I am a big advocate for packing only in a carry-on when I fly. I know there is debate among travelers out there, but I consistently prefer carry-ons to save me significant time and money (and the risk of the airline losing my bags!) To be fair, I will pack and check a full-size suitcase for my husband’s and my annual vacation – when we’re going to be staying in one place and aren’t on a time restriction. But 9 times out of 10, I find that packing efficiently in a carry-on can make your travel experience smoother and far more convenient. Here are some tips to help you pack in a carry-on only:
Make a packing list
Create a list of everything you *think* you need to bring. Then, as the old adage goes: bring half as many clothes and twice as much money. 🤣 Just kidding. But really, making a list – and then laying everything out on the bed/floor before you pack it – will help you visualize what’s actually needed. Ask yourself: “What can I live without during this trip? How much of the day will I be out of my hotel room/exploring/on-the-go? How many times will I actually need to change my clothes in the same day?” There are some exceptions, of course, like I always recommend bringing extra socks and underwear, but otherwise you should maximize the clothing you bring so every piece serves multiple purposes (i.e., it is suitable for exploring AND for a nice restaurant dinner.) More on that below…
Choose versatile, multipurpose clothing
Layers, baby! Leggings and tank tops/camis are your best friends, even in winter! Cardigans, flowy blouses, and jeans can all mix and match with tanks/camis and leggings. I also recommend sticking to a color scheme for further mix-and-match power – and of course, you can’t go wrong with black. Strategize your accessories – a scarf, hat, and belt(s) can change up your look without the need to pack more clothes. And of course, check the weather before you travel so you know what’s necessary to bring and what’s not! i.e., There is no need to pack a coat if you’re going to Hawaii in the summer, nor shorts if you’ll be in Europe in the winter. 😉
Limit your shoes
Ladies, I know this one can be tough. But aim to bring just two pairs: one for walking/hiking/whatever you’ll be doing at your destination, and one for dressier occasions. I invested in a great pair of boots that are perfect for both walking and hiking, so I wear those on the plane and just pack my low-profile, lightweight white tennies or a pair of flats.
Choose the right bags
The standard carry-on size limit within the U.S. is 22 x 14 x 9 (LxWxH) including handles and wheels. I always travel with a combination of a rolling suitcase like this one with 360-degree spinner wheels and this backpack. They’re both lightweight, durable, carry-on compliant and have tons of compartments for organization. Personally, I prefer soft-shell suitcases because they’re more flexible and can accommodate a bit of bulge if you overpack a little. 😉Unless you’re flying with Frontier or Spirit Airlines, both of these can go onboard. I pack clothing and toiletries in my rolling suitcase and stick it in the overhead compartment, then electronics, meds, tablet, phone, earbuds, snacks, etc. go in my backpack at my feet. I also stick my anti-theft crossbody bag in my suitcase to use during the day at my destination, since I don’t always need my backpack while there.
Roll your clothes and use compression cubes
Rolling your clothes instead of folding saves a lot of space AND reduces wrinkles! It also allows for better visibility of your items in the bag. Plus, compression cubes are an absolute game-changer. I love these.
Wear your bulkiest items on the plane
Trust me. Don’t waste precious bag space with your coat and boots. Wear them on the plane. Coats/jackets don’t usually count as a personal item – but if the gate agents are being extra strict, stick the coat on until you get to your seat, then you can either keep it on your lap or stuff it in the overhead compartment on top of your suitcase (so you aren’t taking up someone else’s suitcase space).
Reuse cosmetic containers for travel-sized toiletries
You can buy reusable silicone containers for lotions/creams, shampoos, and washes, but I also like reusing jars like the ones my face cream comes in. Just make sure they’re 3.4 oz. or smaller. My favorite toiletry bag is this one by Mary Kay – it has removable, clear zippered pouches so you can put them on the counter in your hotel! I also like to put all my liquids in one of the pouches so I can remove it during TSA screening, like they want.
Downsize your electronics
Do you *need* to bring your laptop? That’s usually the heaviest, bulkiest electronic. Unless I’m on a work trip, I just bring my phone and iPad (tablet) with all my ebooks loaded into the Kindle app. Even as a fan of real books, I stick to ebooks for travel to save TONS of space and weight!
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