How to Pack Carry-On Only for Your Next Vacation
Until very recently, I was using the same luggage set I'd had since high school.
It was old, dirty, and heavy as all get out, but it was one of those items I had a weird connection to. (Probably because I remember the first trip I used one of the suitcases - to visit my now-husband before we were even officially dating!)
But during our last few trips—both lengthy vacations and overnight stays—I realized my trusty luggage set just wasn’t cutting it. I loved its unique design that made it easy to spot at baggage claim, but all three of the bags were way too heavy for their size.
I also found myself a little jealous of the people walking next to me at the airport with their fancy spinner wheels – you know, the kind that you can walk along next to you without lifting a finger? Yep, I needed that.
Finally, a few months ago, I decided it was time to say goodbye. We had an upcoming trip to Cabo and I was determined not to check a suitcase. It seemed like the perfect time to trade in my outdated set for two new, lightweight carry-ons.
So, we did.
And you guys… traveling carry-on only is fantastic. No more waiting at baggage claim, no more checked bag fees, and the best part (especially if you ask Ryan) is no more overpacking! It is so liberating to travel light.
But—yes, there’s a but—it does take some extra planning and thinking ahead to make carry-on only travel work for you. So here are my favorite tips for traveling with just a carry-on, no matter how long the trip.
I’m listing this one first because I am the queen of unrealistic packing. You know, all those little “But what if I *need* this!?” conversations we have with ourselves?
I get it, it’s tempting to try to pack for all of the just-in-case moments, or pack all of the outfits you’ve been meaning to wear. But the reality is, you’ll likely only need the essentials and you’re probably going reach for your favorite outfits first, just like you do at home. If an item doesn’t fall into one of those two categories, I say leave it behind.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but when it comes to the eight pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of jeans and 2 hoodies you’re packing for your beach trip? It’s time to rethink your packing strategy.
And if something unexpected comes up? You can almost purchase the item you need at your destination and call it a souvenir!
Arrange your outfits before packing.
You can certainly just do this mentally, but I actually prefer to lay out my outfits before I put them into the suitcase. This is the perfect opportunity to think about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing, and you’ll often eliminate items you originally thought you needed.
Check the weather, make a short list of the activities you have planned (one nice dinner doesn’t require three nice outfits!), and even try on some of the items you’re considering taking. A little extra preparation now can save your much-needed space, and keep you from packing tons of items you don’t get to wear.
Also, try to plan a general color scheme and stick with it, or at least pick a few staple items and then build your outfits off of those instead of starting from scratch for each. This step will help you mix and match items between multiple outfits – a must for packing light!
A little creativity never hurts, especially when it comes to packing. To save space, fill every available inch in your bag. This includes the awkward corners (perfect for bras or belts!) the inside of shoes (hello, socks and underwear) and don’t forget the exterior pouches & pockets.
Also, get creative with items that do “double duty.” A nice scarf can serve as a blanket or pillow while you’re traveling, a coverup to wear over your bathing suit, a shawl to keep you warm on cooler evenings, and even a mat for sitting on the beach or grass.
Wear your bulkiest items on the plane.
And finally, this one’s pretty self-explanatory, but don’t use up precious suitcase space by packing your largest items. Whenever possible, try to wear your bulkiest items, like coats and pants, and you’ll have more room for smaller items in your suitcase.
Jeans are heavy and take up a lot of suitcase space, but they’re great for travel. Even if you’re headed somewhere warm, don’t wear your shorts or a skirt – they can easily be packed. And if it's too warm to wear your jacket or coat, sling it over your arm and store it once you’re on the plane.
So, has anyone else recently made the switch to carry-on only? Let me know if I forgot your favorite packing tip!