Packing 201: How to Get the Most out of a Carry-On

Last spring I wrote a review of my brand new Away Carry-On Luggage. This handy piece of luggage is now a year old. And I love it even more than I did then. Since it’s last whirlwind tour of the US (Miami, Boston, San Fran, Hawaii, Key West) my dear sweet friend went on to see Portugal, Block Island, Dallas, Los Angeles, Japan and countless other places. It rides the subway, sits stoically in ferry storage, and always elicits envy at the airport.

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Me and my beloved from last year’s post

Next week, it departs for its third international trip and I thought it would be a great time to share how I mange to utilize carry-on luggage for extended and distant trips. Something my friends and coworkers always admire (or perhaps, talk about behind my back) is my uncanny ability to fit a serious amount of items into this little carry-on. For work trips I am often carrying 3 pairs of shoes (running shoes, heels, flats) and wearing my Chucks on to the flight. I’ve gotten my packing style down to the last inch and so I’m here sharing my not-so-secret packing tips for when you just don’t want to check a bag. (Ever.)

Part A

I always, always assemble outfits on the bed before I even start to pack them. Things I take into consideration when picking out outfits are:

  • Length of trip
  • Weather in location(s) I am traveling to (is both tricky and fun when you have two climates in one trip)
  • Formality of any and all events
  • How many days I plan to workout
  • Any potential need for an outfit change (casual day but formal dinner etc.)
Organizing Outfits

Then I decide what I will wear each day, including the multiple outfits. If I am unsure about something, I’ll try and pack a spare or two in opposing categories (extras for a casual outfit and extras for something more put together.)

I try to repeat what I can. (Blazers, shoes, jeans.) And I also like to wear a t-shirt and shorts to bed and then workout in the them the next day. So for a 3 day trip I am only packing 3 sleep/workout outfits instead of 6. And then I move on to bras and underwear.

Fun Story: I forgot to pack bras the week I spent in Portugal but it worked out. I just went braless for the week!

Part B

I organize. At this point I am STILL not putting things in my suitcase but organizing what I pulled out. I do try to keep like items with like items, as that helps with packing and space. But I also am mindful of when I will need said item. If I know my nice dinner is the last day of my trip I’ll pack it first. If it’s my first day, I’ll pack it last and lay it on top. I double check I have the right clothes for each day. I count this through multiple times. At this point I am certain my boyfriend, Frank, thinks I am nuts.

Part C

Finally, I start to pack. I start with shoes. I always pack them on the same side of my luggage and depending on the kind I will wrap them in plastic so they don’t get anything else gross. Then I pack the clothes, with what I will wear last going in first. On my last trip to Japan I packed my giant, insulated LL Bean boots and utilized their interiors by packing all my cords, adapters and chargers into them. In my mind, if it’s air, it’s space and something can fit in there!

I fold everything as neatly as I can but ultimately I will have to iron certain items at hotel. Especially when I am traveling for work and wearing business attire. Anything that can survive being rolled, gets rolled. Like underwear, socks, and workout clothes.

Part D

Then it’s on to accessories, cosmetics and skincare. I follow a similar process and keep the same things featured in Part A in mind. I pack my makeup in a single makeup bag, any skincare liquids into ziplocs, and then pack my straightener and hair brush items loosely into the center pocket of my luggage. If I have a manuscript I am editing I slip it in here sometimes too so it can lay flat.

Makeup Bag getting started…

Anything I need for my flight I leave out to be packed into the handbag or backpack I will have at my seat. On long international flights this includes a toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, face wipes, and one or two face creams or serums. I don’t do a real aggressive skincare on the flight because that feels sort of rude to other passengers. Instead, every couple of hours, I opt to sanitize my hands, wipe my face down, and apply a very hydrating cream or serum. The hand lotion is so handy because the soap in the bathrooms really strip the skin!

Part E

I follow Steps A-D for my in seat purse or backpack. Which I also take great care in packing correctly. I spend a great deal of time organizing very pocket so I know exactly where everything I need is.

For long flights I make sure to include skincare items noted above, charging cords/charger, and enough reading material to keep me sane. Lip balm, pens, and my journal are also must haves. I try to keep it as light as possible so I can pack snacks and anything I may pick up at the airport inside. I also like to download Netflix movies and shows to my phone while I am on my home Wi-Fi, as well as full playlists on Spotify. This was especially handy on my 14 hour flight to Tokyo where I had seen all but 2 of the movies!

What I have at my seat.


This process definitely takes time, perhaps an hour for me and I am an old pro! But for me the extra time is so worth it. I love never having to check bag, never having to wait for a bag, and never losing a bag. It’s always a great method for just staying organized in general. Even if you’re checking a bag, this process will help keep you organized while you travel.

I’d love to hear your packing questions, so lay them on me!

In the Wild: 2 Tiny Bags for 7 days in Japan

2 thoughts on “Packing 201: How to Get the Most out of a Carry-On

  1. I would to see someone post a realistic packing list. I have been to over 65 countries, some of them more than a few times, so very efficient in my opinion on what to pack. Not so much the clothes, which I roll, but the necessities that we need when we travel. I always pack a very small First Aid Kit., Talc, Deodorant wipes, facecloth, Nail file, Wire Hanger, slippers, Eye drops, Panty liners & wipes. Ziplock Bags. Small flashlight. Granola Bars. Tote Bag. Sewing Kit. Liisterine Tabs. Shampoo Bar. Wet Wipes.Scotch tape. Poncho. Compression Bag. Bounce sheets. 1 strip duct tape.(yes suitcase damaged one time) All in a Carry-On for one or two weeks. Does any one else go to this much trouble. Love to see other people’s idea’s and what they take that came in useful.


    1. Hi Sue! I can’t believe I am just seeing your comment… I guess I have been a little off due to the pandemic. I guess it depends on how you are vacationing. At the time of this post I was traveling frequently for work and staying in hotels so some of those items were always readily available at the small shops in the hotel or nearby. I was typically in large cities where things were accessible in walking distance (Miami, SFO, LA, BOS, etc). I always bring extra snacks though because I have a dietary restriction. 🙂


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