While I was packing for my recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I did my usual research via Pinterest on what to bring, how to pack, etc. I decided that this would be the trip that I was going to try to fit everything in a carry on and avoid the hassle of checked baggage. I decided this for a few reasons. 1) I was traveling on American Airlines and they happen to be notorious for losing checked baggage (I was not about to lose my brand new spring wardrobe I’d acquired for the trip) among other issues and 2) if I was going to spend a majority of my time in bikinis, how much stuff did I really need? Long story short, I did it!
Now, when I was doing my very professional Pinterest research, I found very little on A) packing in a duffle bag and B) packing that didn’t include packing cubes (not everyone has packing cubes!!).
So that brings me to the reason I’m writing this post: packing for a five-day trip to Mexico, using a duffle bag and no packing cubes. Here we go.
Do this a week before your departure.
Pull out everything you think you want to bring on your trip. I mean physically put out everything on your bed or a couch. If you notice a color scheme, go with it. If you don’t, you need to make one. For instance, mine ended up being white, indigo, coral and black. Very versatile and very right for Mexico. Once you decide on a color scheme, start limiting things down. If you have two things that look similar, just choose one. They’re just going to look the same in your Instagrams anyway, might as well use it to your advantage.
The rule, I believe, is four tops, three bottoms, three dresses. For a five day trip, this could even still be a lot, so if you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to pack less. Like I said before, I would be in a bikini every day, so this only left evening outfits to choose. Then, once you think you have it all figured out, you’re not quite done yet.
Now it’s time to start putting outfits together, mixing and matching the pieces. If your tops can’t be worn with two different bottoms (and vice versa) you’re not taking it. This obviously excludes dresses. You’ll also need to choose shoes/accessories that go along with these selections (I’ll get to this later). Take pictures of these pairings on your phone so you have all of your outfit choices at the swipe of a finger on your vacation.
My clothing choices ended up being:
- 1 black cami top (similar here)
- 1 blue patterned top
- 1 plain white tee
- 1 white striped tank (similar here)
- 1 white flowy blouse (similar here)
- boyfriend jeans (similar here)
- white jeans
- jean shorts
- patterned black/white shorts
- a white sweater (in case of a chilly evening)
- 2 different coral dresses
- white coverup that can be worn as a casual dress
- blue tie-dye dress (I planned to use as a cover up, or a longer top if needed)
As you can see, I have more than enough outfits for 5-6 dinners, but I’d rather have more than enough, than not enough. I’m beginning to see why I used to over pack…
Like I mentioned above, you’ll need to pull out your shoes & accessories at the same time as your loathes. You’ll need to make sure you can make 3-4 shoes work for all of your outfits (this includes poolside!).
A few rules to keep in mind:
- Bring shoes that can be dressed up or down
- Bring flats and heels
- Don’t bring similar-looking shoes
- Keep the weather in mind
- If you have no intentions of being athletic during your trip, don’t even bother bringing sneakers. Not worth the weight.
I ended up with a pair of brown leather flats, gold glittery flats, gold sarongs (for the pool, but able to be dressed up!) and my favorite brown wedges. Okay, on to accessories. These you have a little more flexibility with because of their compactness. I knew I’d be wearing little to no jewelry, so I opted for two tassel necklaces, one casual chain necklace, two pairs of earrings, and a few mix-n-match bracelets.
Everyone vacations differently, so this part is more up to you. Like I said above, we were planning on spending every day at the pool, so I knew I’d need a few swimsuits. I’m not the kind of girl that’s cool with wearing the same suit every day, so I decided to bring two bottoms and three tops, so I can kind of mix and match. If you’re a little more adventurous than us and plan on some excursions such as ATVing, horseback riding or zip lining, bring one trusty pair of athletic shorts, one pair of tennis shoes and a few tank tops and socks.
Toiletries are what really gets most people when they decide to go the carry on route. In order to follow TSA guidelines, all liquids must be 3.4 oz. or less and all liquids must be able to fit into a quart-sized clear bag. That’s not much of anything when you take into account the shampoos, conditioners, heat protectant, sunscreen, etc women require on a daily basis. But can it be done? Absolutely.
First, buy travel-sized versions of your favorite shampoo and conditioner. Or you can pour some from your big bottles into little travel size containers, but those are always annoying to use, in my opinion. If you’re not picky about your shower hair care products- go without! Hotels almost always provide the essentials, saving room in your coveted quart-sized bag. I opted to not bring any shower gel/soap because I was perfectly content using the hotel-provided stuff. And of course, you’ll need your toothpaste. Grab a travel size of that too.
