(Originally written May, 2018, updated September 24, 2019) She looks as though she is about to burst into tears. With her husband gently rubbing her back, the two travelers stare longingly at the luggage carousel. The now empty clanking belt refuses to give up the treasured suitcase. Seeing the glum expressions we silently thank the luggage gods that we have been packing carry on for years.

The tropical sunshine greets us as we leave the two to begin their painful tracking process of the missing bag.

Packing Carry On
Click to see our best carry on bag
“I could never take just carry on luggage!” The response to our travel carry on policy is often an intense one.

There is no doubt that packing carry on for your travels takes some practice and planning. However not as much effort as dealing with an insurance policy when your suitcase is never found, vanishing into thin air over the Pacific Ocean.

A sad but true story of a friend. Unfortunately stolen luggage is a reality. Our friend hopes someone is enjoying her jewellery and fancy underwear.

No time to read this now? Pin it for later!

Wishing you could travel light but just don't know how to pack? Click to learn packing hacks, packing tips and best carry on bag so you can pack carry on for a month or more #traveltips #packing #packingtips #packinglight

If you are a traveler with all the time in the world then delayed luggage may not be a big deal to you. At this point in our lives, luggage that arrives two days late on a seven day holiday makes my eye bulge out of its socket. Frankly we don’t have time for it nor spare eyeballs to replace those flying out of my head.

On a recent trip we watched members of our tour group wait anxiously for their missing luggage not knowing if they would have to depart without their cycling gear. A distressing turn of events when one travels half way around the world for a biking trip.


Couple with travel clothes
Click to see our best carry on bag

Packing carry on takes a big slice of stress out travel. Getting on the plane I know exactly where my carry on bag is with all of my travel items. Our vacation fun can begin the minute we arrive. Returning home I am so relieved to just walk out of the airport without another wait for the luggage and the anxiety of whether it will arrive or not. The checked bags of our friends arrived two days after they did. Another true travel headache.

Mistakes We Made Finding a Carry on Bag

Confession time. Our storage room holds a secret. A huge bin jammed full of assorted carry on bags. It took us a decade to find the right carry on luggage. You can imagine how much money we wasted finding the best bags for travel.

A back pack carry on would seem to be perfect. The truth is it becomes a black hole. With the only entry from the top, finding anything you have packed resembles mining for gold.

A duffle bag has a wider opening so better to see what is actually in the carry on bag. However a duffle bag is challenging to carry by the handle or with a shoulder strap.

Perfect carry on bag packed


A hard shell roller suitcase is easy to move around the airport and opens with full viewing. Sadly it often does not make the cut off for weight requirements on some airlines. Some carry on roller bags take up most of the airline carry on weight restriction when empty!

Time and again we have seen people pulled aside to check their roller suitcases. You thought you were packing carry on only to have your luggage disappear.

More entertaining is watching travelers trying to jam their hard sided luggage into a measuring device or an overhead bin on a plane.

So what is the best carry on bag? After a decade of painful lessons learned this is what works best.

A soft bag, that can be worn as a back pack, used with a shoulder strap as a duffel or carried  as a suitcase. Opening like a suitcase our gold mining days are over. We have never had an issue fitting it into a measuring device or getting it into an overhead compartment no matter how small the plane. It also meets the carry on size requirements of most airlines.


Save Your Money – Don’t Buy Packing Cubes

Gasp! Packing cubes are billed as the answer to travel packing nightmares. I am cheap, no not even frugal, I am cheap.

Instead of purchasing packing cubes, buy a variety of sizes of good quality zipper-seal type bags. Weighing next to nothing, a traveler can easily see at a glance what is inside. Besides that they are waterproof and the air can be squeezed out to save space. Did I mention they are affordable?

Pack extra zipper-seal bags of assorted sizes for everything from organizing gear, protecting your phone in the rain, storing snacks to using a bag as a makeshift glove when fixing a bike chain.

Either pack the bags by sliding them into one of the larger bags or rolling them and fastening with elastics.

Packing carry on cosmetics in zip lock bag

You are welcome. Put the money towards your next trip.

Packing cosmetics – How much make up do you really need?

“Just my cosmetics alone fill up my carry on bag!” When I hear this from carry on only naysayers I will confess to cocking my head sideways like a confused puppy.

If this is you I have some packing homework for you. Buy, beg or borrow several [easyazon_link identifier=”B00DEVMNT8″ locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]contact lens cases[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B004HCECVA” locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]small travel bottle containers[/easyazon_link].

