There exist a certain type of bragging rights that come with being able to fit all your holiday belongings into a carry-on suitcase. While your fellow travelers tote checked luggage up the stairs and wait at the baggage claim, you’re free to jaunt off past airport security and to your destination. While others bemoan the unnecessary pairs of shoes they’ve brought along, you revel—somewhat smugly—in the magic of a capsule wardrobe. You are the picture of breezy travel and efficiency; though arriving at this state of superiority is easier said than done.
Packing a carry-on can feel like a monumental task, but it doesn’t have to be. Between folding methods that double your suitcase space and foolproof tips for packing your wardrobe, there are a lot of hacks to try in pursuit of becoming a carry-on pro. We polled eight travel professionals to get the low-down on everything they do to master this tricky packing situation, and you’ll definitely want to bookmark this for the next time you head out on a big trip.
What to Pack
Take to spreadsheets
Erica Choi, the design director at Barneys and mastermind behind travel and lifestyle site Egg Canvas, takes a diligent approach to her packing list: She swears by Google Docs. “[It’s] where I plan out my outfits so I don’t overpack,” she explains. Her go-to? “Silky dresse. They don’t take up much room in my carry-on, and I can have a different look each day.”
Use the destination as your packing guide
“After researching different locations in the area we plan on visiting, I have a better idea of the overall feel for the trip and from there, I keep my eye out for certain clothing I want to bring to help tell the story of our trip through colors and certain silhouettes,” says travel photographer Chelsae Sahlman. For those without legions of followers waiting to see our travel outfits, this lesson can still be applied. If you map out your trip day by day, you get a sense of the activities you’ll be doing and, in turn, what kind of clothes you’ll need. Just keep one thing in mind: “Remember to always be respectful and mindful of the other cultures you are visiting.”
Stick to a uniform
Jen Rubio is the cofounder of Away luggage and hasn’t made a packing list in years. Instead, her key to the perfect carry-on lies in a steadfast uniform; the easiest way to eliminate packing stress and make assembling a carry-on for last-minute trips a cinch. “It’s a lot of neutral tones in natural fabrics and pieces like a tailored blazer (I love mine from Blazé Milano) or a vintage leather jacket, a few pairs of shoes that go with almost any outfit, and a black Nili Lotan slip dress,” she says.
When space is at a premium, layers are your friend. Justina Blakeney, whose globally inspired boho style is instantly recognizable (she even brought it to a recently launched travel collection with Target), always keeps layering in mind when packing for a trip. Her trick? Keeping all the stuff she brings in a single color family to help her mix and match her outfits using only a few pieces.
Don’t forget the non-clothing essentials
“While wardrobe is [at the] forefront of everyone’s mind, most people forget about the different international power voltages in other countries,” cautions Sahlman, who always packs an international-safe steamer and curling iron to circumvent this issue. To ensure you’ll be able to charge up all your electronics, pick up an international converter. Sahlman likes the Amir Travel Power Charging Station ($27.99) for convenience.
How to Pack
Compartments, compartments, compartments
“If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of rummaging through your luggage for one particular item, then this tip will quickly become your number one,” says travel photographer and author Gray Malin. To keep everything organized and in prime condition, he reuses dust bags from shoes or leather goods to keep things like socks and toiletries neatly tucked away.
Photographer Carley Rudd agrees: “This means lots of little pouches and pockets,” she explains. “In-flight toiletries get their own little pouch so I can easily grab them when I need to freshen up, and electronics get one too.”
Jessica Nabongo, a travel blogger whose repertoire includes visits to 159 countries (seriously) has a specific product she loves: the Flight001 Spacepaks ($42). “I love them because not only do they keep everything organized, but they also compress your clothing, allowing you to squeeze even more in your carry-on,” says Nabongo. Another pro tip from the travel expert: If space allows, bring an expandable duffle in case you stumble upon some goodies you simply need to bring home.
Find a folding technique that works for you
Photographer Victor Cheng, whose wanderlust-inducing work inspires all our holiday aspirations, has a specific folding technique. He packs five or six shirts by folding them, rolling them, and packing them vertically in the suitcase so they’re squished together from top to bottom, and then repeats the same “fold and roll” process for pants and sweaters. “This is a trick I do for all my travels where I only pack a carry-on so I don’t have to wait for my luggage to come out of the belt,” he shares.
Especially if you’re packing for a business trip, worrying about wrinkled garments is the last thing you should have on your mind. Rubio opts for natural fabrics that won’t crease during the trip and if she can’t, she uses a garment sleeve to keep things pressed. She recommends Away’s Centerfold Garment Sleeve ($65) for sleek storage.
The inevitable headache of traveling with jewelry that gets tangled or small accessories that get lost in the crevices of luggage can be prevented with one easy trick: Use extra handbags as storage, keeping things safe in the zippered compartments. Choi swears by this trick to consolidate accessories and give packed purses an extra bit of function.