Beauty & Fashion

12 Best Packing Tips for an Action-Packed Trip In a Carry-On Suitcase

“We are not checking bags!” Is there a more dreaded declaration when packing for a long trip? 😉 We get it. Not checking luggage is not only much more cost-effective when traveling, especially with a family…it also gives you much more flexibility. Tight connections, aggressive itineraries, cancellations, delays, and all sorts of unpredictable and inevitable issues certainly make “carrying-on” less off-putting. Lost luggage is not a great way to start any trip. But unless you are a Jenga master, packing for a FULL trip in a carry-on suitcase takes some skill and strategy. Erin is a pro at this! She and her family recently embarked on a 2-week, action-packed trip to Vietnam and China. And, you guessed it, she did not check a bag. She has the BEST packing tips for making sure you have everything you need for your trip, with your carry-on and personal item…only. Learn all the ins and outs below. By the way, we’ll be sharing more about Erin’s trip in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

For 10 chic and stylish travel day outfits ideas, make sure you checkout this post next.


Carry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

Carry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

Erin has traveled to more than 35 countries worldwide, often without checking a bag due to aggressive itineraries. Packing a carry-on is a totally different game than checking bags. One of her most important tips, before you even start packing, is…be prepared to sacrifice. She says it’s like looking for an apartment in NYC, inevitably you have to compromise something! When you have limited space, you have to be selective and really consider your MUST-haves. Here are 12 more tips you’ll need to pack like a pro in your carry-on suitcase.

#1) Pick a Color Story

Choosing pieces that will mix and match together is key. For her recent trip, Erin chose a neutral color story of white, beige, black, and tans that all complement each other. This way, pieces can be worn multiple times for different occasions, yet you can still create different outfits. It’s like creating your own little mini travel capsule wardrobe.

#2) Choose Basics

By packing basics within your color story, you’ll be able to get a ton of wear out of each piece. Basics with a twist, like a white tee with an interesting detail, are one way to add some excitement to the mix. But that “one dress” that requires a special handbag or shoes and can’t really be worn more than once isn’t very practical when it comes to getting the most out of each piece.

#3) Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More!

This is where that sacrifice that we mentioned before comes in. You really need to separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves until you can easily zip your bag shut. Do you really need a blazer, a denim jacket, and a cargo jacket for your trip? Or can you find one jacket that functions the same as all three and looks just as stylish with the rest of your travel wardrobe? We’re not saying it’s easy…but it’s SO important to strategically pick and edit the pieces so you can save space in your carry-on suitcase.


Carry-On Suitcase Packing TipsCarry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

#4) Use Suitcase Expander Zipper as Compression

Now that you’ve edited, let’s move on to choosing a suitcase. Super important! A suitcase with a sturdy expander zipper is very helpful. Typically, you think of the expander pocket as a way to get more space in your suitcase…we’re telling you to think of it as the opposite! Unzip the expander zipper, pack your suitcase to the brim, and then compress it down to its original size by zipping the expander compartment closed. You also want to make sure your suitcase is made of a durable yet lightweight material, has sturdy wheels, and a reliable handle. Erin loves the brand Béis for durable luggage that is also pretty! She used this bag for her trip to China and Vietnam and absolutely loved it.

#5) Packing Shoes

We all know shoes take up a ton of space. Erin recommends wearing your bulkiest pair on the plane. For Erin, this is typically a pair of sneakers or boots. For a 2-week trip, she recommends 3 pairs of shoes. Sometimes she can sneak an extra pair of sandals into her suitcase since they are flat and she has small-ish feet.

Carry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

#6) Compression Packing Cubes

It might sound dramatic, but we thought packing cubes were helpful and then we met compression packing cubes, which are…life changing! Erin has used these from Amazon in the past and loved them. But for this trip, she tried out the Béis compression packing cubes. She said they’re very high-quality and she appreciated the ability to label them if you want to take it to that next-level organization. No matter which compression cubes you go with, they are THE best way to keep your items organized so you can find things quickly AND they’re a major space-saver.

#7) Utilize All Dead Space

Put your socks, underwear, belts, etc. in any tiny open spaces in your suitcase or inside your shoes. Don’t try to fit everything inside your compression cubes. You want to utilize all the dead space you can!

Carry-On Suitcase Packing TipsCarry-On Suitcase Packing Tips
Carry-On Suitcase Packing TipsCarry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

#8) Your Personal Item Matters

You’ll want to think about utilizing every inch of your personal item too! Your carry-on suitcase and personal item need to work in tandem to carry it all. This carryall bag by Béis checks all the boxes. And, it matches the suitcase. That’s right, having functional AND chic matching luggage is a win-win. This cool bag has an adjustable shoulder strap, exterior pockets (a must!), and a padded compartment for your laptop. It also has a separate, removable bottom compartment for shoes, toiletries, or dirty laundry. The slide-through sleeve fits over the back of your suitcase handle so you don’t have to worry about it toppling off. It’s spacious and lightweight but, an important note…don’t overfill it. Erin did have an issue with the zipper when she tried to overstuff it, so beware of that.

#9) Ditch Hair Tools/Haircare

Yep. When it comes to an action-packed trip, hair care might need to take a back seat. Most hotels will have a hair dryer and hair products. And when it comes to humid and tropical locations, hair ties and hats will be your hair’s best friend. On Erin’s trip to Vietnam, it was so humid that she just let her hair do its thing and embraced it…no hot tools or taming necessary!

Carry-On Suitcase Packing TipsCarry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

#10) Travel Size Toiletries

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it bears mentioning. Having travel-sized toiletries is a must for saving room. And it’s also key when it comes to meeting TSA requirements for many airports/airlines. You can buy smaller sizes of your favorite products and keep them handy for trips. Nordstrom has a great selection of travel-sized beauty products here. Erin keeps hers in this clear make-up bag for easy access during her flight which is conveniently also TSA-approved. Having other zippered bags to keep inside your personal item will help with quick/easy access to items like chargers, headphones or air pods, hand sanitizer, glasses, etc.


Carry-On Suitcase Packing Tips

#11) Plan Outfits

Rather than throwing a bunch of random basics into your suitcase, plan outfits. Think about what activities you’ll be doing like hiking, sightseeing, beach days, etc., and build outfits for each day. Make sure you consider your outfits based on the weather like humid days, rainy days, and cool nights.

#12) Take Pictures of Your Outfits

This is another tip Erin swears by. Try on everything you plan to bring and take photos of yourself wearing the outfits with your phone. Then store them in an album on your device. This way you’ll remember exactly what you planned to wear, and you won’t struggle to come up with outfits on your trip. Sometimes seeing the pictures and how you look will also help with the editing process (tip #3). You’ll maybe realize certain looks or pieces are similar or unnecessary and can be eliminated from your pile.


What’s the longest trip you’ve taken using a just a carry-on suitcase? Anyone longer than 2 weeks? Let us know in the comments below.

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