When I travel I usually only take carry-on luggage, unless a checked bag is required, for the simple fact that waiting in baggage claim is such an inconvenience! Not to mention the slight anxiety you feel when you see everyone else’s luggage coming except yours. If you’re like me, then you’ve probably already panicked and mentally prepared yourself to not have any clothes for this trip, that is, until you finally see your luggage with it’s purple luggage tag and green gift wrapping string (for extra precautions & instant visibility). Let’s not forget the baggage fee you pay just so your clothes can come to the same destination as you, and if it’s overweight, forget about it. Or if you’re rushing to a layover and have to stop in baggage claim. If I can bypass all of this, then 9 times out of 10, I will. However, I wasn’t originally good at packing a carry-on. I was a certified procrastinating over-packer who needed 10 outfits for 5 days, but I’ve gotten better since. Although remnants of my treacherous packing tendencies still linger, I learned some great tips on my travel adventures that have helped me maximize space in my carry-on without feeling like I’m under packed and limit the unnecessary items I pack. I’ll be sharing these 5 tips with you guys below.
1. SET A PACKING DATE!
Pick a date to pack that’s not too early and not too late and stick to it. Personally, I like to pack at-least 1 week to a few days before for a number of reasons. The first being my need to over pack, so if I pack too early I end up throwing in clothes that I find, think I may need, or can’t leave without. Those clothes are typically the ones that just take up space, because I never end up wearing them. Now if I pack too late, I’m forced to rush the packing process. I usually end up with no set outfits, missing essentials and a mess of a suitcase. By setting my packing date to just about a week prior, I allow myself just enough time to pack up my necessary outfits, do last minute laundry and pick up any travel essentials. I am able to gauge how much space I’d need in my suitcase, depending on what I am bringing and adjust, if necessary. And most importantly it leaves me no time to fit any unnecessary things into my suitcase, because with one week till takeoff it’s crunch time for me. From my own personal experience, I find myself able to prioritize my packing better within that time frame. Now, some people may start packing 2-3 weeks prior or the day before, everyone is different, what may work for you may not work for others. The point of this is to find a time frame that works for you and stick with it. Nothing beats being prepared.
2. PLAN A WARDROBE CALENDAR
Plan out your outfits, especially if you have particular events, activities, festivities, etc to attend. We never want to under pack, but we certainly don’t want to take up much needed space by unnecessary packing. You can also plan out your outfits by the amount of days you’ll be there. Think about your activities in advance, so you prioritize the clothes that are definitely going. For example, when I was packing for Jamaica I chose outfits before I even started packing and kept those each outfit together so they’d be easy to find once needed. We went to about 7-8 parties total, so I had 8 definite outfits with 2-3 potential backups and some basics that could go with anything for the days when weren’t doing anything. When I say basics I mean t-shirts, jeans, shorts, maxi-dresses, neutral colored clothing, tank tops, crops,etc. Things that don’t require much styling and can be paired with multiple different outfits. If you have no events to attend then packing by days or packing simply basics, may be your go-to. Packing basics is especially helpful if you have access to a washing machine and dryer, because then you can rewear a top or bottoms and just switch it up a bit. When it comes to shoes, try and limit the amount of pairs you bring, because they can definitely take up alot of space. I tend to stick with 2-3 shoes, depending on my activities. I’m usually wearing one of those choices in the airport, so the others are packed away. Now we must also be aware that the clothing/shoes you pack is in direct relation to the weather of that destination, so sometimes heavier clothes will be a lot harder to pack than lighter clothes, but with enough preparation anything is possible.
