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Packing Tips for a Carry-On Only

Traveling with just a small "carry-on" bag sounds good, but many people are hesitant to try it. It's often easier to stick with what we know, packing everything "just in case," instead of trying a new, lighter way of traveling.

But those who have switched to packing lighter often find that the benefits are much better than the initial uncertainty.

I used to pack a lot when our family traveled. Every time we flew to visit family, we would check luggage at the airport—twice a year.

Our journey to change our travel habits started when I learned about minimalism. As we owned fewer things at home, it made sense to apply minimalism principles to how I packed for travel.

I can't remember the first vacation where we brought only carry-on luggage, but I do remember how much easier it made traveling. We committed to never going back to our old way of traveling.

Recently, I went on an international trip with a friend and told him we weren't waiting at baggage claim. He had to pack in a carry-on for the trip. After breezing through customs back home, he said, "You were right! This is so much easier. I am never checking luggage again."

As a family, we do the same on almost every trip. Each of us packs a carry-on—no more. Even on last summer's three-week book tour, we all used carry-on size suitcases.

This not only makes packing and unpacking easy but also eliminates the chaos of going through a large suitcase with everyone's stuff inside.

If you're intrigued by the idea of making this switch, you'll love it!

Here are some practical steps to help you get started:

1: Have confidence that it can be done.

Don't think that packing light is impossible or that your situation makes it too hard. Many people do it regularly.

People of all kinds—different ages, genders, trip durations, and family sizes—manage to pack light. If they can do it, so can you.

2: Consider things carefully.

My mom once told me, "Packing too much is just being lazy." And she's correct!

To pack like a minimalist, you need to plan carefully—think about what you need every day and only bring things that meet those needs without extra stuff.

But putting in careful effort before the trip starts can save you physical and mental stress during the trip.

3: Organize your clothes for the trip.

Don't just throw things into your suitcase without thinking.

Organize your clothes based on what you'll be doing each day. Later on, I'll talk about mixing and matching and reusing, especially with outerwear.

4: Bring clothes that can be used in different ways.

Select clothes that are flexible and can be mixed and matched.

Stick to neutral colors—they are helpful. Think about layering possibilities. For instance, a light sweater can quickly turn a summer outfit into something suitable for a cool evening.

5: Wear the same outfits more than once.

It might sound a bit different, but most people won't even notice. I'm not saying you should wear dirty clothes repeatedly, but many clothes, especially pants, can be worn multiple times before washing.

Feel free to wear the same outfit more than once, especially if you're mixing and matching different pieces.

6: Get ready for washing clothes.

On longer trips, you'll need to wash your clothes. Find places to stay that have laundry facilities or find nearby laundromats. Many hotels and most Airbnb accommodations have washing machines. If needed, you can even wash things by hand.

7: Don't buy souvenirs.

You won't have space for many souvenirs, but you'll enjoy not having to spend time shopping during your trips.

Keep in mind, travel is about the memories, not the things you bring back. If you want to show you went on a trip, photos or small mementos like postcards can be just as meaningful, if not more so, than big souvenirs.

8: Bring small-sized liquid containers for travel.

You can't bring a lot of liquids in your carry-on bag, especially when flying. So, pay extra attention to this.

Most toiletries are available in travel/sample sizes, which is what I use. But for certain items, there are TSA-compliant options to help you stay within the allowed limit.

9: If needed, roll your clothes.

If you're almost there but can't quite fit everything into a carry-on suitcase, try rolling your clothes instead of folding them flat. You'll be surprised at how much more clothing you can pack this way.

Keep in mind, it might require ironing at your destination, so it's not my favorite method all the time. However, if you're very close to making it work, and there's an iron available, give it a try!

Personally, I tend to roll my clothes more for the return trip when I know there's a washing machine waiting for me at home. But you can do it either way.

10: Keep your shoe choices to a minimum.

Limit the number of shoes you bring. Shoes can take up a lot of space in your suitcase. Stick to a couple of versatile pairs that can be used for different occasions, and consider wearing your bulkiest pair during your journey.

One common reason for overpacking is the fear of running out of clothes. The idea is, "I'd rather have more than I need on a trip than be lacking something."

While this may seem logical at first, it overlooks the downsides of carrying extra baggage. More clothes mean more weight to carry, more items to keep track of, more time spent packing and unpacking, more worries about losing luggage, and more time wasted at the airport.

In contrast, a minimalist approach offers benefits like simplicity, convenience, and the joy of focusing on the travel experience rather than managing belongings.

With careful planning, the advantages—saving time, reducing stress, and the joy of traveling light—far outweigh the minor inconvenience of potentially doing some laundry.

If you've never tried it, I recommend giving it a shot. I can almost guarantee that by the end of your first trip, you'll think to yourself, "You were so right! This is much easier. I am never checking luggage again."


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