How To Pack a Carry-On the Right Way

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When you travel by air, do you always check your bag? If so, the 2022 travel season may be a reason to switch permanently to packing only a carry-on bag.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Loss of flexibility. If your flight is delayed or canceled, and it contains items you can’t be without, you may have to miss the next available flight because you’re waiting on your bag to get back to you.
  • Lost possessions. According to the United States Department of Transportation, U.S.-based airlines mishandled 0.56% of bags they took care of in May 2022. Yes, that’s less than 1%, but it amounts to more than 235,000 mishandled bags! If your checked bag doesn’t make it to your final destination, it’s not 100% guaranteed that you’ll get it back — ever.
  • Fees. Baggage fees have existed prior to the 2022 travel season, and some discount airlines do charge you to bring a carry-on. But we’re here to save you money so we had to include it as a con.

How To Pack a Carry-On

As a minimalist, I can easily fit everything I need into one carry-on bag. Here’s how I do it.

Choose the Right Bag

There are many different requirements for the types of carry-on bags that are permitted. It just depends on the airline. I personally carry a vintage duffel bag that I found from a thrift store.

Many carriers allow for a carry-on bag no larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, including handles and wheels, and it needs to fit in the overhead bin. But check with the airline before your trip to verify. You don’t want to get to the airport and find out your bag does not meet the requirements.

On most airlines, you will also be permitted to carry on at least one personal item, and it should fit beneath the seat in front of you. Personal items can include purses, totes, satchels, briefcases, laptop and camera bags, backpacks and diaper bags.

What you are allowed to carry also depends on the type of ticket you purchase and the type of flight you are taking. Visit the specific airline’s website for travel rules and fees.

Pack the Right Clothing

The clothes you take will depend on your destination, the type of trip (personal or business), the events you will be attending and the activities you have planned.

I start by trying to plan each day’s outfit so I know exactly what I need. To reduce the amount of clothing in my bag, I pack neutral colors so that it’s easy to mix and match garments.

Packing tip: Roll your clothes. This allows you to fit more items into your carry-on and reduces wrinkling. You can also bundle your clothes. You start with a core piece and then wrap other clothing around that item, creating a bundle. When placing the rolled and bundled items into your bag, put the larger items on the outside and fill the space in between with smaller objects.


Limit Your Shoes

Shoes can take up a lot of space in a bag. I try to limit myself to two pairs: comfortable walking shoes and a nicer pair for evenings out or special events.

Packing tip: Store your shoes in plastic bags within your bag. Shoes can get pretty dirty, so it’s nice to keep them separate from your clean or gently worn clothes.

Think About Toiletries

It can be easy to throw in multiple shampoos, lotions, hand sanitizers and other toiletries, but remember that many hotels provide these things. And you can almost always buy something you forgot once you get to your destination.

Packing tip: Pack the toiletry items at the top of your bag. TSA can easily check those items without having to sort through your bag.

Remember Prescriptions

This tip is important whether you’re checking a bag or carrying it on. Always keep your prescriptions in a carry-on or personal item. Even if your bag doesn’t make it, you’ll have the prescriptions you need when you need them.

Use Travel Compression Bags

Most of these work by putting clothing and other items inside and then rolling them up to expel air, which makes the bundle more compact so it takes up less space.

Wear (Don’t Pack) Heavier Clothing

You can wear a coat or jacket on the plane, so take a jacket with lots of pockets and places to pack additional items. This will leave room in your carry-on bag and personal item bag for more things.

Wear the clothing that takes up the most space in your bag and double up on shirts if you can. The more you can wear on your body, the more room you will have in your bag.

Pare Down Tech

Do you really need to take your iPad, tablet, laptop and other tech gear? Most of us can do everything we need to on our smartphones. Take the time to disconnect while on vacation. If it is a business trip, take only what you need.

But make sure you remember the essentials — like your phone charger!


Do you have any tips for packing a carry-on bag? Let us know about them in the community!


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