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Readers' Best Carry-On Packing Tips

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Carrying luggage through terminals (Photo: Index Open)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 11, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, baggage, Christine Sarkis, packing.

Packing. It's something most of us spend a fair amount of time thinking about as we're preparing for a trip. And with ever more checked-bag fees sprouting up across the airline industry, it really does pay to pack smart.

Back in August, Senior Editor Sarah Pascarella shared her packing tips for carry-on bags. Many of you contributed comments with even more great ideas for making the most of every last inch of your baggage.

Pack It

Many of the lightest packers swear by picking up easy-to-find items such as toiletries at their destination. Reader Elizabeth says, "Anything that can be bought at the destination I leave at home, and leave what I don't use behind when I return. Besides, it can be great fun to figure out what "toothpaste" is in Hungarian." And Rebzim adds, "I never carry toiletry items, extra shoes, or a lot of books." A good excuse for shoe shopping if I've ever heard one.

When it comes to packing light, what you pack is as important as what you leave at home. Tinsel157 advises, "You can bring a lot less if you color coordinate and swap out pieces of your wardrobe. Any outfit can easily be dressed up or down as the occasion dictates, by the addition of a scarf, shawl, light sweater." Rebzim has color-coordination down pat: "I pack only black and white clothing, including a scarf or two to dress up the outfits." And Getting Up There insists that, "Lightweight clothing that you can hand wash and hang dry overnight are the only way to go." Trudith takes the wash-and-dry approach another step, saying, "When dry I folded my capris, and placed them under the mattress; in the morning they were 'ironed'!"

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If you do bring toiletries, there are ways to do it more efficiently. DRB says, "I take a solid shampoo/conditioner from Lush, solid bar of soap with sunscreen, mosquito repellent bracelets, sunscreen wipes, and 100 percent Shea butter for my moisturizer—basically I have about nothing in my 3-1-1 bag!"

Rubber Frog offers advice about making the most of every last ounce: "For those of us who HAVE to have moist wipes: Open the packages and let them dry out ... less weight! Once you get where you're going, add drinking water to rehydrate them, and you are set to go!"

Light-Weight Packer frees up space for new purchases on the way home by taking old clothes and leaving them behind: "Underwear can be thrown away and, depending on where you are traveling, other used clothing might be quite welcome."

Linda offers some inspiration for the packing-challenged: "I used to pack at least two suitcases and a carry-on when I traveled. Not anymore! My son told me, "Mom, as long as you have your medicine and a charge card with you, you can buy anything you need here. Now I use only a carry-on." And Ric suggests the website onebag.com, saying, "This is an entire site dedicated to the convenience and safety of traveling with only a carry-on. The airlines can't lose what you don't give them."

Bag It

Many readers pack their items into bags within their suitcases. MDTraveler uses Ziplock bags because, "Everything stays clean and my clothes use much less space. Plus, no worries about anything being damaged from other leaking bags." Jesgoinup also uses bags, "In case I get chosen to have my bag searched at the security checkpoint. So if one falls out, they are bundled together for less chance of an underwear fashion show!"

When it comes to vacuum bags, readers had enthusiasm and questions in equal measure. Luckily, veteran vacuum bag users were ready with answers.

First, the enthusiasm: DRB says, "Vacuum-sealed bags rock! You can pack more, keep things organized (tops, bottoms and underwear each in their own bag), plus it keeps out bugs, keeps moisture from getting into your clothes when traveling to a humid climate and keeps your dirty clothes separated from clean on the way home!"

The idea of vacuum bags spurred questions, too. Jenny asks, "Compression plastic bags generally work by sucking air out with a vacuum hose. But how about when you're repacking at the end of the vacation? Do you call the housekeeping department to borrow a vacuum?" JimBob answers, "There are roll up vacuum bags which do basically the same thing as the vacuum bags, but no vacuum is needed!"

ChristineCruiser wonders, "Don't your clothes get really wrinkled with the vacuum bags?" One-Bag Grandma responds, "No, they get no more wrinkled in vacuum bags than if you packed them loose, sometimes less wrinkled. Most items look fine if they are dark. Lighter items may need a touch-up with the iron, if going to some place special."

Other readers prefer lower tech space-saving techniques. Travelsalot says, "Rolling up clothes keeps most of the wrinkles out." Cruisepro agrees: "I find that simply rolling up my clothes and packing them in my suitcase not only conserves space but also limits creases and wrinkles."

Send It

A few readers skip the hassle of baggage by sending boxes ahead to their destinations. Golightly says, "I send a box to my destination with shoes, jacket, toiletries, etc. My carry-on is a smaller suitcase plus a backpack. I repack and tape the box before returning, either sending it myself or asking my host to do it." And ckm suggests sending clothes and shoes via UPS or the Postal Service, and traveling with only a carry-on, saying, "This is the only way you can make really tight connections without wasting time wrestling with bags."

Do you have more questions or tips for packing carry-ons or checked luggage? Share your ideas with other readers below.

Read comments or add your own insight!
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