How to Pack Everything in a Carry-On Bag (And Skip the Baggage Claim)
No baggage fees. No lost luggage. Just you flying through the airport with the greatest of ease.
Stick to this no-fail formula for a week-long trip: Pack one dress, six tops, three bottoms, two bras (nude and black), two work-out outfits, nine pairs of underwear and socks, and a set of pajamas, says Hitha Palepu, founder of the travel blog Hitha on the Go and author of How to Pack. Opt for clothing made of fabrics that are less likely to rumple, like ponte, stretch denim, and polyester blends. Choose two pairs of shoes—three, max. For most locales, you’ll be fine with sneakers, heels, and sandals or flats.
Start thinking about specific garments a week before you depart to sidestep snafus. “This will give you plenty of time to do laundry, collect dry cleaning, and make sure everything is in good condition. Plus, you'll be able to plan out your mixing and matching,” says Palepu. Wear your bulkiest items—jeans, sneakers, and a jacket, say—on the plane. Download Palepu’s packing list at hithaonthego.com/list.
There are four main types to consider: international (about 22 inches tall), domestic (between about 21 and 23 inches tall), hard case (strong yet rigid), and soft case (expandable but heavy). If you often fly out of the country and hardly ever check your bag, opt for a hard case that fits international size limitations (consult the airline for specifics). If you tend to overpack or shop during your trip, and if you don’t mind occasionally checking your bag, choose a soft case up to 23 inches tall.
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“The right personal bag is key, as it can help you conserve space in your carry-on and have all your travel essentials within arm’s reach,” says Palepu. Go for a zippered tote or backpack with room for a laptop, book, and souvenirs. “A bag that’s 9-by-10-by-17 inches or smaller will meet nearly all airlines’ requirements,” she says. Your personal bag is also a good place to keep travel-size liquid toiletries (placed in a resealable, quart-size clear bag, per TSA rules) for easy access when going through security.
To roll or to fold? Palepu has the answer: “I roll my bottoms and fold my tops—I find my clothes end up with fewer wrinkles and I can fit more in my bag.” Use a packing cube, adds Kristin Addis, founder of the blog Be My Travel Muse. She likes the large (10-by-14-by-3-inch) cube from the Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Set ($22; amazon.com). “You can add more than you expect because the cube compresses everything,” she says.
Stow each pair of shoes in a shoe bag (so the soles won’t dirty your clothes) and pack them first, at the bottom of the case. Place the packing cube next. Finally, cram compact items—swimsuits, underwear, socks—into empty corners or even inside your shoes. Include a laundry bag with a few dryer sheets stashed inside to bring dirty clothes home.