how to pack a carryon like a pro (and never have to check your bag again!)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017
I travel a lot for work and even though I've been home for the most part over the last two months, I am on a work trip right now and September will be a busy travel month for me as well. My first two or three trips, I was definitely still mastering the art of packing a carryon for a short work trip, but now I consider myself a pro. I'm getting pretty close to Gold Status with American Airlines, too! #perks

For the most part, I don't fly anywhere for longer than four or five days, but I've gotten packing my carryon down, to the point where I can pack a week's worth of clothes in just half the suitcase. In fact, my carryon suitcase (Patrick got it for me for Christmas) is substantially smaller than most people I fly with, but I can assure you that I've got just as much stuff if not more packed in mine that I will actually use on a trip. Here are my tips for packing like a pro.

Roll your clothes, never fold them flat.

I have been rolling my clothes for years when I pack, whether it's in a suitcase or in boxes when I've been moving. The main complaint about rolling your clothes is that your clothes will wrinkle. Well, listen: They won't, not really. Unless all of your clothes are made from the most wrinkle-prone fabric on the market – and if that's the case, what the heck is wrong with you? – you should have no issues. When I get in to my destination, I open up my carryon and pull out any dresses, skirts or blouses to hang up in the hotel closet, and everything is just fine.

If you travel often, invest in clothes specifically for your travels.

If flying on an airplane is just a once-in-a-great-while thing for you, this won't be as crucial, but if you're hopping on a plane once a month or more than that, look for clothes that don't wrinkle and things that are very versatile. When you're shopping, envision what you already have in your closet and how what you're picking up will pair with those things. Avoid fragile or stiff fabrics that would wrinkle in your carryon, and go for polyester, spandex and cotton blends. 

Don't bring more than one of things like jackets, shoes, etc. unless you have to.

When Pat and I went to San Francisco in May after we graduated last year, I brought multiple jackets. I told myself, "You'll wear multiple different outfits, so you'll need different jackets!" We ended up checking two bags for that trip and paying a lot for checked bag fees. (I'm sure my jackets weren't the only reason, but hey.) Similarly, Pat often traveled with both his black and his brown dress shoes. My new rule once I started traveling: I don't bring duplicates of things. I bring one pair of heels and one pair of flats or boots; I bring one cardigan that goes with all of my outfits; I bring one jacket that goes with all of my outfits. 

Wear or carry your heaviest items.

I always wear my booties or heels (I promise I have a comfortable pair) on the plane and carry my jacket or cardigan with me, to minimize the weight in my carryon. You can use the cardigan as a blanket or a pillow on the flight, and shoes honestly take up way too much room in a carryon. Maximize your space! 

Use packing cubes and pouches to organize.

I don't use packing cubes for everything in my suitcase unless I'm packing for a longer-term trip, but I do use cubes and other pouches for my unmentionables, my toiletries, jewelry, etc. I use pouches in my personal item (aka my purse) too – to hold snacks, pens, electrical cords, all of that. The cubes keep your carryon tidy and help compress things in your suitcase, and when you get to your final location, everything doesn't explode everywhere. Win-win.

Put your shoes and bulky items at the bottom, fill in the spaces with smaller items.

I really try to make use of as much space in my carryon as possible. Most carryons have a side that is completely or mostly flat, and then a side that has grooves from the handles (or in my carryon's case, the battery pack for charging devices). I tuck my lightest clothes into the grooves (thin blouses, cardigans, t-shirts for sleeping, leggings) and then stack heavier clothes like pants or cardigans on top of those. On the flat side, I put my shoes on the bottom towards the wheels, and then my toiletries and flat iron above it, closer to the handle. You want your suitcase to be balanced, and it's easier to tuck smaller items into the spaces around your shoes and other heavy or bulky things.

Have a usable but not outrageously large tote bag or backpack for your personal item.

I made this amateur mistake the first time I traveled for work – I flew with my Stella & Dot Getaway bag. Now, the getaway bag is amazing, and I love using it for weekend trips where I'm not flying, because it's a more stylish duffel bag. But it was a terrible personal item, especially because I was also using it as my bag for work during that week. You want something small enough to stash under the seat but still have leg room, but large enough and structured enough that you can organize your items without losing your mind. My Getaway bag – and again, I love using it for lots of trips – was too big for me to put my legs under the seat and was huge and difficult to lug around to the newsroom and to dinner afterward. But it also had very few pockets and lacked structure if it wasn't full. Look for a bag that stands up on its own, has a zipper and has some pockets inside and outside. If you're a backpack girl – and I am certainly not one – look for one that isn't too tall to fit under the seat without cutting out all of your leg room. I am passionate about my leg room. 

Avoid full sizes of every toiletry – have reusable bottles or sample sizes. 

It's totally wasteful to have a full size of every toiletry and a sample size, but when Nordstrom or ULTA has samples or a free gift, take advantage of that. Most of the time these days, samples come in actual bottles and tubes, not those stupid packets, but if you can't find a sample size of your favorite product, you can buy affordable reusable bottles or containers, too. Even if the full size of your toiletries are below the cutoff for TSA, don't bring them. You don't need all 2.7 ounces of your foundation for a four-day trip! 

These items are always on my packing list:

Lightweight blouses that don't wrinkle and don't require layering underneath or overtop.
Leggings, lightweight dress pants or lightweight skirts – if I bring jeans or heavier dress pants, I wear them.
One extra outfit than I need – you never know, but I don't go overboard.
One sweater or cardigan, which I wear on the plane as a blanket/pillow.
Unmentionables, packed neatly in one travel cube and compressed. 
Two pairs of shoes, one pair of nice heels or fancy flats and one pair of more comfortable flats in case my feet hurt.
Basic toiletries – deodorant, toothpaste, tooth brush, makeup removal wipes, body wash, razor, dry shampoo. I don't bring shampoo and conditioner unless I will be gone for four-plus days – I only wash my hair two to three times a week anyway because it's so thick. 
Curling iron or straightener – depending on my mood, I sometimes go curly and other times go straight. I always bring one or the other in case I wash my hair or it rains on me and I go frizzy.
Two to three books, even though most people will tell you never to bring hardback books while you travel. I'm not perfect, and I do almost always finish them.
Snacks, because you will get hungry in your hotel room at 9 p.m. after a smaller-than-you-expected dinner, or you will miss breakfast because you slept in, or you will get hangry on your flight. 
A water bottle, because I can live through hangry-on-a-flight but cannot live through being thirsty. 
A notebook and plenty of pens/markers/sticky notes, because I always feel inspired on a plane and want to write down all of my hopes and dreams and my many, many, many to do lists. I also have to take a fair amount of notes during our newsroom visits, and I can never be without my pens.
My iPad, laptop, phone and Apple Watch, and all necessary chargers, because duh.

And that's about it. I will bring an inflatable neck pillow if I have a late flight or a redeye to look forward to, but I really do keep my packing minimal whenever I can. I've never been a minimalist kind of girl, but traveling two to three times a month teaches you a lot about packing light. The first time I flew to Sacramento and had a stuffed suitcase, a huge personal item (my Stella and Dot overnight bag, eep!) and both of my laptops. I thought I wouldn't survive.

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What are your packing tips? Did I miss anything?


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