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15 Carry On Packing Tips & Hacks So You Can Travel Light!

Posted by Bea Manzano on
Lady on the bed with her purse and carry on suitcase for travel

Have you ever looked at your closet and then your carry-on bag and wondered how on earth are you going to fit all your travel essentials into such a tiny space? Well, you certainly don’t need less things or a bigger bag. What you need are the best carry-on luggage packing tips to help you maximize what little room you have so you can pack right and travel light! And we have what you need right here! Keep reading for the best packing tips and hacks for traveling with a carry-on only.

Why Travel With a Carry-On Only?

Lady traveling with a carry on and purse

Carry-on only travel is preferred by a lot of people because it makes the trip a lot lighter, less stressful, and a lot more enjoyable. Aside from these reasons, there are some more advantages to traveling with just a carry-on suitcase like:

✓ Less stuff (and weight) to carry.. Dragging a heavy suitcase up the stairs is never fun. Having less luggage to carry around makes it easier for you to move from one destination to another and explore many new places. This is important especially when you’re commuting by train, bus, or taxi or when you’re in a very crowded area. 

✓ Baggage claim is for losers. Since your carry on items are literally always with you, you don’t need to worry about your luggage never showing up in baggage claim. Pack a smaller suitcase and never have to wait around again! 

✓ Save extra bucks by not checking luggage. Though some airlines for both domestic and international flights don't charge fees for passengers' 1st checked bags, some have fees that could range between $30 to $200. Traveling with a carry-on only, on the other hand, is almost always free! Just be mindful of the size and weight restrictions.

General Tips for Packing a Carry-On Bag for Travel

Lady packing her travel essentials in a carry on suitcase

Whether you’re traveling with a carry-on backpack, suitcase, or duffel bag, you can apply these packing tips for any of them. These carry-on packing tips will help you organize your travel essentials into a tiny little carry-on space to make your trip even more enjoyable and comfortable! We’ve covered everything from how heavy your carry on should be to what to actually pack in your bag. Let’s do this!

✅ Carry-On Luggage Size and Weight Limit

Carry on suitcase and starter set packing cubes

Tip #1 - Measure your suitcase.

Different airlines have different requirements on the size and weight limit of the carry-on suitcase that they will let you bring onboard the plane, both for domestic and international flights. Even though they don’t strictly check and weigh it the way they do checked bags, it would be wise to choose a carry-on bag that’s within their limit just to be safe. Check your airline’s website or check this out to find out most airline's carry-on luggage size restrictions.

Despite the differences among airlines, the universally accepted luggage dimensions for a domestic flight within the US is 22" x 14" x 9". For international travel, the rule of thumb is about 21", since the standard carry-on baggage size outside of the U.S. is smaller.

✅ Choosing and Packing Travel Essentials

TSA approved toiletry bag passing through airport security check

Tip #2 - Keep your cool, remember TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule.

Going through airport security is a whole different experience in itself. Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine if you keep your makeup and toiletry liquids, creams, and gels packed in 3.4 ounces containers or less, in their own separate TSA approved clear toiletry bag.

Tip #3 - Know which items are a no-no!

There are items that you can pack in your checked luggage that you're not allowed to bring in your carry-on bag. Some of the most common things that you're not allowed to bring are things that are sharp, pointy, dangerous, flammable, liquids and gels over 3.4 ounces, and more. Sometimes, the rules can be different or changing so it's much better to visit the airline’s website and look up the item that you're not sure about and they'll let you know if you can bring it in your carry-on.

If you’re traveling local, you can check the TSA’s website for the full list of prohibited carry-on items. Another option is to take a photo of the item you’re going to bring, go to the TSA’s Facebook Messenger or Twitter and send them a question to ask if it’s allowed.

Packing list on top of clear packing cubes

Tip #4 - Check off a packing list. Just do it. 

Don’t get over confident with your packing skills. Let’s be real, we all forget that one thing we thought we  100% packed. Having a packing list will help you make sure nothing gets left behind. We’ve got plenty of FREE packing lists that you can use here for any of your trips! You’re welcome to download or print them as you like.

Folded clothes and packing cubes on the floor

Tip #5 - Plan your outfits, discard options.

If you start packing your clothes with, “I think…” you’re heading towards a town called the Overpackingville. Most of the time when you overpack, you end up wearing half of the things you packed. So disregard options, pack clothes that you will definitely wear during the trip. Consider sticking to a color palette and bringing clothing items that can mix and match easily. Plan your outfits in advance (I know it’s hard) so you won't have to pack extras.

Lady wearing a jacket and a hat carrying a tote bag and carry-on suitcase

Tip #6 - Wear it, don’t pack it.

Wear what you can instead of packing the items. This includes your heavy layers. If you wear your biggest pieces on the flight, like your sweatpants, jacket, gym shoes, and such, you can save a considerable amount of space in your suitcase. Anything that can take up a lot of room in your luggage, if it makes sense to put them on, that's the stuff you should wear to the airport.

