how to pack lightly

How to Travel with Just a Carry-On

Travel with Just a Carry-On I'm better at packing densely than I am at packing lightly. So as I wrap up 5 Weeks in a Carry-On with My Travel Capsule Wardrobe, I’d figured it would be nice to share my favorite tricks for packing densely and traveling savvy:

  • First things first, whether I'm traveling or not, I keep my phone, wallet, and keys all together (see Don't Leave Home Without It & I Still Don't Leave Home Without It) for more on that. When I'm just out and about on a summer day I slip my finger through the key loop and my pod becomes a little clutch wallet. When I'm wearing a coat my pod is usually in my pocket.
  • If I’m just headed somewhere for a week or less, my 25 L daypack is usually sufficient. I use my mesh bags (see below) with My Travel Capsule Wardrobe.
  • When I'm flying I bring one of my Gregory backpacks as my carry on. I’ve tried using a roller bag as my carry-on, but I’ve found that a backpack is much more comfortable since the conditions for rolling are often not present. It’s more frustrating to lug around an awkward suitcase than to shoulder a pack. (And Gregory packs are super comfortable, very well built, and cleverly designed. They’re one of the few brands I rely on so all three of my backpacks are Gregories!)
  • If I need to bring a sleeping bag, as I did for 5 Weeks in a Carry-On, the 50-liter Jade pack is the best fit. If I don’t need to bring a sleeping bag, the 35 L Jade will do the trick even for a multi-week trip. And if I’m just headed somewhere for a week or less, my 25 L daypack is usually sufficient. I’ve found that if I pack densely, cinch down the straps, and orient it properly, the 50 L pack fits in the tiny overhead compartments of all but the tiniest puddle-jumpers! I’ve even tucked my 35 L pack under the seat in front of me in a pinch.
  • As my personal item, I bring a scrunchable Sea to Summit bag into which I put everything I need to get through airport security quickly: my Eagle Creek shoulder bag, my 1-quart clear zippered Sea to Summit toiletry pouch, my laptop computer, my snacks, my Eagle Creek travel pillow, and my water bottle. Once I arrive at a new destination I put my laptop and toiletries into my backpack. Then I scrunch the bag back up and slip it into my shoulder bag and I’m good to go!
  • I wear my jacket onto the airplane for three reasons. First, the jacket is often one of my bulkier items but it doesn’t count if it’s on my body. Second, I often get chilled on a plane without an extra layer. Third, a jacket can be bunched up to give me more back support or to create a pillow if necessary.
  • I wear my boots on travel days when I’m on an adventure that requires them so that I don’t have to pack them. Yes, this makes the trip through security more cumbersome than if I have quick on-and-off shoes, but it’s still worth wearing my boots for the weight and the space. Any other shoes I pack are stuffed with undergarments before they’re put into my bag so that the space inside them isn’t wasted.
  • If I’m bringing my 15-degree REI Downtime sleeping bag, I use a Sea to Summit cordura compression sack to make it a wee little lump in the bottom of my pack.
  • I can’t stand the slippery inside of sleeping bags, so I use a ½ cotton and ½ silk travel sheet from Cocoon, which makes my sleeping bag tolerable.
  • I tuck a face mask and a pair of silicone ear plugs into the cover of my Eagle Creek blow up pillow so they’re handy if the person next to me is reading or if there’s a screaming baby nearby.
  • I roll my clothes and sort them into two mesh zippered pouches. (These came with my rock climbing harness and shoes years ago and I repurposed them to sort my clothes while traveling!) Depending on the trip, I may sort my mesh zippered pouches by tops and bottoms or by work clothes and play clothes or by outerwear and undergarments. I bring as few clothing items as possible, sticking to My Travel Capsule Wardrobe, and planning to wash as needed.
  • As I approach the security line I make sure I have everything I need ready and waiting.  I grab three bins: one for my laptop, one for my toiletry bag and jacket, and one for my scrunchable bag. My shoes go on the conveyor belt first so they’re the first thing to grab at the other end. Then I run my scrunchable bag bin through. I put my laptop in the middle bin so I can keep an eye on it. The toiletry kit and jacket bin goes through next and then my carry-on bag. Once I get through the screening process I put myself back together again: slip shoes on, tuck laptop and toiletry pouch into scrunchable bag, jacket on, pack on, and I’m good to go!

Give these tips a try and let me know how they work for you! And, of course, please share your favorite traveling strategies with me in the comments!

Disclaimer: I included brand names because I often want to know which brands other travelers rely on. I am not sponsored by any of these companies. I just love their stuff!

Disclaimer #2: I know, I know. I’m smaller than lots of people. I recognize that if you’re bigger than me you (and your stuff) may take up more space. Let’s just say it’s karma for all the teasing I had to endure growing up. When I started traveling I quit crying about being little!