How To Pack A Carry On Like A Pro

how to pack a carry on like a pro

As much as I love to travel, I still can’t get over how much I dread packing. It’s taken me a while but I have finally gotten my carry-on packing, down pat.

I travel more than the average person and you’d think I’d be smart and not save my packing for the last minute but you’d be modestly wrong. The last trip I went on I even woke up at 5am to pack and then rushed to the airport to catch my 11am flight.

I consider myself a pretty relaxed person but the anxiety packing used to give me was over the top. I would stress on whether I was packing to little then stress about packing too much, but after years of traveling I’ve comprised a system that helps me pack a carry on like a pro!

Even if I do still wait to last minute to pack.

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    If you’re anything like me, you’ll understand how it’s possible to go on trips with open ended tickets. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll only be staying a week or a month or longer. However, I still want to get away with not paying those pesky baggage fees. 

    Plus, bringing a carry on means less to lug around.

    I’m pretty amazed that I’ve been able to get away with only bringing a carry on for so many of my trips. If you’re going to be traveling for an unknown amount of time or just need some general advice, check out all of my carry on packing hacks below.

    Get Organized

    Before you start to pack you have to take into consideration where you are going. Are you traveling to the Swiss Alps for some ski time where it’s going to be cold? Are you traveling to Hawaii where it will be sunny and you’ll be going swimming hiking, and surfing all the time?

    Knowing more or less what activities you’ll be doing and how the weather fluctuates throughout the day is going to help you figure out what type of shoes and clothing items you need to bring.

    Pick Your Must Haves

    Before I even collect my clothing, I grab my important items first. These are items I always bring with me regardless of the type of weather or activities I plan on doing. Some items that fit under this category are my laptopiPadcameracell phoneheadphones, and identification paperwork.

    These all are items that are pretty hard to replace once I’m out of the country so I always make sure I get to them first before I get distracted with less important possessions.

    Double check that you have all your wires, cables, and battery packs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten one of those and I’d have to spend extra money to buy them at my destination, or the main gadget become pretty much deadweight, because I can’t use it unless it has the proper accessories.


    Keep It Simple

    If you’re a little fashionista it might be hard to simplify your outfits, and I completely understand. I would consider myself a “girly girl”, and I’m here to tell you it’s completely doable. Sticking to a color palette is helpful, personally, I’ve never been much into bright colors. I’m more of a neutral tones type of girl, which is beneficial when it comes to packing, but even if you like hot pinks and neon oranges you can keep it simple as well.

    Let me explain more of what I mean. Sticking to a color pallet just makes it easier for you to mix and match your clothing, which means more outfit combinations with less clothes! That’s a win win when trying to pack a carry on!

    One thing I’ve learned while traveling, especially from living on an island is that it’s okay to mix and match! So, if you want to wear those bright green shorts with a hot pink halter top go right ahead.

    Another way to keep things simple is by having less to choose from to begin with. If your closet at home is overflowing that just means it’s going to take you more time to sift through your clothes and shoes before you get to packing. You’ll start to realize there’s certain items you gravitate towards constantly. So why bother keeping items you haven’t wore in 2 years? Less is more when it comes to packing!

    It’s Okay To Repeat Clothing

    If I got caught outfit repeating in high school or college it was a big fashion no, no. Going to a party wearing the same dress as last year, was just out of the question! As I’ve gotten older, I realized I was the one judging myself the hardest. We don’t remember other people’s outfits nearly as well as we remember our own. When you’re traveling you are always meeting new people who wouldn’t even know if the shirt you’re wearing today was 5 years old or brand new.

    Besides, when I’m limiting my packing to just a carry on, I will be taking only the clothes I feel most confident and comfortable in, therefore I’m going to want to wear them multiple times. 


    If you just pack enough clothes for a week there is bound to be a place for you to wash them. Making them fresh and ready to be used again in the following days.

