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14 Tips That Make Traveling With Just A Carry-On Doable, According To A Pro Travel Writer Who Never Checks A Suitcase

I'm Evie, and I've jet-setted all over the world as a travel writer. I like being light and mobile when I travel, which is why I always avoid checking a bag. In addition to saving money, it saves time. There's no feeling more glorious than gliding past the baggage claim at the end of a long flight.

Woman rolls suitcase on a street in Japan

Checking a bag adds two extra steps to your travel day: First, you have to leave your bag at the baggage drop, and later, you must wait for it at the baggage claim. Both steps involve long lines and plenty of sitting around — two things no one wants on top of traveling. Plus, checking a bag adds at least $30 to your travel tab per flight.

Evie Carrick

Packing everything you need in a carry-on isn't always the easiest task, but I can confidently say I've mastered the art. Here's how I decide what to take, what to leave behind, and how I keep it all organized:

1.Shoes are the enemy of carry-on luggage — so I wear the bulkiest pair on the plane.

A carry-on suitcase with shoes on the side

Shoes take up SO much space. Just three pairs will eat up your entire carry-on bag. As a result, I only bring two pairs of shoes whenever I travel — usually a pair of sneakers that I wear on the plane and a pair of sandals for warm destinations or nice leather shoes for cooler or city destinations.

If you want to slip in another pair of sandals, it can be doable, but I do my best to stick to the two-shoe rule.

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2.Same goes for sweaters and sweatshirts.

Man dances in Christmas tree sweater

Sweaters and sweatshirts are big and bulky — they take up a ton of space. And while I enjoy a cozy sweater as much as anyone else, I won't bring more than one or maybe two, and I always wear one on the plane (you can tie it around your waist if you get hot).

If you're going to a warm-weather destination, the sweater question is a moot point, but if you're headed to Berlin in the winter, you're gonna want a sweater or two.

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3.Jeans take up more room than other bottoms, so I only pack a couple pairs and wear one on the plane.

Suitcase packed with clothes

Like shoes and sweaters, jeans take up a lot of room. Dresses, shorts, and slacks take up less room. So I always wear one pair of jeans on the plane and then pack a second or third pair in my carry-on.

The secret here is to fill your suitcase with dresses (with tights, if cold), slacks, and shorts (if relevant to your destination), because you can fit way more of them.

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4.Stick to solid color clothing that can work for multiple outfits.

Person packing a suitcase

Ever heard of a capsule closet? It's this whole idea that you can get by with fewer pieces of clothing as long as they are versatile and complement each other. So, for example, a white T-shirt can be worn with a pair of jeans one day, under a blazer the next, and with high-waisted slacks the next. It also helps if things can be worn multiple ways — like the items in Vetta's classic capsule.

When I'm packing for a trip, I make sure I could wear every piece of clothing with multiple outfits. The key here is to pack solids — white and black tees, plain bottoms, and a neutral jacket.

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5.Pack a few fun accessories that take up very little space like scarves, jewelry, and sunglasses.

Man in turtleneck with fanny pack

To spice up your travel-friendly, but basic, wardrobe, this is my best tip. A colorful scarf or chic sunnies (I'm currently rocking the Pursers from Dragon) go a long way toward making your otherwise basic wardrobe pop. And they're so small that they can be packed away in any open nook in your suitcase.


6.When traveling to a cold destination, bring a jacket that folds down into nothing.

A couple in winter clothing holding a baby

I've always loved down jackets, but I've recently become obsessed with merino wool insulation, which packs down just as small (like this Ibex jacket — one of the best IMO). Either way, the key is to leave that thick trench coat at home and pack something that can be scrunched into a ball in the corner of your suitcase when you're not wearing it.

Evie Carrick

7.Limit yourself to just one dressy outfit.

Man in tie at a desk

Sure, you want to look nice while traveling — but the idea behind the travel capsule wardrobe is that each item is good quality and basic. And you can easily dress up basic items — especially black ones — for a night out. Pair a nice necklace or blazer with a plain black tee and slacks, and you're all set.

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8.Pack like you're going away for a week, and accept the fact that you might have to do laundry.

A man doing the laundry

I like to pack like I'm going for one week (aka no more than seven pairs of underwear and socks), and I just give in to the fact that somewhere along the way, I'll need to do a load of laundry. Believe it or not, you'll find laundromats and laundry service all over the world (I promise), but if you're stressed, you can pack a couple single-use laundry detergents and do a load of sink laundry when needed. (I like the plastic-free, biodegradable detergent strips from Lazy Coconuts.)

Evie Carrick

9.Dress smartly to make airport security a breeze.

A woman walking into airport security

I'm all about wearing my bulkiest items of clothing (jeans, sweaters, sneakers) on the plane, but I also consider what will be comfortable in-flight and what will make the security checkpoint easier.

I swear by slip-on Vans, which are easy to get on and off at security, and zip-up sweatshirts, which are easier to get on and off than pullovers. Skip the chunky jewelry and belts, which you'll have to take off and put back on at security anyway.

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10.Traveling in something with pockets is clutch.

Woman in wedding dress is excited

Pockets are essential when you're traveling. I once wore a dress with no pockets on a travel day and quickly realized I was constantly holding my passport, wallet, and phone in my hands the whole day. It was not smart and not savvy. Now I only travel in clothing with pockets so I can stash things like my boarding pass for easy access when I need it.


11.If you have a long day of travel ahead of you, pack some clean clothes in a backpack.

A woman walking through an airport

If those travel-day jeans are a bit too tight or you have an overnight flight and want to be extra comfy, pack a pair of joggers (I love the ones by Vuori) and a clean shirt in your backpack. When I know I need to sleep on the plane, something about changing into "travel PJs" helps me get in the mindset — plus, there's nothing like a pair of fresh clothes after a long travel day.

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12.Make sure everything in your carry-on suitcase is security proof.

Feet and suitcase at the airport

I like to keep my carry-on suitcase packed so it can sail through security — meaning I can just throw it on the belt without worry. The key here is to keep electronics, snacks, and liquids OUT of your carry-on. Do a thorough check before you get to the airport, and make sure you're not carrying anything that will slow you down.

Evie Carrick

13.Keep those items you might need to remove at security in a separate backpack.

A traveler holding a suitcase and backpack on her back

In addition to a carry-on suitcase, I pack a backpack as my airline-designated "personal item." Inside my backpack is where I put everything I might need to pull out at security or access before or during the flight.

I usually pack my laptop, Kindle, and chargers, as well as any snacks (I always bring a bar or two), and my bag of 3.4 ounce (or under) liquids. I put everything I'll need to pull out at security (liquids, food, and laptop) at the top of my backpack so I can quickly pull them out at security and slide them back in after I make it through.

And, since your carry-on will be stowed in the overhead compartment, your backpack should be where you pack everything that you'll need to access during the flight, like headphones, earplugs, and water.

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14.Make sure to bring a refillable water bottle, but empty it before the security checkpoint.

Woman refilling water bottle from a source of water in mountain

I'm a big fan of packing my own refillable water bottle. Yes, it takes up space, but it'll save you from buying single-use, plastic ones on your trip. My husband swears by the HydraPak (which rolls up when empty), but I still lug around my Hydro Flask. In any case, make sure if you're packing a water bottle that you empty any liquids before you arrive at the security checkpoint.

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Have any smart packing tips to share? Drop them in the comments below.