How to Pack a Carry On to Avoid Baggage Fees & Hassel!

Don’t let your big suitcase weigh you down! Here’s how to pack a carry on (with no checked baggage!) for your next vacation.

I’m so excited that the option to travel is available again!

I have heard, however, that there are more than normal complications of cancelled flights, missing connections, and lost baggage due to a shortage of workers in the flight industry.

I was watching one of my Instagram friends who arrived in France for a 3 day work trip, and her baggage is still stuck in Seattle!

It reminded me of the following post that I wrote years ago. Travelling with just a carry on can prevent a huge hassel just like that. I find it easier and less stressful in every way. I’ve updated it with a few more tips and tricks, and feel free to add your own in the comment section below.

Read on for tips on how to pack a carry on, what to pack in a carry on, and other ways to make travel with just a carry on easier and more fun!

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I LOVE to travel. After many years of trying out travelling with just a carry on bag, I can say it is my favorite way of packing.  

Packing in just a carry on bag requires a little bit of thinking ahead, but it is so worth it in the end.No longer will you find yourself lugging around a bunch of stuff you don’t even use!

How to pack for an 8 day trip (or longer!)… in just a Carry-On Bag:

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How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

1.  Carefully choose a bag/s to use.

Choose a sturdy, lightweight carry-on bag that fits the size requirements for airline carry on travel.  The most important feature – in my opinion –  are the wheels. Make sure they are sturdy and roll well. I sometimes pack another bag inside the carry on (like the one pictured) to bring home shopping purchases in.

I love my current carry on bag. It’s a London Fog softside, and it travels like a dream! Although it is expandible, I wouldn’t expand it if I want it to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane.

How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

2.  Use up the space under the zipper part of the suitcase..

If your bag is of a similar design as mine, there will be metal rods in the bottom of the bag with a zipper cover over the whole suitcase base. I want to use up every inch of usable space, and there is a lot under that zipper!  I tuck in underwear, camisoles, and socks in between the rods so that no space is left empty.

By placing these items at the bottom, if for some reason I have to open my suitcase in the airport all my undies won’t come flying out…{How embarrassing would that be?}

How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

3.  Fold up an extra shopping bag and place it on top of the zippered section.

If you are going on a holiday where you know you’ll be purchasing things, you might want to pack an extra bag along.

The extra bag will be your carry on bag on your flight home, and you can check your carry on. It won’t be so terrible if your baggage arrives late once you are home.

The extra bag laid flat will become the new “bottom” of the carry-on.

How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

4.  Choose “mix and match” clothing pieces that can be layered.

Obviously, your destination and the weather there will determine the particulars of your clothing choices. I like to choose only those things that are comfortable and can be matched with other pieces to form new outfits.

For specifics of what I packed for a Summer trip (for a month!) see this post. And here are packing tips for another sunny destination trip I took.

And, if you’re looking for more specific packing lists, I recommend checking out Get Your Pretty On’s carry on packing list posts!

5.  Choose the bulkiest outfit to wear on the plane.

I like to wear a sweater, scarf, and boots (if it’s winter) on the plane. That way, if it is drafty I have options to stay warm. It also frees up valuable suitcase space by wearing my bulkiest clothing and footwear.

I also refrain from wearing large jewelry pieces and belts if I’m going through airport security lines.  I always feel slightly embarrassed to have to “disrobe” {and then put them all back on} while I’m standing in the airport security line!

How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

6.  Put all liquids in a clear bag that’s easy to access ~ and don’t forget the important documents!

The liquid limits for carry on bags seems to fluctuate a bit, so be sure to check your specific airline for regulations. The  “liquid limit” is perhaps the trickiest part of travelling with only a carry-on.  Make-up and hair products can quickly eat up all your liquid allowances!  Travel sized items are obviously advantageous.  Purchase items upon arrival of the destination is also another solution.

Also remember to put in your purse your important documents (passport and travel info) and your toothbrush {I like to brush my teeth alot!}.

7.  Rethink packing your blow dryer.

I don’t know about yours, but my blow dryer is ridiculously big!  Sometimes I choose not to drag it along.  If I’m staying with family members at my final destination, or if the hotel has a complimentary dryer, I just leave mine at home.

