I sometimes travel two or three times a month—and yet in the past three years I have only checked luggage twice. I’m a carry-on convert because I love the freedom it gives me: no waiting in line to check bags (you can check-in online or use an airport kiosk), no baggage fees (Delta, United, American, Continental and US Airways all now charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second) and no hanging around baggage claim as you worry your bags are lost.
Here are my tips for packing the most into a carry-on—you can fit a week’s worth of clothes in one if you know how—and a large shoulder tote (for handbag, camera, toiletries and sometimes shoes/sandals).
Choose the right carry-on. On domestic flights, you can board with a regulation 22 x 14 x 9-inch carry-on and a personal item (shoulder tote, backpack or laptop case), but some international flights can be more restrictive. I travel with a 20 x 14 x 9-inch carry-on that has never been challenged.
Wear your bulkiest items on the flight. This includes leather boots (if you’re headed to a city or cool-weather destination) or sneakers (if you plan to do a lot of walking or working out); jeans (which you can easily have laundered) and a cotton sweater topped by a pashmina (your own personal blanket for the flight).
Think lightweight fabrics and layers. This is easy if you’re headed to a beach resort, but also doable for a late spring, summer or early fall European honeymoon. I pair tank tops (I typically pack 6 or 7) with soft gauzy or silky skirts (4) and sundresses (5) topped by thin cotton sweaters (5)—and that pashmina comes in handy on cool days and breezy nights. For a beach honeymoon, pack 3 swimsuits (for non-beach, just 1), a long-sleeved cover-up, a pareo and a fabric hat. To workout, bring rinse-and-dry yoga pants and a running top.
Think color coordination and double duty. Limit your palette to neutrals (black, white, brown or beige) and two complimentary bright hues, so everything mixes and matches. My favorite items work overtime: I have three convertible dress/skirts (by BCBG and Michael Kors) that I can wear as knee-length strapless dresses at night and then calf-length skirts with tank tops by day. Also, once you’ve worn a sundress for a few hours at night, use it as a beach cover-up.
Limit shoes & accessories. Wear sneakers or boots, and pack black heels, metallic flats and flip-flops. Bring one nighttime clutch that works with both pairs of shoes.
Roll your clothes. Fold dresses, skirts, and sweaters in half and then roll them. Line these in the channels in bottom of your carry-on, starting with the bulkiest. You’ll be surprised how neatly these pliable rolls of fabric squish and stack. Don’t roll tanks and yoga pants—neatly fold them and slide into the exterior pocket on most carry-ons. Place bras (3 or 4) and panties (7) in the interior mesh compartments. Tuck heels in the largest corners (or put in your tote) and slip flats in along the sides.
Adhere to the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. You are allowed to carry on one quart-sized clear plastic zipper-topped bag of toiletries that a 3.4 ounces or less; shop for travel-sized versions of your products or buy plastic travel bottles and fill with your favorites.