A pair of boots in a travel shoe bag

**Thanks to Anna for this photo!

Tip #7 - Shoo away germs with a travel shoe bag.

Put your shoes in a travel shoe bag to keep your luggage and other essentials inside free from dirt and germs. Also, bring a travel laundry bag to put your dirty clothes in after you wear them. This will prevent the smell or stain of your used clothes from sticking to your luggage and other clean items inside.

Travel size toiletry bottles

Tip #8 - Downsize containers to upsize comfort.

Transfer any large products into smaller containers. If you have sample sizes of your larger products, bring those instead. If you have no samples or mini size containers, you can always buy those travel size silicone bottles that you can also reuse multiple times for your trip. These are much better than the plastic ones because they don't break easily and they're much better at preventing your liquids from leaking.

Travel essentials in different sized clear packing cubes

Tip #9 - Categorize to be more organized.

Make your brain happy by creating categories. You can put toiletries in an extra small cube, shirts in a small cube, shorts and pants in a medium cube, blankets, and other bulky items in a large cube, jewelry and loose trinkets in a travel jewelry roll, chargers, cords, and wires in circular pouches. Whenever you need any of these things, having them in the same cube together will make it easier for you to access them so you won't spend so much time rummaging through your luggage.

Folded clothes in a clear cube

**Thanks to Samantha for this photo!

Tip #10 - Take it from KonMari, fold clothes vertically.

The KonMari way of decluttering and organizing things is a game-changer for travel packing. Basically, you want to fold your clothes to the height of your suitcase (or packing cube). That way you’ll have a nice selection of items from a top view glance, without having to dig.

Pink and blue clear packing cubes

**Thanks to Claire for this photo!

Tip #11 - Use CLEAR packing cubes for everything.

And we mean everything! Packing cubes are a heaven-sent when it comes to keeping all your travel essentials organized. You can use them for small essentials such as toiletries and makeup products, as well as for your jackets, blankets, and any other bulky items you have. 

Packing cubes can transform your carry-on luggage into your very own traveling closet. You don’t need to unpack everything, you just need to take out the cubes, set them where you want them, zip them open, and you’re good to go. Traveling drawers, on the go.

Clear packing cubes and a tote bag

Tip #12 - Make items in your personal items bag easy-access.

Aside from a carry-on bag, you're also allowed to bring an additional small personal items bag which can be something like a purse, a briefcase, or a small backpack. You can pack all your snacks, electronics, and other essentials that you will need during the flight; the rest you can pack in your carry-on bag.

A duffel bag makes a great personal items bag because you can pack quite a bit of stuff and still fit it under the seat in front of you. Make sure you’ve got everything that you’re going to use on the plane in your personal items bag or purse so that you won't have to take your carry-on suitcase out of the overhead bin and rummage through it just to find items, especially when you’re on a long-haul flight.

Travel essentials packed in clear packing cubes and extra empty bag

**Thanks to Laura for this photo!

Tip #13 - Pack empty bags for souvenirs and shopping items.

If you’re going away on vacation, make sure to bring an extra tote bag or an empty bag and pack it in your suitcase flat or folded. That way, if you want to do some shopping and buy some souvenirs for friends and family back home, you can use this bag instead of an extra suitcase (it happens) or an overflowing carry on.

Packing Entertainment

Phone with many apps

Tip #14 - Ditch the books, bring your nook.

The beauty of smartphones (or ipads) is that they’re incredibly light and everything can be downloaded or installed - be it games, books, movies, songs, and more! So, when you travel, forget about those travel guides, paperback novels, or magazines. You can access everything from your phone and it’s more convenient that way, especially when you’re traveling carry-on only.

Travel essentials laid on the bed

Tip #15 - Pack tech in-between clothes to avoid damage.

If you’re bringing some gadgets along with you, and you don’t have separate bags for them (your laptop does and should!)  you can pack them in between your clothes so they won’t get damaged while in transit. Just be more careful when handling your carry on and don’t ever pack your valuables in checked luggage. Important electronics should always be packed in your personal or carry on luggage!  Make sure they have their own padded case to protect them from any harsh conditions of traveling.

When traveling, having a bigger suitcase isn't always better. Yes, you may be able to pack more things in there, but think about your aching back in the middle of your trip and then you’ll know it was a bad idea after all. Traveling with a carry-on (only) will make your trip a whole lot more comfortable and enjoyable because you've got less things to worry about. This will also make you (or force you) to pack way more efficiently, AKA less stuff.  .

Now that you know the best carry-on packing tips, it’s time to put them into practice. If you know more tips that we haven’t mentioned yet, please let us know in the comments.

If you’re a newbie in packing, you can refer to our How to Pack a Suitcase guide for a complete, step by step rundown of everything you need to know and do when packing a suitcase for travel.

Pack Light. Pack Tight. You got this!

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