How to pack carry on luggage for a winter trip

Winter is my favorite season to travel in! Imagine tourist-free travel destinations, cheap airline tickets and discounted hotel prices and you might understand why. However, traveling in winter requires a different approach to your packing strategies, if you don’t want to pay for luggage fees that is. 

Bulky sweaters, boots and a big coat aren’t necessarily items you’d wish to pack for traveling carry on only, but in winter you might have to. Not to worry, as I became a master on this subject * cough* and today I will share my tips on how to pack your carry on for winter trips.

Whether it was Christmas in Berlin or Prague or strolling around wintery Stockholm, I’ve never felt cold or unprepared with my carry on packing method. Recently I added a new carry on backpack to the luggage family, making it even easier for myself to move around freely with as little luggage as possible to hold me back, however my tips apply on carry on suitcases as well.

Below there’s a list full of wintery items (and an update on those from November 2017!) to get you packing!


How to pack your carry on for winter trips


Pack for a week

Even when I travel for a month or more? Absolutely!

When it comes to packing clothes, the duration of the trip isn’t something you should worry about. When you wash your clothes regularly – which I do in the hostel sink or a launderette – you should be able to travel months with a weeks’ worth of clothes.


Make smart combinations

Lucky for us, wintery clothes tend to have natural colors that are easy to match with your other clothes. I always go for blue or black jeans, and natural colors like brown, copper or grey.

The amount of outfits for a week can vary, depending on your activities. In general I pack one outfit per two or three days. Lay out all the clothes on your bed and pick items you can make at least 2 outfits with.

pack carry on luggage
I always leave a little bit of space open for souvenirs. My cats bum is about the size I need.


Wear layers

Forget bulky knitwear and go for layers instead! Ideal for me is a sleeveless top, a (long sleeved) shirt, a light sweater, a warm coat and a scarf. When temperatures drop far below zero I add (thermal) leggings for wearing underneath my trousers and thick socks. Also, a raincoat doesn’t take up much space and can be much, much needed.

Admittedly, I don’t do much outdoorsy activities on my winter trips but when you’re planning to anyway, I’d suggest you pack items more suitable for moving around and the different weather conditions you might run into. However, layering always works.


Wear you heaviest items on the plane

You just need one coat and – for a city trip – one pair of boots. Be sure to wear those items on the plane. I usually wear my bulkiest sweater and my scarf too. As it tend to get cold on flights anyway, this shouldn’t be a problem.


Make sure your feet and head are warm

Keeping certain parts of your body warm will help tremendously for your winter experience. Pack thick socks (3 pairs at the most), a hat and gloves. These items don’t require a lot of luggage space, yet they are not to be missed on your winter trip. You can store them in your shoes or any space you have left.


Small accessories make the difference

Don’t want to walk around looking like a tourist and more like yourself? Pack your favorite accessories, such as earrings, a beanie or a funky belt. You’ll feel like yourself, packing the absolute minimum. My favorite accessory is red lipstick as it fluffs up any look I go for.

pack carry on luggage


Minimize those liquids

Ladies, we all know those 1 liter zip lock bags we have to stuff our toiletries in. Sure, I don’t like them either, but it can be done!

For short trips I only bring samples with me, such as a day cream, shampoo and even perfume. In winter I do like some make up on my face, but I pack the essentials only. This means one lipstick, one eyeliner and one kind of concealer. No fuss.

For longer trips I’d suggest you buy your toiletries at your destination. A small bottle of shampoo isn’t that expensive compared to luggage fees of €30 and up. This will leave you some room to pack the items you can’t purchase where you’re going. What I always pack is toothpaste.

    • Bring samples only
    • Buy products at your destination
    • Prep your hair for short city trips

Have a look at my liquids bag here.

pack carry on luggage


Packing cubes!

Where would I be without my beloved packing cubes? I’ll admit right away that I have a sick obsession with organizing my luggage and perfecting my packing skills for that matter. Packing cubes are the best thing ever happening to me, as you can easily organize your luggage and slim it down to fit your suitcase or travel bag. I use the TravelWise Packing Cube System, but any kind will work.

Tip: Rolling your clothes and stuffing socks and other items into your shoes are major space savers!


