Photo by Per Gosche on Flickr

Photo by Per Gosche on Flickr

If you have ever traveled with a carry on bag instead of checking your luggage, you are already well aware of the main selling points of smaller suitcases. You don’t have to fret that the airline has lost your bag. While the rest of the passengers from your flight are tapping their toes at baggage claim, you will be gliding right past and heading for the exit. And perhaps most importantly, carry ons help you avoid the hefty checked baggage charge that most airlines charge. However, traveling carry-on-only is often easier said than done. It can be a challenge to squeeze in everything you want to bring into a seemingly small suitcase. If you are looking to lighten your load, dodge baggage fees and generally travel a little bit easier, here are 10 tips to follow when packing your carry on bag.

Begin with a Good Foundation

First and foremost, you have to have the right carry-on luggage. If you want to go carry-on-only, you have to have the proper foundation. Your bag should tick all of the boxes in terms of three main areas: size, weight, and compartments. If you want to travel both internationally and domestically, your carry on bag shouldn’t be larger than 21 inches. As the size can vary airline to airline, before you take off, be sure to measure your bag to make certain that it meets the size requirements. It is also important to check the weight of your bag before it is filled. If your bag starts out heavy, it will be impossible to carry when filled with all of your items. Lastly, your suitcase shouldn’t just be an empty cavern. It should feature compartments that work with you, not against you.

Make a List and Check it Twice

Photo by Rob Faulkner on Flickr

Photo by Rob Faulkner on Flickr

So many travelers over-pack, making it next to impossible to travel with just a carry-on bag. If you are serious about pairing down your load when you travel, making a list can help. By writing down everything you think you will need, you can visualize exactly what you need (and what you can go without). After making an initial list, eliminate those “just in case” items you are throwing in or any clothing item that doesn’t go with anything else.

Pack Around Two Set Colors and Mix in Neutrals

You don’t have to look like a backpacker to travel light. You can still keep your fashion sense by packing two set colors and mix-able neutrals. One of the main misconceptions about packing carry-on-only is that you can’t look good when you travel because you are packing so light. It is still possible to give the illusion of packing your whole closet when everything in your bag can be mixed and matched. Outfits are interchangeable and you don’t have to over-pack when everything can be worn more than once and used in different combinations.

Take Advantage of Packing Cubes

Photo by Suzy Guese

Photo by Suzy Guese

Many companies make packing cubes, which are zippered bags that help you organize and compress your clothing items. While rolling your clothes might help you save on space, packing cubes can help you keep everything organized and condensed. Packing cubes can also help keep you honest. If it doesn’t fit in the packing cube, it should probably stay home.

Take Advantage of the Personal Item Allowance

For most airlines, you are allowed one carry-on piece of luggage and a personal item. In order to pack smartly, you have to take advantage of every inch of space you are allowed. Check to see what size of personal item you are allowed and try to bring a bag that is close to the maximum size. You can store all of your toiletries and electronics in your personal item and thus save on space in your carry-on luggage.

Impose a Strict Two Pair of Shoes Limit

Photo by Markus Spiske on Flickr

Photo by Markus Spiske on Flickr

Shoes are one of the worst culprits for turning a carry-on traveler into a checked luggage traveler. They can take up far too much space in a bag, especially if you are lugging around several pairs. If you can limit your shoes to just two pairs, you will free up a great deal of space in your bag. You can wear one pair and pack the other, stuffing the packed pair with socks and small items to save even more space. A pair of polished flats, for example, can be one of the best shoe styles to pack because it can be used both day and night and dress up or down depending on what you are doing.

Check The Weather at Your Destination

All too often, travelers bemoan what they packed once they see what the weather is like at their destination. While it sounds simple enough, check the weather before you hit the road. You will avoid packing unnecessary items that you simply don’t need or lugging a whole suitcase of clothes you can’t use.

For Longer Trips, Plan To Do Laundry On The Road

If you are traveling for several weeks or months, you can still travel with just a carry-on bag. However, you will have to resign yourself to doing laundry at some point. If you think you can pack enough outfits for several weeks in a small bag, you will be sorely mistaken when you try to shut that suitcase. It can be difficult to pack everything you need, unless you can do laundry on the road. Most hotels offer laundry facilities or you can even book a vacation rental that has a washer and dryer right in your room.

Accessories Can Disguise a Minimalist Packer

As I frequently travel carry-on-only, I am always looking to pack items that take up the least amount of room but give me the most uses. Accessories can make your otherwise boring or minimalist clothing selection a bit more put together. A statement necklace, for example, can help you transition from day to night with very little effort and almost no suitcase space required.

Before You Shut Your Suitcase, Check To See What Amenities Your Hotel Offers

Photo by Personal Creations

Photo by Personal Creations

As you are sitting on your suitcase, struggling to get it to shut, you might be wondering what you can toss out and leave behind. The first items to go should be those pieces that your hotel already offers. A hair dryer or shampoo generally comes standard at hotels. Run down the list of items provided in rooms and if you have packed it, leave it behind at home.

Your Turn…

Can you travel with nothing but a carry-on? Share your packing tips with us in the comments below.