Family Travel

10 Tips for Packing Carry on Luggage

With the increasing number of fees from airlines to check baggage, more and more travelers are starting to switch to only taking a carry on with them on a flight.  I typically fly Southwest Airlines, famous for its “two bags free” policy, but my trip home from California will be on United, which charges $25 for a first checked bag.

As I’ve said in the past, mama doesn’t pay baggage fees.  I also don’t like standing in lines at the airport to check luggage or worrying that my bags won’t make my connecting flight.  Carrying on luggage makes travel much less stressful (and cheaper).

Many people think it’s impossible to fly using just a carry on bag, but it’s actually very doable.  Here are some tips to help you maximize your luggage space and make checking a bag a thing of the past.

10 Tips for Packing Carry On Luggage FiddleDeeMe

1. Check the airline requirements for carry on bags.  Sounds obvious and silly, right? Well, many people think carry on luggage has to be small, when the reality is most airline luggage policies can be quite generous.  Soft-sided bags and bags without wheels tend to fit into overhead compartments easier, too.

2. Make sure your “personal item” will fit under the seat in front of you and pack it with in-flight essentials.  Don’t be surprised to be asked to check a bag if you’re trying to cram both your suitcase and personal item into an overhead bin.  I like to use a large purse for my personal item and pack it with everything I’ll need access to during the flight.  No one wants to try and remove a rolling suitcase and open it in the middle of a flight.  Men are entitled to a personal item as well, so find yourself a nice backpack or briefcase and take advantage!  Traveling with kids? Don’t feel guilty about using a carry on and personal item for them as well.  They’re ticketed passengers and have the same luggage rights as everyone else!

3. Replace liquids with solids.  Listen, no one wants to use hotel shampoo, but that doesn’t mean you have to cram 3oz sizes into your TSA-approved bag.  Lush Cosmetics makes some fabulous solid shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bars.  Instead of face wash, I bring cleansing wipes from Yes to Carrots.  You can even find travel sized nail polish remover wipes at Sephora.  Replace those liquid items with solids and you’ve saved room for your favorite creams and lotions or hair products.

4. Order sample sizes of your favorite brands online.  Sephora, Ulta and all offer a fabulous selection of trial sized toiletries.  I stop at an Aveda salon to stock up on travel sized shampoos and conditioners.  Sure, I could buy empty canisters and transfer products from large bottles to 3oz bottles, but then I’d feel like I have to drag those bottles back on my return flight, and that’s room I can use for souvenirs.  I also always have a small roll-on version of my favorite perfume.  A girl still has to smell good on vacation.

5. When all else fails, buy liquids at your destination.  You can find a drug store or big box store almost everywhere you travel.  If your favorite, must have, can’t live without product isn’t available in a 3oz size, buy it when you arrive.  I guarantee it’ll cost you less than the $25 each way to check your bags (unless you’re way more high budget than I am, and in that case, you don’t really care about a measly $50 spent on checked luggage).  Sunscreen is one product I always purchase at my destination.

6. Remember medications don’t count towards the 3-1-1 policy.  This includes contacts and contact solution.  You must still remove them from your bag and claim them at security, but they do not need to be in your quart-sized bag.  Medications also include breast milk, formula, ect.  Just be prepared in case TSA needs to do some extra screening.

7. Pack, then purge.  Go ahead and pack everything you think you’ll need.  All of the extra shoes, outfits, accessories, ect.  Once you have it all thrown into your suitcase, take it all out and go over every item.  Do you really need to bring an outfit that requires it’s own set of jewelry and shoes, or can you find a way to pair several outfits with one pair of shoes?  Jewelry and scarves are an easy way to make an outfit pop without taking up precious real estate in your suitcase.  You can wear bulkier items on the flight to save room, but I don’t really like getting airplane germs and crud on my nice jeans.  To each her own.

8. Ziplocs are your friend.  Pack outfits into individual ziploc bags, and press all of the air out.  It’s the cheap mama’s version of a Space Saver bag.  You’ll be surprised how much room you’ll save with your clothes compressed.  Bonus: your clothes will stay smelling fresh and clean and will be protected from any accidental spills or contact with liquids.  It also makes it easy for security to go through your bag without messing up folded clothes.

9. Start with shoes, finish with delicates.  Place heavy items at the bottom of your suitcase (shoes, hairdryers, jeans) and build on top of those, ending with your delicate items.  This will prevent your favorite dress from being crushed or fragile items from breaking inside the bag.

10. Practice lifting your bag ahead of time.  No one wants to be “that guy” who can’t get their carry on over their head, holding up the other passengers from getting on the plane, or dropping their suitcase on top of some poor, innocent person’s head.  No one wants to be the jerk.  Don’t expect a flight attendant to do your heavy lifting for you, either.  Can’t lift it? Check it, or pack lighter.  Some airlines also enforce weight limits on carry on bags, so be sure to check those (which you should have already done if you were paying attention earlier).

So there you have it!  10 tips to make having to check bags a thing of the past!

Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your favorite carry on packing tip, so leave a comment below!

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  • Reply Sara August 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I just got back from 2 weeks in Europe working out of a carry on suitcase, and agree with all of these tips! I found it handy to roll my clothes instead of folding in order to conserve space for souvenirs on the way home. Also, utilize the dead space inside your sneakers by stuffing them with socks, or more fragile items!

  • Reply Jodi @ Mom's Favorite Stuff August 16, 2013 at 1:20 am

    Great tips! I do check bags quite frequently though. I hate dealing with limited overhead space. Once, a bag that was jet way checked because there was no space in the overhead actually didn’t make it on the plane. So now, I know to pack essentials like my glasses, keys, and medication in a bag that fits in the seat in front of me.

  • Reply Biaggi August 26, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    I guess Practicing lifting your bag ahead of time is very important in fact all are important but one must should practice the number 10 so you get use to with your bag and load when you are out their.

  • Reply Travel Style: What I Wear - Fiddle Dee Me August 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    […] sure you also check out my tips for packing carry-on luggage and stay tuned tomorrow to see what my in-flight essentials […]

  • Reply Hieu Nguyen October 4, 2013 at 8:16 am

    Great tips! I do check bags quite frequently though. I love lightweight one to be able to enjoy my trip, that is 8 pounds or lighter, that would be great. It is really a challenge to pack things and tag along all the things I need for a trip.

  • Reply Jessica February 22, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    These are some good tips! I would also recommend Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve for solid soaps and shampoo’s. I think the LUSH brand smells to strong. I would also say invest in a bag that really fits your requirements. 🙂

  • Reply Angela @ Best Carry On Luggage Finder February 25, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Very practical list! Doing these things so that you can arrange all of your packed belongings in a carry on makes traveling so much easier. I always stick to a single carry on bag. Unless I’m traveling with my 3 year old, in which case I have too much kid stuff to make that work. 🙂 As soon as he’s older, though, we’ll get away from checked luggage again!

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