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Packing Tips for Carry-On Bags: What You Need to Know

Nowadays, with airlines charging for checked bags, many travelers have opted to take just a carry-on for their trips. This is a smart strategy, as packing light is not only easy for traveling, it also saves you money. However, with airlines cracking down on size and weight regulations for carry-on bags, as well as TSA security requirements for liquids and gels, you’ll want to make sure your carry-on is as well packed as possible before you head to the airport.

Previously, we showed you how to put together a well-packed suitcase. Read on for smart packing suggestions just for carry-ons—and don’t forget to submit your own tried-and-true strategies in the comments field below.

Know Your Size Limit

There’s nothing more frustrating than packing a carry-on bag to avoid a checked-bag fee, only to arrive at the airport to learn your carry-on is too heavy or large to be brought on the plane. In one fell swoop, you’ve accrued extra fees and won’t have access to your belongings in-flight. To avoid any guesswork before going to the airport, consult SmarterTravel’s Carry-On Bags: The Ultimate Guide, which outlines size and weight limits by airline, as well as policies for strollers, medical equipment, pets, and more. Knowing if your carry-on is too heavy, wide, or long while you’re still at home can enable you to leave items behind and adjust bags accordingly. That way, you’ll have no surprises once you’ve arrived at the airport, and your bag can accompany you on the plane.{{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}Practice Economy

When packing your bag, make the most of your limited space. Choose clothing items you can re-wear, with versatile day-to-night options. Limit the number of shoes and keep toiletries to a minimum. Roll clothes together to make the most use of space in your bag. Unless you’re going to a frigid climate, think twice about packing bulky sweaters and outerwear. You’ll get a lot more mileage from several thinner, insulating layers than with one large item that takes up precious space in your bag.

Pack Efficiently

There are so many space-saving gadgets out there that can help you make the most of your limited bag size. Consider, for example, a travel toothbrush that features an interior compartment just for toothpaste, so you’ll have one less thing to pack. Avoid packing a stack of books or magazines to read during your vacation and instead choose an electronic reader such as Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s Reader Digital Book. Packing tubes and compression bags give you extra space by minimizing larger items. Check any travel-focused retailer to see the latest gadgets. Just make sure your carry-on stays under the weight limit.

Know Security Regulations

With a carry-on, you’re limited to what size toiletries you can bring onboard. Forego all standard-issue shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, and the like, and instead plan on bringing only toiletries that fit the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule: Liquids and gels that are no more than three ounces, carried in a one-quart clear plastic bag, and no more than one bag per traveler. This applies to all liquids and gels, not just toiletries. Beverages, cosmetics, and the like will all be confiscated if they’re over the security size limit.

Your Turn

Are you an expert at packing a carry-on bag? What packing and on-the-go strategies have worked well for you? Share your expertise by leaving a comment below!

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