Leisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing

A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing

This may come as a surprise, but on my recent trip to Europe, I packed everything in a carry on. That’s right – fifteen days worth of clothes, shoes and toiletries in a bag that could fit in an overhead compartment. Packing light isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Before you chalk this feat up to my diminutive stature, hear me out.

*Note: I do have a few affiliate links in this post. Nobody bribed me to plug these products, though. I’m doing it because I’ve used and like them!

Why, Though?

There are plenty of good reasons to embrace packing light. Most airlines charge fees if you check a bag on a domestic flight. So saving money is definitely a perk. Dealing with checked bags can also be more trouble than it’s worth. I hate having to wait around for a checked bag once I get to my destination. Packing light and carrying on also means that you don’t have to worry about whether or not your bag will get lost in transit! But minor travel annoyances aside, carry-on packing can be essential for certain locations. It was of huge concern when I went to Japan, where the hotel rooms were generally very small, streets were crowded and storage on trains limited. Large luggage can also be cumbersome while traveling around Europe, for similar reasons. So evaluate the details of your vacation before making a decision. Some warrant giant rolling bags and a variety of clothing. Others are easiest with just the essentials.

Leisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing


Before visiting Japan, Ben and I invested in Briggs and Riley carry-on bags with built-in compression. There’s basically an accordion device built into the bag that allows you to cram it full of stuff, zipper it shut, then smush it down so it meets airline size requirements. It’s a real game-changer. The bags were pretty expensive, but they came with lifetime warranties, which helped justify the purchase. If you don’t want to (or can’t) splurge on a fancy new suitcase, you can always use packing cubes! Packing cubes are essentially zippered cases that compress their contents. Clothes are full of air, and you’d be surprised by how much space you can save by getting rid of it. They’re also helpful in keeping things organized. I like to bring a few packing cubes with me so that I can fit more in my suitcase on the way home.

Leisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On PackingLeisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing

Embrace Minimalism

Sure, being five foot nothing is helpful when trying to pack light, but so too is a minimalist wardrobe. I like to pack outfits that are simple and interchangeable. Don’t get me wrong – I love an over the top fit. But when I’m packing for a longer trip, I favor pieces that I can mix and match and easily transition from day to night. I’m a big fan of the white t-shirt, as you can pair and style it in a bunch of different ways. I brought one to Europe and paired it with shorts, jeans, black pants and a pencil skirt, and no one was the wiser. You can also bring small accessories to change up looks. On that same trip, I brought a red bandana that I used to add some variety to my slew of white t-shirt ensembles. As for shoes, I try to keep it to two pairs whenever possible. A pair of sneakers, and a pair of dressier (but still comfortable!) sandals. There are times when I need to bring more, but this has proven sufficient on most of my trips.

Leisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing

Be Conscious of Size/Material

Size matters. I try to avoid big, bulky clothing items whenever possible. For example, if I’m going somewhere cold, I’d rather take a thin cashmere sweater than a chunky cable knit one. I’m also a big fan of jackets that fold down really small, like Patagonia’s Micro Puff Hoodie, though those definitely aren’t right for every occasion. If I bring a cute but bulky coat, I’ll usually wear it on the plane to save space in my suitcase.

Do Laundry

While you can easily get two or three wears out of most items on a trip, doing laundry while traveling is a great way to extend them even further – allowing you to pack less! There are a few different methods here. There’s the hotel laundry route, which is by far the most convenient (but also most expensive). Then there’s the local laundromat, which is well priced, but too time consuming in my opinion. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, or with a friend, you may be able to do laundry there. That’s probably the best option. And then there’s the annoying, but economical move – hand wash clothes in your sink or bath tub. I do this pretty often. Woolite makes detergent packets that are made to hand wash travel clothes. They’re really small, so I like to tuck a few into my bag just in case! Just remember to leave time for clothes to dry if you go this route. Obviously, smaller items dry faster than larger ones, so plan accordingly.

Leisure Fan Club - A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing

And that’s it! Packing light isn’t that hard. You just have to be thoughtful about what you put in your suitcase. And then make those items as small and reusable as possible.

Do you have any packing tips or tricks? I’d love to hear them if you feel like leaving a comment!

6 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Carry-On Packing”

  1. I roll my clothes to fit more into my suitcase. I too like to travel as lightly as possible. The clothing cubes are great also. They come in different sizes and you can categorize your clothing so it’s easier to find them when you have to live out of a suitcase.

    Great article, by the way!

  2. I like to pack items that are throw-aways when possible! For example, if I have an old hoodie or leggings that are on their final days I wear those on the plane or pack them. Then, I throw them away at the end of the trip. I find this helpful in creating space to bring back items purchased while traveling.

    1. Good idea! I definitely do that with toiletries. I like to bring stuff that I’m almost out of so that I can toss it and free up some space during the trip.

  3. Love all of these tips! Alllllll about a solid carry on rolling bag. I also washed a ton of clothes in the sink on a backpacking trip. To help with the drying process you can lay out wet clothes on a towel, roll it up, and step on the roll to squeeze out excess water before hanging. This saved me! Great post!

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