How I Pack only a Backpack for a Weekend Trip

I hate hauling luggage through an airport. I also hate waiting at the baggage carousel. Choose one or the other, but don’t subject yourself to both. Let’s talk about how to not only take just a carry-on, but how to take just a backpack.

Why? It’s honestly so convenient. Try it and you’ll probably love it, too. I have yet to regret taking only a backpack, but I have definitely regretted over-packing. I’m going to explain how I do it and show pictures of how to pack only a backpack for a weekend away. I’ll also show exactly what I recently packed for a 4-night long-weekend trip. Some people can do just a backpack for a full week or longer! I’m working my way there, but haven’t quite made it past taking a carry-on-sized suitcase yet.

Step 1: Start by Limiting Yourself

Start with just your backpack. If you get out a suitcase, you’ll end up filling it. Don’t even give yourself the option! Limit yourself within the backpack, too. Only take one bag of toiletries and one bag for makeup.  This is completely possible! I know that the temptation to take multiple bags for these items is real, but follow my advice in step two and you’ll be able to do it.

Step 2: Don’t pack extra items

There are a lot of things that we pack multiples of that aren’t really necessary, particularly with makeup, clothes, shoes, and toiletries. For example, I only take one each of things like foundation, mascara, eyeshadow, etc. You don’t need multiples for a short trip. 

It’s also really easy to overpack clothes and shoes, and those both take up tons of space. Look up the weather ahead of time, think about what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go, and then don’t take extra clothes.  For a weekend trip, I’ll wear one pair of jeans or shorts while traveling, and then only pack one more. Sure, I’ll repeat them, but that’s really not a big deal. The same goes for shoes. 

Don’t pack extra toiletries. Think about how long you’ll be gone and only pack what you’ll actually use. Put small things like creams into contact cases (thanks for the tip, Aunt Susan!) or refillable travel-sized bottles. There’s no reason to take full-sized items for one weekend. 

Step 3: Avoid things you don’t really need

There are some things you just don’t need to pack at all. For example, your accommodation will almost certainly have a hairdryer. Check ahead of time to be sure, but this is a large item that you shouldn’t need to pack. Another thing I don’t take is a laptop. Obviously if you really must work, you may need it, but in most cases, it’s not necessary! The same goes for books. I read on my phone when traveling. I don’t even take a tablet for weekend trips, but it’s a smaller option than laptops or books if you feel you need them.

Step 4: Think about what you’ll wear while traveling

If you’re only taking a backpack, choose what you’ll wear strategically. Always wear your bulky items because they take up less space in your bag that way. For example, from the packing list below, I wore the (comfortable) jeans, sweatshirt, and booties on the plane because those all take up a lot of space in a bag.

Step 5: Go back over your clothes 

When I pack, I check the weather then go through my closet, pulling out what I think I’ll wear. Then, I go through everything, counting and thinking about the number of days I’ll be gone and what type of clothes I’ll likely wear each day. Finally, I go through again to make sure I have complete outfits and don’t have extra items that don’t match anything, nearly always removing items at this step. If you’re only packing a backpack, an extra pair of jeans will take up a lot of your space!

Packing List

Here is exactly what I packed and wore one the plane for a 4-night weekend trip. We were gone for four nights, but because of flight times, basically had three days.

In the backpack

  • jeans – 1 pair
  • shorts – 1 pair
  • sweatshirt -1 
  • jacket – 1
  • booties – 1 pair
  • sandals – 2 pairs
  • shirts – 5
  • dress – 1
  • skirt – 1
  • bras – 3
  • underwear – 5
  • socks – 4 pairs
  • swimsuit – 1
  • phone charger
  • hair straightener 

Toiletry bag

  • glasses + case
  • saline contact solution (travel size)
  • contact cases – 2 types
  • peroxide contact solution (travel size)
  • shampoo (travel size)
  • conditioner (travel size)
  • face moisturizer
  • razer
  • q-tips
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste (smallish tube, but not travel size)
  • nail polish
  • hair ties
  • bobby pins
  • deodorant
  • hair brush

Makeup bag

  • concealer
  • foundation stick
  • powder foundation
  • eye liner
  • mascara
  • palette with eye shadow, blush, bronzer, highlighter
  • tweezers 
  • brushes – 4

Things I forgot: soap, face soap, sunscreen, sunglasses

I always forget things! What are you most likely to forget when you pack?

Related: How to Pack Light (a little more general, for packing just a suitcase) and We Stayed in a Capsule Hostel! (and took only backpacks)

Fast Packing Tip: keep your toiletry bag packed! It took me about 30 minutes to pack all of this.

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