Fill them with your must-have liquid cosmetics. Use them daily to see how much of the liquid is gone at one week, two weeks and so on. My guess is you will be in for a surprise as to how little you use. Goodbye oversized containers!

Be sure to label the containers so that you do not end up using hair product as eye cream.

Due to airline liquid requirements you will need to get all liquids in containers no larger than 100 millilitres (3.4 ounces).

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00DEVMNT8″ locale=”US” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]Save money and space by using contact lens cases[/easyazon_link]


How Many Pairs of Shoes Should I Pack?

Let us all take a deep breath together now shall we? You can not take six pairs of shoes and do airline carry on only. Unless you are prepared to fly wearing  several on your feet at one time.

Homework time again. Find one pair of [easyazon_link identifier=”B071RSZ9WH” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]comfortable walking sandals[/easyazon_link] and one pair of [easyazon_link keywords=”womens lightweight sneakers or runners” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]women’s lightweight sneakers or runners.[/easyazon_link]

Wear the heaviest pair of shoes on the plane. Sounds simple right? It will take some research. Never buy a pair of shoes at the last minute before you travel. Your feet may never forgive you.

Neutral travel clothes and shoes for travel

On the other hand be sure your shoes are in great shape. I made the mistake of packing a very comfortable and well used pair of sandals to Turkey and they disintegrated in Istanbul. Have I mentioned you should always pack duct tape? It makes a beautiful fashion statement.

If weight allows, ladies you can sneak in a thin pair of [easyazon_link identifier=”B000QJIME6″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]black flip flops[/easyazon_link] which can work nicely with a dress or skirt or lounging by the pool.

Wearing scarf and flip flops travel[easyazon_link identifier=”B000QJIME6″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”] Check out these inexpensive and easy to pack black flip flops[/easyazon_link]


Packing Carry On – The Ultimate Rule

Your carry on bag is an area of love and friendship for your packed travel items. Each article of clothing must be able to be worn with every other item in the bag. If a piece of clothing doesn’t meet that requirement it is not suitable for travel carry on. Period. That is a hard and fast rule of how to pack for a trip.

Pick a color theme, I suggest something neutral and work from there.

How to Pack for a Trip – The Basics

Wrinkle free, lightweight, easy wash and quick drying.  At least 90% of what you pack should fit that description. Your clothing will be tightly packed and need washing either by hand or in a washing machine, should you be lucky enough to come by one.

3 pairs of underwear. Nothing more to say. [easyazon_link keywords=”quick drying women’s travel underwear” locale=”US” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]Buy hand washable and quick drying[/easyazon_link]Scarf for travel

Layer up. Rather than packing heavy warmer clothes think about multiple layers. Ladies think camisole, t-shirt, long sleeved shirt, [easyazon_link identifier=”B01GFGEVWA” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]rain jacket[/easyazon_link]. I like to take a thin [easyazon_link identifier=”B00QMQZXCQ” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]down jacket[/easyazon_link]. Down compacts easily and is lightweight. I did not take the down jacket to Africa but there were evenings I could have used it.

One sweater, fleece or hoodie – No you can not have all three. For me this item is the most precious of all carry on packing items. I wear a long hoodie on the plane, as a warm layer, over my shoulders or wrapped around my waist. During chilly mornings on safari I used the hood.

Clothing for packing carry on

[easyazon_link keywords=”Hoodies and sweaters for travel” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″] Compare prices of hoodies and sweaters for travel[/easyazon_link]

Zip off pants. Some people wail and moan at the unfashionable thought of [easyazon_link keywords=”womens zip off pants” locale=”US” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]zip off pants[/easyazon_link] but we recommend them for packing carry on successfully.

Zip off pants are great for cool day starts that turn into heat waves. Basically it is two for the price of one. Did I mention I am cheap?

Skirt or dress. I love a [easyazon_link identifier=”B00378QBV4″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]comfortable skirt[/easyazon_link] that coordinates with any of the shirts I have packed. If you need to attend dressier events a [easyazon_link keywords=”black dress” locale=”US” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]black dress[/easyazon_link] can be the perfect answer.

[easyazon_image align=”center” height=”500″ identifier=”B001MS8858″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://traveltalesoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/41miQvYFIuL.jpg” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ width=”384″]

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00378QBV4″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”] Find your perfect travel skirt here[/easyazon_link]

Lightweight scarves. Change the look of outfits with [easyazon_link keywords=”scarves” locale=”US” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]brightly colored scarves[/easyazon_link] I pack three for a month.

