lose stuff (I wear it in the small of my back). 2 weeks or 2 months, it’s all the same. You just don’t wear it again when you get home cause you are sick of it!

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  • solotraveler

    :) Love it.

  • Roberta

    Travelled to Mexico recently with a carry on suitcase and medium size tote bag for a 2 week stay. No problems even when changing planes. Also did this on a Conference trip to New Brunswick.
    The other nurses just shake their heads in amazement. You are so right –we just need to coordinate outfits and stay organized each trip.

  • solotraveler

    Hi Mary, Good additions. You know, before leaving on a trip, I now just go to this blog post for my packing list.


  • Mary

    Great list (I second the suggestion to add laundry supplies)! I’d also add to the “essentials” a headlamp and tiny flashlight — I have one that doubles as a flashlight and pen. Really enjoy reading Solo Traveler and hope to be on the road next year again. Happy trails!

  • travel nan

    I have kindle on my ipod, even smaller than the kindle!  And I never take high heels, just a pair of hiking boots and a pair of nice walking shoes with a small 1 inch heal.  
    I travel with my grandsons and we never take more than 1 carry on and two small school backpacks. Traveling light is the best way to go!

  • solotraveler

    What a great concept Andy and an even better story. It’s the things that happen when you least expect it that make solo travel so great.

  • andy

    When I travel I book myself what I call an “Admin Day”. This is a day to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, do laundry at a local laundromat, clean out and straighten up the bags..both carryon and my daypack, clean out the camera of all those shots of your thumb.

    Last time, my Admin Day happened to be in Florence. Across the street from the laundromart was a small bar. At 10am it was packed in preparation for some important soccer game. Everybody was…well…hammered.

    I’d throw my clothes in..go across the street and partake of the festivities, go back to use the dryer..go back across.

    That Admin Day turned into one loooooong party

  • solotraveler

    Wow. I’m impressed. Well done.

  • http://www.aaronswwadventures.com Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures

    I know doing laundry in the sink sounds creepy, but it’s really not. I travel with 2 sets of clothes…one to wash, one to wear. Every night I wash things like socks and underwear in the sink and, if you invest in quick drying clothing itmes, it’ll be dry by the morning ready to go! A clothesline can be a helpful and tiny thing to pack to aid in this process. Oh and a universal sink plug and some good washing detergent are necesseties!

  • Linda Leaming

    This is a great post which I have bookmarked! I bow to your brilliant organizational skills and packing wisdom. With this system you can go anywhere for any length of time, really. I’ll take all black stuff in easy to wash fabrics– and buy some accessories on the trip.

  • solotraveler

    I think you can find them on the naughty hiking site. 😉

  • http://www.traveldudes.org Melvin

    I was just looking for high heel hiking boots and found your site… but it seems you don’t sell any. :(
    Could you please help me out?


  • solotraveler

    Thanks Gwen. Thanks for the tip about stuffing shoes.

  • Gwen McCauley

    Hi Janice – One of the few downsides of leading my retreats in the Algarve is that I have to schlepp a lot of stuff so my treasured days of traveling with just a carry-on don’t happen that often these days.

    I always wear my bulkiest items too; sure saves space in the carry-on bag. My packing tip is to stuff packed shoes with underwear. Helps them keep their shape and saves space.

    This is a fabulous list; your experience clearly shows.


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  • solotraveler

    I love the shoe laces suggestion. They could be very useful for thins beyond tying your shoes.

  • http://facebook.com/ksh.hawley/ Kevin

    Great list & also some other benefits. If you have one carry on, no Baggage fee. Counting what you don’t need or use can save space but also may allow you to substitute another item. Since it looks like I’m the only guy on this Post I’ll use this example…being a Tree Hugger, I would leave the scarf :) behind and add an extra pair of bootlaces for the Hike. And lastly, with just a carry on, there is no chance of your luggage being lost!

  • solotraveler

    I haven’t yet added that to my packing list. Maybe so in the future.

  • Nadine

    & what do you think of the new “Kindle” from Amazon? Instead of carrying a bulky book you can have up to 3500 electronic books in the palm of your hand

  • http://www.theplanetd.com Dave and Deb

    Great list Janice. for longer trips, we travel with more than a carry on and check our backpacks. But for a few days to a week we are definitely carry on luggage all the way. It is wonderful packing light. We have overpacked in the past, and it is not fun. A lesson learned the hard way.
    Thanks for sharing such a detailed list!

  • Mary

    Fantastic list. I love the idea of carrying the bulky items, and I use this tip myself. I also try to pack items that are thin materials so that more can be packed in a small space. This is a definite benefit of wearing the jeans on the plane, as jeans take up a lot of space.

  • solotraveler

    that’s a great addition. And, in the summer, I carry a Pashmina scarf as it is multi-purpoee as well.

  • Cheryl

    Thanks so much for this information. Another item that is very versatile is a kerchief or bandanna. It can be used for accent, napkin, washcloth, head covering. Love your blog –

  • http://www.thequirkytraveller.com Zoe Dawes

    I can vouch for this Janice! Hope to see you back here again one day ….

  • solotraveler

    good question about the laundry. I hand washed underwear and tshirts.

  • lee

    amazing. i am still working on one bag that i leave at the train station while i go off with an overnight bag……
    Have a 6 week trip but wont multiply your list by 3, just 2.
    the last 2 wks are on a boat so i need a few other items…….3 books

  • http://apatontheback.com Jodi Henderson

    Thank you for this. As a first time international traveler later this year, I find info like this super helpful. I can overpack with the best of them because, well, you just never know what you’re going to be doing so now I have guidance for how *not* to do that. :)

  • Ken

    Here’s a site that details traveling with just your carry-on: http://www.onebag.com/

  • http://www.wanderlass.com Lilliane

    it’s a dream to be a 1 bag wanderer…. 3 yrs ago i start a 6 wks trip with a carryon, came home with a chk bag + the carryon, lol.

    did u do any laundry in this 2 weeks?