What to pack for a carry on winter trip (2015)

I guess you have been looking for an exact list of what to pack for a carry on winter trip. Below you’ll find my go to packing list for any city trip within wintery Europe. Please note that this is just an indication of what you’ll need. For other kind of trips and activities be sure to pack what YOU need.

Items that I wear on the plane are marked with *.

  • 3 t-shirts (long sleeve)
  • 2 blouses
  • 1 vest
  • 2 basic tops
  • 3 light sweaters (I prefer merino wool)
  • 2 pairs of jeans*
  • One bulky sweater of jacket*
  • 3 pairs of thick socks
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of leggings or tights
  • 1 pajama set
  • 1 pair of boots*
  • A scarf*
  • A hat
  • Gloves
  • Toiletries (including a 1l liquids bag and makeup)
  • A small handbag or purse
  • Electronics: laptop, phone and camera + chargers
  • Toothbrush


Packing list for winter – update 2017

Over the years, I’ve changed up my packing routine. One of the things I’ve improved is my capsule wardrobe. By mixing a lot of the same colors together, I can live out of a suitcase for weeks.

I managed to limit the very heavy items (laptop, books, makeup) and take lighter items, such as a tablet, instead. On short city trips, I just take my phone and DSLR camera.

  • 2 black t-shirts (long sleeve)
  • 2 white blouses
  • 1 black tank top*
  • 2 light sweaters (I prefer merino wool)
  • 2 pairs of jeans*
  • 1 winter coat*
  • 1 hideous Christmas sweater (If needed)
  • 3 pairs of thick socks
  • 3 pairs of underwear
  • 1 pair of leggings or tights
  • 1 pajama set
  • 1 pair of boots or sneakers*
  • A scarf*, hat & gloves
  • A small handbag (big enough for a camera and the rest my daily needs)
  • A notepad or travel journal
  • Sunglasses



  • Samsung tablet
  • Phone + charger (which I can use for my Samsung tablet as well)
  • DSLR + charger

pack carry on luggage


When it comes to traveling with toiletries and makeup, it’s important to use your space well. Why bring eyeshadow when you can use bronzer? And blush is super overrated when you find the perfect lipstick to mimic it. I must admit that I’m always struggling with the size of my toiletry bag, although I think I packed the bare minimum, there’s always at least one product that remains unused.

Below you’ll find a list of everything I carry in my toiletry bag. I have a liquids bag that I keep separately in case I need to take it out of my bag at the airport.


Read more:

These were my tips on how to pack for carry on winter trips. Have you used them? Let me know what you think by leaving me a message or tag a photo of your fully packed bag on Facebook or Instagram! For now I wish you happy (and warm) travels!


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  • Reply
    February 22, 2016 at 13:21

    This is super helpful! I’m definitely one of those people who would rather brave the cold than deal with huge crowds. Thanks for the awesome writing 🙂 I love your blog design too! You have a new fan!

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 22, 2016 at 18:36

      Thanks so much, that’s really sweet!

      I’m glad to hear other people love to travel in wintertime too! What’s your favorite winter destination?

      • Reply
        February 23, 2016 at 08:36

        I really loved traveling Scotland in May, which was just before peak season, but I would love to go back in wintertime when I can really take advantage and explore the whole country! I only made it to Edinburgh last time I was there. What’s yours?

  • Reply
    March 20, 2016 at 09:33

    Good points! I never thought I would survive 7 days with just a backpack (and a medium size one, not nearly the backpackers travel size) in order to fit the low cost airlines limits. I only had to buy a t-shirt at the end. But wearing the heaviest things on the plane is a golden rule!

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      March 20, 2016 at 13:04

      Oh me neither, I remember the first time I went on a ‘big’ backpacking trip, I brought stuff for weeks and ended up wearing almost none of it.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2017 at 23:32

    I always wonder if packing cubes don’t take more space than it saves? I am a big fan of organizing myself so it would be grate if you could convince me.. 🙂
    Also, packing a carry on in winter is the worst. I’ll stick to your list next time and hopefully do better! X

    • Reply
      The Brave Dame
      February 23, 2017 at 10:41

      Hi Will! You’re right, packing winter clothes IS the worst! Packing cubes have always helped me squeeze some extra clothing in there, I don’t believe they take up extra space. I use simple cubes made out of fabric, no pockets or anything that sticks out. Let me know how it works out for you!

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