Learn five quick tips for packing a compact, organized carry-on bag that fully complies with air travel regulations.
I recently took a solo trip to Utah for three days and it was the first time I’ve ever traveled with a carry-on bag only. Typically if I’m flying somewhere, I’m staying long enough to warrant an actual suitcase, so my carry-on was usually just toiletries or souvenirs on the way back. Since it was just me, I really only needed clothes for the full day, because I could wear my clothes I flew in with on Tuesday again on Thursday for the way back.
I used my expert suitcase packing skills (seriously, I think I could win some kind of competition if that were really a thing) and downsized it all into a mini-version and made alterations to adhere to carry-on flight rules and restrictions. I wanted to share exactly how I packed and organized my carry-on suitcase so you can copy it next time you take a short trip, too.
Start With A Good Piece Of Luggage
This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Don’t travel with an old, raggedy suitcase or duffel bag. Invest in good travel pieces or borrow one from a friend. A couple of my friends travel frequently but they couldn’t afford to buy really nice luggage so they pooled their money together and bought a “joint set” set to share. This has worked out really well for them, and I definitely think it’s a great option if needed.
I have a great weekender duffel bag that would have been awesome for this trip, but since I would be in three airports each on both travel days, I thought it would be better to take a small suitcase with wheels so I’m not lugging a bag on my shoulder through an airport 6 different times.
I ended up buying this suitcase from Amazon because it has a USB charging port, a phone holder, and a cup holder, and it’s still half the price of other brands with the same features. I bought the battery pack for it too, and was really happy I did when my phone almost died before I could get an Uber set up to pick me up. #crisisaverted!
Check and Recheck TSA Rules
The rules for carry on bags are different than the rules for checked bags, so even if you think you know what you can take, consult this list from the TSA before you start packing. You never know when a rule can change, so it’s best to do your homework and make adjustments and replacements as needed.
Most things are self-expanatory, but there are ounce restrictions on liquids, including shampoo, body wash, and even makeup. No full size bottles need to go in your bag. Also, TSA Guidelines restrict you to one 1 Quart resealable bag of liquids in bottles of 3.4oz or less. Meaning you can’t take your entire bathroom arsenal. Be strategic with your selections and only take what you really need. More on this later.
Embrace Your Inner Minimalist
If there was ever a time to try out a minimalist lifestyle, it’s when everything you take for a trip has to fit into a carry-on bag. Now isn’t the time to take clothing options, and it’s definitely not the time for “just in case” stuff.
Keep your pack list simple. The clothes you NEED, the toiletries you NEED, your phone charger, a new book, and your wallet. The end.
If you need extra things, opt for reversible/multi-function items. A black to brown reversible belt allows you to use the same one for two outfits. Instead of packing brightly colored or patterned clothing, go for a neutral wardrobe where every piece can be mix and matched. If possible, bring only one pair of shoes, and wear them the whole time so you don’t have to “pack” shoes at all.
Here’s a photo of my actual pack list, and I took nothing more and nothing less. And I survived just fine.
Use Packing Cubes And Containers For Easy Organization
First off, you have to use a TSA Approved Toiletries Bag, which is a clear and resealable One Quart sized bag. I bought this one from Amazon for under ten bucks, and it was great. I put it in the most accessible place in my carry-on suitcase because I knew I’d have to remove it during check-in.
I also used these packing cubes and they made my suitcase so neat and organized! I was able to keep a pair of shoes away from my clothes, so no germiness was getting on my clean stuff. I kept my socks and underwear confined in another, and I packed an extra cube to hold anything I bought while I was there. These packing cubes are the best-kept secret to traveling with a carry-on only, because they really allow you to get a lot of stuff in a little bag without making a big fat mess inside.
Don’t Pack It Full
This is my biggest tip of all. It’s very likely that will come home with more than you left with. Even if you’re traveling for work, there’s the off chance that you may buy something at some point. Leave some extra space in your carry-on bag, just in case. The most annoying thing ever would be not having enough space to bring home that great handmade piece of decor you bought at a local market and had to pay to ship it home instead.
Make The Most Of Your Trips
Have you checked out my Printable Travel Planner Kit yet? I use it every time I go anywhere, whether I’m driving, flying, or just staying in a B&B in a neighboring town. It’s a great way to collect your thoughts, avoid forgetting things, and banish travel stress. And for under $7, that’s totally worth it in my book. You can grab the kit in my shop here and reprint it as many times as you’d like. 🙂