Scarves weigh little and take up virtually no space. I always wear the largest one on the plane which works as a shawl or blanket if I happen to pick a seat closest to the cold air vents. A scarf can also be used to cover up in a church or temple, be used as a towel or protection from the sun.

Scarf for packing carry on

Bring a lot of books. That’s right packing carry on you can bring as many as you like. In digital form. I use my phone to read, Hubby prefers his [easyazon_link identifier=”B00GQDBZUY” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]small tablet[/easyazon_link]. We download the guidebooks we need as well.

Leave your wallet at home. Take only the cards that you need to travel. Getting rid of the weight of your wallet can be significant in getting to your packing carry on goal. We always recommend the use of a [easyazon_link keywords=”money belt” locale=”US” tag=”traveltalesof-20″]money belt.[/easyazon_link]

Get a Travel Purse or “Camera Bag”

In a drawer in my bedroom hides another ten years of travel mistakes. Finding the right travel purse apparently ranks with the difficulty of finding the meaning of life. Big enough to hold what I need on a flight but not so big as to look as though I am moving a house.

Guest and doormen Victoria Falls hotel

[easyazon_link identifier=”B01AR78FXY” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”] Get your own perfect travel purse[/easyazon_link]

I do not want to be the traveler who has the strap of their purse slashed or a zipper undone. In all honesty I often wear a money belt but will have a small amount of cash and my phone in my purse. Call me cautious or a worry wart but safety is high on my priority travel list.

For the last two years I have been using this [easyazon_link identifier=”B01AR78FXY” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”]travel purse[/easyazon_link] and loving it. The main zippered compartment locks, any cards carried in the provided slots are blocked from RIFD skimming and the shoulder strap can not be cut.

For long haul flights I always wear a great pair of compression socks. Although when not in use they do take up space in my carry on, my feet feel ready to hit the ground running on arrival.

My Husband’s ‘Camera Bag’

For years I have been requesting, some might call it nagging, my husband to get a man purse. Somehow I tire of carrying his tablet, glasses and headphones in my perfect travel purse. Go figure.

We settle on a ‘camera bag’ which looks similar to a man purse but is tagged as a camera bag. Bless the marketing gods of retail.

[easyazon_image align=”center” height=”500″ identifier=”B00MOF6G66″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://traveltalesoflife.com/wp-content/uploads/51E6NfZV5qL.jpg” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ width=”369″]

[easyazon_link identifier=”B00MOF6G66″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”traveltalesof-20″ localize=”y”] Learn more about this camera bag[/easyazon_link]

These second carry on purses, I mean camera bags,  can hold heavy articles such as photography equipment and liquids. This becomes especially important on airlines with a lower carry on weight limit.

Our special tips for successful carry on packing every time

Always check carry on weight and size requirements for the airline you are flying on. Stick to the guidelines. Some airlines weigh each bag others don’t take a second glance. That can change flight to flight so play it safe.

Don’t be the last person on the plane. We are not suggesting you block the way of seniors and babies in strollers while boarding. However try to be on the plane at the first possible time to ensure your carry on luggage has room available in the over head bin.

Scarves for carry on packing

If you are close to your weight limit, put heavier items in your purse or camera bag. Photography equipment is notoriously heavy. You can rearrange your items once you are on the plane.

Wear your carry on bag as a back pack when boarding.  Your now carry on back pack appears smaller to airline staff on your back then if it is being wheeled or carried. Time after time we have seen those with rollers pulled aside to have their bags checked as we are invited on the plane with our carry on bags.

Best carry on bag packed

Leave the hair dryer at home. Many accommodations provide one if you absolutely need it.

Think of alternatives to liquids. Insect repellent wipes rather than spray. Make up remover pads rather than liquid face wash as examples.

Roll your clothes. If you  pack wrinkle free fabrics this will be the best way to save space.

Put smaller items in the corners. Squeeze socks, underwear and scarves into the corners of the carry on bag. Empty space is a treasure in a carry on suitcase.

Compress larger items. For clothing you may use infrequently such as rain jackets, roll and then wrap with a few elastic bands to take up less space. We do this with our padded cycling shorts when not in use as well.

Make your items do double duty. Wear a pair of leggings on a cool night under your skirt or as pajama bottoms. A camisole can be an extra layer for warmth or a bedtime shirt. I use my cycling shoes as my walking shoes.

Are you ready to try a carry on? Or do you already enjoy packing carry on for your travels? We would love to hear your packing tips.

Want to try packing carry on? Save these travel tips to your Pinterest boards.

Disclaimer: Travel Tales of Life  is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. For our full Terms of Use and Disclosure Policy go here.