Travel Tips: How To Pack Your Carry On Like a Pro

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For those who are new to travel, it’s tempting to pack your carry on like you’re prepping for an apocalypse. 

However, you really don’t need that much, even if you’re taking an extended trip around the world (trust me).

With the trend of ultralight packing gaining traction, below are some simple packing tips from a pro travel blogger (me!) to keep extra baggage fees at bay:

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simple packing tips

1. Plan Around Your Shoes

Ok, so all my fellow shoe fanatics may disagree with me on this one.

Not all items you pack in your carry on are created equally (especially if you own a pair of LV’s). But, unfortunately, shoes should be considered the least important item you pack in your carry on.

Hear me out before you freak out.

While it is absolutely important to pack a pair of shoes that won’t cause blisters and are comfortable for walking (or running to catch a flight), that’s just the thing: bring one pair.

My exceptions are if I am going on a business trip, or if I am going to the beach. I will pack one pair of comfortable walking shoes and either one pair of heels or one pair of sandals. Place shoes in the *bottom* of your carry on (or suitcase) and pack other items around them. 

For those who like to stick to the one-pair-rule, I live by these G by Guess Quilted Slip-on Sneakers. They go with everything! If you want a cheaper version, Target has these ones.

2. Embrace the Basic Life

The one time that I encourage you to be basic is when deciding what clothes and accessories to pack for a trip.

While you may think you are already a smart and strategic packer, there are still areas where you can improve! This means selecting items that you only truly need. This will help you narrow down your inventory and lighten up your load.

Packing for the Gram’

A lot of people ask me how I pack all the clothes and accessories I wear in my Instagram photos into my luggage without incurring extra fees.

Well, here’s the secret: I don’t!

I usually pack the same three or four dresses, and then change the color of them in photoshop later on. This tactic keeps my luggage light and also takes away the stress of “matching the scenery.”

This is what I typically pack in my carry on for a 2 week vacation:

  • four cotton dresses (these are usually lightweight and can be rolled up easily without wrinkles)
  • one pair of comfy jeans
  • five tops (a few “dressier” tops and a couple comfy tees)
  • a neutral-colored cardigan (white, cream, beige, tan, etc.)
  • three pairs of black leggings (for lounging or working out)
  • two sets of matching pajamas (lightweight cotton, easy to roll up)
  • six pairs of socks (a mixture of no-show socks and thicker socks if it’s a colder climate)
  • clean underwear for each day (I don’t skimp on the clean undies! Roll them up tightly with a hairband and place in a travel bag to save space).
  • a travel-size umbrella 
  • travel sized toiletries such as face wash, makeup remover, makeup, etc. (also place these in a zip-up travel bag!)

This may not seem like much for a two week trip, but it’s more than enough. However, if you still want to try to fit more, the key is to roll your clothes as tightly as possible and stack them. Bring a travel-size bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser to help with any creases. It’s totally ok to re-wear clothes as long as they aren’t stained or smelly!

If you want to push the envelope and pack even less (go you!) check with your Airbnb host, hotel, or resort regarding laundry options. Many accomodations have on-site laundry rooms, offer personal laundry service, or know of a laundry mat nearby.

Tip: Making the most of travel-sized products will also minimize space in your carry on. It’s not ideal to buy new accessories or amenities just for travel, so take advantage of what you already have at your disposal (I mean, hello free hotel amenities!) 

To make sure the items you are packing are TSA-approved, check out this list for more information.

3. Use Your “Personal Item” Wisely

Most airlines allow passengers to bring one carry on and one personal item on the plane with them. Take advantage of this rule via a handbag that can be placed under the seat in front of you!

These airlines include Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, but check out this full list of domestic and international airlines to be sure. 

Even if you’re a traveler who carries a full-size checked luggage, also. bring a personal item on the plane with you. Here’s why: You can pack more valuable items that you might not feel comfortable placing in a carry-on or checked bag.

packing tips from a pro travel blogger

These items include essential medicines or medical equipment, breakable souvenirs, valuable electronics (um, a DSLR camera, duh!), or sentimental jewellery.

