TrovaTrip Blog

How to Pack a Carry-On Like a Pro

Travel with your peace of mind, not a heavy suitcase

Sure, you could load everything into a massive rolling suitcase for your next trip across the pond, but then you’re stuck lugging that monster through cobblestone streets, up staircases, and across the busy city center to your hotel. When traveling with checked luggage, most travelers will find they don’t even use everything they brought, whether it’s a few shirts that never get worn, a book that never gets read, or extraneous electronics that only get used once. 

So, for your next trip, consider traveling with just a carry-on. You’ll save money on baggage fees, save time waiting for your suitcase on the luggage carousel, and save your poor muscles from having to cart around a massive backpack or a suitcase you could fit into. Plus, carry-on bags also offer peace of mind because your bag stays with you at all times, eliminating the possibility and stress of lost luggage.

It might seem daunting to restrict your packing space so much, but carry-on travel can actually be quite liberating. Living a minimalist lifestyle during your trip will allow you to be a lot more flexible in where you go and what you do and it’s a lot easier than you think. Follow these tips to travel light like the pros. Once you do, you’ll never go back. 

TrovaTrip group of travelers standing and smiling on the beach with ocean behind them in Dominican Republic

Pack Your Personal Item Wisely

Most airlines allow a carry-on bag and a personal item, so be sure to pack both of these carefully. Know which items (like food, passports, electronics, etc.) will need to come out of your bag at security, or which items you’ll want on the plane. Keep them easily accessible to avoid rummaging through your belongings and needing to repack them all unnecessarily.

Resist the Call of Your Shoes

It doesn't matter where you’re going; you’re not going to need six pairs of shoes. There. We said it.

Wear your bulkiest shoes onto the plane to save space, and if you really need another pair, pack a pair of versatile flats or sandals that don’t take up much room in your bag. Shoes are one of the bulkiest items to pack, and even when you squash them down or stuff your socks and undies inside them, they still take up space.

Follow the 1-2-3-4-5-6 Rule

The general rule of thumb for a week-long trip is this:

  • 1 hat
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 3 bottoms
  • 4 tops
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 6 pairs of underwear.

Anything else is extraneous, and if we’re being perfectly honest here, you could easily get away with a lot less if you re-wear clothes or do some laundry while you travel. 

TrovaTrip man holding up peace signs with both arms in the air in front of a lush green waterfall in the Costa Rica jungle

Invest in Some Compression Bags

Compression bags push all the air out of your clothes, making sure they take up as little space as possible. If you fold or roll your clothes carefully and then compress them in bags (extra points if they’re organized so you can easily find what you need), you can pack them into your carry on like neatly stacked bricks. Compression bags are a solid investment for frequent travelers, and also serve the added benefit of providing protection against any leaks or rain for your belongings.

Roll Your Clothes

Rolling your clothes instead of folding them is one of the most popular tips for traveling light. It’s like the cheater’s version of packing with compression bags, and if you combine both of those tips, you’ll save even more space (and also minimize the number of wrinkles in your compressed clothes). Check out this tutorial on Youtube for tips on rolling your clothing like a pro.

Pack Pieces That Go Together

Deciding which clothes to pack can be one of the hardest parts of going on a trip. Especially when you’re traveling with just a carry-on, you need to make sure you pack clothes that are light and versatile. A great way to pack is to choose a single-color palette and make sure all your clothes fall within it, so you can mix and match all your tops and bottoms blindfolded and still end up looking great. Or bring dresses and only one or two pairs of leggings, which are much less bulky than shirts and pants. You can also choose to go with one or two ‘traveling uniforms’ that are pretty basic and similar and bring a couple of bright scarves and accessories to dress them up and make them feel different.

Go Digital Wherever You Can

Books are bulky and heavy, but an e-reader is not. If your ebooks are on a tablet that can also replace your laptop for your trip, then that’s just a bonus. Or better yet, just bring your smartphone. It can access the internet, provide you with ebooks, work as a navigational device, and even function as your camera for the trip. 

TrovaTrip group of backpackers hiking through muddy river smiling at camera and holding hiking poles in the air in the HOH River

Don’t Stress if You Forget Anything

Unless you’re traveling to an incredibly remote location, don't worry about forgetting the little things. You’ll be able to buy shampoo, toothpaste and even a warmer jacket while traveling. In fact, depending on the length of your stay, it might be in your best interest to leave some of these items, like toiletries, off your packing list entirely. You can buy them when you get there and save the space in your carry-on bag for other important things, like one more shirt or extra space for souvenirs.

Pack and Repack

If you have a tendency to overpack, then try packing your carry-on bag a few nights before you leave for your trip. Regardless of whether everything fits, go through it again the next night, and you’ll be surprised at how much stuff you decide you don’t really need to bring. Keep in mind the tips listed above, and over the course of a few days, you’ll pare down your luggage until it’s just right.

TrovaTrip group of girls sitting on a bench with a pink wall behind them and all holding up peace signs and shakas

Conclusion: Say ‘Au Revoir’ to Bulky Baggage

By following these tips while you travel, you can kiss your massive suitcase goodbye and say hello to the world of light traveling. Carry on travelers can arrive a little later to the airport, don’t have to worry about losing their bags, and can travel much more flexibly. It might take a bit of trial and error before you get it right, but that’s perfectly okay! Every test run means another trip you get to take, and that’s the fun part.