3. GET PACKING CUBES
Invest in packing cubes!!! Packing cubes are truly a life saver, they keep everything that you are bringing organized. Using packing cubes cuts down on the time that you spend packing and repacking your bag each time you leave for a new destination, they help you find items in your luggage faster without having to roll and re-roll every item. The way I use packing cubes is the largest cube is for all my clothing, I’m usually able to get ~10-15 shirts and ~2-3 pants in that packing cube. My favorite thing about that is no item is stacked on top of each other so when I go to get an outfit, I don’t have to dig and look around! They second to largest cube I reserve for my bras and undies and any other undergarments. The next smallest I can fit toiletries and jewelry in. These cubes keep everything organized and accessible! When I reach my destination I can just pull out each cube and get dressed and zip them back up and my clothing remains organized and intact. And packing is always better when you are first starting out your trip, but when you are coming back with new items and souvenirs, the packing cubes help because either you can bring an empty cube for all your new things or you are able to fit them in your bag without having one person sit on your bag so you can close it.
4. DOWNSIZE YOUR TOILETRIES & BEAUTY PRODUCTS
This tip for me is very crucial, especially when packing a carry-on. In the U.S, TSA requirements for liquids in a carry-on is 3.4oz, with all of the liquids fitting in one quart sized zip lock bag. It is super important to note that when going through customs in a different country, they may have their own liquid requirements, as many are different from the U.S. But once you are aware of the liquid requirements, downsize those toiletries and beauty products, because the last thing you need is a customs agent throwing out your very important or expensive products. I personally love to get those small 2-3 oz empty plastic containers from the beauty supply store or the 99 Cent store and put my products in there. This is helpful for me, because most of my beauty products don’t come in travel size containers, so I’m able to take them with me, without having to check my bag or lose my product. And for someone who is acne prone, my skincare products must go. But this is also useful for your make-up products, body lotion, hair creams, shampoo/conditioner, etc. In terms of make-up and skincare, if your products are from Sephora, go ask for samples. They’re small samples but sometimes it’s all you need rather than a whole bottle of product. Men, this is for you too, if your favorite cologne is more than 3.4 oz, no worries because you can just get a small 2 oz spritz bottle and put some in there. Your hair gel needs to come with you, get a 2-3 oz flat container and you’re as good as new. Whatever you plan to bring, downsizing makes packing less of a hassle and prevents TSA from taking your much needed products.
5. BECOME A TRUE BACKPACKER
Backpacks are one of the greatest things ever and I never knew until I started traveling with my backpack as my personal item rather than my purse. Invest in a sturdy backpacker, it may be a little expensive depending on the brand, but I promise, you won’t be disappointed. The sturdier the bag the longer lasting, and the more uses you get out of it, so don’t be afraid of that price tag. I invested in a Deuter GoGo, which I don’t think is in stock online. I got it two years ago, while I was backpacking in Germany and I still use it religiously. Deuter is a German brand that specializes in making sports bags and packs for hiking, backpacking, trekking, traveling, etc, so their durability is top notch. However, when I pack I save my backpack for last, because I don’t want to fill it up prematurely with unnecessary things. The backpack is typically for my shoes, travel documents and money, small purses, any extra clothes that may not have fit in my carry-on, beauty products and toiletries (that way I can easily access, if stopped by TSA), and smaller things that I need to add at the last minute. It’s just another. I’m able to fit a large amount of things is the backpack, if necessary. It also provides a helpful storage for dirty clothes when I’m returning home. My favorite part about having a backpack or at least having a Deuter backpack, is the amount of space and extra pockets available to store things. It makes packing that much easier, because I don’t feel the pressure to limit myself to my carry-on suitcase, plus it helps you maximize space without feeling under packed.
These were my 5 tips that I live by when packing a carry-on suitcase. You can also use this as a guide to packing a checked bag but certain things may not apply, like the 3.4 oz limit. However, I hope this was helpful for those reading. For me, having this list provides more clarity and focus on what needs to go and what doesn’t. It allows me to prioritize and not get sidetracked by the things I don’t need. And of course maximizing space in your small carry-on. Knowing how to effectively and efficiently pack a carry-on suitcase is tough sometimes, but in the end it can save you from waiting in baggage claim, paying $25 plus dollars for baggage fees, potentially losing luggage, missing a layover flight or a variety of other obstacles.
Please feel free to leave any additional tips you’ve learned in the comments. The more tips the better!