4 Days in NYC with a Backpack (What I Packed)

Written by Janet

When my family went on a 10 day trip to Italy a few years back, I packed a large checked bag, duffel bag, and backpack. As fate would have it, I didn't wear half the items I brought, and my checked bag's wheel broke as we were rushing to catch our bus to fly back home.

Needless to say, it was embarrassing having my luggage clatter around on the cobblestone path as we rushed to the station. This experience chided me into packing lighter for following trips although I was always allowed at least two bags.

That is, until this past Memorial Day weekend. I was going to visit my friend in NYC, and because I wanted to minimize travel costs, I chose the basic economy flight ticket for my return trip on United Airlines, which restricts you from bringing more than one personal item. That means no checked bag or carry-on luggage.

As such, it was thrust upon me to pack light to save a few bucks, and so I did. Below you'll see everything I brought to New York with a few tips I discovered along the way as I was packing!

What's inside my backpack?

Basically all of this. But to get into more details, here's the breakdown:

This is how I packed everything into my bag. I had two packing cubes and three smaller pouches to carry my makeup and toiletries. I like to put in the largest items first then fill in with smaller items.

The large packing cube (1) was put into the main pocket first horizontally. Then the smaller cube (2) was put on top, the bible was tucked into the side, the three pouches (3, 4, 5) came next, and the rest (lovingly) shoved in. Smaller items like my wallet and keys were placed in the front pocket.

So what did I wear?

These are the clothes that I packed in the large packing cube (#1). I packed one button down (a), one graphic tee (b, also used as a sleep shirt), and one plain v-neck (c). For bottoms I brought sleep shorts (d), lightweight joggers (e), and high-rise mom jeans (f). Finally I brought a lightweight cotton dress (g).

Keep in mind I was packing for a low of mid 60s and a high of low 70s!

Some additional clothing items I brought were worn as my airport outfit shown below:

Day 0: Airport Outfit

My biggest consideration while prepping my airport ensemble was picking comfortable pieces that coordinated well with the clothes I packed. The above outfit is the result!

My thickest layer was my long bomber jacket (h). Underneath I wore a cropped faux-leather jacket (j) which is more lightweight than it looks. This was an excellent decision as it was the perfect weight and very easy to throw on and off!

Finally, I paired it with a graphic tee (j) and some comfy flare pants (l). To accessorize, I carried my essentials in our Nikki tote (k) and a few gold jewelry pieces. I slipped on my chunky sneakers and called it a day.

Day 1: Wicked the Musical

For the first day of my trip, we planned on watching Wicked and eating in the city. I wanted to dress appropriately for the play and decided on this lightweight dress (g). It was easy to pack and is a versatile piece as you can dress it up or down, and you can even style it as a skirt.

I kept my graphic tee and leather jacket from my airplane outfit along with the same gold jewelry and switched out the sneakers for my comfy black mules.

While flats are usually a no-go for days I plan on walking for a long period of time, this pair has been tested and tried for comfort! We walked around after the show and toured the Glossier flagship, and I was comfortable all day.

Day 2: Smorgasburg Food Festival and Thrift Shopping

We planned on going to Smorgasburg, a large food festival in Prospect Park, and thrift shopping for our second day in New York. As comfort was key that day, I kept it simple with a plain tee (c) and my trusty leather jacket (i). I threw on my jeans and sneakers, wore the usual tote and gold jewelry, and was ready to go!

While I was mostly comfortable in this look, the outfit was not humidity-friendly. While the weather was in the mid to high 70's, it felt like it was in the 80's and all the walking to find Smorgasburg didn't help either. I managed to survive by cuffing my jeans, taking off my jacket, and drinking plenty of water!

In hindsight, I would pack shorts instead of jeans and could probably have survived without the jacket for the day. The sneakers worked well though, as Prospect Park is huge, and happy feet are a must when thrift shopping!

