Tips on How to Pack a Carry-on

For some travelers, the mere thought of packing a carry-on bag can sour even the most potent vacation anticipation. But packing light can also be a creative endeavor that helps build excitement for your upcoming getaway. And with fees for checked bags on the rise, it makes economic sense to master the art of packing a carry-on. Here are some tips on how to save space — and your sanity.

If you tend to over-pack, begin by thinking about why you’re traveling in the first place. Doing so may help you focus on the many sights, sounds, scents and tastes you’re about to experience instead of the many outfits you’re unable to cram into your bag.

“It’s all about the mind-set,” said Pauline Frommer, co-president of the Frommer’s Guidebooks and, who has not checked a bag in more than 20 years. “When you’re traveling,” she explained, “it’s more about you seeing the world than the world seeing you.”

Pack colors that coordinate so you can bring fewer items yet still have options, like re-wearing the same pants with various shirts. Darker colors mean a stain won’t render something unwearable. And invest in some technical clothing. Such pieces keep you warm without being bulky, are easy to move in, have pockets for necessities like glasses and cellphones, and resist water as well as odors so they can be worn more than once. Many outdoor apparel brands (Patagonia and Arc’teryx, to name a couple) make clothes that are great for hiking yet sleek enough to dress up when the sun goes down. Just pack some eye-catching accessories.

“I tend to maybe throw in a necklace,” Ms. Frommer said, which she wears on top of her day clothing “to make it look more dressy.”

There is no perfect carry-on for everyone. To determine the bag that’s best for you, ask yourself how you’ll be using it. Will you be carrying it long distances, through subway turnstiles and city streets? Or will you typically be rolling off a plane and into a car? Bags with wheels tend to be less taxing on your body, though if you’ll be taking public transportation or flights of stairs, a backpack or lightweight duffel can keep you hands-free and may make for smoother transitions. Also consider the things you’ll be bringing. Structured, harder luggage is often best for keeping dress clothes wrinkle-free and organizing unwieldy items like high heels. That said, a soft duffel bag without wheels has a better chance of being able to squish into an overhead bin.

Nerissa Settie, who, as the butler executive at Raffles Doha in Qatar trains the butler team and oversees day-to-day operations, wrote in an email that “each option offers a different benefit,” with duffel bags providing more depth, and wheeled bags providing more compartments and less strain on your shoulders. If you opt for the latter, buy a bag with four wheels, Ms. Settie advised, which is easier to maneuver along an aircraft aisle.

Whatever bag you choose, know the rules. Carry-on bag dimensions vary by airline, so be sure to check your specific airline’s size and weight requirements, including those of any connecting carriers.

Also pay attention to your route and fare class, which can affect the number of bags you’re allowed to carry on, as well as their weight. And remember: While your bag may comply with the carry-on policy, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be allowed to bring it on. For instance, if you’re in a low boarding group, you’re more likely to have to gate-check your bag. With that in mind, keep essential items like medicines in a small bag that can easily fit under the seat in front of you. If you’re unsure about whether you’re allowed to pack a particular item, check out the government websites for the places you plan to travel through, such as the Transportation Security Administration’s What Can I Bring? page and the European Commission’s Information for Air Travellers page.

When it comes to packing your clothes, the question is: Should you fold them flat or roll them? Ms. Settie recommends rolling because it uses less space and results in fewer creases. That’s easy enough with T-shirts, but what about a suit jacket? The butlers at Raffles Doha use a technique that involves turning one shoulder of the jacket inside-out and then tucking the opposite shoulder inside it, aligning the sleeves and then folding the jacket in half while inside-out, which minimizes wrinkling and helps protect the outer layer of the jacket (Ms. Settie shared instructions here). Or simply wear your blazer onto the plane, something Ms. Settie suggests because jackets and jeans take up a lot of space and weigh more. Besides, she said, doing so gives you “the added benefit of traveling in style.”

As you place items in your bag, think about balance. Put heavier items, like shoes, at the bottom (near the wheels, if your bag has them). Ms. Frommer said she typically packs two pairs and stashes things such as socks and jewelry in them.

Clothing should go toward the top of your bag to reduce creases created from weight, with jackets going in last, Ms. Settie said. You can also add a layer of protection from wrinkles by putting skirts and blouses in plastic dry cleaning bags before folding them flat and then placing them at the top of your bag.

A bit of research ahead of time can free up a lot of room. Call your hotel or vacation rental to find out if items like hair dryers and sunscreen are provided so you don’t have to pack your own, and ask if they have washing machines or offer cleaning at reasonable prices.

And don’t worry about packing for every possible eventuality. Buying practical things while you’re away can be great fun. It’s an opportunity to talk with locals, try regional products (like the affordable beauty elixirs found in Parisian pharmacies) and, of course, bring a few treasures home, thanks to all that room that’s left in your bag.

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