Packing the Perfect Carry-On

The more I travel, the more I realize how unnecessary checked luggage can be. I prefer to get off the plane and head straight to my hotel, instead of taking the time to go to baggage claim and wait for my luggage. I try to limit myself to a carry-on for trips that are a few weeks or less. Any longer than that and I personally would probably need a checked bag. I’m just a teeny bit high maintenance, but I’m working on it. However, I do know several people who can squeeze all their personal belongings into a single carry-on bag and travel for several months with no problem. This article isn’t for them, it’s for people like me who tend to over pack. Before each trip, I’d start with a list of essentials and my carry-on bag. Fast forward two hours later, the bag was either overweight, or I’d have to switch to a larger bag that I’d have to check in. Then I began to see a pattern, EVERY time I returned from a trip and unpacked, I noticed that I hadn’t used or worn half of the things I brought with me. I was basically taking my shoes and clothing on a world tour. I had to teach myself how pack lighter and more efficiently. It was a bit of a struggle to convince myself that I didn’t “need” all of the things I was dragging with me from place to place. Several years and many trips later, I finally adapted to a more methodical way of packing my carry-on using the following tips:

Eliminate “What if’s”

“What if it rains, should I bring an umbrella?” “What if I want to wear my sandals instead of my flip flops, should I just bring them both?”

Don’t worry about what COULD happen, or what you MIGHT need. Focus on what you DO need. Besides you can always purchase things at your destination if necessary.

Clothing and shoes usually make up the bulk of the weight in your bag

You can eliminate quite a bit of weight from your carry-on by packing basics and more versatile clothing that you can mix and match or dress up with accessories. Bring a pair of neutral-colored sandals that coordinate with all your clothing. You may also want to bring a pair of closed toes shoes as well. Also, rolling your clothing instead of folding not only helps to minimize wrinkles, it saves space. Worried you didn’t bring enough clothing? You can always do laundry, or wash something out by hand. It’s not the end of the world. After all, traveling should be about the adventure, it’s not a fashion show.

Pack a sarong

A sarong is a very versatile item to have. Not only can it be used as a cover up at the beach, it can also be wrapped around you during chilly flights, protect you from mosquitoes at night, or be used to cover your head, shoulders or legs for modesty when entering religious sites in some countries.


I try to pack the bare minimum for toiletries. They don’t necessarily add a lot of weight, but they can take up quite a bit of space in your bag. You can always purchase travel size toiletries when you reach your destination, and then toss them before you go. I bring a toothbrush and I use a contact lenses case for face lotion, and another one for toothpaste. I also pack hand and personal wipes.


Essential electronics for me are my phone, laptop, headphones, portable power bank and international adapters, which I somehow continue to forget almost every trip.  

Other must haves for your carry-on

Travel documents:  I keep a copy of my passport in my carry-on, and I keep the original with me at all times. I also like to screen shot my itinerary and keep it in my phone for easy access if I need to present it at the airport.

Medication: I usually pack a few pain meds and vitamin C.

Ear plugs: You never know if you’ll be on a flight with a crying baby, or a group of people that didn’t book their flights far enough in advanced to be seated together. Then said group obnoxiously talks across the aisles to each other for the entire flight.

Compression socks: To help promote circulation, and reduce feet and leg swelling while sitting on a cramped flight.

Neck pillow: for those uncomfy naps we all take while flying.

Snacks: Airline food is far from filling and even further from healthy, so I like to bring cashews, dried fruit or a sliced apple and some sort of carb, like a croissant to help fight off hunger pangs during flights.

Depending on which airline you fly, you may also be allowed an additional “personal item”, such as a purse or small book bag which is always a treat. But try to not go overboard with the extra space you’ve been afforded by packing 5 extra pairs of shoes you’ll never wear. You wouldn’t want to be counterproductive to all you’ve learned today would you?

Safe travels!