Pack Light: 8 Tips for the Carry-On Lifestyle

With Thanksgiving and Christmas travel just around the corner, I figured I would share some tips on how to pack light that I’ve picked up over the years. Trust me, as I learned on my recent trip to Australia, your air travel will be so much easier if you can avoid checking luggage!

Tips on how to pack light with just carry-on bags. Your air travel will be so much faster and easier if you avoid checking luggage!

Do you have any packing tips that you swear by? Please spill the beans!

It’s morning in Australia, and we’ve just finished 17+ hours of flights, made it through customs, and are told we’ll be missing our next (and last) flight from Sydney to Melbourne. We head over to talk to an agent, who tells us nevermind, that was only for people who had checked luggage, which we did not. With our two carry-on bags each, Steven and I hustle to our gate and make it onto our flight to Melbourne.

We were SOO glad that we never check luggage any more.

On the way back, we had a similar situation, where after our flight was delayed, if we’d had to collect our luggage and re-check it for our final flight home, we never would have made it in time. I honestly can’t even remember the last time I checked a bag, but at the airports I saw tons of people struggling with multiple giant checked bags. Every time I travel I realize I need less stuff than the last time, so here are my tips on how to pack light.

Keep a List – And check it twice! I’m much more likely to overpack, for fear of forgetting something, if I don’t have a list. I love Google Keep, which is where I have an ongoing list of things to remember to bring on trips. Little things like a portable phone charger, my allergy pills, and a travel voltage adapter (for international trips) are easy for me to forget, but having a list gives me peace of mind. If it’s not on my list, I either need to add it for next time, or leave it at home.

Pick a color palette – And stick to it. Don’t bring outfits, bring a capsule wardrobe. If everything goes together, you can put together a lot of different looks with just a few pieces. Black, white, and gray are go-to colors for me, but you can definitely go for more colorful combinations if that’s what works for you.

Choose packing gear carefully – Using the right luggage is key in packing light! You’ll want a roller bag that is the maximum size for a carry-on bag that fits in the overhead bins, plus another bag you can put under the seats in front of you. After years of carrying a tote that left one shoulder sore, I’ve switched to this sturdy laptop backpack for the under-seat bag. And I can’t recommend my roller bag highly enough, it’s light and easy to roll, but holds a ton. Packing cubes are also really helpful for optimizing how much you can fit in your suitcase (though if you don’t want to spring for those, some people use large re-sealable freezer bags).

Suitcase | Leopard flats | Cardigan | Backpack | Packing cubes | Earbuds | Water bottle

Limit shoes – How many pairs do you really need, and can you cut that down? Obviously this is trickier if you’re traveling for a special occasion like a wedding, or to a place with extreme weather, but you probably need fewer shoes than you think. I brought three pairs on my trip to Australia, but definitely would have been fine with just my trusty Converse. If you need extra room in your suitcase, try to wear your bulkiest pair (usually boots) on the plane. Flats take up less room than heels (and are more practical), and you can stuff your packed shoes with socks or other small items to save even more room.

Do laundry – If you’re thinking that there’s no way to fit enough clothes in your bag for the length of your trip, try to figure out whether there’s a way you can do laundry. Obviously this is easier if you stay with friends or family, but sometimes airbnb apartments or houses have their own laundry machines you can use, and there’re always laundromats, or even hand-washing.

Get your roll on – Rolling your clothes helps minimize wrinkles, plus allows you to fit more in the bag. Combined with packing cubes, you’d be surprised how much more you can clothing you can fit in your bag when you roll it.

Go for multitaskers – You can wear a cardigan and hoodie multiple different ways, while that bulky jacket can only be worn one way, and is harder to pack. Layer like it’s your job. If you’re bringing anything that only has one use, ask yourself whether you really need it, or could substitute something more versatile.

Add accessories – If limiting the amount of clothing sounds like it’ll lead to boring outfits, you’re forgetting about accessories! Jewelry, scarves, and hair clips take up very little room in your suitcase, but they can really amp things up. Distract from the fact that you’re wearing a the same t-shirt with a dazzling new necklace each time. And a cozy pashmina does double-duty as a blanket on the plane.

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