If you’re traveling to New Zealand from the United States, Canada or Europe – hell, pretty much anywhere, let’s be honest – you’ve probably got a longer trip planned. After all, there’s a significant amount of travel time to factor in when you’re headed to New Zealand, so it makes sense to spend at least two weeks there to make the trip worth your while. When my husband and I started planning our trip over a year ago, we knew we could devote two weeks to the trip and wanted to get in as much hiking and outdoor adventure as possible.

This trip was a little different than the others I often take for a few reasons: 1) I was traveling with my husband, which rarely happens because of his limited vacation time, and 2) we would be meeting up with friends while on our trip. This meant that my wardrobe would need to allow for things like decent dinners out and wine tastings in addition to all the outdoor adventures I normally do, so it posed a little more of a challenge. Either way, I was determined to pack for these two weeks in New Zealand in a carry-on.

Let’s make it happen! If you’re interested, it’s this suitcase and this backpack.

I’m also in the middle of training for the Prague Marathon, and while my training plan allows for time off during this trip, I definitely wanted to pack workout gear and my running shoes, all of which takes up space. I knew that my trusty packing cubes and stuff sacks would be my best friend once again. Here were the big rules I used when packing for this trip:

1. Bring as many dual-purpose items as possible. As you’ll see below, I brought two dresses- both of which could double as bathing suit cover-ups and which also are made of tech material and can be worn while doing outdoor activities but still look nice for dinner. All of my hiking tank tops also double as running or workout tanks, and my long sleeve tops can be worn while hiking or out at night because of the technical material.

2. Be prepared for the variable temperatures with layers. The weather in the summer in New Zealand can be unpredictable, especially on the South Island. Rain is common and it can often be cold and windy. Rather than packing a big coat, which would take up tons of space, I knew I wanted to bring thin layers that I could easily switch in and out as the weather changed.

3. Pack your biggest items in your suitcase. Conventional wisdom says to wear your bulky items – like hiking boots or jackets – on the plane with you to save room in your suitcase, but I personally disagree. I prefer to pack those items on the way to my destination and then, if I need extra room on the way home (thanks to too many souvenirs or just lazy packing), I can wear them on the plane ride home. I applied this rule to my hiking boots and jackets for this trip!

Laying all the clothes out first helps me see what I really do and don’t need.

Following the three big rules, here is the clothing list I ended up with:

  • 2 button-down hiking shirts (for wearing over tank tops and blocking the sun)
  • 4 breathable tanks (for hiking and working out)
  • 2 tank tops for going out
  • 2 undershirts/tanks
  • 1 cardigan (for layering with going out tanks and dresses)
  • 2 short sleeve technical shirts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 2 pairs of hiking pants (double as leggings or travel clothes)
  • 2 pairs of shorts (for hiking or outdoor activities)
  • 2 technical dresses (for going out or beach coverups and outdoor activities)
  • 2 pairs of running shorts
  • 2 pairs of workout leggings (double as sleep leggings if needed)
  • 3 long sleeve casual shirts (for hiking or night time)
  • 1 technical sweater (for hiking and going out)
  • 4 pairs of hiking socks
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 thin puffy jacket
  • 1 sleep outfit
  • Underwear/sports bras

Then, it’s time to start rolling the lighter weight items and placing them into the packing cubes. I always start with my workout clothes first since they’re easy to pack and give me a sense of accomplishment before I tackle the bigger items. Packing for a big trip can be overwhelming, even when you do it all the time!

The workout packing cube – hiking/workout tanks, leggings, and running shorts

Next, I start working on the bigger items. For my “nicer” (and also bulkier) shirts, pants, and dresses, I place these into a larger packing cube where they are less likely to get tons of wrinkles. The jackets go into a stuff sack, as do things like sports bras. I like to keep all of my cubes and sacks organized by function so that I don’t ever have to rip all my stuff apart trying to find one item of clothing. It does take some thought and some persistence throughout the trip, but it’s worth it to not have to dump your backpack or suitcase out looking for your favorite shirt.

This is what it looks like after everything is packed up and ready to go into the suitcase

The next big part is fitting everything in your suitcase or backpack. This part can be tricky! The key is to leave no “dead” space. For example, my suitcase has hard bars on the back that make up the handle. These bars are raised slightly above the inside of the back of the case, meaning that if I just simply place a packing cube on top, I’m losing some valuable space. I wedge things like rain jackets, scarves, and more in there underneath my packing cubes! Also, there is sometimes room between my packing cubes and the edge of the compartment, so I stuff my underwear bag, hats, or smaller stuff sacks there. Be creative!

In this picture, I have my larger packing cube at the bottom and then two smaller cubes stacked above it. A stuff sack, underwear bag, hats, etc are in the dead space on either end.

Now, the part many women struggle with – shoes! This used to be me, too. It took me awhile to figure out that some things – like heels – just weren’t realistic to bring due to the type of travel I do. Even if I have a nice night out, I’m probably going to be walking a lot. So, I bring ballet flats instead, which are a lot smaller! Hiking boots and running shoes obviously take up the most space, so to save room, I stuff my socks inside them. For this trip, I brought hiking boots, running shoes, a pair of neutral ballet flats, a pair of adventure/outdoor sandals, and a pair of TOMS for the plane/walking around cities. I wear my TOMS on the plane, pack the sandals in my backpack, and the other pairs go into the suitcase. NOTE: You do NOT need to bring this many pairs of shoes and if I were not training for a marathon, I’d be leaving my running shoes at home. On the other hand, if you don’t hike much, you could ditch the boots and bring your running shoes! If I wasn’t going with AJ, I wouldn’t even bother with ballet flats, but sometimes I try to look decent for him.

Neat and tidy! Notice the great use of space – my universal adapter is squeezed in between my ballet flats and my tripod is all the way on the right!

All of this fit neatly into my suitcase without ever having to use the expander or squeeze anything at all. Easy peasy! Next, it’s time to pack my bag for under the seat. Normally, I bring a large leather bag that easily compartmentalizes all my stuff, but I wanted a daypack for this trip since we’d be doing so much hiking. This made things a bit challenging, since it’s definitely smaller! Here is what I packed:

  • Work laptop and charger (How else could I travel so much?)
  • Eye mask and ear plugs
  • Compression socks
  • Headphones
  • Kindle
  • iPad
  • Toiletry bag (I like keeping this on the plane with me for long flights)
  • Fleece hoody
  • Camera bag
  • The best travel pillow ever
Will it all fit? Of course!

What I love about everything on this list is that nearly every item has multiple purposes. The lightweight, technical fabrics of most of the clothing mean that everything packs small and light, so I don’t have to worry about bulk. I even have room left over in my suitcase and backpack for souvenirs! You could definitely bring even less than this for your trip depending on what activities you’ll be doing.

It’s possible to pack for #NewZealand in a carry-on. Check out @thetrexrunner’s tips and packing list!

And that’s it! Now, go forth and conquer New Zealand without worrying about your luggage getting lost.

LEAVE A COMMENT: Is New Zealand on your bucket list? What would you bring? What’s the longest you’ve ever traveled with a carry-on?

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