Here’s a list of what I always bring my hand bag or “personal item”:

  • Canon DSLR with two lenses
  • Apple MacBook Pro laptop with charger (to work and also because duh it’s expensive)
  • iPhone charger with adapter (if an international flight)
  • Portable charger (in case the outlets don’t work in-flight)
  • Asthma medicines (inhaler, liquid albuterol capsules)
  • Sudafed pills (a take one 30 minutes before take off, and another four hours after that to help with sinus pressure. But, this might not be for everyone!)
  • Two clean pairs of underwear
  • Toothbrush travel size toothpaste
  • Sheet face masks (I love these ones from Peach Slices by Peach & Lily!)
  • Snacks!!! My favorite snacks are Clif Bars, Oreo’s, Rold Gold Honey Wheat pretzels, and Planters Nut & Chocolate Trail Mix!

Since I bring more in my hand luggage than the average person, I use a larger, more heavy duty bag from eBags Online. I push the envelop a bit, but still make sure it is compliant with the airline measurements guidelines.

You can shop the full list of underseaters, duffle bags, and travel backpacks on their online shop. 

4. Cheat (But Only a Little Bit)

If you still find it difficult to pack light, there are ways to still bring what you need.

You can invest in vacuum packs or ultralight packing cubes to store more clothes without leaving wasted space between shirts, pants, and other accessories.

The packing cubes that I use to store my toiletries and undergarments are from Gustave and you can find them at your local Walmart or online! (not sponsored, btw).

I also reserve one packing cube for dirty clothes so that I can separate them from touching clean ones (and so that luggage won’t smell unpleasant!).

If you find that your luggage becomes too heavy on your trip, consider removing, selling, or donating items that you don’t need or use anymore. These can be toiletries, books, or accessories.

If you’re a big reader like me, investing in a lightweight e-reader can also minimise space and weight. I use a Kindle Nook (yes, I’m old school). 

5. Be Disciplined

So here’s the moral of the story: even if you think you need to bring everything with you for your travels, you can get away with a lot less.

Packing things we love gives us a sense of home and security (it does for me, too). But, packing less can also provide a sense of freedom and independence.

Here’s the scenario: you’re traveling to a far away land for the first time, only bringing the essentials. You arrive at the airport, passport in hand and print your boarding pass. No need to go to the check-in counter — no checked bags today!

You breeze through security, keeping all of your items organised in your packing cubes.

You find your departure gate and are summoned to board shortly after.

Your carry on is light enough to put in the overhead compartment without any help. Your personal item fits securely under the seat in front of you. Within minutes, it’s wheels up, and you’re well on your way to new adventures (with lots of snacks of course). 

Ok, so maybe the scenario mentioned above isn’t always ideal. But, if you exercise some discipline and follow the tips mentioned in this article, your journey (and luggage) will be much easier to manage.

56 Comments
  1. Meghan Emcee says

    These are some great tips! I love travelling in a carryon for a two-week vacation, I even try to bring enough for 2 weeks without having to worry about doing laundry halfway through! I always try to set that as my goal, sometimes it requires A LOT of advance planning 🙂

  2. Melissa says

    This is a very smart guide! I need to practice my art of packing lighter! I’ve really gotten better with packing less shoes!!

  3. Tal Bright says

    Excellent tips, I totally agree! Pack just one pair of shoes is a tip you don’t hear often, but it is such a good idea!

  4. Olivia says

    Good tips! I like to plan my outfits using a capsule wardrobe and it seems to work okay, I just never have enough room for all the souvenirs I want to bring back! Haha!

  5. Lekha Chellani says

    Wow! Some of these tips are golden lol.. I always struggle with my luggage. Changing color of dresses on photoshop for the gram is my favourite. Thank you!

  6. Shannon says

    Great tips, and thanks for sharing the insta-secret! I always wonder how one can pack sensibly but still look like a rockstar in their photos!

