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How To Pack Your Life Into a Carry-On

woman in white top and denim jeans sitting on red luggage bag

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

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As any experienced traveler will tell you, packing less is more…..Which is exactly why traveling with a carry-on is the smartest decision you can make. When it comes to the benefits of packing your life into a carry-on, perhaps the biggest one is that you have all of your essentials within reach. There’s nothing worse than getting comfortable on the plane and realizing you packed your book in your suitcase that’s stowed away.

On top of that, you don’t have to stress about the possibility of lost luggage or waiting 30 minutes after arrival to retrieve it. Simply grab your carry-on bag, step off the plane and enjoy your vacation.

And friend, I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend 50 dollars on lunch or a cute dress than a checked luggage fee.

If you’re new to traveling with just a carry-on, don’t panic! Follow these steps and you’ll be traveling like a pro in no time.

1. CHECK THE WEATHER.

Don’t pack for all types of weather. Be realistic with what you plan to bring.
If you are jet-setting off to Mexico in the summer, you aren’t going to need a pair of rain boots or those new jeans you just bought; much like you won’t put to use a pair of shorts in Michigan during the winter months.

By checking the forecast, you are able to pack accordingly, without overpacking.

2. WEAR YOUR HEAVIEST CLOTHES TO THE AIRPORT.

Typically, I’m the person showing up to the airport in my compression shorts and a tank top with sneakers on my feet and a jean jacket around my waist; planes can be so cold sometimes. When my travel weekends require a more elaborate wardrobe, I always wear my bulkiest clothes to the airport, even if that means sporting four-inch heels, a leather jacket and a sun hat. Yes, this has happened.

In doing this, you’ll free up more space in your luggage for excess clothes or an extra pair of sandals you didn’t think would fit. The larger the item, the less space you will have in your carry-on, so if you’re able to wear it, take advantage.

3. PLAN YOUR OUTFITS AHEAD OF TIME.

I cannot stress this enough, so read that again.

It’s easy to overpack, so instead of packing outfits you think you’ll wear, take the time to lay them out and choose pieces you can mix and match. Now is NOT the time to break in those new heels or pack the sundress that’s been sitting in your closet untouched for the past year; be practical and realistic when choosing your outfits. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing you aren’t loving any of the clothes you packed.

When packing jeans or shorts, find a universal pair that can be dressed up or down so you only need to pack one. Take a look at your itinerary, if you have one, and plan your outfits accordingly – you’re not going to need a fancy dress if you plan on spending a weekend hiking a National Park, no matter how good you look in it.

When traveling with a carry-on, my packing list looks something like this…

4. CHECK WITH YOUR FELLOW TRAVELERS.

There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination and realizing you both packed multiples of the same thing. Your carry-on is prime real estate, there is no room for mistakes to be made.

Communicate with your travel partners and collaborate on who is bringing what items.

5. ROLL, DON’T FOLD.

Your clothes have a magic ability to take up twice the amount of space in your suitcase when folded. Instead, roll them up and place them as close together as possible. This will help prevent wrinkles and save you space. Just be sure to unroll them once you arrive at your destination.

6. CONSIDER YOUR TOILETRIES.

Traveling with a carry-on requires you to consider your toiletries. You can no longer toss in that giant bottle of dry shampoo or your 12 oz. perfume. Take advantage of all the travel size toiletries your local drug store has to offer, since you can only bring 3 oz. liquids in your carry-on.

My toiletries list usually includes…

Most hotels will provide you with shampoo and conditioner, but purchasing travel size bottles to bring your own products is always a simple solution if you are skeptical about the quality.

When packing my toiletries, I use my “bathroom bag” and place it on top of everything just in case TSA needs to inspect it.

7. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR PERSONAL ITEM.

In addition to traveling with a carry-on, many airlines also allow a personal item. This can include a purse, laptop bag, briefcase, diaper bag – whatever you like, as long as it is generally small.

Don’t sleep on this option – USE THE BAG.

By taking advantage of your personal item, you’ll not only save space in your carry-on, but have easier access to items you wish to use on the plane.

In my bag you will find…

Of all the things you may learn from this article, let this be the most important – check the airline restrictions surrounding your carry-ons. Some airlines include a carry-on and a small bag such as a purse or small backpack with your ticket while some only allow you to have a small backpack that fits into the confinements of those metal sizing guides.
Trust me when I say they will make you take things out if it doesn’t fit.


Carry-On Regulations By Airline

Alaska Airlines

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″

Allegiant Air

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Personal item: 7″ x 15″ x 16″

American Airlines

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 10″
Personal item: 18″ x 14″ x 8″

Delta

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″

Frontier Airlines

Carry-on: 24″ x 16″ x 10″
Personal item: 8″ x 18″ x 14″

JetBlue

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Personal item: 17″ x 13″ x 8″

Southwest

Carry-on: 24″ x 16″ x 10″
Personal item: 18.5″ x 8.5″ x 13.5″

Spirit Airlines

Carry-on: 22″ x 18″ x 10″
Personal item: 18″ x 14″ x 8″

United Airlines

Carry-on: 22″ x 14″ x 9″
Personal item: 17″ x 10″ x 9″


8. USE COMPRESSION BAGS/PACKING CUBES.

These are game changing.

Compression bags come in all shapes and sizes and not only help save you space, but act as a protection in case of a leak in your carry-on. Compression bags remove excess air and shrink clothing to the smallest size possible. In doing this, a vacuum seal is required, which can be quickly solved by calling down to the front desk and asking for the vacuum.

If you don’t want the stress of sealing the compression bags upon departure, packing cubes are always the next best alternative. Packing cubes are individual bags that function as mini-luggage inside your luggage. No longer are you searching for your underwear among your t-shirts; with these organization bags, you will know exactly where everything is before even opening your suitcase.

9. UTILIZE EMPTY SPACE.

This step is one I leave until the last minute. You have everything packed, your checklist has been checked twice, and you can now evaluate if you have extra space in your luggage for those maybe items.


Traveling with a carry-on doesn’t need to be complicated or overthought. Treat it like you would a sleepover at a girlfriends house. After all, you’re likely never going to see the people you encounter on vacation again, so there’s no need to stress over the perfect outfit or whether or not you remembered your toothpaste. If it’s something simple, you can simply buy it at the local drug store.

Just keep these tips and tricks in mind the next time an adventure arises and soon enough you’ll be telling your friends how to pack like a pro.