    It is also okay to repeat shoe wear. I suggest limiting shoe wear to only 3 pairs. I choose them based off of my activities. I wear my bulkiest shoes to the airport and pack the shoes that are most flexible and thin in the carry on so it takes up less space.

    Roll & Squish Method

    This way of folding my clothes is the only way I pack anymore. For example, I take a t-shirt, lay it faced down and fold the right side and the left side to where they meet in the middle then, start from the top and tightly roll the shirt all the way down, like a fruit roll up! Now align your clothes roll ups side by side in your carry-on suitcase. If need be squish them to the side or down to make more room for another layer of clothing rolls.

    Believe it or not, this method maximizes space and helps you fit more in your luggage as opposed to just laying them out flat or folding them normally. You will also be surprised that with this method you may find little empty corners or crevices where you can pack tiny items into.

    Packing Cubes

    Ah! The holy grail of packing accessories! Once I discovered packing cubes the way I travel has never been the same. This might seem a little dramatic right now but I’m telling you, they are a game changer! They are these fabric squares that zip up and just compress all your clothing. You’ll be surprised at how much you can fit into one tiny cube.

    I remember one time I was packing up my belongings after a month of volunteering in St. John and one of my fellow volunteers was kind enough to help me pack. I was struggling to make everything fit when she said “Girl! You can totally fit more into this cube!” she fit 5 more items of clothing. I was shocked! It really showed me just how compressive and strong these packing cubes were.

    Separating your clothes, makeup, toiletries and electronics into different smaller bags or packing cubes is key to staying organized. It helps you pack everything you need into a carry on while saving you time and stress when sifting through your bag once you land at your destination.

    Down Size Your Toiletries

    The one thing I never really stress about is toiletries. Pretty much wherever you go around the world you will be able to find local hygienic necessities. These items are easily replaceable and this is coming from someone with sensitive skin who is a bit picker with what I choose to put on my face, body or in my hair.  

    Now since this is a carry on you do have to be careful with your liquids. Make sure you check ahead of time what number of ounces the airline you are traveling on allows you to bring, or you take the risk of your products being thrown out.


    There are lots of miniature travel sized toiletries you can purchase or just buy empty travel sized bottles and fill them with your favorite full-sized products you have at home. To help you decide on what toiletries you should bring think about your daytime and nighttime skin care and showering routine. For example, do you use dry shampoo multiple times a week when you’re at home? If yes, then maybe it would be worth it for you to pack it in your carry on, if not then just disregard it.

    Pack Multi Use And Travel Sized Makeup

    Similar to toiletry items makeup can be replaceable but I understand that as humans we are creatures of habit and tend to stick to our favorite products. I suggest buying smaller versions of your favorite makeup products to use daily because then when you travel you already have the compact versions and don’t have to go out and buy more. For example, the only bronzer I’ve been using for years is Benefit Matte Hoola Bronzer and I always purchase it in the mini size. A little goes a long way and you’ll be surprised at how infrequently you need to replace it.

    Another hack is to bring multi use makeup. Similar to mix and matching clothing having makeup that can be versatile for different parts of your face is key. For example, I like to pack the Cheek and Lip Tint by Mad Hippie in my cosmetic bag because it enhances my natural lip color and a little dab of it on my cheeks turns into the perfect blush shade.

    When packing your makeup bag, it’s important to think about your everyday makeup looks and if you’re even going to be needing much makeup on your trip at all. In climates that are very hot and sunny or on trips where I’m doing strenuous outdoor activities I tend to not use as much makeup. For example, bringing a pair of false eyelashes on a week-long hiking and camping trip just doesn’t seem necessary.   

    Your beautiful without any makeup anyway! Makeup is used to enhance your natural beauty and brings out your already gorgeous features.

    With these tips I believe you are on your way to becoming a carry-on packing pro. It won’t matter if you are staying a week or a month in a new country. You will have everything you need in your carry on and spend more time enjoying the destination.

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