One of my biggest achievements in life is travelling with hand luggage only on a 12-day trip. I’m one of the most excessive people I know (I travel with a clothes steamer), so if I can do it, anyone can!
Keep reading for a simple guide to packing a carry on for a long-haul trip.
Choose the right cabin luggage
The first and most important step is choosing the right luggage. I swear by Antler’s lightweight hard-shell suitcases, but Away are making waves with their Bigger Carry-On. Be careful when flying budget airlines such as EasyJet and RyanAir as the rules are stricter. Generally speaking, international airlines are more relaxed about size and weight.
I travel with a cabin case and large handbag; everything I need fits in those two items. I also pack a Longchamp weekend bag for the return journey, but more on that later!
Use packing cubes and vacuum pack bags
The key to packing two weeks worth of clothing into a carry-on is maximising space. I use two medium-sized vacuum pack bags and a small one for daywear, nighttime outfits and swimwear. Socks and underwear don’t take up much space so I pack them separately in a designated bag.
Note: the vacuum bags I use come with a mini pump but I’ve also seen ones that allow you to roll and squeeze the air out. No need for a hotel vacuum!
Ditch the plastic bags they hand out at TSA and bring your own clear toiletry bag! You’ll save time by being able to walk straight through to security and have room for more liquids.
Switch to solids wherever possible so you can pack the things that matter. I use anti-bacterial wipes instead of gel, pack a stick deodorant and use a solid sunscreen for my body. I don’t wear much makeup so I usually travel with face powder and lipsticks or decant my foundation.
Decanting is probably the most valuable tip because often you don’t need 100ml of every item. I’ve figured out how much of everything I need to survive 10 days. If you’re flying to a single destination, you can buy things after clearing security. In the UK at least, airport toiletries are reasonably priced.
Note: I always get my lashes done, hair braided, shellac on my nails and tint my brows. This cuts down on the number of products I need to look good.
Clothing and Footwear
I’m not convinced that rolling versus folding makes much of a difference. Using a vacuum pack bag means a pile of folded clothes (let’s say 4-5 items) flattens to approx half an inch. I pack two approx outfits per day, mostly dresses, with several versatile items such as denim shorts and cover-ups. I’m also not above hand washing items if it means packing three white tees versus five!
I plan my looks in advance, pack, unpack and edit until I nail it. I like to have options but I also know I’ll never wear everything. Despite being a shoe-whore, I travel with just 3-4 pairs of footwear on average including the pair I travel in.
I don’t pack anything the hotel will have: towels, shower gel (nice hotels have nice products) etc. I also use my handbag to pack accessories and extra clothes or swimwear if I need the space.
Disclaimer: I tend to check my cabin case on the way home because I’ve bought liquor and/or gifts. This usually when I switch to the weekend bag as hand luggage at that point.
If you have a connecting flight with the same airline you can have your bag(s) sent to your final destination for
You pack like me. I also now use vacuum bags for clothes so I can fit twice as much in. Such a lifesaver!
Great minds! I’ve been meaning to buy some vacuum pack bags too.