TRAVEL TIPS | Three Weeks, One Carry-on Suitcase

carry on suitcase and tote bag

Three weeks, one carry on suitcase and a tote bag. That’s how I roll. Don’t think you could ever possibly manage? Here’s how.

First, let me give you the details of the trip I packed for.

I went to Spain and Morocco, with an itinerary that went like this:

-Back to Granada
-Back to Madrid

Five different locations (two of them twice), five hotels, a friend’s apartment, and an artist residence.

Transportation included planes, trains, buses, cars, and a ferry.

Each city had distinct wardrobe requirements. For example, Madrid is a cosmopolitan city where everyone dresses fashionably and chic.

Then I would be spending time in Granada, exploring the city and wandering around the Alhambra in the hot Spanish sun.

After Granada, I would be at an artist’s residence for two weeks, which is located in a hot (+104˚ F) dry valley in the middle-of-nowhere Andalucia. (I was there to work on a book I am writing—more on that in the future.)

From there, I would go back to Granada for a night, and then head south to visit the beachy but sophisticated little Spanish village, Marbella, on the Costa del Sol.

I would then hop a ferry to Tangier—and I’d be there during Ramadan, which meant I should be respectfully covered.

At the end of the three weeks, I had to look reasonably put together for another day and a half in Madrid before flying home.

So you can see how packing for this trip had its challenges.

Here’s how I did it, and I can assure you I didn’t need a single additional item of clothing.

On the transatlantic flight I wore black leggings and a tunic-length blue cotton shirt, with a pair of navy blue flip flops. In a tote bag, I carried my trusty cashmere poncho, a silk scarf, and a pair of fold-up leather slip-on shoes, to keep me warm on the predictably over-refrigerated plane.

I chose a specific color palette of navy, white, and grey, and packed the following:

Two pairs skinny jeans that could be rolled up or down—one regular weight dark wash, and one lighter weight faded wash.

frame jeans
frame jeans

One pair slim, cropped navy cotton pants. (All pants laid flat in suitcase, with legs hanging out.)

theory pants

One pair knee length denim shorts, to wear at the artist’s residence. (Folded in half and laid on top of pants.)

knee length denim shorts

White three-quarter length sleeve cotton shirt. Arms could be rolled up for short-sleeved option. (Folded into a gallon-size ziploc bag.)

J crew white shirt

Blue and white striped lace-up placket shirt. (Folded and placed in ziploc bag with white shirt.)

striped shirt

Cream eyelet short sleeved top. (Folded and tucked into ziploc bag—good for travel because it didn’t wrinkle.)


T-shirts: dark blue, grey, white. (Gotta have t-shirts. Fold and put them all in one ziploc bag.)

J Crew t-shirt

Sleeveless silk shirt. Essential for hot weather travel. Takes up very little space, and could be worn with everything, everywhere. (Folded and placed in ziploc bag with eyelet top.)

sleeveless silk shirt

Navy sleeveless silk dress that could also be worn as a long tunic over the navy slim pants. Wore with the pants for a night out in Madrid, and many times by itself. (Folded into ziploc bag.)

Theory dress

Theory dress

Navy and white print maxi dress, short-sleeved. Perfect for a sun scorching day at the Alhambra, and just modest enough for another hot day in Tangier. (Folded and placed in ziploc bag with navy sleeveless dress.)Tolani amanda dress

The silk dresses were a godsend—they folded into virtually nothing, and creases either didn’t show (in the case of the print) or smoothed out once hung up. Which reminds me of another tip—creases can be eliminated with a shot of heat from a hair dryer.

3 pairs pajamas. (Packed in ziploc bag. Lightweight is the key word.)

J Crew pajamas

Ten pairs of underwear. (Packed in cloth pouch. Was able to wash halfway through the trip.)

Once all the ziplog bags were laid onto the pants, I folded the pants legs over the top of the pile.

White cotton jacket. Didn’t take up much space, and could be worn over everything. (Folded flat and laid on top.)makenzie-white-frt- jacket

The hardest thing to do is limit the number of shoes. I bit the bullet and limited my footwear to three pairs—I wore the navy flip flops and packed a pair of black patent flat sandals, for a dressier footwear option. Then I threw in a pair of mesh pull-on sneakers, for a non-sandal option. I have also been known to pack rubber-soled ballet flats, but they didn’t seem appropriate for this particular trip.

navy flip flopsCole Haan sandalsNike Orive Lite slip-on sneakersLight nylon raincoat, folded into flat nylon pouch. Never needed it but if I hadn’t packed it, it would have definitely rained. Murphy’s Law.Patagonia torrentshell raincoatSo that’s how I did it. You can follow my lead—make adjustments to the list according to your destination and the clothes you own.