Day 3: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For our last full day in New York, I wore my striped maxi dress (g) with the v neck layered underneath. I layered my linen button-up (a) on top and accessorized with my gold jewelry and tote as per usual. Since the Met requires a lot of walking, I finished the look with my sneakers (m).

Looking back, I would have chosen a more streamlined sneaker as it's more versatile than the chunky alternative I packed. Still, my sneakers were quite comfortable, which is the most important factor regarding footwear, so I have little regrets there!

Day 4: Brunch and Returning Home

My last day in NYC was a relaxed one. We slept in and ate brunch at a cozy but overpriced cafe. I headed to the airport to catch my flight home and mostly re-wore my airport look. I switched the black graphic tee for the green one (which I wore as pajamas the night before), and added the button-up on top. I also squeezed my tote bag into my backpack to fit accommodate United's one personal item restriction.

I wore more layers this time since souvenirs crowded out any extra space I had. Luckily, I was able to make it on the plane and ended up being in the last row with no one next to me! It was a blessed flight home, indeed.

This is probably of little interest to most, but for the sake of completion, I packed socks and undergarments in my smaller packing cube (#2). Now onto the toiletries!

What Toiletries Did I Bring?

My Makeup Bag

 Let's start it off with my makeup bag. It's easier to read in list form so here it is from top to bottom:

a) Tarte Brow Pencil

b) Renu Eye Drops

c) MAC Lipstick

d) Portable tissue

e) Real Techniques Kabuki Brush

f) Advil

g) Compact mirror

h) Rimmel Stay Matte Powder

i) Missha BB Cream

j) Holika Holika Jelly Dough Blusher

k) Visine Eye Drops (for contacts)- didn't need to bring this one though!

l) L'Occitane Hand Cream

m) Lens cleaning wipe

n) C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve (repackaged in a Nature Republic container)

Although the list seems long, this is what I brought for a fairly simple makeup routine. I focus on face makeup (i.e. foundation and blush) and brows, which my makeup choices reflect.

To cut down on the amount of makeup brushes you bring, try bringing a cushion foundation and blusher! It saves space and is much easier to put on. I ended up running out of my cushion foundation so I threw it out before writing this post, but I highly recommend it for the convenience.

My Toiletries Bag

My last two pouches consisted of my toiletries. Since I had a limited liquid allowance, I discovered some tips that helped me stay airplane-friendly!

In pouch #4, I had a mini hair brush (a), toothbrush and paste (b, c), sample Drunk Elephant cream (d), sample Nature Republic toners (e) and a sample Tatcha Rice Enzyme Powder(f). As you can see, I brought a lot of samples to cut down on my liquids.

Pro tip: try bringing a dry cleanser like the Tatcha Rice Enzyme Powder! There's no risk of your liquids spilling on the plane, and it doesn't take away from your liquid limit. The Tatcha powder is pricey, but a quick search on Amazon lists highly-rated dupes at a more reasonable rate.

My final pouch contains soap and a body sponge. If you want to keep your toiletries really simple, you can nix bringing a cleanser and use the soap for your face and body! And since this is a bar soap, it doesn't spill or take away from your liquid allowance. Pretty nifty, right?

What I Forgot and What I Didn't Need

While I was able to keep everything packed in my backpack, you'll notice that I didn't end up using a few items.

  • I would have switched out the jeans for a pair of shorts.
  • I also never ended up wearing my joggers.
  • I should have brought a lighter jacket than the bomber for more weather-appropriate outerwear.
  • It also isn't completely necessary to bring soap, as most accommodations provide that as well.
  • I did wish I brought an umbrella. Although it only rained one day and not too heavily, it would have made the trip that much more enjoyable!
  • Finally, instead of bringing chunky sneakers, a sleek pair of white sneakers would have been a great alternative for improved outfit coordination.

Would you be able to pack everything you need for a four day trip into a backpack? Would your items be similar to mine, or would you bring something different? Please let me know!

If you want to be completely prepared for your trip, try using the Comprehensive Packing Guide Jessica made!






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