USA packing list with carry on only - the tea break project solo travel blog

Packing List: 5 Weeks in America with Just Carry-On Luggage

passport // camera // sense of adventure

I’ve had some bad experiences with recent trans-Atlantic flights. One of which involved me being on one side of the Atlantic and my luggage being stuck on the other side for half of my trip.

So when I went to America this summer, I decided to go hand luggage only. No waiting at the carousel. No lost luggage turning up on the other side of the world. No stress. Well, no stress except the packing, that is…

Actually, it’s surprisingly easy to pack just hand luggage for long-term travel.

Anything over a fortnight and you’re going to need to do laundry at some point anyway. At least, I am – I don’t own enough underwear to do more than a fortnight. So my theory: pack for a week. Then you can just wash things in between. Not having to cart a big suitcase around meant that I was much more flexible while travelling. It meant more space in the hire car for other things (like boxes of Oreos & a GIANT bag of peanut butter M&Ms). It meant not having to pay baggage fees on my internal flight from Portland to Vegas.

All packed and ready for a massive American road trip - the tea break project solo travel blog


1 / Only taking hand luggage was such a good move. Seriously – if you’ve never travelled long-term with just hand luggage, I urge you to give it a try.

2 / Before the trip, a couple of people (namely my travel companions and my mum) laughed at my obsession with making sure that everything was colour co-ordinated. Turns out that this was a good move, because it meant that everything went with everything else, so I never had to worry about having two incomplete and incompatible outfits left just before doing laundry.

3 / I made a list. I can’t help it – I’m a list kinda girl. I edited that list. I refined it. I chopped things off and added anything I’d forgotten. When I was packing, I ticked each item off as I put it in my ‘to take to America’ pile. A little obsessive perhaps, but it works for me.

4 / I took a soft backpack. It was easier to wander around with than a hard-shell case, and having to wear it on my back forced me not to pack more than I could carry.


1 / I’d seen a lot of blog posts advocating vaccuum packs & packing cubes. Personally, I’m too lazy to vaccuum pack, and I was too cheap to buy packing cubes, so I went for the budget option and organised my clothes into freezer bags. It did help make my backpack more navigable during the trip, but I also got fed up with them and they weren’t really big enough. Maybe I should invest in some packing cubes after all..?

2 / I should have made sure I had more empty space in my bag. A lot of blog posts recommend leaving about 1/3 of your pack free for anything you buy on the trip. I’ve always thought this was a bit excessive, but given how much I had to cram everything into my bag on the way back, maybe it’s not too far off the mark. You definitely want to leave a bit more space than I did on this trip!

3 / My other problem was washing. When I was sorting out my wardrobe and buying clothes for my trip, I very diligently made sure everything was either dark or coloured, so it could all go in one wash (with one exception, which I decided I’d wash by hand in the sink). What I forgot to check was the wash temperature, and whether the clothes would tumble dry. Oops! Turns out about half of my clothes were cold wash only, and barely any of them would tumble dry – which is a problem when you’re only staying in places for one night and don’t have time or space to hang-dry things. Something to bear in mind next time.

All in all, though, I think I did quite well. There were only 3 things I really overpacked, and only 1 that I had to buy once I got there:

Things I took which I didn’t need: skirt, 1 pair of shorts 1 sleeveless top (or maybe 2 sleeveless tops, or maybe 1 sleeveless top + 1 t-shirt)

Things I didn’t take which I did need: a long-sleeved top

Here’s what I took in the end:

Las Vegas road trip packing list - the tea break project solo travel blog


  • Skirt
  • Shorts x3
  • Trousers 
  • Leggings
  • T-shirts x2
  • Sleeveless tops x4
  • Cotton shirt
  • Cotton dress
  • Zip-up hoodie
  • Thin jumper
  • Wide scarf
  • Compact waterproof coat
  • Pyjamas 
  • Socks x6 (including 1 cosy pair for the plane)
  • Knickers x7
  • Bras x3
  • Sports supported crop top
  • Bikini
  • Swimming goggles

California, USA road trip - the tea break project solo travel blog


  • Hiking shoes / boots
  • Slip-on flats
  • Sandals


  • Day bag
  • Bag for laundry
  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Perscription glasses (for driving)
  • Limited jewellery
  • Watch
  • Hair bobbles
  • Hair grips

British Columbia road trip packing list - the tea break project solo travel blog


  • Travel towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Small toothpaste
  • Compact hair brush
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Q tips
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Makeup (minimal)
  • Razor
  • Tampons / sanitary towels
  • Sun lotion (handbag size)
  • Moisturiser (100ml)
  • Solid perfume
  • Tissues
  • Shampoo
  • Toothpaste
  • Sun lotion
  • Insect repellent


  • Ibuprofen
  • Imodium
  • Travel sickness pills
  • Plasters

California road trip packing list - the tea break project solo travel blog


  • Refillable takeaway cup
  • Water bottle
  • Resealable plastic bags
  • Eye mask
  • Notebooks
  • Pens
  • Guide books
  • Reading material


  • Passport
  • Tickets
  • Booking confirmations
  • Money
  • Debit card
  • Driving licence
  • Business cards


  • iPad
  • iPad keyboard
  • iPhone
  • Apple charger
  • Travel adaptor
  • Headphones
  • Camera
  • Camera charger
  • Spare camera battery
  • Mini tripod

Packing list: 5 weeks in America with just carry-on luggage - the tea break project solo travel blog