  7. Micamyx|Senyorita says

    Good practical tips! I normally just bring black flat shoes when I am traveling. I try to pack really light and just be creative in mix and matching. Take care!

  8. Brit says

    Loving these tips!! The one shoe rule is oh so hard but truly a game-changer!

  9. Antonia says

    Great tips! I use packing cubes as well and it makes everything soooo much more organised and tidy in an instant!

  10. Marisa says

    Good tips! I love using packing cubes when I travel and they have given me so much room in my suitcase! For the past year I have been traveling around SE Asia with a travel on sized suitcase (it’s always overweight of course!) and it has been so much easier than carrying around a bunch of stuff I dont actually need!

  11. kesi irvin says

    This was a fun read. I love the idea of changing your dress color on photoshop! That’s creative, although I wouldn’t have the patience to do the same.

  12. Emma says

    This is how I want to be as a packer. I’m not quite there yet, mostly because I always pack more shoes than I need (just in case). I did cut down to two pairs on my last trip so I’m calling that progress. Packing cubes are my new thing. I got them for Christmas and can’t wait to put them into action. Also, I can’t believe I never thought of photoshopping the dress colors. Genius!

  13. Maggie says

    I was anti-ereader for years; the only reason I ever got a Kindle was so that I wouldn’t have to lug a bunch of books with me on the plane. I’ve been completely converted now haha! These are great tips! It never occurred to me that people change the color of their clothes for Instagram on photoshop. That makes SO much sense though.

  14. Chelsea says

    I love the shoe tactic! I do this AND I also stuff little things inside my shoes like rolled up t shirt or underwear! If you roll stuff up you can fit one or two things in each shoe!
    Also I have never thought of the photo shop idea! I need to learn how to do that haha! I’m going to take some photos in nature today and made sure I was wearing a different outfit to last time but wow this would be easier! I need to learn photoshop hahaha!

  15. Curls en Route says

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  16. Emily says

    Great tips! I especially love the one about changing the color of your dress in editing later for instagram.

  17. Amanda says

    Love these tips! I rely on packing cubes but I will definitely try vacuum packed!

    Amanda | Averageamanda.com

  18. Bettina says

    I aboslutely love these tips and I always plan around my shoes! I’m definitely not able to only pack one pair but I usually manage to get away with 2-3 pairs.

  19. Taylor says

    This is super helpful Alex! I agree that packing your shoes first is huge! I’m also trying to make it a goal to just pack everything in a carry on. 🙂

  20. Michelle says

    This is so great. I love your suggestion of packing around your shoes. This is a great tip!

  21. Marika says

    Great tips! I always pack way too much so I will def pin for later.

  22. Valentina Vucicic says

    Very helpful post, thank you girl! 🙂

  23. Hillary Newman says

    The only way to travel! Thank you for the tips. 🙂

  24. Jen Nilsson says

    You get me! “Plan around your shoes” is the best tip ever. Thanks for this helpful guide. I will save this for my next trip, which (fingers crossed!) will be soon!

  25. A Capone Connection says

    Seriously… mind blown by your Instagram trick! This was useful information. I agree with your shoe theory. I’ve tried to pick one color of shoes (brown or black) and base all of my outfits on that scheme so I don’t have to pack so many shoes. Thanks for the tips!

  26. karolina says

    Thanks for the tips! I love to start with the shoes :):) However, I always have 2 pairs: sneakers and flip flops! For me its a must 🙂

  27. Taylor Taverna says

    Omg such a smart tip to change the color of your dresses with photoshop!!

  28. Tania Muthusamy says

    I love these tips. I like to bring a larger handbag for personal items too. I always pack too many shoes though.

  29. Jen says

    Carry-on is the only way to go! I love you packing list, an umbrella is such an underrated item. And I always plan around my shoes haha 🙂

  30. Amy says

    There are some awesome packing tips here!! I’ll definitely be using them when I go on my next trip!