I knew I’d be drying/straightening my hair which meant needing a heat protectant. I bought a travel-sized spray bottle and poured a little of my stuff in. Simple! If you’re someone who can’t go anywhere without their perfume, go to your local department store and ask for a sample or two of it. It’s free and it’s tiny- perfect for traveling.
Now, for shaving. A girls gotta shave right?! Especially if your little trip includes barely-there bikinis. I realized, as I was shopping for my travel-sized toiletries, that there really aren’t any good shaving gels for traveling. All the cans are just too bulky. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: conditioner is as good, if not better, for shaving. Good thing we already have that packed. If you’re a conditioner over-user like me, I decided that the conditioner the hotel provided was perfect for my shaving needs, leaving my personal conditioner for scalp uses-only.
Assuming you’re headed to the beach, that requires two extra things: sunscreen and aloe. That means two more liquids to pack. Here’s my solution. Get a lotion (rather than spray) sunscreen that works for both your face and body. Should be enough to last you 6 or so days. OR if you’re traveling with someone who is checking bags, ask if they wouldn’t mind throwing in your tube in there as well. As for the aloe, I’m not going to lie: I totally forgot to pack any. And boy did I need some. Luckily, my hotel provided some great aloe. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most hotels in Mexico will either provide aloe for their guests or have some available for purchase. So go ahead and leave that good ole green stuff at home and save some room.
My biggest piece of advice is to separate your toiletries. This may sound obvious to do, but have one bag for your liquid toiletries and a bigger bag for your non-liquid toiletries. I realized packing toiletries is a lot less intimidating this way and you realize it really can be done.
Some Extra Tips
- Try everything on before you leave! Seriously. Why waste space on something that doesn’t fit/isn’t comfortable/etc. when you could’ve just tried it on beforehand?
- I suggest bringing 2 bras (strapless and regular).
- I also suggest bringing a plain camisole in case of the dreaded suddenly see-through shirt.
But on to the important part.. how does one pack all of this into a carry-on sized duffle bag?
Roll It Up
Roll the clothes. All of them. Do it. The only exception to this is bulky sweaters, but since you’re headed to the land of sunshine, you probably won’t have any.
Pack Inside Other Things
What I mean by this is that you’ll save so much room if you make use of the space a hat or shoes provide. Put bras, underwear and socks in the spaces not only to save space, but it also helps them keep their shape! I packed all of my unmentionables in a floppy hat and put that in the bottom of my duffle so it could lay flat.
Unless you’re packing a hat like I was, shoes always go in first. They’re usually the heaviest and you want the weight on the bottom. Since I had quite a few sandals, I put the biggest/heaviest wedges in first then filled in the sandals after.
Heaviest to Lightest
As a general packing rule you should always pack the heaviest stuff in the bottom. So after you’ve put in your shoes, go ahead and put in your heavier sweaters, etc. I decided to use one half of my duffle for the rolled up clothes, and then the other for my hair straightener, swimsuits, small purse, hat, non-liquid toiletries, etc. It actually worked out very nicely!
Your Smaller Carry On
You didn’t think I’d actually only be taking one bag did you? Ha! If I’m allowed to have two carry on items, you bet I’m going to use that to my advantage. My second bag is my Longchamp Large Le Pliage that I got monogrammed a while back by a family friend. I love my Longchamp and highly recommend you buy one if you don’t already have one. It’s totally worth the price. This baby has been to the beaches of Mexico, the neighborhood pool, the trains of Switzerland… you name it. She’s withstood it all.
I was actually surprised I didn’t need to pack too much in my tote, but one piece of advice I would give is to put your liquids bag in your tote so it’s easily accessible to take out in security.
Other goodies I packed in my tote were:
- my new favorite book
- my iPad mini
- lipgloss/lip balm
- bag of liquid toiletries
- my journal/pen
- my passport (<– kind of a must if you’re traveling to Mexico)
- my latest unread issue of Cosmo
- a portable iPhone battery (travel necessity)
- my sunglasses (shhhh they’re from the Target Men’s section but I love them)
- a lightweight cardigan I could wear in the airport in case it was chilly
If you followed my tips hopefully you were able to fit everything in your carry on! I had such an amazing time in Cabo, so be on the lookout for a recap post sometime soon! In the meantime, check out my Travel Guide to Cabo San Lucas!
What is your best packing tip? I’d love to hear them, so comment below!