Many travelers have long preferred carry-on luggage to checked bags, as there’s always the risk that checked luggage can get lost or damaged. Plus, as airlines steadily increase fees, checking a bag is getting more expensive. All airlines except Southwest now charge at least $25 for the first checked bag, tipping the scales even more towards the carry-on option.
The downside with carry-ons, though, is pretty obvious: less space! If you want to save money and keep your belongings within arm’s reach, it sure helps to be a packing pro. So for folks who tend to shove a bunch of belongings into their suitcase then sit on the top to make sure it zips, we’ve rounded up a few easy ways to be a more efficient packer.
1 – Wear The Heavy Stuff
The warmest clothes naturally take up the most space in your suitcase, so be economical with how many layers you need and wear the bulkiest ones during the flight. This may sound like a hassle since security will make you strip off jackets, scarves and hats when you go through security… but it will come in handy if you get chilly during the flight or need a makeshift pillow!
2 – Use Both Bags. Along the same lines, remember that your carry-on suitcase isn’t the only free bag you get. Just about all airlines allow a personal item like a purse, backpack or laptop bag as well. Take advantage; your personal item is perfect for small things like socks, underwear and toiletries. Just make sure you pack the things you won’t need in-flight first, and add any books, electronics or toiletries you actually want to access after. This strategy isn’t rocket science: Making the most of your personal item will leave less things to shove in your carry-on, making it easier it is to fit them all.
3 – Skip The Liquids. Speaking of toiletries, liquids can take up space despite the size restrictions. And if they’re not packed properly, they can also make a mess! So if you’re heading to a hotel, skip them altogether; most will be provided in your room when you arrive. If you’re loyal to specific brands, ask yourself: Can I simply pick up some travel-size toiletries once I arrive? And if you must have them in your suitcase, try opting for solids (like solid soaps and perfumes) instead.
4 – Use A List. This may not technically qualify as way to fit “more in your carry-on,” but we’d be remiss to give packing tips without adding a reminder that you don’t need your whole spectrum of clothing options for a vacation. Pick your favorite staples, choose items that can mix and match and pack based on activities as opposed to style. To that end, a list can be helpful to ensure you’re only taking what you need. For a beach vacation, for example, make sure you have a bathing suit, a beach cover-up, a couple nice dinner outfits and a couple workout outfits. Friendly reminder: You won’t be shunned if you repeat outfits on vacation!
5 – Roll Your Clothes. So you’re layered in your heaviest clothes and you’ve packed your personal item to the brim with non-liquid toiletries and other necessities. Let me guess: You still have an overwhelming pile of things to fit into your small suitcase. Have no fear — a little bit of patience can go a long way. While some people may try to sell you things like space-saving bags, simply rolling your clothes tightly is the cheapest and easiest way to pack efficiently while also reducing wrinkles.
6 – Mind The Gaps. As you begin arranging your neatly rolled clothing into the carry-on’s body, start with your shoes. Why? You can put extra stuff where your foot usually goes! This is precisely why flight attendants pack shoes first, followed by heavier items and topped with the lightest items. Similarly, as you layer your own clothes keep an eye out for corners or gaps where you can sneak in any leftover small or misshapen things that didn’t fit in your personal item. These small gaps can really add up.
If you buy a good carry on, the luggage will be designed to maximize packing space. Keep this in mind if you are luggage shopping anytime soon. Either way, by following these steps, you’ll be a more efficient packer in no time… and that will actually mean more money in your pocket since you can avoid checked luggage fees! With that in mind, go give your carry-on a big hug; it’s about to be your new best friend.
I write about tech, travel, money, gender and more — but I’m most interested in how those things relate to the big questions (and vice versa). My work and commentary has appeared on Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC, 7×7, The Bold Italic, Thought Catalog, Technical.ly, Mental Floss, MSN Money and others.