How To Always Pack a Carry On in 9 Easy Steps!

pink suitcase packing carry on

I hate to admit it, but I am a chronic over-packer! I have not been on a single trip in which I didn’t have more stuff than I needed, and more often than not I would have been fine with half the things I brought.

On my first backpacking trip I couldn’t decide which journal to use so I brought three! In the end I didn’t touch any of them and found the perfect one in a museum gift store. In this post I’ll teach you how to avoid these mistakes and start packing like a pro.

1. Research the weather

Knowing what to expect can help you pack what you really need to get the most out of your trip. It won’t be any fun if you’re boiling hot in your jeans or shivering in your tank top. I went to the Bahamas at Christmas with my family and hadn’t checked the weather, so I had to weather the storms in my sundress!

Stormy weather on Spanish Wells

You can find reliable 7-14 days forecasts anywhere online for trips that are coming up soon, and for travel that is longer or further in the future there are great sites like Holiday Weather and Met Office UK that can show you monthly averages for your destination.

2. Research the Culture

When you’re travelling, dressing for the culture is just as important as dressing for the weather! The place you’re visiting may have certain customs when it comes to clothing that you should pay attention to when packing. For certain destinations modest dressing is encouraged, whether it’s for religious, cultural, or even safety reasons. Here, blogger Jennifer Sutherland-Miller explains her experiences in Egypt and what you should pack for a trip there.

Even if the destination as a whole has a lax social dress code, think about what you’re going to do while there. When visiting churches and other religious sites it’s always best to dress respectfully and modestly. While some places provide extra covering you should be prepared with an extra scarf or sweater and long pants to cover yourself.

Church-provided skirts on Paros, Greece

Always think before you pack! a sundress that might be perfect for your beach days may not be appropriate for your cathedral tour.

3. Make a List

Once you know what kind of clothing you need to pack, it’s time to make a list! Panic over-packing is a real thing that I do before every trip, but it can be entirely avoided with a good packing checklist. Having a physical list means you’re much more likely to pack everything you need without overdoing it and helps you avoid the panic of not knowing what you need.

Again, research can help with this. Travel Checklist can help you to create a packing list based on your expected weather, planned activities, and who you’re travelling with. As an added bonus, it also provides checklists for travel prep, like renewing your passport and checking into your flight!

If you travel lots you can also create a more permanent checklist that has everything you could need for a trip!

Bullet journal packing list by Christina at 77star.net

4. Plan your Outfits

When you have your list the next step is to figure out each individual item and how they’ll work together. Sure, that gingham skirt is super cute but if all your shirts are patterned too you might want to cut it!

Make sure everything that you’re bringing works with at least a few other items so that it can all be reused in different outfits. Think about colour, patterns, and fit when you’re planning so that you can find outfits that really work.

Trying things on together can also help with this, so you know that different items look and feel good in an outfit.

5. Accessorize

Re-wearing the same clothing items for your trip can feel boring but accessories can do wonders for your outfit! Jewelry and scarves take up such little space in your bag but they can bring new life into repeated items.

This Anthropologie scarf livens up a neutral outfit

Bags and shoes take up more space but you won’t be going anywhere without them and choosing the right ones can make an outfit! Make sure you find items that balance look and functionality so that you aren’t wasting any suitcase space.

If you’re going somewhere chillier, an interesting coat can also liven up more neutral clothing for the entirety of your trip.

6. Don’t Fill your Suitcase

When I finish my first round of packing I often have a little extra space in which I like to stuff as much as I physically can before the suitcase zipper breaks. This causes tons of problems! It gives you overweight bags, too much stuff to rummage through to find anything, and no space for souvenirs!

If your bag has some extra space don’t stuff it full – rejoice! If it wasn’t on your list you probably don’t need it and if it wasn’t in your first round of packing that almost guarantees that you won’t wear it on your trip.

  1. Only bring what you actually wear

It might be tempting to think that the boho dress you feel ridiculous in at home will be perfect for your beach vacation but be wary! Sure, it may end up being the only thing you wear but in all likelihood it will sit untouched because holiday-you is not all that different from real-life-you.

I’m not saying you should completely discount these items, just be careful! If you do decide to bring something out of your usual style make sure that it fits into some planned outfits beforehand so that you don’t waste any precious space.

8. Fun-sized everything

Toiletries are the bane of every traveller’s existence. They’re heavy, they leak, and they take up so much space!

Save yourself some hassle and get a set of reusable toiletry bottles. They are much more eco and budget friendly than buying pre-packaged travel size toiletries and you can get them almost anywhere you can get toiletries. These will hold enough for a short trip and most hotels also offer free essentials so you don’t have to worry about running out.

Silicone travel bottles on Amazon

If you’re going for a longer trip you can also buy toiletries when you get there. This can be a little tricky because prices are often hiked in tourist areas but if you go to a local supermarket you should be able to find everything you need at a reasonable price.

9. Cut down!

Even with all these tips in all likelihood you will have packed more than you need.

Take some time to think about what’s in your bag and ask yourself some questions: does it fit into your planned outfits? Is it on your list? Can you see yourself wearing it?

As well, think about how much you re-wear things in your everyday life. If you often wear a shirt 2-3 times between washes that means you’ll be fine without a new shirt for each day of vacation.

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Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips and tricks for packing a carryon!

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