Whether you’re flying international or just taking a quick trip home for the holidays, you only need a carry on bag. Stick around and I’ll not only explain why, I’ll teach you how to pack it like a pro.
Why a Carry On Bag Is All You Need.
Maybe I should rephrase that as why only bringing one bag will make your life easier. Checking luggage is an ordeal. Costly, time consuming, and often a gamble, I’d rather avoid it altogether.
Save on Money.
Forego those luggage fees by bringing just a personal item and a carry on. You can use the money you save to buy yourself a kick ass souvenir. Or maybe an extra cocktail at the hostel’s happy hour. Or a gondola tour. I actually don’t care what you spend it on, as long as it’s not your luggage.
Additionally, with just a carry on, you’ll also be able to take advantage of budget airlines, especially if you’re taking a European trip. There’s not much room on those tiny planes, so you can’t bring your bulky checked bag anyway. If you’re looking to take advantage of that $25 flight between Milan and Barcelona, carry on bag is the only way to go.
Save on Time.
Don’t want to wait in line to check your bag? Don’t want to wait around at the baggage claim to pick it up? Then don’t! It’s as easy as that.
Another great advantage of traveling light is the new “One-Stop” customs policy that the U.S. has implemented. If you don’t have any checked luggage, you get to skip the huge customs line! I did this for the first time last summer when my sister and I went to Cancun, Mexico. It was awesome. We got in the “Carry Through” line and waited for maybe fifteen minutes. The only reason it even took that long was because one of the APC (Automated Passport Control) machines malfunctioned. Our passports were stamped and we were ready to go in no time!
Save on Stress.
Oh, the stress of checking a bag! If you’ve ever checked a bag, you’ve run the risk of arriving at your destination without it. The first time this happened to me, I was sixteen, setting out on my first international flight. Right out of the gate, something went wrong. And by that I mean we didn’t make it out of the gate. Flying from Orlando to Philly to Dublin, our first flight was delayed by storms. Good old Florida!
So we missed our connection and didn’t arrive in Dublin until two days later. Because both of my bags were checked, I wore the same t-shirt, jeans, and underwear for two days. It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t good.
Travel hack: If you are asked to check your carry on bag at the gate, prepare for such a calamity. Transfer the following items to your backpack, purse, etc. – your toiletries bag or at least your toothbrush and deodorant, some undies, a fresh shirt, and a pair of socks.
We arrived in Dublin and our baggage was there waiting for us, but it was a stressful couple of days. The last time I was in Italy, I was not as lucky. Imagine my surprise when I landed in Rome and my bag did not. Wrestling with customer service in a foreign country is no one’s idea of a good start to their vacay.
Instead of playing Russian Roulette with your belongings (and personal hygiene… yikes!) just skip the checked bag. I promise you don’t need that extra pair of shoes. Don’t believe me? Allow me to elaborate.
How to Fit Everything You Need in a Carry On Bag
You might be wondering, how can you pack everything you need for a week-long, two-week long, month-long (!) journey in one bag without running out of clothes. Or looking like a frump. I could give you the generic advice. Use packing cubes (I do highly recommend this). Roll your clothes, don’t fold. Wear your bulkiest items on travel days. These are all great pieces of advice, but the key to carry on travel is the capsule wardrobe.
The Capsule Wardrobe
Now, if you’ve been on Pinterest literally ever, you’ve probably heard of the capsule wardrobe. If not, I’ll help you out. Step 1) buy the basics in a neutral color scheme; Step 2) buy accent pieces in colors that complement each other; Step 3) mix and match your mini wardrobe to your heart’s content. I’ve personally never been able to fully commit to the capsule wardrobe. The idea of owning 25 items of clothing total gives me heart palpitations. But when it comes to traveling, capsule wardrobe is the only way to go.
Here’s my formula for success:
1. Pick a color scheme.
The best way to maximize your bag space is to make sure all of your pieces coordinate. You could go with a neutral base and some accent colors like a normal capsule wardrobe (very continental). Or you could do what I do. I have about five distinct color palettes in my closet that I draw from when making my packing lists. This wasn’t intentional, but I find that I’ve accumulated clothes in these colors over the years for a variety of reasons. They look good with my skin tone or I bought them to pair with an item I already owned or I just like the color. If you look in your closet, it probably looks pretty similar.
Travel hack: I extend this rule to my makeup bag as well. Neutral eye shadow palette (if I even bring eye shadow) and only one lip color that fits the chosen color scheme.
2. Try the pieces on together.
Trust me, you don’t want to skip this step.
So, pour yourself a glass of wine or blend up a margarita and have a mini fashion show. Ideally, each top should pair with each bottom. Pack items that can be dressed up or down so you’re never unprepared. I like t-shirt dresses for this but a nice pair of jeans are also a great choice. The goal is to create as many outfits as possible with the fewest number of items.
3. Don’t forget the shoes.
Remember, your shoes are part of your wardrobe and need to match everything. Don’t bring that pair of neon green sneaks unless neon green is part of your color scheme (in which case, I’d like to see your closet). I usually stick to just a pair of walking shoes and a dressier pair of sandals. Obviously this changes depending upon the weather and location, but comfort is key.
All the Rest of It.
So, what about everything that’s not clothing? My best advice is consider it long and hard before putting it in that bag. Toiletries can almost always be found in travel-size. But, on the off-chance that you can’t find your ride-or-die moisturizer/shampoo/face wash in mini, you can buy 3 oz. containers and make your own portable kit.
Also, come up with a game plan for souvenirs. I like to leave room in my carry on bag (yes, you really can pack it that efficiently) for must-haves. Breakables go in my personal item so that I can keep an eye on them more easily. Consider, too, the option of sending souvenirs back care of post. This option can be tricky or costly, though, so always research local postage rules and rates.
Travel hack: Use a backpack as your personal item rather than a purse. Might not fit your ~travel aesthetic~ but if you play your cards right, you basically have two carry on bags for the price of one.
Ready to Try It?
Packing light isn’t as hard as it seems, and you don’t have to wear all black. Unless that’s your thing. Plus, the money, time, and peace of mind you’ll save with just a carry on bag far outweighs any inconvenience or fashion emergency. Trust me, when you’re captivated by the blue, blue Adriatic, what you’re wearing doesn’t matter anyway.