How to Prepare for a Trip You Can’t Prepare for

What to Pack When You Don’t Have Plans

“We don’t know what out plans are yet, so bring a little bit of everything,” are the nightmarish words I heard from my aunt a few days before our trip to California. I am a precise packer. The last time I came home from a trip, I threw everything I brought into the laundry because I wore every piece of clothing I packed. Now, I am packing for cold and warm weather and everything in between. I have no idea what to bring or how I am going to fit everything in my carry-on.

We don’t know what our plans are yet, so bring a little bit of everything”

packing for cold and warm weather in a carry-on

Checking bags can be a hassle, and I avoid them like the plague while traveling. Over the years, I have perfected the art of being a carry-on traveler. My boyfriend, now also my travel partner, laughs at me with his large checked bag. If you want to, you can check a bag for more room but risk the chance of lost, damaged, or stolen luggage. On a short trip, I always avoid it. 

carry-on packing
My Suitcase vs. My Boyfriend’s

While studying abroad, I packed everything I needed in a small backpack around Cinque Terre, Rome, and Pompei for ten days. How to Pack 10 Days of Clothing in a Carry-on After that packing for a trip to California should be a breeze. I fill my suitcase with what I need- no more or less. The problem is with this trip; I am still determining what we will be doing or even where we are going, so here is what I did to prepare for a trip I couldn’t prepare for. 

Choose the right luggage

Not all carry-ons are equal. Some carry-ons can fit an enormous amount of clothing, and others can’t. You might have to squeeze and stuff your clothing in, but they will work. 
Cotopaxi- Backpacks are an excellent solution for light packers traveling, especially in Europe. The last thing you want is to wheel your expensive luggage through cobblestone streets or up large stairs. Cotopaxi backpacks can fit up to two weeks’ worth of clothing and have a separate compartment for your laptop too. 
Ricardo- Backpacks aren’t for everyone. They are heavy to carry and annoying to lug around the airport. A carry-on might be better if you go directly from the airport to your destination. The Ricardo carry-on is excellent because the wheels follow me in every direction, making gliding through the airport a breeze. Two separate compartments are on either side of the suitcase, making it easy to organize. 

Samsonite- Samsonite is one of the best brands out there regarding luggage. There is another suitcase option great for travelers who want durability and ease in and out of the airport. 

When determining which carry-on is best for your trip the compartments play a role. Are you going to put your laptop in your carry-on? Do you want a space for dirty clothes? These are just a few things to think about when selecting your bag.

Rain or Shine 

The one thing that might be more unpredictable than your trip is the rain. The last thing you want is to get drenched on your trip. I don’t care where I am when I am cold and wet, it’s not a good time.

The lucky news is that ponchos and umbrellas are cheap and easy to pack. I always have a small umbrella, rain poncho, or quick-drying clothing, just in case. It also helps to bring a few pieces of quick drying clothing.


The rule of threes works out for me when it comes to shoes. I like to have one pair of shoes I could dress up or down, one nice pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of shoes to go running or hiking in. If you are still determining what’s in store for your trip, this is a great way to ensure you have shoes to wear to a nice restaurant or on an 8-mile hike, depending on how the trip turns out. 

Since it’s summer and snow isn’t a concern, I pack my Hokas, Birkenstocks, and New Balance tennis shoes. Hokas are for hiking and jogging. Birkenstocks are for the beach and out to dinner, and my New Balance tennis shoes are for everything else.

Clothing– packing for cold and warm weather

Going to San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park, Los Angeles, or Malibu is possible on my upcoming trip—all places with very different climates and clothing. Packaging a bit of everything is the best way to prepare for being unprepared, but how do you do that with limited space? Packing for cold and warm weather is challenging but the key is layering. 

Pack options like jeans, leggings, long-sleeve shirts, and zip-ups for cooler days. Pack shorts, t-shirts, and breezy dresses for warmer weather. Each piece should be able to mix and match. Cool clothing takes up a little room, but the warmer layers need some strategic packing. First and foremost, save space in your carry-on by always wearing your thickest and bulkiest clothing on the airplane. I wear my thickest jeans or sweatpants and coat on the plane to save space for smaller items in my suitcase.

While you are packing be mindful about how your layers pair with each other. If you have a sundress, be sure to have a sweater with it, just in case. If all you have is an athletic zip-up you might look a little silly walking into a restaurant. Making sure all of your clothes can be mixed and matched is the best strategy to make the most out of a small suitcase of clothes. 

Have a variety of pieces that can be changed or layered if it’s hot or cold. For a bonus tip, I usually pack double the underwear I need for a trip. If I am gone seven days, I will pack 14 pairs because if I need to stay longer, I will re-wear t-shirts and shorts, but I won’t re-wear underwear. 


packing for cold and warm weather

Like shoes, the rule of three applies here too. I pack one lightweight sweater for cooler nights, one zip-up in case it’s cooler while on a hike or outside, and lastly, I pack a warm jacket that is ideal if the weather is cooler. Since it is summer, I won’t worry about packing a heavy winter coat, as I would wear in Chicago, but I am prepared to be comfortable in case the temperatures where we are is a little bit chilly.

packing for cold and warm weather


I try to make travel as comfortable as possible by being prepared. Yet, sometimes the best part of your travel isn’t on your itinerary. It’s not a disaster if you don’t pack perfectly. The worst case is you buy a few items at the local mall or thrift store that better fit the temperatures and activities you are doing. Being prepared for not being prepared is a catalyst for a new adventure. 

Happy Travels, Morgan

packing for cold and warm weather
Kerwin & I at Zuma Beach, California

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