How to Pack in a Carry-On Bag Only

How to pack in carry-on luggage

Here at The Jet Lag Journey, we are experts at packing in carry-on luggage only. We believe that no matter the trip you are embarking on, you can absolutely pack efficiently to fit in a carry-on bag. If you are a chronic overpacker, we’ve got you covered! This post is your roadmap to only pack in a carry-on bag with ease. We will share the tips and tricks to help you travel lighter, smarter, and stress-free. Some topics we will cover:

Pack like a minimalist: It is time to ditch the “just in case” mentality and curate a versatile wardrobe that is practical and stylish.

Space-saving strategies: Discover the magic of packing cubes and multi-use item hacks to maximize every inch of your carry-on.

Organization tools: When everything in your bag has a specific place, the travel lifestyle becomes much easier. Learn how to organize your toiletries and electronics to save space in your carry-on bag.

Bonus tips and tricks: Read below for extra packing tips to travel like an expert. 

Airlines are losing luggage more often these days, it is such a flex to skip the long check-in lines, crowded baggage claim, and easily transition from plane to destination. Get ready to embrace the freedom of carry-on travel and read our favorite carry-on packing tips below!

15 Tips to Fit Everything You Need in a Carry-On Bag

tips to pack in a carry-on bag

Only pack for 7 days.

If you are packing for long term travel, the best strategy to fit everything you need in a carry-on bag is to pack enough clothes for only seven days. Affordable laundry services exist all over the world and it is entirely acceptable to re-wear clothes. You do not need outfits for more than a week of travel.

Are you packing for less than a week? Easy! Pack clothes for each day, considering your itinerary and weather.

Maximize space in your personal item.

Choosing the correct personal item for your travel needs is essential to packing only in a carry-on bag. Your personal item is an extension of your carry-on bag and can hold way more than you expect. Believe it or not, some personal items can hold enough for 5-6 days when packed strategically!

Below are some of the best personal item sized bags to maximize the amount you can bring in your carry-on bags.

Use packing cubes.

Packing cubes will elevate your packing game. Not only do they make more space in your bags overall, but they can also assist in organization. You can use packing cubes to make little drawers in your carry-on bag so you always know where each article of clothing is packed. 

Choose versatile clothing options.

Versatile clothes are crucial to fitting everything you need in a carry-on size bag. A clothing item must be one of these things to be considered versatile for travel:

  • It can be mixed and matched with multiple other clothing pieces.
  • It can be worn in different weather climates or for multiple dress attire occasions. 

Here are some simple ideas to consolidate your wardrobe with a few different items:

  • This simple sundress that can be worn for dinner or as a beach cover-up on vacation.
  • A lightweight blazer to dress up with a dress or skirt for work or dress down with jeans and a t-shirt for a casual look.
  • A white button-down shirt is the perfect outer layer or basic shirt to pack for different climates. Wear it with pants in the winter or as a light outer layer with a dress and sandals in the summer.

Need some more inspiration? Read this summer in Europe capsule wardrobe! 

Plan your outfits.

Outfit planning is KEY to packing lighter and efficiently. By planning your outfits before you leave, you’ll have concrete ideas of the possibilities packed within your carry-on. This also tackles the decision fatigue of choosing what to wear while you are traveling! No decisions needed, just throw on an outfit you already know that you love and is in your bag.

The best way to document your outfits is to take a picture of each outfit you create while you are packing in your carry-on bag. Save the pictures in a dedicated album on your phone, making it your personal travel style guide. This way, you can refer to the album and choose your outfit before unpacking and disorganizing everything in your bag.

Limit your shoes

Shoes are difficult to pack and take up the most space in a carry-on bag. One way to fit everything you need for travel in a carry-on bag is by limiting the amount of shoes you need to pack. Choose neutral-colored shoes that can be worn for multiple occasions or climates.

Here are some of our favorite versatile shoes!

Only pack your favorite items.

In order to pack efficiently in a carry-on bag, you should love every article of clothing that is in your bag. If you are debating if something is worth making the trip, it most likely is not! Bottom line: Leave the maybe pile at home. Think of your carry-on bag as your favorite Spotify playlist – you want to listen to every song on repeat! 

Give everything a designated spot.

