3 Tips for Traveling with a Carry On

3 Tips for Traveling with a Carry On

When you travel a lot, there are a few things that start to really bother you. Like people who have never been through airport security in their lives who somehow end up in the TSA PreCheck line. Or waiting for your checked luggage when you get to your destination. That last one is probably one of the things we hate most about travel — and it doesn’t help that our home airport is notoriously bad at getting checked bags on the carousel in a timely manner. So, we’ve learned to avoid checking a bag by traveling with a carry on whenever possible.

Now, I’m not saying we never check bags. If we’re headed to Asia for two weeks, there are a few extra things we need besides what can fit in our small carry ons. (I know there are some people who can manage that, and we’re thoroughly impressed by them. It’s just not us). That being said, we still only bring carry ons for each of us and a small checked back between the two of us. Because the only thing worse than waiting for 1 checked bag is waiting for 2 (or 3, or 4…). 

So here’s how we do it. (Note – this post isn’t about how to best roll or fold your clothes — there are plenty of other resources out there about that.)

1. Pick the Right Carry On

Sounds simple, right? Well, there’s a lot that goes into picking a carry on, and it depends a lot on what you think is important. For us, it was about having compact carry ons that would meet the size requirements of even the most restrictive airlines (check out some of the Asian carriers like Japan Airways or Cathay Pacific to see what we mean) so that we wouldn’t be forced to gate-check our bags.

We ended up going with these carry ons from Samsonite and have found that — with the right packing strategy and, of course, packing cubes — they have more than enough space for even a week-long trip.

If you aren’t as concerned about size as we are, or keep most of your traveling to the US and Europe, then you can certainly invest in something larger. Just keep in mind that you’re probably going to be hauling your bags through airports, on trains, in taxis, and possibly on other, shorter flights depending on your itinerary. So, in our opinion, the smaller and lighter, the better.

2. Use Packing Cubes

If you don’t have packing cubes already, please go out and buy some immediately. And go for the compression cubes. It’s hard to put into words exactly the impact that these tiny cubes have on your packing game. By compressing your clothes within the pouch, they allow you to fit so much more into a small space, while keeping it organized (which, really, is what won us over in the first place). We use these cubes from Acteon that we originally found through Kickstarter and love that they have a side for both clean and dirty clothes.

The other packing essential that we strongly recommend are organization pouches for things like cords, makeup, medicine, or any other small item that would otherwise easily get lost in your bag. Having a place for everything makes it so much easier to pack what you need into one or two bags without having to constantly search for what you need. Rume is a great brand for this — we personally use the 3-tiered zippered pouches for cord organization and keep one of the small roll-up grocery bags in our backpacks at all times. We’ve used it for everything from packing groceries at a local store to bringing towels to the beach.

3. Edit, edit, edit

If you ask anyone who writes for a living what their process looks like, it probably sounds a lot like this: I throw all the words I’m thinking on paper, and then I go back and edit. And then I edit. And then I edit some more. Okay, at least that’s how it seems to work for us.

You should take a very similar approach to packing. Start with a list of everything you think you need for your trip (or physically take it all out if that helps). Then go back and think about how you can make the list smaller. Which clothes can you rewear, or can you do laundry on the trip? Do you need all 5 pairs of shoes or will 3 (or better yet, 2) work?

And not to overlook toiletries: sometimes, you just have to learn to do without when it comes to toiletries. Figure out what you can buy when you get there, what the hotel will provide, etc. and just bring enough of the essentials. We definitely don’t have our full skin/hair care regimen with us when we travel — that alone would require a checked bag. But we bring enough that we still have what we need and feel like ourselves, without bringing the entire medicine cabinet.

After years of doing this, we still put back a shirt or two right before we finish packing — and we still end up feeling like we’ve overpacked just a little. It’s a learning process. But what we’ve found is that as long as you plan ahead and bring the essentials, you probably don’t need as much as you think you do.—–What are your favorite packing tips? What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken traveling with a carry on?

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