a group of luggage on sand

At $50-$100 a bag round trip, carry on seems like a bargain…

If baggage was a good thing, it wouldn’t be used to describe negative situations like emotional issues. Checking in luggage: costs money, wastes time, presents potential for loss and makes it harder to move around on the go. A checked bag can also turn a fabulous $300 transatlantic round trip flight deal into a disastrous $600 ticket, which is as fun as never. Going carry on only: saves time, saves money, makes it easy to move around and allows you to control your own travel destiny. But you already know these things. The problem, is actually convincing you that carry on only is possible. Here’s how to pack your carry on, to make the travel dream into a reality.

a man and woman standing next to luggageInvest In A Viable Carry On

Though it may work for some, an old backpack sitting around the house just generally won’t cut it. To live the carry on only travel dream, you’ll need to invest in a viable bag, and preferably one with handy packing tools, like compression compartments to flatten your gear. Some of the best bags even offer handy charging ports, which can keep you juiced up on the go. Value for money, the Away Carry On is the best bet, but there are plenty of options for all budgets.

Roll It Up

Where has your mind gone?! We’re talking about your clothes here. It’s been proven time, and time again that rolling your clothes will result in greater savings of space than any other method. In addition to helping pack extra items, things like shirts will look far less atrocious when worn at your destination, which is a total plus. Hotel clothes pressing ain’t cheap, ya know?

a person lying on a bedFlexible Items

Carry on success is about being ruthless. Perhaps not like, Devil Wears Prada ruthless, but to stand the best chance, you’re going to want to have a harsh conversation with yourself about what you’ll really wear, and more importantly – what you won’t. Opting for flexible shoes that look just as good formal as informal can make a huge difference. Shoes are the clunkiest items in any carry on. Try to stick with two, three pairs maximum – and favor a couple versatile clothing items which can immediately and effortlessly “smarten” up any casual wear, like a blazer.

Side Hack: Personal Item

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about packing the almighty carry on, but one area that’s often overlooked is the small personal item. A small personal item is allowed on flights in addition to any single carry on allowances, which allows you to pack a secondary bag full of excess items, which may have not made the initial cut in the main carry on. Everything you could ever want to know about your “small personal item” can be found here.

Start Big

Back on the “actually packing” bit, start big. Things like socks are the perfect items to fit around the edges of any decent carry on, as are t shirts, undies, and all other flexible items. Start with clunky items like thick denim, sweaters and anything else that would benefit from some squishing down – and work outward. On that note, it’s also a good time to remind you that layers on a plane are always a good idea. If it’s not in your bag, it can’t count against you, and layers can help with extreme airplane temps!

a close-up of a couple of suitcasesCompress It

Those straps in your luggage are not put there to awkwardly hinder your packing, or to sit at the bottom of your case clipped together, under your clothes. That would be foolish. Those straps are specifically designed to compress your clothes, taking perhaps a 10” stack of clothes, and making them into a 7” stack instead. Before you start to pack, unclip your compression belts, pull them outside your case, and then once you’ve gotten all the big items in, clip the buckles together and zip down with all your might. You’d be amazed how much space that saves.

Ship It

Even if only packing five bikinis, or man thongs, people worry about going carry on only, on the basis that they may purchase something abroad. While this is a fair thought, it’s easier, and more affordable than ever to just “ship it”, especially since many retailers offer free shipping. There are countless stores around the world that almost seem to encourage it. When it comes to buying wine, shipping can actually save you money, since some bottles will drop in price if they’re specifically for export versus just in store purchase. There goes that excuse!

What’s your best packing tip?

Featured image courtesy of Away Travel.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I pack a couple of hangers and I wash my underwear and socks and light clothes during my 2 weeks trip to Europe. . Save a lot of space

  2. If you find yourself in need of an extra bag at the airport try getting hold of a duty-free bag.

    Will usually be able to get that on board without any hassle. Regardless of baggage restrictions.

    You can buy something and use that bag or just sweet-talk the people working in the shop and maybe they’ll give you one.

  3. I love to carry extras, like shoes, etc. that don’t fit in my carry on or personal item in a plastic shopping bag. It doesn’t count as real luggage, so it’s like an extra free bag. Just make sure it can fit under your seat. It works every time.

  4. I also wear cargo pants with lots of pockets which I fill with socks and underwear – saving even more space in my carry on. If I am traveling from somewhere warm to somewhere hot I will wear shorts under my my cargo pants and remove my cargo pants when I land and then strap them to the outside of my “small personal item”.

    Don’t forget to max out pocket space in jackets too when traveling when it is cool.

  5. My suggestion is to STAY AWAY from Away luggage. I’ve used it – and the cheap plastic case cracks easily. The product is over priced and they copied the MUJI suitcase which is better quality and priced at $150 instead of $225 of Away. This brand over hyped and will eventually crash badly. You can also get a polycarbonate case with spinner wheels on Amazon for $50. After Away’s first smart luggage battery design was a failure — See Emma Rossum’s latest tweet storm on her Away luggage being confiscated by United — the brand then copied another smart luggage brand’s idea of the pop-out battery. Still the new design is weak. They the bag is sideways stowed in the overhead, if the battery door is open, the massive battery will slip out and fall on someones head. Please do not be fooled by their hype.

    1. I fly l over 200,000 miles a year, have tried to put my case through hell and barely have a scuff. Sure it’s one data point, but from first hand experience (I’ve bought them for friends and family) I’ve never had a problem. Sounds like there’s something more to this comment ..

    2. Frequent domestic and international flights have taught me to pack and stay within the carry-on limits.
      My Away roller bag if fabulous!!! I love that bag so much that I have already given one to three of my family members. The bag is durable, scratches come off easily with a moist rag, the battery is a life-saver and is easy to remove if bag has to be checked at the gate for small commuter plans. In addition, the warranty is ‘for life’.
      Using the dividers and compartments makes it easier to maintain a visual of what is in the bag.
      The negative comment above is….strange.

  6. I have unzipped my liner and placed my underwear and socks between the handle posts and on each side of the post. It leaves more room on top. My next trip I’m going to experiment with putting a pair of tennis shoes and flip flops. I also agree rolling is best.

  7. I like to look for a Laundromat on-line at my destination that offers “wash and fold” service. I packed half the clothes and had them cleaned. The hotels usually have washers and driers, but that can impact your time. The hotel drop off laundry is too expensive. You can often throw away your dirty clothes and buy new clothes cheaper. I took a bag of dirty work clothes to a wash & fold laundry in the morning and picked it up later for $7.50. My friend left his at the hotel desk and paid $75. I also used to make back to back trips to the same city. I would drop off laundry and pick it up when I returned the next week. No need to take it home or to store bags. Most hotels have a bag store room so you can leave suitcases.

  8. All this compression stuff just seems like extra weight to me. I pack my carryon the night before, stand it upright and the next morning there’s several inches of extra space. I also love travel vests with a bazillion pockets.

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