Back when you could still check bags for free I always did – it didn’t matter if it was a 2 day trip or a 10 day trip, I checked a bag and it was bursting with unnecessary items. I surpassed the 50lb. max on the regular, and was always stuffing heavier items in my already-full purse or tote bag.
When airlines started charging for bags, I learned how to carry on – but I still always brought way too much! I slowly started to realize how much extra I was carrying around when I never used half of it. Here are the tricks I’ve used to keep my carry on light & my packing easy.
1 – Packing Cubes
|Medium Size eBags Packing Cubes
Packing cubes are one of my favorite inventions. Not only do they help you maximize space, they’re great for organizing! If you’re taking a trip with two parts (maybe a wedding & some sightseeing) you can split your garments accordingly to help keep your suitcase in order. Or perhaps shirts in one and pants in another. Another great way to use packing cubes is to smoosh down your bulkier items – winter coats, sweaters, etc – so they are taking up less space.
I have a set of each of the above. The larger Ikea ones lay flat very nicely in a carry on, and the Medium eBags stack well in a regular carry on suitcase or in a backpack.
2 – Cut Back On Shoes
Shoes are definitely the biggest space hog in your suitcase. I’ve found that 3 pairs of shoes will definitely get you through most trips! If you’re going to New York City, choose comfortable & chic flats for the day and a comfortable heel for the night. If you’re backpacking through Europe, choose comfortable trek shoes & a nicer option. You’ll typically find me with flats & tennis shoes, plus a 3rd – sandals in the summer, boots in the winter. If It’s a trip that requires heels (attending a wedding or a major city), i’ll leave my sneaks at home and take heels. Yoga & HIIT exercises can be done in the hotel sans shoes! Choose neutrals
3 – Pack Versatile Items
This was the biggest trick I had to learn. I always packed FULLY SEPARATE OUTFITS for each day or occasion. I’d bring jeans & tee for day 1, dress for day 2, shorts and top for day 3, a different pair of shoes, sweater & accessories for each. I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea! Now I pack as few items as possible that can be re-purposed or mixed & matched. For example, I have a black dress that can be used for just about anything. It’s a nice enough cut that it can be used for dinner & drinks, but casual enough that it can be worn to the pool or grocery store. Think about the most versatile items in your closet (in relation to where you’re going!) and start by packing those. Change your look with your 3 pairs of shoes & a few good accessories. It’s the little things that take you from day to night and casual to polished!
When you pack versatile items, you’re packing several outfits in one & you’re learning to shop your closet! The more ways you discover to wear an outfit on the road, the more use you’ll get out of it at home.
4 – Just Say No to Liquids
I never realized how much liquids could weigh you down! Even with 3oz bottles, liquids seem to be one of the BIGGEST space takers in the suitcase! Shampoo, conditioner, hair product, face wash, moisturizer, make up, nail polish remover, hair spray, perfume…. it goes on and on.
Swap for alternatives or doubles when you can! For long trips I like to bring a bottle of nail polish with me so I can freshen up on the go, but the small bottle of polish remover seems pretty huge for a one time use on the trip. My solution? Nail polish remover wipes. They lay flat and take almost NO space! They’re pre-soaked and usually gets my polish off better than a cotton ball anyway. I tuck 2 in my bag before I leave.
And just like with clothing, packing versatile items can really save the day! Swap moisturizer, foundation & sunscreen for BB Creme that packs a punch for coverage, moisture, & SPF! One tube instead of three.
Here are my best tips for eliminating liquids in your bag.
5 – Question Every Single Item
When you’re laying out your clothes, ask yourself why you’re packing it. Determine if this is a necessary item or a ‘what if?’ item
“What if?” Items to be on the lookout for
– “What if it’s cold?”. Weed out unseasonable items like heavy clothing for a tropical vacation. I promise… it won’t be cold.
– “What if we go out 2 nights that weekend? Should I bring another pair of heels?” We’ve talked about this with the excessive shoes! Unless you’re running a marathon, attending a wedding, sightseeing in a city, going to the beach & going snowboarding in the same trip, you can probably eliminate a few shoes.
– “What if I spill something?” Don’t bring doubles. Packing two different pairs of dark jeans? Brining two pairs of pants is of course sensible, but choose different fabrics & colors to maximize your options! Plus, you can do laundry anywhere if you’re really wearing them out.
– “What if I finish my book or my iPad dies. Shouldn’t I have a backup?” at all cost, avoid heavy extras. You don’t need a laptop, dvd player & tablet – pick one & load it up with your movies, games & documents. Same goes for reading material. Loading books onto a tablet or e-reader is your best bet. But if you prefer the feel of a book in your hand, bring one – then plan to swap with a friend when you’re done or scope out a used book store at your final destination. Another fun way to get new material is finding hotels & coffee shops with “take one, leave one” book shelves.
I KNOW it feels weird to cut so many things out of your suitcase…. but it’s really only hard the first time I promise! If you have a trip coming up and don’t think you can do it, DON’T. Pack as you usually would and pay attention on your trip. Look for items you ignore & items you reach for again and again. Over time, you’ll cling to what you need & purge what you don’t!
Do you have any carry on travel tips?
Other posts you might enjoy:
How to incorporate travel into your budget
How to save on flights (using One Way Tickets)
Carry on guide
Seattle City Guide
Perfecting the Multi-Way Flight
Luxury on a Budget: Hotels & Lodging
Americana Inspired Vacations
How To Find the Perfect Airbnb In Seattle