10 Carry-On Packing Hacks

Whether you’re going for a weekend or a week, here’s how to get away with just one bag.

By Courtney Kenefick

Preparing for a vacation can be a daunting task—especially when you’re trying to avoid the hassle of checking luggage. But being a packing minimalist isn’t as hard as it looks. With a little thought, creativity and preparation, you can stick to a carry-on, even for long holidays. Here, 10 strategies for fitting it all in the bag.

1. Stick to a three-color palette

Plan outfits with a restricted color scheme. This makes key pieces, such as pants and sweaters, interchangeable. It also limits the number of accessories you’ll have to pack—shoes and bags can take up valuable space.

2. Condense and organize small pieces of jewelry into pill organizers

There’s no need for a bulky jewelry organizer. Plastic day-of-the-week pill holders are the antidote for tangled chains and lost earrings. Place small jewelry, such as delicate necklaces, rings and studs, in the holder’s individual compartments. To protect bigger pieces that won’t fit, bundle them in plastic wrap.

3. Take advantage of free duster bags and laundry bags

An organized suitcase is key to smooth travel. Use your own duster bags (the drawstring sacks that typically come with shoes and purses) in lieu of packing cubes—which can take up unnecessary space—for compartmentalizing your clothes. And sorting clean laundry from dirty doesn’t require packing anything extra: Check the closet in your room for a plastic laundry bag.

4. Use open spaces wisely

Make sure no corner of your luggage goes unused. Tuck belts and ties into empty spaces, such as the insides of shoes, and do double duty with pieces like clutches or purses (they work great as make-up bags).

5. Fold underwear into bra cups

Travelers tend to toss undergarments into their bags as an afterthought, but carefully packing them will save some space. Fold underwear neatly, place it in one cup of a bra and then fold the other cup over it. It fills an empty space that would otherwise go unused.

6. Make the most of your “one personal item”

In addition to your carry-on suitcase, most airlines allow for one extra bag (the one that goes under the seat in front of you). Pack it thoughtfully: Not only does placing liquids, toiletries and your laptop in there free up space in your suitcase but it also makes them easier to access while going through security and while in flight.

7. Organize cords and headphones

So many cords, so many solutions—right in front of your eyes. It’s likely that you have an abundance of everyday items (including twist ties, toilet-paper rolls, hair ties and glasses cases) that can prevent cords, portable chargers and headphones from getting tangled and clogging up your carry-on or personal item.

8. Lighten up on liquids

Consolidating liquids into smaller containers is a requirement in order to check a bag, but it’s also a great space saver. This doesn’t mean you have to conform to ready-made travel-size bottles—you can go even smaller. Use what’s around you creatively: Contact-lens cases for face topicals and prescription-medicine containers for lotions (or Q-tips and cotton balls, while we’re at it).

9. Place heavy items close to the wheels

It can be frustrating when your suitcase keeps toppling over, especially when you’re rushing to make a connection. Remedy this by packing items strategically: Heavy pieces, such as shoes, should sit closer to the wheels. A bottom-heavy roll-aboard is less likely to tip.

10. Use shower caps as shoe bags

Protect clean items in your suitcase from the soles of well-trekked shoes by employing shower caps (they’re part of the free vanity set in many resort rooms). The elastic bands allow them to wrap around footwear, and they take up less room than your typical shoe bag.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: April 2017