I have whittled down what I pack over the last few years, and usually share a suitcase with my daughter, who still likes to pack stuffed friends and random toys. But when I travel solo (or just with my husband) and don't need extra space for teddy bears and buckets and shovels, I pack all my stuff in a carry-on.
You heard right: one, single carry-on. You can too. Oh yes, you can.
I did not grow up in a household of travelers. My first real trip that involved luggage didn’t happen until I was in my twenties. It was a weekend getaway to New York City. I took half my closet in a duffel bag. A DUFFEL bag! No wheels or lightweight materials; just 30 pounds of shoes and jeans and about a month's worth of underwear. It barely made the weight requirements, and I paid for every, single, item in that duffel as I carried it through JFK, onto a busy subway, up a million stairs, across the street, then back across the street because I went the wrong way, before finally making it to my hotel, sweaty and out of breath. That duffel bag hung like a storm cloud over my head the whole trip because I knew I'd have to repeat the same journey with that same duffel, only in reverse. Talk about feeling like Sisyphus!
I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since my duffel bag days (shudder). I'm a little smarter, I have a few more trips under my belt, and I have invested in super light luggage, with wheels, so I’ll never have wonder who put the lug in luggage! And the more I travel, the more I realize the truth in the adage that you never EVER need as much as you think you do. Nope, stop right there. You don't. You really don't.
Sure, you’ll say, it’s easy to take your carry-on on a summer getaway when all you pack is bathing suits and sunglasses, but I’ll tell you: I’ve been to Europe. For a week. In November. And all I had was my carry-on.
Packing for a week in a miniscule 22" x 14" x 9" ain't easy. It takes some planning and some calculating and probably a long, honest talk with yourself, but I'm telling you friends, it is entirely doable. And to be honest, is sooooo much eaiser to navigate travel routes without dragging around a small car behind you. It makes the journey less stressful, and way easier on the back!
Packing a carry-on with room to spare!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will get you thinking in terms of sweet, simple, and stress-free packing!
Embrace a capsule wardrobe
If you’ve read my other articles, then you know just how much I love, love, LOVE capsule wardrobes! When you travel, a capsule wardrobe is your best friend. Basically, the goal is to create a mix and match wardrobe based around a few colours. That way you can maximize outfit combinations while minimizing precious packing space.
Think multi-purpose and multi-use
If you are going to a resort or a seaside vacay, a sundress can double as a bathing suit cover up. If it's a winter city destination, think layers. Each item of clothing, within reason, will make two or three appearances that week. And you know what? That's more than okay. You probably already have favourites that you wear time and again, anyway. It's the same thing; only on a smaller scale. And no, I'm not saying underwear need to make an encore. I promise, there's enough room for seven pairs!
Manage your toiletries
Take only what you actually will use everyday. Forget bulkier hair products or large bottles of perfume. If you are packing in a carry-on, you are limited by the TSA liquid guidelines. Keep your toiletries case simple. Leave your shampoos, conditioners and soaps at home. Most hotels supply them anyway! And while you’re at it, leave your hairdryer behind, too. They have those as well.
Limit yourself to three pairs of shoes
Yes, you can totally wear boots, just wear them on the plane. Smart, right? Three pairs of shoes are all you really need to make it through most events during your travels. Think: sneakers, sandals, and dressier shoes. Or, in the winter: boots, heels, and a sturdy, but nice looking walking shoe (I can’t believe I just used sturdy and walking shoe in the same sentence. I’ve become my grandmother).
Roll with it, baby!
Rolling your clothes instead of folding saves you tons of space. If you don’t believe me, try it. I dare you. When I went to Europe last year, I managed to fit two pairs of jeans, a pair of pants, two sweaters, two button downs, a skirt, some t-shirts, PJs, two pairs of shoes, all my toiletries, and a hair straightener (which I blew up in Paris) and still had room for gifts, trinkets, and a bottle of wine. Those neatly rolled clothes allow you to use every precious square inch of space in your carry on. **Bonus**stick those socks and underwear in your shoes (I wasn't joking about every square inch!)
Wear bulkier items on the plane
This was like my Oprah "Aha" moment. When I figured out that I could just wear my awkwardly big boots, my coat, and my favourite slouchy sweater on the plane instead of desperately trying to jam it in my luggage, it was a game changer!
As much as it would be nice to take your camera, tripod, phone, laptop, and iPad, you probably won’t need it all. Just take what you need. And leave the rest at home, where you won't have to spend your week wondering where you may have left that tripod (I'm talking from experience here!)
Bring a purse
This one is so necessary. Once you are on the plane, you don't want to have to be rifling through your neatly packed carry-on to find your passport, lip gloss, or whatever. Stow the carry-on, and you still have a bag that you can pop under your seat. When you fly, you are allowed one luggage item and one personal item. I love this because my purse becomes extra luggage space. I’ll usually include my camera, iPad, a scarf, some lip balm, and somewhere way at the bottom, I’ll throw in a little reusable bag for my touristy shopping (and in a pinch, you can throw a nice evening clutch in your purse as well. See? Lots of space options).
Since I've converted to a carry-on for travel, I can't imagine ever going back to my lovely, but giant, rolling suitcases. It's great to feel like a VIP, stepping off the plane and whisking myself into a waiting taxi. With my carry-on and purse already with me, I no longer have to loiter around the luggage carousel, waiting impatiently for my suitcase that eerily looks like everyone else's suitcase. They say that the simplest changes often have the biggest results, and I'm convinced that using my carry-on instead of a suitcase has done just that!