Whether the idea of using only a carry-on during your next trip sends shivers up your spine or excites you, we’ve got tips to help you pull it off in style. So take a deep breath and remember to have an open mind: You can fit everything into a carry-on.
Yes, you truly can.
It’s really just a matter of planning appropriately and making smart decisions about what to bring and how to pack it.
How to Fitting Everything for 10 days in a Carry On in 12 Steps
1. Choose the Right Bags
In general, we recommend using a travel backpack rather than a shoulder bag as your personal item—the Wayfinder 30L is a great option. This saves your back and keeps your arms free.
In terms of your main carry-on, there are several options for both larger travel backpacks and rolling carry-on luggage to choose from.
● Caldera 4-Wheel Carry On: This rolling carry-on bag features ultra-durable multi-directional spinner wheels for effortless mobility while you zip through the airport. It also features an expansion zipper for more capacity, just in case you need more space once on the ground in your destination.
● Global Companion 40L: Ideal for backpackers or anyone on an active trip, this backpack is a compact organizational machine. Ergonomic padded & moisture wicking backpack straps mean it stays comfortable no matter how long your travel day, and a women’s fit version ensures it fits like a dream.
● Gear Warrior™ International Carry On: Made to fit even on the most snug budget airlines around the world, this international carry on is, above all, durable. An impact-resistant handle system reduces wobble while oversized treaded wheels keep you trucking when you just need to get where you’re going.
Need more luggage advice? Our luggage buying guide details everything you need to know when picking a travel bag.
2. Layout Everything First
Use your bed as a landing pad and don't even think about pulling your luggage out of the closet yet. You need to get a bird’s-eye view and have the ability to make cuts before throwing everything inside your bag. If you want to see what this looks like, there's lots of inspiration from other travelers out there who have documented their packing process!
Not sure where to begin? Use our complete packing checklist as a starting point for packing—you can’t fit it all, but it will help you start selecting the right items for the trip you have planned.
3. Be Disciplined About Shoes
Think head to toe, except in reverse. Start with your feet and remember you only have two! The trick here is to find a set of kicks to wear casually and for semi-formal situations. Ladies, forget the heels, and gents, wingtips: verboten. Grab the all-purpose set of travel shoes you can wear with jeans or something nicer. If you like to exercise a pair of cross-trainers can also make the cut.
Expert Tip! Stuff your socks into your shoes before packing them in a shoe sac .
4. Check the Weather
Check the weather ahead of time so you can anticipate what clothes you will need and what can stay home. You can still make a carry-on happen, even if you’re packing light for cold weather or even packing rainy season.. It helps to know if you will really need that parka or if it's safe to stay at home. Same goes for things like wool socks, mittens, bathing suits, tank tops, and other weather-specific clothing items. If your 10 day trip requires packing bulky sweaters, then compression sacs are your friends—you can squish down even the fluffiest sweater or scarf.
Expert Tip! Wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane.
5. Think About What You Will Be Doing
It helps to know what you'll be doing at your destination so you can pack clothes you'll actually wear once you're there. If you're going to be doing mostly outdoor activities and spending time around family and friends in a casual setting, you probably won't need that pair of pumps. However, if you're going to formal concerts, parties, or other activities, be sure to pack a nice pair of shoes and a dressier outfit.
6. Choose Versatile Clothes
Go for versatile colors to match with anything, rather than unique pieces only for one outfit. A best practice would be to group each into an outfit, choosing one outfit per day—minus one. In other words, if you’re out for four days you need three days of outfits. Better yet, bring one or two coordinating tops for each bottom piece.
7. Consider Washing Clothes Instead of Bringing More
Instead of insisting on packing a separate outfit for each day, think about washing your clothes partway through the trip instead. Most hotels have laundry facilities or services, and you can even wash your clothes in the hotel sink or tub if you need to. This means you'll be able to pack lighter and avoid adding weight to your bag. It also will make it easier to keep your stuff organized.
8. Maximize Space with Packing Cubes and Compression Bags
Using packing cubes can help you organize everything in your bag and maximize your space. Extra bonus: when you get to the hotel, you can simply lift the cubes out of your suitcase and put them in the drawers. No need to “live out of a suitcase.” This also lends to super easy packing upon departure, simply pick up your lightweight travel cubes and place them inside your bag again. Skip the annoying process of re-folding a giant pile of clothes you know you’re just going to throw in the laundry anyway.
Wondering which packing cubes are best for your trip? Use our buying guide for packing cubes and compression sacs to suss out which are best for your 10 day trip.
9. Organize the Inside
Jeans and sweaters can be folded and rolled in a large packing cube. All other hanging garments should be carefully folded and compressed into packing folders. Drop your shoes into a shoe sac. Throw the compressor bag into the bottom of the bag and use it as your dirty clothes hamper to collect and compress the load for the return trip. Make sure you're capitalizing on all the available space and not leaving any unnecessary nooks and crannies. One way to take advantage of awkward open space in your bag is to buy a slim cube and an eTool Organizer for cords, jewelry, and other small items. This will allow you to take advantage of the space in-between the handles in the back of your wheeled luggage.
Becoming a Packing Cube Pro : Here’s exactly how to use packing cubes when packing light .
9. Be Smart About Toiletries
Now let's move onto toiletries. We are not going to bore you with what to bring here. The trick is what NOT to bring. With hotels supplying a bevy of amenities, most items in your medicine cabinet can stay home. On the "do not pack" list: hairdryers (most hotels have them, and if you're in a country where you need a different type of outlet, it’s probably easier to buy one there), any toiletry in a full size bottle (thus not TSA carry-on compliant), anything breakable, and medicines used only on rare occasions. Investing in a travel bottle set, and travel-size toiletries at your local drug store, will help you downsize the medicine cabinet significantly. Then choose a lightweight toiletry kit to fit your streamlined toiletries.
10. Bring a Kindle Instead of Paper Books
If you enjoy reading for pleasure on vacation, or want to bring multiple guidebooks or language books, bringing a Kindle can save space and weight. Load all of your books onto one device, and buy extra books as needed once you’re there.
11. Bring a Compact Bag for Daily Use
Instead of bringing two bags, consolidate to just one, and bring a foldable/collapsible day bag inside your main bag. This will help you focus on just one piece of luggage, simplifying things and making it easier to watch your stuff in areas where security is an issue.
12. Use Your Smartphone for Picture-Taking
Decide whether you’ll really need a full size camera. Most smartphones have high quality cameras on them now, so unless you really want a high quality camera, sticking to a smartphone can minimize extras and still take great photos.
Expert Tip! A good space-saving idea is to try to wear a top with easy-access pockets. Consolidate your essentials (tickets, ID, and itineraries) into a small RFID wallet for easy but safe access while traveling to your destination. As for hats and gloves, don't pack them: Throw them into the pockets of the jacket you are going to carry.
Pack Smart. Travel Happy.
Tarmac AWD Carry On
Global Companion 40L
Pack-It™ Isolate Compression Cube Set S/M
Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):
Buying Guide: Pack-it Packing Organizers and Compression Bags
Packing Light for a Cold-Weather Getaway
Buying Guide: Choosing Luggage, Travel Packs, and Carry-ons