A Traveler’s Guide to Packing Your Carry On
Oh, carry-on luggage. There was a time when carry-ons weren’t such a big deal. Does anyone remember that?
A time when budget, no-frills airlines hadn’t yet taken off (excuse the pun…) like they have today, and no one was charging us sky-high (get it?) prices for the pleasure of checking a bag into the hold.
But, the sad fact of it is that these days, in the name of ‘keeping fairs as low as possible’, many airlines (even long-haul ones) are now even charging us for the pleasure of even bringing a measly 10kg of hand luggage onto the plane with us.
Anyway, much as I’m sure we could all complain about all those airlines that are now only including a ‘personal item’ for free and charging for both hand luggage and hold luggage until the cows come home, I digress.
The point is that luggage space is ever-more of a premium, so you can no longer afford to be packing carelessly or chaotically. With ever-greater savings at stake, the space in a carry-on bag is now more valuable than ever.
If you’re smart about it, you can even pack everything you’ll need for an extended trip into that confined space. Hell, some people even head off for a year around the world with nothing more than a bag that fits into one of those hand luggage sizers.
In this article, I’m going to share all the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years for packing a carry-on bag flawlessly, and what you should be taking with you. I’ll both be talking from personal experience and letting some of the experts do the talking for me.
There are two main situations that you might find yourself in when traveling, namely traveling with just a carry-on, or traveling with a carry-on as well as a bag that you’ll be checking into the hold.
We’re going to be looking at both, as the contents of your carry-on will be pretty different in each scenario.
The suitcase you use is key
Wherever you’re going and however much you need to cram into your carry-on bag, the features of that bag are pretty crucial. Hard-shell suitcases should be a lightweight material and need to include plenty of pockets, compartments, and straps to keep things organized.
If you’re opting for a travel backpack, again, different compartments and straps are very useful for compressing things and keeping everything in its place.
Oh, and remember, most airlines limit you to a bag that’s 55x40x23cm, but you should always check before you fly.
If you are taking just a carry-on luggage
- Making a packing list
Before you start packing, taking some time to figure out exactly what you’re going to need. That means there’s less chance you’ll get to your destination and realized you’ve forgotten to pack any socks or your deodorant. You can, of course, always buy anything you’ve left behind, but it’s always best to come prepared.
- Fold or roll
There are various methods of packing your clothes, and each of them has pluses and minuses. If you’re trying to fit in as many clothes as possible then rolling or vertical folding are the most effective space-savers.
If rolling your clothes, you can use hair ties or rubber bands to keep them compressed.
The benefits of vertical folding, as Lavendaire explains in her carry-on packing video, include the fact that you can see your wardrobe at a glance, which is very handy for living out of a suitcase.
Another tip shared by Lavendaire that’s something I always do is to organize everything into separate pouches. Socks and underwear, for example, are great to keep compressed in one place.
Makeup, chargers and adaptors and toiletries are also great to keep separate from everything else. Make sure that the toiletries pouch is waterproof to avoid any disasters should anything burst. Getting a clear toiletries pouch will mean you can just pick it out of your bag and breeze through security. Travel Bottles for things like shampoos help.
- Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are great for keeping everything organized and for saving on space. Divide your clothes up by items, weight or at what point in the trip you’re going to need them.
Whilst vacuum cubes are great for getting the maximum amount of items from A to B, they aren’t so great for traveling with a carry-on that you’re going to have to repack every day, as if you don’t have access to a vacuum then they’ll take up less space.
- Make the most of wasted space
- Bring clothes that match more than one other item
My aunt prides herself on only packing hand luggage for long trips, and on managing to wear absolutely every item she packs at least twice. She’s my packing guru.
For a long time away with just hand luggage, you need to get practical. Every item that you pack should be versatile, and able to be combined with different other items to create a new outfit.
I always find it best to pick one color palette and stick to it, so everything can be mixed and matched and you make the most of every item of clothing.
- Bring versatile items
You don’t want to be packing outfits for the daytime, and whole other outfits to head out in the evenings. Bring things that can either be dressed up or down with the help of a few tactically-packed accessories. A scarf is especially good for this and can also be worn in place of a cardigan or even used as a sunshade.
During the colder months of the year, or in colder countries, a pair of stylish but comfortable boots are easy for women to wear during the day but can also do the job of a pair of heels in the evening.
- Lay out everything you want to take
Once you’ve made a decision about your holiday wardrobe and everything that needs to come with you, lay it all out on the floor or your bed. Then, it’s time to be brutal.
The rule I’ve always traveled by is to lay out all the clothes I think I’ll need and half them, and then take the amount of money I think I’ll need and double it.
- Throw in a few plastic bags
Don’t forget to wrap your shoes in plastic bags to protect your clothes. Whilst you’re at it, add in a few more plastic bags for dirty clothes. A dirty clothes pouch or packing cube is also an option.
- Decant your toiletries into smaller bottles
- Keep your entertainment items all together
And the pouches strike again! A tote bag is also good for this. Keep everything that you’re going to want to keep you entertained on the plane in one pouch so you don’t have to keep opening the overhead locker to retrieve things but can just grab it when you get onboard.
- And don’t forget the snacks
You should always keep your snack supply close to hand. I don’t know about you, but planes make me very hungry, and the price of food on board is extortionate, so come prepared, and keep it all nicely accessible during the journey.
If you are taking a carry-on and a checked bag
- Pack an extra outfit and underwear just in case
If you’re traveling with hold luggage, then you might be tempted to think that it makes sense to put your clothes in there. But, if your suitcase does go astray, then you’ll be extremely glad to have a change of clothes in your hand luggage.
Pack something fairly neutral that’s suitable for what the weather’s going to be like where you’re going in case you end up being stuck without your bag for a short time.
- Pack all essential medication and emergency toiletries
Having hold luggage means you can bring all the toiletries you want, but you should still bring the essentials with you just in case.
A toothbrush and toothpaste are sensible as they mean you can freshen up on the flight and brush your teeth if your bag doesn’t follow you to your destination. Deodorant is also a good idea.
If you’re on any kind of medication then keep that with you at all times, too.
- Keep valuables in your carry-on
Just as with essential medications, important documents or valuable items belong in your carryon.
- Don’t overpack
If you’ve paid for hold luggage, then don’t overburden yourself with heavy hand luggage, too, as it will just weigh you down at the airport and throughout your journey. Just because you have the space available to you, that doesn’t mean you necessarily need to use it.