How to pack for holiday travel with just a carryon

If you’re traveling about the holidays, chances are you’re stressing at least a little about packing for your trip. I think the most challenging aspect of packing for the holidays is making sure you bring enough variety for all the activities you’ll probably be taking part in.

You’ll probably need some kind of dressy outfit, for parties or services or family dinners, and you’ll also probably need some serious lounge clothes for after all those cookies and on Christmas morning. Plus, of course, you need some activewear so you can do a turkey trot with your family or check out the local fitness studio. Fitting in the perfect mix without overpacking is tough, but it can be done.

I used to be a super ninja packer; back in my college days, I could go for a weekend away with just a large purse and nothing else. These days, I’m not quite so minimalist; I usually want at least another pair of shoes or some nicer clothing options with me, but that said, I’ve developed kind of a formula for packing for the holidays that makes me SO HAPPY and never leaves me with the “I have nothing to wear!” or “why did I pack so much crap?!” blues.

Wear on the plane:

  • Super comfy graphic tee: (exact) c/o 73threads. I am IN LOVE with 73threads tees; they are cute graphic tees mostly for runners and athletes that are the softest, comfiest, most flattering tees ever. I feel like I’m in pajamas. WIN. Tip: size up, they run a snug TTS.
  • Stretchy, comfy jeans (similar and on super sale; I’m wearing maternity jeans here (say what now?) but I have the linked ones too and LOVE them).
  • Moto jacket (similar and on sale!)
  • Plaid blanket scarf (similar). Does double duty as a scarf and a blanket. I can’t live without this cozy thing.
  • Riding boots (exact). Tall boots are hardly trendy anymore, but I like to think of them as classic. And they’re a total workhorse of a boot when it comes to versatility.
holiday packing list

If you want to avoid any family members, you can always burrow into your blanket scarf and hide.

What to pack:

For party time:

  • Basic black dress (similar) that I can dress up or down with jewelry and shoes. I’ll wear this to parties with black flats and tights —of course you could swap out heels or booties here, but I like how little space flats take up in my suitcase. This dress does double duty because you bet I’m going to wear it during the day with leggings and boots.
  • Black flats / heels / booties. I couldn’t bring myself to link to any because as soon as I start looking at shoes I lose all track of time and nothing gets done. But I’m sure you have some kind of black footwear in your closet. 😉


  • Two longer, tunic-style tops (similar, similar). These check a lot of boxes: they’re long enough that I can wear them with leggings and feel covered; they’re extremely packable; they’re more dressy than tee shirts; they’re loose enough to wear even during a huge holiday feast; and they’re both neutrals, so they’ll go with my jeans, leggings, moto jacket, and scarf.
  • One long cardigan (similar). A perfect layering piece over the dress or any of my tops. I can even throw it over my t-shirts.

Activewear & Loungewear

holiday packing list

  • Two tees from 73threads. The “run y’all shirt I’m wearing on the plane, and this hilarious, equally comfy tee:

holiday packing list

I like having tees that spark conversation; I find that they can help make family conversations more fun and potentially less awkward. Or, that’s my hope anyway!

Use code Sweat73 to save 10% sitewide on 73threads plus get free shipping through December 31!

  • Black leggings (similar) that can either be worn under my dress OR for a run or other activity.  I’ll just plan on washing these overnight whenever they get sweaty. 🙂
  • One activewear long sleeve (similar). This can also be worn for loungewear and even for running errands if necessary.
  • Running shoes (exact). These take up a lot of space, but they’re worth it!
holiday packing list

Holidays call for ALL the lounge time.

  • One pair of presentable sweats or joggers (exact). Over the holidays, I ALWAYS want something that feels like sweats but that you can wear in front of your extended family or even out on errands if need be. Right now I’m obsessed with this pair of joggers, but there are a zillion options out there.

And there you have it! A complete packing list that will fit into a carry-on. It’s not the most fashionable list—you’ll be wearing the same thing over and over—but what it lacks in high fashion it makes up for in convenience and simplicity. Plus you might even have some room to bring home your gifts. 😀

A huge thank you to 73threads for partnering with us on this post! Check out their super soft, amazing line at, all of which is 10% off with the code Sweat73 through December 31. They have a lot of great gifts for runners and athletes especially so it’s a great opportunity to cross a few people off your list. 

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Fitness

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Fitness


  1. Liz Wilson
    Liz Wilson

    You are so cute! And your packing is so impressive. Hope I can follow these awesome tips for my trip home!

    1. Alyse

      Thanks Liz! I ended up totally changing my strategy at the last minute – ha! But I stand by this list. 🙂

  2. Shelby @Fitasamamabear

    Good on you for being able to pack only in a carryon. I suck at packing and always bring waaay too much. Which is funny because I live in like the same 8 pieces of clothing 😛

    1. Alyse

      Ahaha I’m the same way, I basically live in a few items… but when I pack I have a wandering eye.

  3. Jamie King

    I totally used all of your tips and was a total packing ninja this holiday, THANK YOU!!! XO

    1. Alyse

      YAY way to go! Necessary especially since you had so many baby Danger gifts to tote home!

  4. Nicci Randall
    Nicci Randall

    Putting this one in my back pocket for upcoming travels! Thanks for all the packing trips – can’t wait to travel a little lighter!

    1. Alyse

      Yay, hope it’s helpful! You should totally try it out on a trip to austin. 🙂

  5. Erica Friedman

    Great packing tips! I always have a basic black dress and comfy black leggings too. So many ways to dress up or down!

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