Organization will save you time and space while you are traveling. It might take some packing Jenga at first, but if everything has a designated place in your bag, you know it will fit efficiently in your carry-on bag! 

Also, giving everything in your bag a specific spot makes packing and unpacking while you are traveling significantly easier. You will travel with ease by knowing where exactly everything in your bag is placed. 

Pack collapsible day bags.

You want to avoid extra purses and beach bags taking up unnecessary space in your carry-on bag. There are so many bags that are perfect for travel that will only take up a little space in your carry-on bag! Leave it at home if a purse or day bag is not collapsible. Here are some great compressible bags for travel.

Pack your socks inside your shoes.

Every little thing you can do to fill the empty nooks and crannies in your bags will make packing in a carry-on very possible! Rather than filling a packing cube with socks, stick them in your shoes to use every bit of open space.

Minimize your toiletries.

Toiletries are often one of the more complex travel items to pack when fitting everything in a carry-on bag. Here are essential tips to minimize the toiletries you need to pack.

Only pack your absolute toiletry essentials. The bottom line is if you do not use a product every day, leave it at home. Most toiletry items are available worldwide, so you can easily purchase something you are missing or restock an item if you run out.

Leave the bulky items at home. Large toiletry items like hair dryers, body lotion, and sunscreen are not conducive to carry-on travel. Most destinations will have these items either already available in your housing, or you can purchase extra as needed.

Invest in a bag you love. You will use your toiletry bag daily, so you should love it! Think through how big of a bag you need and if you want different compartments, and learn to love your toiletry bag. This is the best toiletry bag to use when packing in a carry-on bag only!

Important note: There are strict rules for the quantity of liquid and aerosols allowed in your carry-on luggage. The TSA’s “3-1-1 rule” states that you can only bring liquids, gels, and aerosols in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. It is not universal, but many international airports require all your liquids to fit in one quart-sized, zip-top plastic bag. It is a good idea to test before you leave to ensure all your products fit in one quart-sized bag! Aerosols such as dry shampoo and hair spray must also be 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.

Here is a toiletries packing list to travel like an expert! 

Consolidate your electronics.

Electronics, similar to toiletries, can be tricky to pack efficiently. As remote workers, we understand the need to bring essential electronics during your travels. Here are some ways to consolidate and save space to fit all of the electronics that you need in a carry-on bag!

Limit your cords. The easiest way to consolidate and limit the amount of electronics you need to pack is to reduce the number of cords in your bag. Many chargers will be universal across multiple devices. For example, the Kindle charger is typically the same as many speakers. Also, USBC chargers are becoming universal across many devices. Take note of the type of cord your electronics require, and only bring one of each type.

Get a cord organizer. An electric cord organizer will make your life significantly easier while traveling! Knowing exactly where to find each charger you need without shuffling around your bag is so refreshing. 

Here is a complete list of remote work travel essentials. 

Always have laundry products available.

Spills happen! And when you are traveling in a carry-on bag only, you will most likely have only a few extra clothing options. Even though laundry is accessible everywhere in the world, it is wise to have some cleaning options available in your carry-on bag.

These laundry detergent packs will lie flat in your bag and come in handy when using a laundromat or doing a small load in your housing! 

Tide To Go Pens are travel clothes lifesavers. As soon as a spill occurs, use a Tide To Go Pen and it will be as if it never happened!

This laundry bag is also great for packing in a carry-on bag because it does not take up any space to pack in your bag and will keep your dirty clothes separate after being worn.

Downy Wrinkle Release Spray is essential for freshening up clothes while traveling. This spray will make your clothes smell clean and release any wrinkles that occur while packed away in your carry-on bag.

Where your heaviest items on the plane

This is a silly little lightweight travel tip, but truly one of the best! One of the most straightforward tips to pack in a carry-on bag only is to wear your heaviest and thickest items on the plane. The airline will not stop you from wearing heavy boots, jackets, sweaters, or those bulky items on your body that take up extra space in your carry-on bag. 

So, are you ready to ditch the wait at baggage claim and embrace the freedom of carry-on travel? Feeling overwhelmed by packing does not need to be your travel reality. We hope this list of the best tips and tricks to fit in a carry-on bag helps you transition to lightweight packing! Did we leave something out? Let us know your favorite ways to fit in a carry-on bag in the comments. Happy traveling!

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