10 Smart Tips For Carry-On Luggage: What to Pack in Carry on bag for Flights

Want to travel more efficiently? Here are 10 tips for carry-on luggage packing so you don’t have to bother with a checked bag while traveling!

Whether you are embarking on your first trip or you are a frequent flyer, learning how to pack carry-on luggage is one of the best travel hacks you can have.

In an age of no-frills airlines that want to charge for anything and everything on top of your airfare, being able to avoid the check-in luggage fee is going to leave you with all that extra money in your pocket for adventures on the road.

Besides the monetary benefit, having only carry-on bags also gives you less time at the airport. You don’t have to wait in line to drop off your checked bag before a flight, and you don’t have to wait for your bag when you arrive at your destination.

Not only that, but lost luggage can sometimes happen. Having no checked bags means you can have peace of mind that your stuff is right there with you at all times.

These days airports are getting strict with weight limits (7kg) and dimensions for overhead luggage, and it can be easy to get stung with one extra cost at the last minute.

So follow these simple tips on what to pack in your carry-on bag for your next journey!

Person On A Plane With Carry On Bag Tips For Carry-On Luggage
Packing for carry-on can be easy if you are prepared!

Top Tips For Carry-On Luggage To Help You Pack

Below are our top tips to help you pack your carry-on bag and avoid having to lug around more than you need on your next trip!

We’ll include some carry-on essentials and just some general advice about why it’s much more convenient to carry on than it is to have checked luggage. 

Important Note! Before you book any international trip, we honestly recommend getting travel insurance. You never know when things will go wrong, and medical bills can add up quickly if you get sick or injure yourself overseas.

Our personal recommendation based on our own experience is World Nomads.

1. Choose The Right Bag

The first step in packing for carry-on is to have the right bag. Airlines are getting tougher when it comes to baggage size and weight, so having something that fits within these restrictions is very important.

A carry-on bag needs to be more than just a certain size. It needs to be a bag that is convenient and easy to organise.

Does it have multiple internal compartments for organising your gear properly to make it easy to access items? Is it easy to carry, or do you need wheels to drag along behind you?

Is it durable enough to be jammed into an overhead compartment? These are all important things you also need to consider.

Once you have the right bag you can get on with packing it for carry-on only. 

READ MORE: Check out our post on the best backpacks for travel here.

2. Make A Detailed Carry On Packing List

Whether you like making them or not, lists help keep you on the right track. Rather than throwing what you think you need into your bag, you can refer to the list and make sure you’re only taking the right things.

Having a list will ensure that you don’t forget anything while you’re packing, and will keep you within your limits.

Put absolutely everything you need on your list – clothing, toiletries, electronics, prescription meds, eye mask, important travel documents, etc. – and don’t leave anything to chance.

If your list says 3 t-shirts, only pack 3 t-shirts. If you’re not keeping track of these things you can easily overpack.

Packing Carry On
Make a packing list so you do not forget anything.

3. Choose Multi-Purpose, Quick-Dry Clothing

It’s better to take a few high-quality pieces of clothing that serve multiple purposes, as opposed to cheap bits of clothing that only do one thing. Not only is this better for the environment, but it’s also better for your budget in the long run.

If you’re going to be doing a mix of outdoor activities and city sightseeing on your trip, take hiking pants that also look quite smart for day-to-day wear.

Rather than taking a very thick winter coat, take a lightweight and waterproof shell that you can use in bad weather, no matter what the temperature, and layer up.

Choose clothes that you can wear with everything else in your luggage. Don’t take a shirt that only matches one set of shorts you want to take. Interchangeable clothing is key to packing light.

A lot of clothing these days is also made from quick-drying material. These are great because you can take fewer clothes and do your laundry on the road, knowing that by hanging them up overnight they’ll be dry in the morning.

Trust us, nobody will notice if you’re wearing the same shirt a few days in a row when you travel, as long as it’s clean.

Clothing In A Suitcase
Choose clothing that is multi-purpose.

4. Be Realistic, No “Just In Case” Packing

As you’re writing your packing list, be realistic. Do you really need that second fleece? Are you actually going to wear that mini-skirt around town?

Do some research on the place you’re going, the dress style the locals wear, and of course the weather you can expect.

There’s no point taking a heavy and bulky snow jacket if there are no freezing temperatures in the forecast. If you’re only going to a beach destination, pack just for that.

It’s very easy to look in your wardrobe and think, “Maybe I’ll take those jeans, just in case.” Just in case of what?

Pack smart, and remember, if it turns out you desperately need something when you get there, you can always shop in-country.

The fewer clothes you take, the easier it will be to stay within those carry-on limits.

Overpacking A Suitcase
Don’t overpack. Do you really need that item on your trip?

5. Don’t Take Too Many Shoes

You might be used to having a range of shoes to choose from when you’re at home, but you’ll need to drop that convenience when you travel, especially if you’re trying to stick to carry-on.

