9 Smart Tips for How To Pack For Carry on Luggage

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Want to know how to travel like a pro on a plane? Our guide will tell you all the best tips on how to pack for carry on luggage so you can spend more time exploring and less time waiting on your bags to arrive!

Whether you are embarking on your first trip or you are a frequent flyer, learning how to pack for carry on luggage is one of the best travel hacks you can do.

In an age of no-frills airlines that want to charge for anything and everything on top of your airfare, being able to avoid the check-in luggage fee is going to leave you with all that extra money in your pocket for more adventures on the road.

Besides the monetary benefit, going carry-on also will give you less time at the airport. There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a new destination at the beginning of your holiday and having to wait for ages to get your luggage.

And even worse, getting the news that the airline lost your bag. Skip the hassle and know everything is right there with you at all times.

These days airports are getting strict with weight limits (7kg) and dimensions for overhead luggage, and it can be easy to get stung at the last minute.

So follow these simple tips on how to pack for carry-on for your next journey!

Person On A Plane With Carry On
Packing for carry on can be easy if you are prepared

Top Tips To Help You Pack For Carry On

Below are our top tips to help you pack for carry on and avoid having to lug around more than you need on your next trip!

Choose The Right Bag

The first step in packing for carry on is to have the right bag. Airlines are getting tougher when it comes to baggage size and weight, so having something that fits within these restrictions is very important.

A carry-on bag needs to be more than just a certain size. It needs to be a bag that is convenient and easy to organise.

Does it have multiple internal compartments for organising your gear properly to make it easy to access items? Is it easy to carry, or do you need wheels to drag along behind you?

Is it durable enough to be jammed into an overhead compartment? These are all important things you also need to consider.

Once you have the right bag you can get on with packing it for carry-on only. 

READ MORE: Check out our post on the best backpacks for travel here.

Make A Detailed Packing List

Whether you like making them or not, lists help keep you on the right track. Rather than throwing what you think you need into your bag, you can refer to the list and make sure you’re only taking the right things.

Having a list will ensure that you don’t forget anything while you’re packing, and will keep you within your limits.

Put absolutely everything you need on your list – clothing, toiletries, electronics, medication, etc. – and don’t leave anything to chance.

If your list says 3 t-shirts, only pack 3 t-shirts. If you’re not keeping track of these things you can easily overpack.

Packing Carry On
Make a packing list so you do not forget anything

Choose Multi-Purpose, Quick-Dry Clothing

It’s better to take a few high-quality pieces of clothing that serve multiple purposes than lots of cheap bits of clothing that only do one thing. Not only is this better for the environment, but it’s also better for your packing list and budget in the long run.

If you’re going to be doing a mix of outdoor activities and city sightseeing on your trip, take hiking pants that also look quite smart for day-to-day wear. Rather than taking a very thick winter coat, take a lightweight and waterproof shell that you can use in bad weather, no matter what the temperature, and layer up.

Choose clothes that you can wear with everything else in your luggage. Don’t take a shirt that only matches one set of shorts you want to take. Interchangeable clothing is key to packing light.

A lot of clothing these days is also made from quick-drying material. These are great because you can take fewer clothes and do your laundry on the road, knowing that by hanging them up overnight they’ll be dry in the morning.

Trust us, nobody will notice if you’re wearing the same shirt a few days in a row when you travel, as long as it’s clean.

Clothing In A Suitcase
Choose clothing that is multi purpose.

Be Realistic, No “Just In Case” Packing

As you’re writing your packing list, be realistic. Do you really need that second fleece? Are you actually going to wear that mini-skirt around town?

Do some research on the place you’re going, the dress style the locals wear, and of course the weather you can expect.

There’s no point taking a heavy and bulky snow jacket if there are no freezing temperatures in the forecast. If you’re only going to a beach destination, pack just for that.

It’s very easy to look in your wardrobe and think, “Maybe I’ll take those jeans, just in case.” Just in case of what?

Pack smart, and remember, if it turns out you desperately need something when you get there, you can always shop in-country.

The less clothes you take, the easier it will be to stay within those carry on limits.

Overpacking A Suitcase
Don’t overpack. Do you really need that item on you trip?

