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9 Tips for Packing Carry-On Luggage for a Hassle-Free Trip

Even hoarders will pack light with these genius ideas for getting all your stuff in one bag small enough for the overhead compartment. Read on, and avoid the expensive, time-consuming hassle of checking a bag on your next flight.

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iStock/Uschi Hering

Reconsider those wheels

Acing the carry-on begins with the right bag. If you travel a lot, it’s worth it to invest in one you love. First, decide between a duffel or roller bag. On one hand, the roller bag is much easier to get around and will save you some massive shoulder stress. But it’s worth keeping in mind that on many full flights, the flight attendants will automatically check roller bags at the gates, while duffles tend to slide through a bit more easily. If you don’t want to risk having to check your bag plane-side, opting for a duffel may ensure your carry-on actually makes it into the overhead bin. These are the top weekender bags every travel pro swears by.

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Go versatile

Once you’ve got the right bag, it’s not just about how you pack it. What you pack makes all the difference. When possible stay away from fabrics that wrinkle easily like silks and linens and opt instead for durable cottons and jerseys. With limited space, you’ll also want to pack versatile outfits—items that layer and can be worn a few different ways will keep you looking fresh without having to pack your whole wardrobe. Staying within one color scheme makes mixing and matching easier. To help take an item from a walking tour to a nice dinner, pack jewelry to jazz up a standard dress or T-shirt. These are vacation items you’ll always regret packing.

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Bag it up

It may seem counterintuitive, but when you’re trying to streamline your packing process and simplify your carry-on, the more bags the better. Start by putting anything small—loose cords and chargers, jewelry, belts—into smaller carrying cases or sealable plastic bags. This way you won’t have a bunch of stuff you have to root around for. Secondly, repurpose any shoe or handbag dusters you’re not using to tuck away all of your shoes. Not only will it protect the shoes, it will keep them from getting everything else in your bag dirty. Finally, fold any easy-wrinkle items you do bring into garbage bags. Spread a clean plastic bag on the bed, lay your garment on top of it and fold the two together like you would normally fold the item. The plastic will help to keep wrinkles at a minimum.

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Leave liquids at home

One of the biggest headaches of carry-on travel comes when you hit the TSA line with your toiletries. To save yourself the stress, aim to pack liquid-free. After you land, make it a point to stop at one of the convenience stores on your way out of the terminal—they’re always stocked with travel friendly razors, sunscreen, shampoo, deodorant, and anything else you might need. Toss them out at the end of your trip to avoid lugging them home. These are the best ways to pack light when you travel.

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iStock/Izabela Habur

Streamline the toiletries you pack

If you do decide to bring your own toiletries—we get it, there are certain items you can’t live a long weekend without—invest in a nice, clear toiletry bag and make sure it is packed on the top of your carry on. Opting for a simple, clear container will save you a major headache when you head through security. Here’s smart advice on how to pack makeup for travel.

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Buy other essentials once you arrive

You can save yourself some added space and streamline your suitcase by planning to pick up other essentials once you arrive at your destination. Easy space savers are underwear and socks. Buy cheap ones you can toss out at the end of the trip and you’ll reap the added benefit of less laundry once you return home. Don’t want to buy new little items? These are hacks for packing little items that every traveler should know.

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Use your personal item wisely

When you aren’t checking a bag, you need every inch of usable space you can get. This means taking advantage of the one personal item you’re allowed to bring on board in addition to your carry-on bag. The first rule of thumb is to swap out your go-to cross body bag for a beach-ready tote or roomy hobo.  Second, get smart about what you pack where. Before you head to the airport, make sure all the things you’ll want on the plane (i.e. healthy snacks, reading material, chargers, makeup for a mid-flight touch up, etc.) are packed in your personal item where they’ll be within reach under the seat in front of you. There’s nothing worse than having to try to unload your carry-on from the overhead bin mid flight because your phone is about to die and you can’t remember where you packed your charger.

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Take advantage of your hotel services

If you’re staying at a hotel, don’t be afraid to use their laundry services to keep your items fresh—especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of outfit recycling. When you arrive, ask if they’ll bring a steamer to your room so you can freshen up any silk or linen items you just had to bring. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, it’s worth squeezing a travel steamer into your suitcase. It will save you a lot of stress if you realize the one nice dress you brought is unfit for dinner after being crammed into your bag. Take a look at the 50 best packing techniques before your next trip.

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Make room for souvenirs

To make up for the goodies you will inevitably pick up on your travels, plan to toss out non-essential items for your return trip when you pack. Old underwear or socks and half-empty toiletries can all go. You can also contribute any books you finished to your hotel’s reading room.