I like to travel light. So much so that I’m known for never checking a bag. I’ve even been interviewed about it in one of London’s leading newspapers. People always tell me I should write a blog post about how to pack with just a carry-on, so today I bring you 5 tips that will help you master the art.
How to Pack with Just a Carry-On
I’ve been traveling with just a carry-on for 9 years. It’s made traveling easier, checking in for flights faster, and leaving the airport when I land a breeze. I’ve traveled for up to 3 weeks with just one small bag (doing laundry once), and regularly travel for a week without extra luggage (or wearing the same shirt twice). I’ve gotten so used to it that I have a hard time imagining how I could fill an entire suitcase. If you follow these 5 steps, you’ll be able to do the same.
Get the Right Bag
If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, it’s that you should get a Lululemon bag for your travels. I’ve had three of them over the last 10 years and they’re the most useful things I own.
With padded laptop pockets, waterproof shoe bags, and other storage areas of various shapes and sizes, they’re easy to pack and keep organized. Unlike many other travel bags, they hold their shape so are great for packing fragile items, electronics, and anything else that needs extra protection. They also have long handles, making them easy to throw over your shoulder. If you’re in the UK, you can get one here. If you’re in the US, they’re here.
Travel Size Everything
Now that you’ve got your bag, it’s time to focus on what you’ll put in it. Or better yet, what you won’t. The things that waste the most space in my bag are toiletries and accessories. When I first started traveling a lot, I learned the value of saving space by getting travel-size everything.
I have a tiny hairbrush, mini deodorant, small toothbrush, and itty bitty toothpaste. I buy all my make-up in sample sizes in addition to regular ones, and any time I see a diminutive version of something I use daily I buy it for my travels.
I also keep a supply of travel-size bottles that I fill with sunscreen and other liquids when I fly. It allows me to save space and make sure I’m within the allowed liquid limit, which is a key element of how to pack with just a carry-on. If you’re in the UK, you can get them here. If you’re in the US, find them here.
Best of all, keeping these items in a grab-and-go toiletries bag at home makes packing for my next trip fast and easy.
But there are some things I can’t miniaturize. Clothes, for example. For those, I roll. When I first heard that rolling clothes saves space, I didn’t believe it. Then I tried it and was overwhelmed by how much extra room there was in my bag. Now I roll everything.
I know a lot of travel bloggers who also swear by packing cubes. I’ve never used them, but they’re certainly worth a try if you need more room. If you’re in the UK, you can find them here. If you’re in the US, you can get them here.
Only Bring What’s Necessary
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to bring one pair of underwear for a two-week trip. But I am going to tell you to bring one pair of shoes. And one jacket. And for goodness sake, leave the hairdryer at home.
I used to travel with full bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a hairdryer, and other bulky items I never used. It was as if I was afraid there was no shampoo in all of Hawaii, or that Italians didn’t dry their hair. But eventually I learned these things are rarely missing from a hotel room.
Above all, I leave the “just in case” items at home. When have I ever needed them anyway? And if I do end up requiring them, most are easy to purchase in whatever destination I’m traveling to.
Plan a Capsule Wardrobe
To that end, capsule wardrobes are essential. When I first started traveling, I brought different outfits for every day. Then I realized that if I planned my outfits to coordinate with one another, I could cut down on extraneous shoes, scarves, and other accessories. Suddenly my bag was much lighter and I didn’t miss the things I left at home.
So plan on bringing one pair of shoes, the more versatile the better. If you read my summer packing list for London, you’ll know I swear by French Sole flats. I can dress them up or down depending on what I’m doing, which frees up space in my bag. If you’re in the UK, you can get them here. If you’re in the US, they’re here.
And plan to dress in layers. There’s no need to bring three jackets of varying thickness when traveling somewhere with an unpredictable climate. Just bring one and layer your clothes according to the weather.
I hope this guide helps you travel light and save time (not to mention effort—luggage is heavy!). If all else fails, put everything you plan to pack on your bed, then put half of it back in your closet. It can be difficult in the beginning, but you’ll be a pro in no time.
How about you? Do you have tips for how to pack with just a carry-on?
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