Don’t Take Too Many Shoes

You might be used to having a range of shoes to choose from when you’re at home, but you’ll need to drop that convenience when you travel, especially if you’re trying to stick to carry on.

Choose one pair of shoes that can be used for lots of different occasions – nice dinners, walking around town, nights out dancing, whatever your travels will throw at you. Keep them simple and versatile, and you won’t have to double up on anything.

If you’re planning on doing some hiking, there are plenty of shoes that are not only rugged and waterproof for being in the outdoors, but also look stylish enough to wear out to a bar.

The only other footwear you should always take is a pair of lightweight sandals. These can be worn for all the casual activities you’ll get up to.

Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane and stick the other pair in your carry-on.

Lots Of Shoes
You don’t need every shoe in your wardrobe. Choose something neutral that will go with everything. Choose carefully to save your save.

Limit Your Toiletries

Another common item that people can get carried away with packing is toiletries. Ladies, you don’t need your entire make-up kit for a casual holiday. Pick and choose your mascara, lipstick and blush if you want to wear it, and leave behind the dozens of different types you might have.

Men, take a lightweight, electric shaver with you so you have no issues taking it as a carry-on (razors might get taken off of you). Or go grizzly for your holiday.

Remember that airlines will take any liquids off of you that are over 100 ml. Just take small items to get you by, like toothpaste or hand sanitiser, and stock up again once you touch down in your destination.

Keep the toiletries as minimal as possible and you’ll have no issues fitting it all in carry-on.

Toiletry Bag
You can put your toiletries in small bottle to save space.
Make sure the bottle is under 100ml.

Do You Really Need All Your Electronics?

Electronics really can make up the bulk of your luggage weight, so think seriously about what you should and shouldn’t take if you’re trying to pack carry on.

Unless you need to work on your trip, or are planning on editing photos and videos on the go, chances are you can leave your big, heavy laptop at home for your holiday. Your mobile phone can do just about everything you’re likely to need anyway, such as send and receive emails, make hotel bookings, upload pictures to Instagram, etc. 

The other thing your phone can do is store movies and e-books on it, so there’s no need to bring a separate Kindle or media device.

When it comes to cameras we understand that a lot of people want to take the absolute best snaps of their holidays (we sure do!). But you might be able to leave some of that gear at home.

Don’t bring a tripod if you’re not 100% positive you will use it. Leave the portrait lens behind if you’re just planning on taking landscape shots the entire time.

Or go completely minimalist and rely solely on your mobile phone for all your travel photography.

READ MORE: Check out this post for our top recommended travel cameras before you start overpacking your carry on!

Camera Equipment
Do you really need that second lens or that drone?

Use Packing Cells

Packing cells could be one of the best travel packing accessory of all time. Even if you’re not trying to pack as carry-on, invest in these awesome items!

They keep all of your gear neatly separated so that you can easily access what you need when you need it. No more digging to the bottom of your bag trying to find a pair of socks – just grab the packing cell with all of your underwear in it!

They also help you when focusing on carry-on because you can pack each cell nice and tight, and with the right bag, you can easily compartmentalise the inside.

And in the event security asks to have a look inside when you’re going through the airport, you don’t need to pull out every individual piece of clothing or electronics.

Packing Cells
Using packing cells is a great way to organise your bag.

Wear Your Bulky Items On The Plane

The last tip for how to pack for carry on only is to wear your big, heavy items when you go through the airport.

Some airlines are notorious for charging for even being half a kilogram over. So before you drop the bag on the scales, throw on the things that may push you over.

Shoes, pants, a heavy jumper, a battery pack in your pocket – all these can be worn when doing the check-in, then repacked into your bag once you get through security.

Person Sitting Near Luggage
Wear your bulky clothing on the plane to save space in your carry on.

Wrapping Up

If you can learn to pack for carry on you will not only save money in checked baggage fees but also be able to get around quicker and enjoy the minimalist travel lifestyle.

These 9 tips should help you make the best packing decisions so that you are not overpacked on your next adventure. Of course, it’s better to under-pack, especially if you plan to purchase anything upon arrival. But at least you’ll be lightweight and carefree to get a quick start on your next trip!

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