How to Pack a Carry-on Bag in 3 Easy Steps

I've traveled to Europe on a 10-day trip with just a carry-on and so did my wife. We save on bag fees and our bags don't get lost. You can do this, too. And don't miss the video below.

Note: Not long ago, FareCompare posted a how-to packing article on our News Blog and the response was so enthusiastic we decided to expand it and the result is the article you see here. And you can learn even more in my latest weekly column for ABC.

Ace packer Rick Seaney with some bonus tips:

1. Before Packing

Think ahead so packing day will be a breeze.

  • Have the right bag. Most airlines allow a bag that's about 45 inches today by adding width + depth + length. An example of carry-on sizing comes from United: 14 inches x 9 inches x 22 inches. Check with your airline to be certain.
  • Don't pack valuables. If possible, hand carry all electronic devices. Don't bring valuables. If you must have that pair of diamond studs, wear them (and keep them in the hotel safe when not).
  • Double-duty supplies: Shampoo works great for hand washing laundry; bet you can come up with more multi-tasking ideas.
  • Save space: Wear your heaviest and bulkiest items including coats, and try to limit yourself to just the shoes you wear or just one other pair. Reminder: denim is weightier than khaki so it you must have jeans, wear them on the plane.
  • Be sparing with toiletries: Buy or borrow most of the stuff you'll need, but remember, most hotels provide shampoos and such.

Find out if your bag is right or wrong

2. What to Pack

Makes these decisions ahead of time so clothes with be clean and ready to travel.

  • Plane outfit. Figure out what you'll wear on the plane, and work from there.
  • Trip outfits. Make sure everything matches everything else. Good color schemes include navy/beige or black/white or black/anything.
  • How many clothes. A rule of thumb I've heard is wear each shirt or top for 2 days, each pair of pants for 3 days. Less is always more with a carry-on.

3. How to Pack

These are all good methods and you can combine them.

  • Fill the holes: Fill all empty spaces such as sticking socks and underwear in plastic bags that you then shove into shoes or corners of the bag or filling an extra purse if you pack one. If wearing a coat, fill the pockets.
  • Rolling method: One of my employees rolls up polo tops, sweaters, pants and even dresses, then stands all the rolls upright-on-end in a squishy gym-type bag. She claims she could pack for a month with this method.
  • Layer clothing: See the video below.
  • Wearable luggage: We've reported about a company called Jaktogo that offers some very unusual bags that convert into a coats and dresses (and yes, frankly, they do look a little odd). See for yourself or maybe try a Scottevest. And remember, load up your own pockets.
  • So-called Guy method: No, I haven't tried this but thought I'd pass along this classic 'lighten your load' procedure anyway. Here's how it works: 1.) Guy  packs worst underwear (lots of holes) and then, 2.) Guy wears unsightly underwear once and discards.

What is your best packing tip? I'd love to hear it.

VIDEO: How to pack enough stuff in a carry-on for two weeks.

More from Rick Seaney:

How to Pack a Carry-on with Everything You Need

Rick Seaney
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