How to get most out of carry-ons for a comfortable flight

by Melissa Standford

I love carry-on travel.  With a little bit of know-how, you can carry a week’s worth of goods with you right on the airplane. The ability to carry everything you want will help to eliminate the chance of lost or stolen luggage and allow you to deboard your plane and get right to the taxi line or customs desk.  Mastering the art of carry-on travel is not difficult. This short “how to” post is designed to give you a procedure on how to pack stuff for the most “oomph,” getting everything you need into the smallest spaces possible.

1. First, assemble all the clothes you will be taking with you, and halve it.  You only need two pairs of shoes, a few days worth of underclothes (unless you really only do laundry once a week), and clothes that will match no matter how you combine them.  Limiting your wardrobe is essential to carry-on travel.

2. The Carry-On Bag #1. A 20-inch rolling suitcase is ideal for most of your goods. This is the bag that will go in the overhead bin on the plane.  To pack it, use the following method:

a. Get a medium-size packing cube, or a 5 compartment folding bathroom kit.  Stuff the pockets with socks, underclothes, and only the most basic bathroom goods. If you have room left over, this is also the place to put a compressed rain-jacket if you are carrying one.

b. Use the dop bag or packing cube as a “pillow” for your wardrobe. Wrap your clothes around it, one by one, tucking in your shirt hems, arms, pant legs, etc, as you go. don’t wrap them up together, do it one item at a time. Reserve your bathing suit or anything you need upon landing – these goods go in the bag last. After wrapping your bag or cube, you will have a “package” of clothes wrapped around your goods. Drop this in your suitcase and secure it with your suitcase straps.  Pack your extra shoes in the corner of your suitcase. If your shoes are runners or heels, you can use the interior space of the shoes for more underclothes or accessories such as scarves.  Put your daybag on top of your clothing bundle, and fill in the rest of the space with your reserve goods and other things you may need while you are away. With practice, you can get four days-to-a-week’s worth of outfits in your carry-on bag, depending on your clothing style, items packed, and body size.

c. Resist the urge to overpack! An overfull carry-on bag will find it’s way to checked luggage, defeating the purpose of packing carry-on to get to your destination!

3. The Carry-On Bag #2.  A basic book-carrying backpack is all you need for your second carry-on. Anything bigger and you will probably have to check your first bag, and we want to avoid that. This second bag will get put under your seat. Your backpack should carry only your computer and camera equipment and accessories so it will fit. If you can fit a book, water bottle, and magazine in there too, great. If not, don’t force it. Inside your backpack  you will need a smaller bag with your medications if you take them and anything you absolutely cannot live without on your flight, such as womanly goods for the ladies and/or a toothbrush for long-haul flights. A compressed blanket and eye mask would go in this bag as well.   Once seated, you can pull out the smaller bag and stick it in the seat back pocket.

4.  Packing your valuables.  Never, ever, ever, ever pack your passport, ID, tickets, and money anywhere except on your body.  I know it seems counter-intuitive to use a  security wallet because of how uncomfortable they can be, but using one will ensure your valuables are close to you where they can’t be seen, reducing your risk of attack inside the airport  as well as buying you another space for carry-on goods.

5. Take a jacket. Wear it as you board. Stuff the pockets with a small paperback if you are taking one and an inflatable neck pillow, and your ipod.  Of course your pockets will be bulky.  Yes it will be a bit uncomfy to carry through security. And yes, your aisle mates will probably hate you.   But these are more things to pull out and shove in the seat-back pocket when you are seated  And you won’t have to pay fees for the goodies if the airline charges for them.  If you are traveling long-distance, chances are your blanket and pillow are provided so you can skip them.  Your jacket can act as a second pillow or blanket, or you can shove it under the seat with your backpack.

Bonus Tip 1: Unpack yourself while you are seated and while other passengers are boarding, and your flight attendant will never notice how much stuff you snuck on board!

To recap, here is everything you carried on board:

Your first carry-on, containing your wardrobe, bathroom goods, and things you may want while you travel.

Your second carry-on, containing your electronics and a smaller bag with personal goods you may need during the flight.

A money belt containing your flight information, identification, and money

A jacket for extra warmth and comfort, your iPod, and small compressible goods to make you comfortable while in flight.

Bonus Tip 2: If in the event you are asked to check one of your bags due to the overhead bins being full or your carry-on being too big, just do it. Give them bag #1, but pull out your reserved goods and shove them in your backpack so you have them upon landing. Avoid this possibility by getting in line early to avoid full bins.

Practice this method on a weekend trip, and you will soon find you can use it for a week away, or longer!  Happy travels and happier, lighting packing!


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