How to Travel with Just a Carry-On

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Nobody who’s ever been through an airport has wanted that visit to last just a little bit longer. Between check-in, security, customs, and baggage claim, even a one-way trip can make the terminal feel like the land that time forgot. But it’s a necessary evil of the travel world, isn’t it? Not if you’re smart about scaling down your packing.

When you downsize to carry-on luggage, you’ll cut out the lengthy wait times at baggage check and baggage claim. You’ll eliminate any risk of your luggage being lost or stolen by a staffer’s sticky fingers. You’ll never have to worry about being hit with checked or overweight bag fees. And you’ll have less stuff weighing you down, making navigation through the airport and your destination a breeze.

To qualify as a carry-on, your bag should be a maximum of 22 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches deep. Rules vary from airline to airline, however, so always double check your bag against your flight’s policy before packing.

Scaling down your holiday accoutrements to fit in such a small space can seem daunting, but it all boils down to following a few very simple rules of thumb.

Get organized

Make a packing list and check it twice. Get everything together at least two days in advance, so you have plenty of time to reevaluate and trim the fat before leaving. Use packing cubes, compression sacks, or vacuum seal bags to save space, or stick to the tried and true method of rolling your clothes instead of folding them.

Don’t bring anything you don’t need

Sounds like common sense, no? But far too many travelers get hung up on the crazy, hypothetical “What if?” questions and wind up with bulging suitcases full of things they have only the slimmest chance of actually using. If and when you find yourself tempted to pack something that’s not on your list, consider how much weight it will add to your luggage and how well it fits in your bag. If the size and weight could become a hindrance, leave it out!

Be wise in your clothing choices

Skipping the umbrella when sunny days are in the forecast is one thing, but you have to wear clothes. Keep each piece within the same color palette so everything can mix and match. Even if you’re embarking on a longer trip, you should be able to get by with just a week’s worth of clothing. Many hotels and even hostels offer laundry service, or you can pack a sink plug and a small vial of laundry soap as a DIY solution.

Always opt for smaller and more versatile

Why take up room with a full sized hairbrush, toothbrush, and sunglasses, when you can find folding versions instead? Do you really need a full stick of deodorant? A travel-sized version will likely last your entire trip. And while a pillow won’t fit in your bag, an inflatable one will. Multi-use items are also a godsend. Use your smartphone as a camera, or a sarong as a lightweight blanket to guard against the chilly air con on your flight.

Don’t pack things you can buy at your destination

The more you travel, the more you’ll find that people around the world aren’t so terribly different. Whether you’re in Dublin or Darwin, people will still brush their teeth and put bandages on cuts. It all adds up to one simple solution: you don’t need to pack your entire medicine cabinet. There’s no need to weigh yourself down with full-size toiletries when you can pack just a day or two’s supply instead and restock on the road.

Don’t forget about your personal item

Most airlines will allow you to board with both a carry-on bag and a personal item, like a purse or laptop bag. Use that space wisely. Reserve your precious carry-on room for the things you won’t need until after landing, and keep your in-flight accoutrements in your personal item. This way, you can comfortably stow your main bag in an overhead compartment, and have things like toothpaste, snacks, and reading material tucked beneath the seat in front of you.