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The Secret To Packing For Carry-On Luggage

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Last Updated on August 2, 2018

Daunted by the idea of travelling with only carry-on luggage, but want to skip the expensive baggage fees and carousel queues? Don’t worry, travelling with just carry-on luggage is easier than you think. To embrace minimalist travel, here are our tips for effective ways to travel lighter, as well as our carry-on checklist. carry-on luggage packing tips

Write a list, check it twice

Write down everything you think you’ll need, grouping all your items into clothing, toiletries, entertainment, personal items and miscellaneous. Go through that list again, crossing out anything that’s not essential or a ‘what-if’ item rather than a ‘must-have’ item, then check your list again. Cross off each item as you pack your bag to make sure you don’t forget anything.

Invest in a good-quality carry-on bag

Purchase a lightweight backpack or suitcase that fits the dimensions of carry-on luggage to be stowed in the overhead luggage bin. The more pockets, compartments and sections the better, as you can keep your luggage organised.

Know the rules of your airline

Many airlines have a 7 kilogram limit for carry-on luggage, so make sure you double check your airline’s weight restrictions, as well as dimensions. And don’t think that you’ll be able to sneak in a few extra kilograms without airline crew noticing – often airlines will measure and weigh your luggage, even carry-on, before your trip to ensure you’re under the limit. The last thing you want is to be told that you’ll need to pay (through the nose) to check in your bag after all because it’s too heavy.

Check those liquid restrictions

On the note of airline policies, make sure you’re familiar with the 3-1-1 rule for liquids. Airlines are strict about how much liquid you can bring with you on the plane, so adhere to the following:

  • Your liquids and gels must be in 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottles or less (by volume);
  • Those bottles must fit in a quart-sized (just under 1 litre) clear, plastic, zip-top bag;
  • You can only have one quart-sized bag per passenger.

It may not seem like much, but it’s likely that you don’t need a whole bottle of shampoo on a short trip, so consider purchasing refillable tubes that you can fill with soap, shampoo and conditioner (or an all-in-one to save on space) and any other liquids necessary for your trip. Exceptions to this rule include prescription medications, medical liquids like insulin or eye drops, and baby formula.

Handy hint: It’s also a good idea to check beforehand what counts as a gel or liquid. Liquid mascara, lip balms, deodorant, and shaving foam all come under the liquid or gel category.

There are liquid restrictions when flying, so make sure your carry-on adheres to the 3-1-1 rule

Pack lots of layers, and wear the bulk on the plane

If you’re travelling somewhere with cold weather, you’ll likely want to take a big, warm coat. But if you pack that in your carry-on, there won’t be much room for anything else! Instead of lugging a huge coat around with you, pack lots of layers that you can easily mix and match – you’ll still stay warm on your travels, have more flexibility in what you can wear, they’ll be lighter and also take up less space in your bag. Get a thermal top as an underlayer and some thermal leggings to wear under jeans if you’re going somewhere really cold, and wear your bulkier clothes, like jeans and trainers, on the plane.

Invest in good-quality fabrics

Not all fabrics are created equal, so invest in some good-quality clothing that won’t fall apart (or worse, smell terrible after one wear). Cotton is a popular choice, but doesn’t travel well as it’s usually slow to dry and doesn’t breathe easily. Wool is more expensive, but the payoff is worth the price. Wool clothing keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter, breathes well, dries well, fights of odour and lasts longer. By investing in some great wool tops, socks, pants and thermals, you’ll save space in your bag as you can keep re-wearing your clothes, and you’ll be able to wash them easily on your travels, too.

Synthetic, performance fabrics are good for travelling as they wick away sweat, but they’ll need to be washed regularly. It’s also worth purchasing clothing made with wrinkle-free fabrics so your clothes don’t get scrunched up in your bag.

Limit your ‘what-if’ scenarios

Many of us fall victim to overpacking when we think about ‘just in case’ or ‘what if’ scenarios, ending up with a whole lot of stuff we never use or wear. When making your packing list, only write down the things that you will definitely need for the trip. If you’re travelling somewhere that you know is going to be hot, you don’t need to pack thermals and a jumper ‘in case it gets cold’ and vice versa, and if you truly need something that you haven’t packed, you can purchase (visit a second-hand store if you want to save money) or borrow it while you’re away. Packing light requires a little bit of compromise and sacrifice, so be strict with your packing and be honest with how necessary certain items are.

Only pack two pairs of shoes

They’re bulky, take up space, and more often than not you don’t actually wear more than two pairs of shoes on a trip. Wear your comfortable, more bulky boots or trainers on the plane, then pack a second lighter pair, like sandals, flats or flip flops that will easily slip into your bag.

Pack for one week and wash on the road

Travelling for a month? Don’t think about that when you’re packing. You don’t need a whole months’ wardrobe in your suitcase. Instead, break your trip down to a week, and pack for that instead. Make use of laundromats, wash-and-fold services or simply do laundry in your hotel sink to ensure a fresh supply of clean clothes that you can re-wear during your trip.

Choose neutral mix’n’match colours

While we’re on the subject of clothing, one of the keys to minimalist packing is to simplify your colour palette; choose neutral colours, like greys and blues, and stick with them so you can easily mix’n’match all of your clothing.

Consider buying packing cubes

If you’re someone who usually throws everything into your bag haphazardly, you’re going to be faced with the nightmare of rummaging through your bag looking for the things you need. By purchasing organisational tools like packing cubes, you can sort your baggage into categories, making it much easier to find that particular t-shirt you want to wear without turning your whole bag upside down trying to find it.

Roll, roll, roll your clothes

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether it’s better to fold or roll your clothes, but we’re firm supporters of the latter. Rolling clothes helps minimise creases, takes up less room, and helps organise your clothing better. So roll up those clothes for effective packing!

When packing, roll up clothing to avoid wrinkles, and choose a colour palette that you can mix and match easily

Bring a personal item bag too

So you’ve packed your carry-on bag, but you don’t want to be that person who has to get something out of the overhead luggage bin every half an hour. Most airlines allow you to pack a personal item bag (but do check this with the airline you’re flying with!), so put all of the things you’ll need during your flight in there to place under the seat in front of you.

The packing list

Personal item bag:

  • Wallet
  • Camera
  • Passport
  • Boarding Pass
  • Foreign currency for when you arrive
  • Phone
  • Headphones
  • Neck Pillow
  • Pack of cards
  • Snacks
  • Bottle of water
  • Book or kindle
  • Lip balm (those aeroplane cabins get dry!)
  • Any medications
  • Jumper or shawl (we all know how cold it gets on an aeroplane)

Main carry-on bag:

  • Copies of all important documents like passport, ID and visas
  • Small bottles of shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap (handy hint: we love Dr Bronner’s liquid soap that can be used for just about anything! Find it here to save on toiletries.)
  • Hairbrush
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Paracetamol
  • Deodorant
  • Clothing. Golden rule for packing clothes, pack what you think you need, then halve it.
  • Wet clothing bag (also to store dirty laundry)
  • Chargers Adapter (if travelling overseas)

What are your tips for packing for a carry-on only trip? Tell us in the comments below.

Now that you’re all packed, what’s next? Get to the airport with ease by pre-booking an airport transfer on

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