Packing Essentials for the Carry-On Only Traveler

Getting the most out of your carry on luggage is essential to traveling light and avoiding the inconvenience and expense of the checked bag. The following six tips can help you pack more into less and make the most of that overhead bin. 

1. Lose the roller bag. Roller bags are heavy and not space efficient. Roller bags take up a lot of space with their mechanics, collapsing handles and wheels. They are designed to stand on end and made of heavy abrasion resistant materials or hard plastic. 

What to replace the roller bag with? Nothing works better than a simple duffel bag with a single shoulder strap and one external pocket. A round bag can better conform to the dimensions of an overhead bin than a square one. Duffel bags are light and inexpensive. The best are constructed of a water and abrasion resistant rip–stop material. I use a basic 12 x 24 inch bag. Courier style bags also work well. 

2. Embrace synthetics. Cotton and cotton blends are the dominate fabrics of today. Chances are you put on denim this morning. Unfortunately our comfy jeans and cotton shirts don’t pack very well. They are not space efficient. 

Modern synthetic fabrics have a lot going for them. With few exceptions, they are lighter than natural fabrics or blends. They do not soil as easily and they wash and dry quickly. Most importantly, synthetics take up less volume by weight. You may have the idea that synthetics are for the sporty set, but you can just as easily find lightweight synthetics for the business traveler. 

3. Think in terms of multiple uses. Be flexible when selecting travel attire. Business casual dresses up or down depending upon the occasion. Gym attire is appropriate at most pools or on a hike. The right shoes can be worn almost anywhere. The right polo works well with a sport coat, khakis or shorts. Keep in mind that it’s always easier to dress down than up. 

4. Downsize your tote. This is somewhat taken for granted but worth mentioning. Most travelers pack totes are larger than they need to be. Nearly all popular toothpaste, shampoos, soaps and shaving creams come in travel size, 2.75 ounce or less security friendly packages. 

Many over the counter medications come in single doses as well. Why carry 100 doses when two will do? Do not downsize prescriptions. This is especially true when travelling overseas. You want your prescriptions in the bottle they came in with your name on it. Assemble a tote package or shave kit that is only for travelling. 

5. Wear your most bulky items the day you fly. Shoes are bulky and don’t pack well. Wear your boots on the plane and pack the flip-flops or running shoes. If you brought a heavyweight shirt, sweater, jacket or cowboy hat, wear it on the day you fly. Pack the shorts and wear the trousers! 

6. Get tech savvy. Books and other publications do not pack well. They are bulky and often heavy. An e-reader or tablet packs well in your “personal item”. I used to carry 2-3 books on my travels, now I carry 100+ in my Kindle. 

Airlines allow a personal item such as a laptop case or purse in addition to your one piece of carry-on luggage. It’s a good idea to check with your airline on the exact size of this item before you use it as your “overflow” bag. 

Final notes: For most travelers, over packing is common. Be sure to note what you did not need on your trip. I always make a very specific list of what I have packed. If I did not use an item, I note it for the next trip. I also note if there was something I needed to add (extra running socks, flashlight?). This is especially relevant if you have recurring trips of the same length and purpose.  

Safe Travels!

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