It sounds so easy. Just pack a carry-on for your next trip instead of a big, bulky bag. Every movie about travel starts with someone effortlessly “throwing a few things in a bag” and running off to catch the next jet. Back in the real world though, the thought of packing light with a carry-on makes many people break out into a sweat!

If you traveled with family as a child, then your mom probably emergency packed everything from stuffed animals to stomach pills. Now that you are an adult packing for yourself, you can easily overcome any issue that arises from your carry-on. So, why not lighten your load and travel with the things that make your trip easier and more enjoyable? Stop carrying all that baggage and only pack a carry-on next trip.

Why Travel with Only a Carry-On?

It relieves anxiety to have the comforts of home and make sure that you are at ease during a vacation. However, the benefits of traveling light far outweigh the need for everything in every situation. There are easy ways to delete the number of things you take on a trip while increasing the usability and space for your trip.

Here is how traveling with one carry-on breaks down in your favor:

  • Easier. Traveling can lead to magical adventures, but getting to your destination can take a toll on your patience. Trying to juggle a large piece of luggage, backpack, laptop, and other things will not make for a relaxing vacation. If your bags are going to need to change locations several times, like on a train, boat, or multi-destination trip, you are going to be ready to throw out everything and come home naked.
  • Faster. You do not need to wait on the baggage to come to the claim area. You can deplane without worrying about where you need to claim your luggage or fight the crowd at the conveyer belt.
  • Less Stress. Counting bags to make sure that you have everything on a trip is not my idea of relaxing or enjoying vacation time. The more you bring on a trip the higher possibility that you will forget or leave something behind. One carry-on lightens the load and makes for less stress as you move through your adventure.
  • Cheaper. Two words: baggage fees. The fees for airlines to carry your baggage to the same location you are going is between $30-$90 per bag. The second bag can increase in cost to $40 on some airlines. By the time you pay for your baggage fees, you could have covered a special dinner, tour, or excursion.
  • Healthier. The average weight allowance by airlines for baggage is 50 lbs. If you have one bag, then constantly trying to lift, push, pull, and drag 50 lbs. around during your vacation can be a pain in the back(side). Limiting your bag to a carry-on means decreasing the amount of weight you are pulling throughout your trip. Remember, they call it luggage for a reason, so don’t carry it around.
Packing a Carry-On

9 Carry-On Packing Hot Hints

  1. Prepack. It might seem like madness but spend days packing. Make a special stack of clothes that you want to take with you on your trip. Go through your closet and add things to your pile of things to take. Once you are satisfied, spread the whole collection out on your bed sorted by pants, shirts, shorts, skirts, and dresses (as applicable). Now that you have the urge to pack everything out of your system, you can take a realistic look at what you need.
  2. Check for Clothes Mixers. Now that your clothes are all laid out for inspection, pick things that mix and match with other things. By removing any items that do not match, you are dropping extra volume in your carry-on.
  3. Accessorize to Downsize. One shirt might look great with one pair of pants but think about ways to diversify your wardrobe to expand use. Can you pack three belts that go well with one pair of pants? A scarf or costume jewelry adds the change up an outfit needs to be a good mix with other pieces. These small items make big changes and pops of color to outfits.
  4. Remove Toiletries & Clutter. Don’t be tempted to pack a stack of hair products, cosmetics, skincare, first aid, and styling tools. Forget it. If you can get it here, then you can get it (or something like it there!). Make your first stop upon arrival at the local drug store to pick up travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, face cleaner, toothbrush, and deodorant. Take a hat instead of pounds of curling irons, hair dryers, and styling products. It’s ok not to be runway ready while on vacation. You can throw the collection out before you leave and avoid packing it.
  5. Roll & Bag. When you have decided what you will put into your carry-on, use the roll and bag method. Separate clothes out by type: pants, shirts, skirts, underwear/socks, and accessories. Roll each item of a type as small as possible and place it in an organizer bag. By having items of a type together, you can neatly pack to save space and avoid opening bags you don’t need.
  6. Replace the Laptop with a Mini Hard Drive. Most people use their phones to check email, post to social, and take pictures during a trip. Why do you need your laptop? If you want a safe space to deposit pictures and you are worried about cloud uploads, then a mini hard drive might be the answer. With 1 TB of space, you can quickly connect from anywhere to transfer your pictures, videos, and electronic memories without the heavy bother of a laptop or the need for a steady Wi-Fi connection.
  7. Pack for a Week. No matter how long you will be gone, pack for only a week. It is ok to wear the same clothes you were in two days ago (with a rinse – see below). No one is going to notice if you are wearing a striped shirt with sandals and brown pants again. Be comfortable and limit yourself it one outfit a day with a bedtime outfit suitable for every night.
  8. It’s a Laundry Bag, Not a Suitcase. Most people try to avoid laundry during a vacation. This thought pattern leads to overpacking. Everything you wear needs to be washed. Learn to rinse out things in the sink (buy a small box of detergent at the drug store) at the end of the day and hang them up to dry overnight. If you need to press items, most hotels, hostels, and BnBs have an iron in your room.
  9. Shoes are Out. No matter where you are traveling for vacation, remember that this is not an episode of Real Housewives. You do not need a change of shoes for every outfit. One pair of tennis shoes (preferably slide-on) that you wear through the airport and one pair of location-based shoes (flip-flops or flats) will light your load.

