Ultimate Tropical Vacation Packing List | All In One Carry-on

hey there my lovely travelers! Do you want to know my NUMBER ONE travel tip? 



I travel with a carry-on. and that's it.

Now you're probably saying "but I’m such an over packer! I can’t possibly fit everything into a carry-on!" 

Well my friends, that used to be me too. I would say "I don’t know what mood I’m going to be in...and what if it rains or it's cold?! What if we go somewhere and I don’t have the absolute perfect outfit? I must have options!" 

And then I traveled with just one carry-on for the first time, and it was the most efficient airport experience ever (as you know efficiency is my middle name) - and just like that, I became a carry-on girl. 

Why I hate checking bags...

My obsession with only traveling with a carry-on began when I realized how much quicker you get through - and out of - the airport when you don’t check bags. I mean, don't you just hate when you finally arrive to your destination and you have to wait another 45 minutes for your bags to arrive at baggage claim (all while praying they didn’t get lost)? Yeah, I do too. 

So like everything in life, I began to hack my overpacking ways. How could I take my overpacking tendencies and still fit it all into a carry-on? You’re about to find out.

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The Travel Capsule Wardrobe

The trick is a capsule wardrobe - where you mix and match outfits. For a travel capsule wardrobe, the most important rules to remember are:

1. three Pairs of Shoes

YUP, you heard me right. Depending on where you're going you can get away with sneakers, casual sandals/boots, and fancy heels (wedges or booties are preferred as they are the most versatile). If you are traveling for a wedding, try to match your dress to your your nice heels so you can use them for double duty during the rest of your trip. Sticking to three to four pairs of shoes is very important because they take up the most space! ( I DID sneak in 5 for this trip since sandals and flip-flops take up basically no room and I wore my sneaks on the plane ;) ) 

2. Pick a Color Scheme

Choosing a color scheme is very important to ensuring you can mix and match to create as many outfit combination as possible. I like to choose two neutrals / pseudo neutrals (usually black & denim), and throw in a pop of color. The 60-30-10 rule for interior design also applies to fashion as well! If you follow that concept you can't go wrong!

3. Plan Ahead

Write out all of the days you will be there and how many activities per day. I like to plan for 1-2 activities per day. Usually it's casual during the day (pool lounging or sight seeing), and fancier at night (dinners and nights on the town). Then (my overpacking self) pulls out ALL the clothes I could possibly want to bring on the trip! YAYYY! But this is just the beginning.

Then I start planning out the outfits for each day/activity. Doing this helps you create outfits to see exactly how much you would need and immediately eliminates any additional shirts/bottoms that would be excessive. Then I eliminate further, seeing which items from the tops/bottoms laid out could work together instead of with other items... and then I start removing any redundancies. If you are traveling for more than one week, plan to repeat basic tops/bottoms (t-shirts, tank tops, jeans, shorts) and maybe stop by a laundromat or use a friends washer/dryer if your clothes feel too dirty to wear. Once you've chosen your capsule outfits, choose your pairs of shoes that work the most with all of them. See rule #1. 

Like anything, these are JUST guidelines! If you find you can fit more shoes and have less bulky items like jeans or sweaters, then by all means go for it! I just try to start with these rules and adjust as needed depending on the trip.

the Tropical Packing List

Today I’m going to dive into my packing list for our Punta Cana trip we went on in the beginning of April. I fit everything into a carry-on and STILL overpacked because there were quite a few tops/bottoms I didn’t wear. So you get the luxury of my after-vacation edited packing list! Meaning I’m only showing you what I actually wore. 

ok, enough chit-chat... lets start packing! 

I would say the number one way to maximize your suitcase is to roll your clothes and use packing cubes. I've tried so many packing techniques and these cute little cubes have proven time and time again to be the most efficient. Space packers help to divide up your clothes into categories, and the best part is - you know if it doesn’t all fit in the packers then it won’t all fit into your suitcase. Simple math! The kind I can actually do without a calculator ;)

My next tip is to have a BIG “personal bag”. TSA allows one full-sized carry-on suitcase (22” or smaller) and one personal item, so I really like to push the limits with a HUGE tote bag. My favorite over-packer hack... 


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Ok, let’s get into the best way to pack these things! 


When packing your suitcase, your mantra should be "does this go with at least 2 things already in my bag?"

Use the capsule wardrobe to eliminate as many items as possible and create mix n' match outfits. Then you will actually start packing. See the video below to see how I packed my suitcase. 

Ok here is the breakdown of how I like to pack my suitcase:

- first half of suitcase - 

1. Lay in shoes

2. Put undies/bras into a packing cube 

3. Put workout clothes and PJs into a packing cube (I wear my workout sneakers & a sweatshirt/jacket on the plane to save space)

4. Put swimsuits and coverups into a packing cube

 - other half of suitcase - 

5. Roll up tops, dresses, and pants and put into packing cube

6. Lay anything else that will fit into suitcase and...


Check out the video below to watch how I do it! 


Make your tote bag Mary Poppins Worthy

In the tote bag you pack all of your toiletries/liquids and electronics - so when you are going through security you can can easily take everything out and put into the bins, getting you through security THAT much quicker. 

I like dividing up my toiletries by type:

1. Face

2. Body

3. Hair

4. Makeup

4. Miscellaneous

I put these all into quart sized bags (It's a TSA requirement - you are allowed to bring quart-sized bags of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 oz or less per item). Separating my toiletries into categories keeps me organized and makes things easy to lay out once I’ve gotten to my destination. I don't know about you but I pretty much make myself RIGHT at home when I arrive to my hotel or airbnb - setting up all my toiletries and hanging up all my clothes. 



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Sunless Tanner

So I have ONE final tip for your reading pleasure. If you don't already know, I am a sunless tanner freak. I LOVE using it all year round - especially when I'm traveling. I'm always re-applying it for that sun kissed glow without all the sun damage. I've found that Jergens Instant Sun foam works the best. I've been using it for two years and have tried countless others and this, hands down, is a clear winner in my book.

Unfortunately, when I would travel I could never bring my sunless tanner along with me because it's over the 3 oz TSA guidelines. I went on many sunless tanner-LESS trips until recently I discovered that Amazon sells these little 1 oz foam pumps! I filled them up with the sunless tanner and voila! Travel sized sunless tanner! 


Of course, when going somewhere tropical, sunscreen is ESSENTIAL for getting that effortless vacation glow and NOT looking like a lobster 2 days in. But people often forget to RE-apply sunscreen to their hands and face - I'll be the first to admit I do forget (a lot!). But I discovered these two travel-sized saviors and I can't wait to share them with you. Supergoop has two of my new favorite summer necessities. The hand cream has SPF 40 and doesn't feel chalky or greasy at all. And I saved the best for last, this SPF 50 setting mist is perfect for re-applying sunscreen to your face without ruining your makeup! It actually does 3-in-1: sets your makeup, mattifies your face (if you're a little greasy from hanging in the sun all day), AND provides you with great sun protection.

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So there you have it

My top travel hacks for packing an over-packer's worth of outfits into a carry-on! Happy packing! I hope I made your packing routine a little easier and a little less stressful. I love hearing new tips, so if you have any favorite packing tips tell me in the comments below! 

Don't forget to download your FREE packing list and BONUS pre-trip checklist below!




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