10 Steps To Carefree Carry-On Packing
By Betsa Marsh
Everyone has a luggage horror story. The new suitcase mauled in the conveyor system. Cases mysteriously lightened of their loads in airports along the way.
Then there’s the joy of going to a gala captain’s dinner or a crucial business meeting in the same clothes you’ve worn for 30 straight travel hours.
Carry-on has always been the way to go, and now, with many airlines charging for every checked piece of luggage, it’s even more important. With a bit of packing strategy and a dash of shampoo on the road, you can roll your way through any trip, carry-on only.
1. Pick your colors.
Nearly every complexion on the globe looks good in either black and white or navy and ivory. Hold a bit of black, and then navy, fabric up to your face and decide which suits you better. That color becomes the foundation for your travel wardrobe.
With black or navy slacks and blazer, you can add a rainbow of shirts or blouses underneath. Men can add splashes of bright color with light-to-pack ties, women with scarves and jewelry.
2. Scan your plan.
Hang all the clothes you plan to pack in a line-up, so you can see them all at once. If you don’t have the hanger space, lay them out on a bed or table.
Instantly, you’ll start seeing color combos that work together. That navy top can work with that skirt or those slacks. Those black evening slacks can handle any party all week. Change your tops and jewelry or shirt and tie and you’ll look new each night.
3. Fight the shoe fetish.
I love shoes as much as the next traveler, but I stick to a two-pair rule when I’m packing: one for walking all day, one for dressing at night. It’s ruthless, but you’ll thank yourself the next time you’re hoisting that bag into the overhead compartment.
Any exceptions? Sometimes beach and dive trips require a pair of waterproof shoes. And if you’re heading into the Amazon and your boots may get soggy every day, you’ll need a second pair to alternate. But if you’re going to Amsterdam or Tokyo, two pairs will do.
4. Discover the magic of accessories.
Yes, we all know the ability to accessorize is what sets us apart in the animal kingdom. It’s even more vital with a travel wardrobe.
Women have it easy: Layer some silk scarves into your suitcase and tuck necklaces, pins and earrings into your jewelry roll and you have endless variety with very little heft. Drape the scarves around your hanging wardrobe (Step 2) and you’ll see all the possibilities.
Men, too, can mix it up lightly with ties, dickeys and cravats. They might sound old-fashioned, but a turtleneck or cravat suddenly appearing under that day’s shirt can make you look dressed for dinner.
5. Test-drive your roll-aboard.
Luggage is getting lighter, yes, but there are still weight differences that can have a big impact on your muscles after you lift and pull a case for hours on end.
When you shop, lift each piece above your head in the store. Can you hoist it easily? Then imagine adding 20 pounds to it.
Do the wheels move easily? Does the handle telescope quickly?
Even if you’re buying luggage online or by phone, check the listed weight first and find something in your house that weight. Lift it over your head a few times and add the imaginary—or real–20 pounds. Is this the bag for you?
6. Roll, baby, roll.
Your slacks and blazers will need to lie flat for their trip, but most of your clothes will fit better in the suitcase if you roll.
Smooth slacks and blazers, turned inside out for folding, into the bottom of the case and secure with the suitcase’s stretch ties or a large piece of cardboard. It’s movement that causes wrinkles.
Then, roll your tops, T-shirts, shorts, nightwear and knit clothes individually, like you’re rolling tiny sleeping bags. Tuck the rolls around the edges of the suitcase, interspersed with shoes in shoe covers, your toiletry bag and any other items you absolutely need.
7. Use every inch.
Just when you despair of getting everything in, stop and look for secret compartments.
Your extra pair of shoes will hold nearly all your rolled socks. Your camera bag, especially if you shoot with an SLR, may hold nearly all your rolled underwear—and cushion your camera as a bonus.
8. Roll-aboard’s little buddy.
Is your suitcase bulging? Better stop, take it with you onto the scales and see where you stand. If you’re over your airline’s weight limit per bag, you might be in for a penalty. Air New Zealand once forced me to remove dirty laundry from my overloaded suitcase and carry it around the Auckland airport in a clear plastic bag, so try to avoid these little embarrassing moments.
If you really have to take those items, shift them to your small carry-on, the one you’ll tuck under the seat in front of you. This is the place for your valuables, your medicine, your toiletries, your three-ounce liquids, your camera, your overnight bag for “sleeping” on a plane. The essentials that you’ll need within reach. And don’t forget the food—rice cakes, dry as they are, have saved me many a time stranded in an airport at 2 a.m.
9. Don’t be above a little laundry.
Women are usually horrified when I suggest they wash out a few things on the road. “It’s my vacation! I’m not doing laundry!”
Point taken. But all you really need to do is splash a few things in the sink with a bit of shampoo, roll them into a clean bath mat, stomp all over them to squeeze out the water, and voila! Laundry done.
If that’s too much trouble, toss them in the shower with you, squish them around with your feet, and your work’s done. And there’s no reason to waste one of your three-ounce containers on laundry detergent. Shampoo has surfactants, too, that lift dirt out, and even the lowest-budget hotel has some form of shampoo.
Toss in inflatable hangers to speed drying and reduce hanger-shoulders and you’re good to go.
10. Plan an exit strategy.
Congratulations! You’ve packed ruthlessly tight for your trip and did it all carry-on. But does that mean you can’t buy anything anywhere?
Of course not. At home, tuck a collapsible bag in your luggage and use it as your day bag during the trip. When you find you need it for carrying your purchases home, spread everything out on your last hotel bed. Put all your essentials and valuables—which probably include your souvenirs du jour—in your roll-aboard and collapsible bag, which is now your new carry-on.
Relegate your oldest, dirtiest clothes and gear to your original carry-on, the one bag you’ll check. Don’t put in anything you can’t live without. Label it inside and out, and if you’re reacquainted on the other end, it will be a miraculous surprise and a great ending to a fabulous trip.