5 Things NEVER to Pack in Your Carry-On

These never pack hacks are counter-intuitive for many travelers. You want to keep everything safe so you put things into your carry-on. After all, it is not going to leave you, right? Wrong. From TSA to gate checking to hotel rooms, your carry-on bag leaves you many times during the trip.

Here are five things you should never put in your luggage (or take with you at all!):

  1. Keys. If you need a key to access your car, carry-on, or house, then do not put it in your bag. It sounds like a good idea because it is safe. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of bags are lost every year. While traveling with a carry-on is safer than turning your bag over to an airline, it is not protected from gate check, theft, loss, or the well-meaning person that grabs it from overhead trying to get off the plane.
  2. Valuables. Never take anything on a trip that you don’t want to lose. There are so many opportunities for valuables to go missing or be forgotten. Packing valuables, like jewelry, might seem safe, but there are many places where baggage is open to the public. Leave valuables at home and keep them safe.
  3. Medication. Packing your medications in a bag that you carry onto a plane is a recipe for delay and disaster. Prescription medications are viewed and available differently around the world. The difficulty in getting replacement meds can range from a hassle to a hand grenade for your trip. If it is medically important for your health, keep it with you in a backpack or purse.
  4. Passport. When you travel, a passport does more than prove who you are to authorities. It proves your citizenship and rights to resources if you have issues. It is vital that your passport be always ready, so keep it in your backpack or secured on your person. If your passport is lost or stolen, it is best to contact the Department of State or Embassy in your location at once.
  5. Souvenirs. Bringing home some postcards, magnets, or keychains? Most people do but resist the urge to pack these things in their carry-on. A better solution is to put those t-shirts, shot glasses, handcrafts, and pottery in a well-packed box and mail it home. Most hotels can help you pack these items for shipment or direct you to the local post office. When you get home, your souvenirs will be waiting for you safe and sound.

Packing FAQs

What are the dimensions of a carry-on bag?

Carry-on bags have strict size requirements to fit in aircraft cabins. The standard dimensions for a carry-on bag are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches or less (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. These bags must fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Exceeding these limits will require checking the bag, which can lead to extra fees. When shopping for a carry-on bag, be sure to check that it meets the size requirements of your airline to avoid any issues when traveling.

Are there any items that I can’t pack in my carry-on bag?

When traveling by air, there are certain items that are prohibited from carry-on luggage for safety reasons. Sharp objects like knives, box cutters, and razor blades are not allowed. Flammable liquids and gels like lighter fluid, matches, and aerosol cans are also prohibited. Sporting goods like baseball bats and golf clubs must be checked. Firearms, ammunition, and weapons of any kind are not permitted in carry-on bags or checked bags. It’s important to be aware of these restrictions to avoid delays or legal issues. Declaring prohibited items to security personnel before entering the screening checkpoint is recommended. With some common sense and planning, you can make sure your next flight goes smoothly.

What are the size and weight restrictions for a carry-on bag?

Carry-on bags have strict size and weight restrictions to ensure they fit safely in overhead bins or under airplane seats. According to the TSA, carry-on bags cannot exceed 40 linear inches (height + width + depth) and must weigh less than 40 pounds. These limits allow bags to be easily stowed and prevent overstuffed bags from becoming a safety hazard. It’s important for travelers to check with their airline directly as well, as some carriers may have even more stringent policies. By understanding carry-on limits before you pack, you can avoid extra baggage fees and make your journey smoother.

To Gate Check or Not to Gate Check Carry-0n?

Our general rule is to hold our carry-on, if possible, on the way to a destination and gate-check it on the way back. Sometimes, gate-checking cannot be avoided because the plane is too full. This is all the more reason to keep your keys, meds, and passport in your backpack instead of your carry-on.

Because we live close to an international airport, bags are delivered to our house if the airline misplaces gate-checked luggage or they miss our last flight. This is especially important if you are changing planes on an international flight because bags often catch up with you after your arrival. For international flights, you might need to claim your checked bag and take it through customs. Carry-on makes it easier and faster if you are in a hurry.

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