by Taj Bates
Not long ago, a friend of mine embarked on his first overseas vacation—to Portugal for a week. I was excited to hear all about his trip upon his return (I’m a sucker for travel stories and photos!).
Yet, when we caught up over the phone, instead of excitement and wonderment, his voice was laced with disappointment and ennui.
Why? Because, upon arriving in Portugal, he soon discovered the airline had lost his checked luggage—a screw-up that turned his rose-colored glasses a dark and moody grey for the rest of his vacay.
This is just one of the reasons why you should always pack carry-on light—whether you’re travelling for a week or two or longer.
In doing so, you will save yourself the grief that comes with checked baggage fees… lost luggage… and having to lug a heavy suitcase on trains, buses, sidewalks, stairs, etc.
Here are 6 tips n’ tricks on how you can pack everything you need in a carry-on suitcase or bag… with room to spare!
Think Laundry Before You Book Lodging
In most cases and to most destinations, you can pack enough clean clothes in your carry-on to last about a week.
Once you pass the one week mark, however, you’re going to want to do laundry. Which is why you should have a pretty good idea how you will wash and dry your clothes by week’s end.
Will you hand wash and air dry along the way? (Keeping in mind that, in some climates, air drying can take for-e-ver.)
Or will you use a hotel laundry service? A nearby laundromat? The washer and dryer available in a hotel suite or vacation rental?
Once you know your laundry plan-of-action, you can book your lodging accordingly.
That way, you won’t feel compelled to pack more than a few days’ worth of clothes.
Don’t Pack the Bulk, Wear It
A tao of the wise traveller is you should keep bulky items to a bare minimum—instead of bringing two sweatshirts or two pairs of jeans or two pairs of tennis shoes, just bring one.
Additionally, you should always plan to wear your bulkiest items on your person as you step onto a flight.
Coats, jackets, sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans, hiking boots, tennis shoes, etc., can take up a crap ton of space in a suitcase—which is glaringly noticeable when you’re trying to pack carry-on light.
As long as an item of clothing is on your person, it won’t make a dent on your carry-on quota (for many airlines, this is 1 carry-on suitcase or bag; and 1 personal item like a purse or laptop bag).
During the flight, you can always store your coat or jacket in the overhead compartment and peel off layers and shoes to achieve optimal comfort.
Start Pre-Packing Way in Advance
The surefire way to simultaneously overpack and underpack (i.e., forget important items) is to wait till the last minute to do so.
At least a month before your departure date, start drafting a list of things you need to bring on your trip. Divide the list into 3 sets or columns:
- Stuff you need to buy—like medications or a travel-sized first-aid kit
- Items you need to launder or prep—like treating hiking clothes with repellant or charging camera batteries
- Everything else you need to pack or wear on your person
Then start packing your carry-on suitcase at least a week in advance.
For some people, myself included, packing carry-on light can take a few hours because it involves a lot of ruthless edits and Sophie’s Choices as you challenge yourself to only pack that which is absolutely necessary.
This is especially hard when you’re embarking on a trip that includes a variety of climates and activities, but it is do-able.
Time consuming, yet do-able.
Stick to a Color Palette
A savvy traveller rule-of-thumb that’s key to packing carry-on light is to only bring tops that coordinate with multiple bottoms; and vice-versa.
An easy way to achieve this is to stay within a color palette of 4 colors or less.
During a multi-week trip in Australia—which included drastically different climates, from tropical to temperate to nippy—I stuck to a color palette of coral, beige, white and grey.
In doing so, I was able to pack light and still have the flexibility to mix-n-match skirts, shorts, tops, pants and shoes based on the weather, the activity and my fashion mood for the day!
Divide Your Suitcase Into Quadrants
The number one thing you’re likely to overpack is clothes. Fact is, you never need the amount of clothes you think you need.
Never, ever, ever.
The best way to restrict yourself to bringing only the absolute necessities is to divide your suitcase into quadrants.
Quadrants 1 and 2 (e.g., the left half) are reserved for clothes. Any time you find yourself adding clothes to the third or fourth quadrants, you’re veering into overpacking territory and need to edit your travel wardrobe.
Quandrant 3 can be reserved for shoes, socks, a travel umbrella, etc. Any time your shoe quota starts veering into the fourth quadrant, you’re overpacking.
Quandrant 4 can be reserved for hygiene and hair care products, as well as electronics, power cords, plug adapters and the like.
Finally, if you have a suitcase that has an expansion zipper, and if you feel the need to use it for your departure flight, then you, my friend, are overpacking.
The only time you should expand your suitcase is midway through your trip or for your return flight home.
Save Room for Souvenirs
If you like to buy souvenirs, be sure to pack a canvas tote bag that has a zipper. The bag can lay flat in your suitcase during the departure flight.
Then, at the end of your trip, you can pack fragile souvenirs in the tote bag; carry it on the plane; and store it in an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you.