  31. Katie says

    Love this post! Vacuum pack bags are a godsend – I can never finalise my ‘essentials’ either! I very rarely manage to travel wth hand luggage only!

  32. Great post, I’m always trying to find ways to fit things into my carry on better! They lose your checked luggage once, scars ya for life haha. Thanks for the tips!

  33. Mayi says

    Good tips. I always try to pack just one pair of shoes for weekend trips but when I fail, it’s always a pair that doesn’t take much space!

  34. Deborah Patterson says

    Good tips. I try to pack coordinating items, so almost everything goes with everything. And recently I’m loving my jersey jumpsuits!

  35. Christin says

    I love how you put it, it’s between the safety of home vs the feeling of freedom! I choose freedom anytime. I pack like you and it’s become even easier since I discovered the concept of capsule wardrobes. Digitalizing is another important packing tip – I never bring pape anywhere, unless an officer may ask for it at the border. As personal item I carry an enormous tote bag that fits a lot but is still flexible enough to fit under the seat in front of me.

  36. Madeline says

    So many great tips! I am a huge fan of carry in packing… Thank you

  37. Francesca says

    This is such a helpful post. My mind is blown about the fact that you can change your outfit colour in photoshop. I never even considered that and I will definitely be trying to use that in the future!

  38. Julie | Outdreaming says

    I do the same thing with my dirty clothes! Although I learned the hard way, haha. Love these packing tips!

  39. Patti Morrow says

    You nailed it with these basic trips! Planning around (heavy shoes) is always my #1 thing when I start to plan what to bring!

    1. Alex Booze says

      Yesss the shoes are so important! I used to pack those last and then always wondered why my suitcase wouldn’t zip HAHA

  40. Linnea says

    Great tips! I’m all about watching how many shoes I bring. I always wear my bulky ones onboard.

    1. Alex Booze says

      I am so so bad about packing 458694937 pairs of shoes lol. And they take up so much room!

  41. Olivia says

    Packing a personal item is a big one for me when I travel! Great tip on altering dress colors in photoshop – definitely takes away the stress of packing “matching” outfits and cuts down on the items in your carryon. Love it!

    1. Alex Booze says

      Yesss! Changing colors in photoshop is an amazing and super simple trick. It can really take your photos up a notch and cuts down on items you need to pack!

  42. Charlotte says

    Wow, so many great tips and ideas! I definitely needed this as I always overpack. My plan for this year is to only bring a carry-on so this is super helpful 🙂

    1. Alex Booze says

      Thank you! I am so glad that you found it helpful! I am all for just taking a carry on too at this point hahah

  43. Zsuzsanna says

    Great tips! We always travel with only a carry-on bag, doesn’t matter how long the trip will be 😀

    1. Alex Booze says

      That’s amazing! I admit that I sometimes I struggle with just bringing a carry on (and then I always regret it later!)

  44. Paloma Fts says

    I love your tips! I only bring a carry on no matter where I go so this will help me pack! <3

    1. Alex Booze says

      Amazing! So glad you find it helpful. Here’s to hoping we can travel again soon!

  45. Laurel says

    Great tips! I don’t think people realize how necessary it is to have extra underwear on the plan. Especially if your flight gets delayed or extra long flights. A change of clothes is AMAZING

    1. Alex Booze says

      It is so essential! Especially if a flight is canceled or you lose your luggage (both have happened to me!) I also carry a toothbrush and a small toothpaste.

  46. Amy Aed says

    Man, I cannot WAIT to finally have this problem again and travel. I have missed it so much.

    1. Alex Booze says

      Me too! I never thought I would actually wish I had the problem of packing too much in a carry on. When we can travel again, I am going to scream like a giddy child hahah

  47. Patri says

    These are awesome tips! I am trying to be minimalist in the way I pack and I sure appreciate it. Looking forward to packing everything I need in a carry on >D

    1. Alex Booze says

      Thanks so much, Patri! I try to be a minimalist too, but sometimes it just doesn’t work LOL. I will certainly pack later after all of this COVID stuff

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