How to pack for an 8 day trip in just a carry on

8.Pack jewelry in a separate bag so it doesn’t get lost in the mix!

I don’t tend to take lots of jewelry when I travel, but what I do, I like to pack in its own separate bag.

I also learned a great jewelry packing hack when I worked in a jewelry store. Leave the ends of necklaces dangling slightly outside the zippered bag. Then they’ll never get tangled!

9. Take snacks & entertainment

In the outside pocket of my carry on, I like to tuck in a few granola bars and a good book. You never know how long you might be sitting around, so be prepared to relax and read! Or, if you’d rather watch something, download some movies, tv shows, or podcasts on your electronic device before you leave home.

Do you have any other packing tricks to give? Please share. I always love to learn new handy tips!

I’ve used this method of packing when we went to Maui, Georgia, and visiting family in Montana.

Other Packing Tips

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Original post updated in 2017 and June, 2022.

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10 Comments

  1. Such organization! I'd want to take more footwear. I'm a 'what if' kinda girl.. so I try to be prepared for all types of weather. then again, if your sisters have the same size feet as you, you're pretty well covered!

  2. I'm fascinated by how other people pack, so thanks for letting us peek into your luggage.

    One thing I never thought of or heard about was avoiding the chunky metal stuff like belts and necklaces when you fly. That's good advice.

    I'm big on packing stuff that doesn't wrinkle (unmentionables, sox, swimwear) in plastic zip bags. It's easy to squeeze and condense them, and you can never have too many waterproof bags for the return trip (wet stuff, dirty stuff).

    I usually limit each trip's travel wardrobe to just two or three colors, so that everything's easily mixable. I'd love hearing how others pack for trips.

    I'm with Aneta. I'd need more than flip flops. Being a what-if kinda gal means sometimes taking more than you need, but I'm willing to pack a little extra for the peace of mind it gives.

    Usually the first thought I have pulling out of the driveway is, "What did I forget?" But then I settle back and start relaxing!

    Thanks for sharing. Have a great time with your sisters!

    1. We just traveled 3 weeks in Spain with a small carry on and back pack each. I packed clothes for about 10 days. We make sure our air bnbs along the way have washer/dryer to wash as we go. We wash in the evening and usually have to hang dry (in Europe) the next day while we’re out site seeing. We use packing cubes to keep organized. And against popular thinking- we usually just wear our comfortable walking shoes (went to Montreal/Quebec over Christmas and only wore our boots). We’ve learned not to be “just-in-case” travelers and think about it this way- we’ve saved $35-70 each way on our checked bags; so if we need to buy an umbrella, pair of flip flops or a light jacket it will be worth it. We bought a $10 umbrella this trip. That being said, I’m plus sized so I try to pack smart- knowing I can’t always find my size. I also bring medicines like Imodium and advil because they don’t take up much space.
      My husbands backpack Carrie’s all our electronics, he uses a big camera. In my backpack I carry a collapsible lunch bag with snacks for traveling and we use the lunch box throughout our trip. We had to travel with COVID tests this time. And I will carry all of our travel books, documents, and journals. As well as light jackets, earplugs, sleep masks etc.
      we feel like we’ve got the travel thing thing down!
      Oh, one last thing we enjoy doing is taking a cooking class where we go. When we get home we cook dinner for family and show pics- that way we aren’t carrying souvenirs around.

  3. Good advice, Aneta. I, unfortunately do not have the same size feet as my sisters… I know I'm taking risks here!! (But their feet are bigger…I could always stick socks in the toes!:))

  4. You are amazing, Rita. I always wondered what the zippered part of the carryon was for…no longer. I agree w the belt part, figured that out on a recent trip…you do need to account for the fact that not all of us wear petite clothing, tho….haha. I love you even tho you're tiny. My sister brought me back zippered "packing cubes" this year..love those as well, easy to root thru your suitcase if needs be. Have a great trip!!

  5. Thank you for sharing this. We will be leaving on a vacation trip soon and this will definitely come in handy!

  6. I usually need dress shoes and casual shoes. I stuff the toes with undergarments or socks and place the soles into the corners.

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