Choose one pair of shoes that can be used for lots of different occasions – nice dinners, walking around town, nights out dancing, or whatever your travels will throw at you. Keep them simple and versatile, and you won’t have to double up on anything.

If you’re planning on doing some hiking, there are plenty of shoes that are not only rugged and waterproof for being in the outdoors, but also look stylish enough to wear out to a bar.

The only other footwear you should always take is a pair of lightweight sandals. These can be worn for all the casual activities you’ll get up to.

Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane. The lighter shoes you can pack in your carry-on.

Lots Of Shoes
You don’t need every shoe in your wardrobe. Choose something neutral that will go with everything. Choose carefully to save your space.

6. Limit Your Toiletries

Another common item that people can get carried away with packing is toiletries. Ladies, you don’t need your entire make-up kit for a casual holiday. Pick and choose your mascara, lipstick and blush if you want to wear it, and leave behind the dozens of different types you might have.

Men, take a lightweight, electric shaver with you so you have no issues taking it as a carry-on (razors might get taken off of you). Or go grizzly for your holiday.

Remember that airlines will take any liquids off of you that are over 100 ml. Just take small items to get you by, like toothpaste or hand sanitizer, or other carry-on essentials. You can always buy more stuff once you touch down at your destination.

Pack a good water bottle as well, but make sure it’s empty when you go through security. You can fill it up with tap water afterward. 

Keep the toiletries as minimal as possible and you’ll have no issues fitting it all in carry-on. 

Toiletry Bag
You can put your toiletries in small bottles to save space. Make sure they follow TSA rules and liquid allowances: 100ml or less!

7. Do You Really Need All Your Electronics?

Electronics really can make up the bulk of your luggage weight, so think seriously about what you should and shouldn’t take if you’re trying to pack a carry-on.

Unless you need to work on your trip or are planning on editing photos and videos on the go, chances are you can leave your big, heavy laptop at home for your holiday.

Your mobile phone can do just about everything you’re likely to need anyway, such as send and receive emails, make hotel bookings, upload pictures to Instagram, etc. 

The other thing your phone can do is store movies and e-books on it, so there’s no need to bring a separate Kindle or media device.

When it comes to cameras we understand that a lot of people want to take the absolute best snaps of their holidays (we sure do!). But you might be able to leave some of that gear at home.

Don’t bring a tripod if you’re not 100% positive you will use it. Leave the portrait lens behind if you’re just planning on taking landscape shots the entire time.

Or go completely minimalist and rely solely on your mobile phone for all your travel photography.

READ MORE: Check out this post for our top recommended travel cameras before you start overpacking your carry on!

Camera Equipment
Do you really need that second lens or that drone?

8. Use Packing Cells

Packing cells could be one of the best travel packing accessories of all time. Whether you’re going for checked luggage or just a carry-on bag, getting some of these is a great idea!

They keep all of your gear neatly separated so that you can easily access what you need when you need it. No more digging to the bottom of your bag trying to find a pair of socks – just grab the packing cell with all of your underwear in it.

They also help you when packing a carry-on bag because you can pack each cell nice and tightly, and with the right bag, you can easily compartmentalise the inside.

And in the event security asks to have a look inside when you’re going through the airport, you don’t need to pull out every individual piece of clothing or electronics.

Packing Cells
Using packing cells is a great way to organise your bag.

9. Don’t Forget Your Long Haul Flight Essentials

Most airlines also allow one personal item in addition to your main carry-on bag. 

As long as the two items combined are within the weight limits, you can store your carry-on bag in the overhead compartments and keep your personal item with you in your seat. 

This is super handy for long flights because you can have everything you need for the long flight right in front of you. 

Here is where you can put your water bottle, eye mask, ear plugs, travel pillow, lip balm, noise-cancelling headphones, passport, hand sanitizer, phone, eye drops, and whatever else you need to keep feeling fresh on long flights. 

Flight attendants will often have some of these items as well, like an eye mask or earplugs. So if you forget it or choose to skip packing it, ask them for help!

10. Wear Your Bulky Items On The Plane

The last tip for how to pack for carry-on only is to wear your big, heavy items when you go through the airport.

Some airlines are notorious for charging for even being half a kilogram over. So before you drop the bag on the scales, throw on the things that may push you over.

Shoes, pants, a heavy jumper, a battery pack in your pocket – all these can be worn when doing the check-in, then repacked into your bag once you get through security.

Person Sitting Near Luggage
Wear your bulky clothing on the plane to save space in your carry-on.

Wrapping Up

If you can learn to pack for carry-onyou will not only save money in checked luggage fees but also be able to get around quicker and enjoy the minimalist travel lifestyle.

These 10 travel tips should help you make the best packing decisions so that you are not overpacked on your next adventure. 

Of course, it’s better to under-pack, especially if you plan to purchase anything upon arrival. But at least you’ll be lightweight and carefree to get a quick start on your next trip!

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Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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