Travel Tips

Never Worry About Lost Luggage Again—Here’s How to Pack a Carry-on Only

Photo: @anna2002 via Twenty20

There’s nothing more convenient when it comes to flying than not having to check a bag. No lost luggage to worry about. Everything you could need is just an overhead bin away. Sounds like the dream, right? 

There’s just one tiny catch: Packing all of your must-have tees, favorite leggings, sneakers, and skin-saving supplements in such a small space can prove to be pretty challenging. There is, however, a way to fit all your travel essentials into a TSA-approved suitcase, and the pro tips below prove it.

Scroll down for a 6-step guide to mastering the art of carry-on only travel. 

Packing tips for carry-on bags
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

1. Don't skip the packing list

The days leading up to a getaway can be super hectic. Before you know it, it’s the night before your flight and you’re throwing anything and everything into your suitcase.

Prevent the last-minute packing panic (which can lead to over packing) by setting aside some time, even if it’s just 10 minutes, to write down exactly what you’ll need for your time away. “This common-sense tip is also the most frequently skipped,” says award-winning travel blogger Meg Jerrard. “By writing everything down, you’re focused on the things you need, not the things you may need. And, if you keep that packing list with you, you know exactly what’s in your suitcase, which does come in handy in the super-unlikely event that your bags get lost and you have to file an insurance claim.”

2. Roll with it

Instead of folding your clothes, roll them. “It’s the best way to maximize space in your luggage,” says Emmy-nominated travel producer (and frequent flyer) Rachel Rudwall. “Rolling significantly cuts down on the square footage you need for your clothing, allowing you to pack that extra pair of shoes, or save room for souvenirs on the way home.” Having been to 60-plus countries and all 7 continents herself, Rudwall *swears* by the technique.

Pro tip: If you’re worried about frumpy clothing, pack a spray bottle of wrinkle-release spray.  

Packing tips for carry-on bags
Photo: Stocksy/Good Vibrations Images

3. Plan around your shoes (and limit yourself!)

Shoes are, without a doubt, the item that will take up the most room in your suitcase. Ask yourself: Do I really need more than one pair of heels or sandals? “The answer is probably no,” says Jerrard. “Try limiting it to three pairs and planning your outfits around them. Or try opting for a pair of wear-with-anything flats such as Birkenstocks or [Grecian] sandals that will work with everything."

4. Try packing cubes

If you’ve never used a packing cube, you’re about to have your mind blown. Simply fold your clothes, place them inside the fabric compartment cube, and then they’ll magically zip into a more compressed, easy-to-pack size. “I’m notoriously an overpacker, but cubes are my biggest tip for saving space if you’re only planning to carry on,” says Jen Rubio, co-founder and chief brand officer of the chic suitcase startup Away. “Not only can you pack more in, but they’ll also keep you organized so you’ll spend less time digging around your bag and more time actually enjoying the trip that you’re on.” (Away recently launched a packing cubes set of their own.)

Packing tips for carry-on bags
Photo: Stocksy/Per Swantesson

5. Think multi-purpose

Planning to wear your favorite tank top for one of the days you’re gone? Or your leggings to both a workout and a coffee date? Always think to bring clothes you can don more than once, suggests Rudwall. “You can maximize its potential by mixing and matching it with different jewelry, scarves, bottoms, and sweaters to get a whole bunch of outfits from each item,” she says.

6. And there's *still* your "personal item"

For those that aren't quite in the clear (that carry-on is packed to the brim!), don’t fret: You still have one smaller personal item to bring on board with you.

“Pack the things in there that you can’t live without (in case of a gate-check) like cherished jewelry, medication, plus a spare outfit,” says Rubio. “Use a generous-sized bag with lots of pockets that’s capable of holding a small handbag, iPad, headphones, almonds or another healthy snack, and anything else you might want for easy access during flight."

It's all about essentials and, essentially, packing smart, these pros say.

Here's how one powerhouse CMO travels with *just* a shoulder bag. And, here are 6 more packing hacks flight attendants swear by. 

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