7 Travel Packing Tips to Master Your Carry-On Bag

It only takes one overpacking experience to realize that lugging heavy, cumbersome bags up steep steps, onto public transit and along cobblestone streets isn’t worth the effort. A few days in, you’ll dream of hurling your bags off the side of a train and vow never to overpack again.

Follow these seven packing tips to help you lighten your load and enjoy the journey.

1. Think Differently

It’s only natural that the further from home you’re traveling, the stronger the urge becomes to pack more stuff. The first step to becoming a master packer is to change the way you think about the process:

  • It’s okay not to prepare for every potential situation. If you forget an item, you’ll be able to find something comparable at your destination. If something gets dirty, you can wash it. If something breaks, you can fix it. Pack the least amount of stuff you’ll need to enjoy your trip. When in doubt, just leave it out.
  • It’s okay to wear your clothes more than once.  Back home, your friends and coworkers may notice if you wear the same outfit twice in one week. When you’re traveling, who cares? More often than not, you’ll be surrounded by strangers who won’t know whether your outfit is a repeat.
  • Packing less won’t cramp your style. You don’t have to sacrifice fashion when packing less. Even the most fashion-forward person can craft a stylish travel wardrobe out of a few pieces. It may take a little planning and some great accessories, but it’s definitely doable.

2. In Warm Weather, Go Lighter

Traveling to a warm destination? Take advantage of the lightweight nature of clothing and gear suited to summery climes and consider these techniques:

  • Take advantage of thin, lightweight fabrics. Semi-sheer pieces, lightweight jersey knits and rayon all pack down exceptionally well. Bring a few items made in these materials, and you’ll save significant space. If warmth is a consideration, layer these lightweight pieces together.
  • Shorts, capris and skirts have less material than their long-length counterparts, guaranteeing space savings. As long as you’ll be adhering to cultural expectations in the destinations you’re visiting, consider packing shorter-length items. Or, bring a pair of zip-off pants instead of pants plus shorts.

3. Go Multifunctional

A critical part of traveling light is packing pieces that can serve double or triple duty. Wardrobe staples like dark jeans and a casual blazer can be dressed up for an evening on the town or dressed down for a day of sightseeing. Maxi skirts can sometimes be worn as a midi or knee-length dress, and with a little creativity, infinity scarves can be worn several ways. And, if you go the capsule wardrobe route, picking only pieces that work well together, you can carry even less.

The multifunctional rule also applies to your shoes. Choose sandals that are comfortable enough for walking and dressy enough to wear to dinner. When in doubt, consider European-style sneakers. Due to their slim profile, these sneakers tend to work well in a wide range of settings.

Before you place an item in your suitcase, ask yourself how many times and ways you can wear it. If the answer is “one,” don’t pack it.

4. Go Technical

Technical clothing is typically made of lightweight, stain-resistant, wrinkle-free, quick-drying materials—the perfect addition to your suitcase. Whether pants, shirts or underwear, you can wear these pieces all day long, handwash them before bed and wear them again in the morning—day after day.

5. Practice Rolling & Using Packing Cubes

There are hundreds of articles and videos devoted to packing wisely, from rolling to vacuum packing, bundling and using packing cubes. Why choose just one? After rolling your clothes, you can stuff them into packing cubes for tighter compression and better organization.

6. Pack For The Short Haul

Never pack more than you need for seven or eight days. If your trip is longer than that, you can wash your clothes and wear the items again. In most cities, laundromats are easy to find, paid laundry services may be affordable, or you can handwash your clothes. 

7. Wear Your Bulkiest Items On Travel Days

In any travel wardrobe, jeans, jackets and sneakers will most likely be your bulkiest and heaviest items. If you wear these items on your travel days, you’ll save space and weight in your luggage.

Need help on what piece of luggage you’ll need? Check out this how to choose luggage guide for more information.

Challenge yourself to travel with as little as possible. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the freedom that comes with a small, light carry-on bag will be your reward.

Learn More: How to Pack for Adventure Travel