How to Pack a Carry-on Suitcase

8 Dec

Since my husband is a savvy traveler and refuses to check anything but a box of meat (which we just did on our trip to Minnesota), I have learned to pack in such a way that I don’t have to check a bag either. And the amazing thing is, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

I have a Leisure suitcase that I bought from Herberger’s (a department store like Macy’s). It looks like the smaller upright suitcase in this picture (except mine is a bright cerulean):

So for those of you who are traveling for the holidays, here are my tips to fitting all your stuff for a 4-5 day trip into a carry-on suitcase:

1. Roll your clothes.

You’ve probably heard this tip before, but that’s because it’s true. Not only does rolling your clothes save space and prevent wrinkles better than folding, it also makes getting clothes out a breeze (no unpacking to pull out something from the bottom!). I pile all of my clothes rolls on one side length of the suitcase, leaving about 10 inches in front for my toiletry bag and shoes.

2. Plan a wardrobe, not outfits.

If you have a thing about re-wearing clothes before washing them, then this tip is not for you. But for the rest of us, this is a great way to save space, while still looking cute. On this most recent trip when I was packing for 4 days (not including the first day of travel), I brought 2 pairs of pants, plus the one I was wearing. I brought a shirt to wear with the vest I had on, plus 3 other top combinations. I brought 2 pairs of shoes – 1 pair of brown flats and 1 pair of black flats, and wore my snow boots (which, it turned out, I needed more in Denver than in Minnesota). As a general rule, I mostly bring solid color basics that can go with multiple things and then jazz things up with a tank or t-shirt (because they’re small) or jewelry (also small).

3. Bring the beauty basics.

I bring travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, body wash (when I remember to buy it), toothpaste, face wash (even though it isn’t my normal brand), body lotion, and perfume. I also bring my regular toothbrush, regular makeup bag, ponytail holders/barrettes, comb, hairdryer and either a straightener or curling iron. But the rest of the beauty products I use normally? I leave them at home. Luckily, my skin isn’t very temperamental and I can get by without my normal products for a short trip. I realize not everyone is in the same boat but even then, you can get travel-sized plastic containers to hold the amount of product you need on your trip.

4. Choose the least bulky items.

Given the choice between two sweaters, bring the one that takes up the least space in your suitcase. As much as I love my chunky wool sweaters (and definitely take advantage of the opportunity to pack them in our biggest suitcase when we’re driving back), if I’m trying to pack a carry-on for a flight, they’re not coming with. If you just can’t handle the idea of leaving your precious item behind, then make sure to plan the rest of your wardrobe so that you have a few different outfits you can wear with it. Same thing goes with shoes – if you can, pack flats or heels over boots (though I did bring back 2 pairs of boots in October and still carried my suitcase on the plane). Better yet, plan to wear the bulkiest items when you’re traveling, so that you don’t have to worry about packing them at all (like I did with my vest and snow boots for this trip).

5. Pack fun jewelry.

A fun necklace can take a regular long-sleeved shirt from daytime to nighttime and it takes up hardly any room in your suitcase. To keep dainty necklaces from getting tangled in travel, I hang them all on my hand and tie a twisty tie around the top, banding all the chains together. Then I gently lay them in an empty Altoids box, cover with tissue or toilet paper so that they can’t move around at all. I do the same thing with earrings (minus the twisty tie, obviously). For bulky necklaces, I put them in individual plastic baggies. All my jewelry goes into my toiletry bag, which also helps them to not move around much.


What’s your tip for saving room in your suitcase when traveling?

2 Responses to “How to Pack a Carry-on Suitcase”

  1. B. in the Know December 8, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    Rolling your clothes is totally key to utilizing the space of your suitcase!
    Much love,

  2. Heidi Nicole December 9, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    I’ve gotten pretty darn good at packing just a carry on bag! I think the best I’ve ever done was packing one carry on for a 7 day work trip – I rocked that packing!

    Lately we’ve been flying Southwest with free checked bags but if possible we do what we can to get everything in one carry on bag – less waiting once we land!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: