How to Pack a Carry-on With Everything You Need

Travel with less. Save money. Enjoy yourself more.

ByABC News
October 28, 2013, 2:03 PM
Carry-ons are not just for weekend jaunts.
Carry-ons are not just for weekend jaunts.
Getty Images

Oct. 28, 2013— -- I've flown to Europe for 10 days with a single carry-on. So did my wife. We had a wonderful trip and we looked fabulous. Well, Mrs. Travel Expert did, but I looked perfectly respectable.

The point being, carry-ons are not just for weekend getaway jaunts. You really can pack what you need in one small bag, which saves checked-bag fees, plus your bag will not get lost (unless you leave it in that airport Starbucks).

Precision packing isn't hard but it does require organizational skills. What follows are tips that work for me, plus others from veteran travelers that seem efficient and fun. Which reminds me, don't miss the Guy Method at the very end.

1. Before You Pack

Use the right bag: Even for carry-ons, size matters. The typical airline allowance is up to 45 inches total, the figure you get by adding width plus depth plus length (United limits you to14 x 9 x 22 inches). Discount carriers, especially in Europe, can be even more restrictive so find out your airline's carry-on allowance before you pack (see baggage information on your airline's website).

Think outside the bag: Not everything needs to be packed. Hand-carry all delicate electronics, including your iPad. As for expensive jewelry, wear it and leave it in the hotel safe when you're not. Even better, leave it at home. The only people who will miss your dazzling display are the thieves.

Double-duty supplies: Hotel shampoo makes an excellent substitute for laundry detergent, and women have told me that makeup foundation makes a fine eye shadow base, whatever that is. Other females recommend buying a souvenir t-shirt first thing for an instant bedtime ensemble.

Think light: Shoes are weighty and take up space,so wear your heaviest pair on the plane and pack just one more. Even better, try to get by with one pair; the good news is today's designers seem to be competing with one other to see who can offer the biggest selection of good-looking, comfortable footwear.

Material matters: Denim is heavier than khaki so wear your jeans on the plane. Then there's the matter of volume; one of my employees says she always packs dresses instead of pants outfits to save on space.

Shampoo and such: Most of us are aware that even the least expensive motels offer free shampoo these days, so use that.Or use your friends' or family's, but ask first! Or buy what you need at your destination and discard what's left when it's time to leave. You'll only be out a couple of bucks.

2. Getting Started

Choose your travel outfit: Figure this out first then work from there. Remember to wear your heaviest stuff.

Choose clothes to pack: I live by the mantra "less is more" and here's a "quantity" rule of thumb: Shirts get worn for two days, pants get worn for three. Pack clothes you like and are comfortable in. Coordinating colors makes sense, too. A fashionista of my acquaintance says to pair navy with khaki or beige, pastels with whites, black with anything. "Add a pop of color with scarves or costume jewelry, but you'd be surprised how few people care what the heck you wear," she adds.

3. Actual Packing Methods

Try one, or try them all. I find a combination of methods works best for me.

Nesting doll method: Fill all empty spaces. Example: Stick socks and underwear in plastic grocery bags then shove those into shoes or corners of your bag. If packing an extra purse, fill that too. If you'll need a coat or jacket where you're going, wear it and load up the pockets.

Rolled clothes: Clothes actually come out surprisingly wrinkle-free, says a friend, who rolls up polo tops, sweaters, pants and even dresses, then stands all the rolls upright on end in a squishy gym-type bag. She claims she could pack enough for a month.

Layering: I've seen this done with clothes (on hangers) and it looks ingenious. You start by placing about half a pair of pants flat in a small suitcase with the other half outside the bag; then, place half of another pair on top again with half hanging out of the bag on the other side, and ultimately you fold the top parts over what's already in the bag but --maybe you'd better watch the video.

Human luggage: A company called Jaktogo offers some very unusual bags that convert into a coat or long vest or even a dress. In other words, wearable luggage, but I'll be frank: You will look strange. You will also get a whole lot of stuff onboard the plane and since you're wearing your luggage, you won't have to fight over bin space. Or you could just don a Scottevest and load that up. Or load up your own coat pockets.

The Guy method: I want to be perfectly clear, I have never tried this method but I've heard so many legends about it I felt compelled to pass it along. It's a classic lighten-your-load procedure that works like this:

A. Pack your oldest underwear (the ones with the most holes in them)B. Discard after wearing

I am told this method leaves lots of room for Vegas souvenirs.