Pack Light!: Carry-On Edition

Throughout college, my life had been one continuous series of travels that required me to pack ridiculous amounts of things in teeny tiny bags.  I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in St. Louis.  This was a (comparatively) small distance that made it easy to travel home for birthdays, holidays, and extended weekends.  Easy might not be the best word to use, maybe that’s another post all together.

Flying into the Madison airport is outrageous! As a college student, flying into Madison was completely and totally out of my price range, so I learned to navigate the magic that was $1 tickets from the MegaBus.  (Did I ever get a $1 ticket? No, but I did manage to get plenty of $5 tickets, and that is good enough for me!)

These treks required me to shove as much as two weeks worth of clothes and things into a small carry-on bag.  Now, to be clear, MegaBus policy states that you can bring on as many as as two suitcases to be stored in their under-the-bus storage, but for those of you unfamiliar with my exact path of travel (and I don’t know why any of you would be familiar with that, unless maybe you are my mom.  Hi mom!) I have to travel from St. Louis to Madison by way of Chicago! That is a 12 hour day and two very long bus rides.

When I get off the bus in Chicago and have to run down Canal street to catch my next bus at Union Station…I don’t want to be lugging around the allotted two suitcases. In fact, sprinting down Canal Street to catch my bus that I am 2 minutes late for is much, much easier with a carry-on backpack.  

Studying abroad in Europe, I became even more versed in packing carry-on bags, because unlike my ventures to my parents’ house, this time I had to remember to pack my own toothpaste.  Packing light became a breeze!


But then Southwest happened! I move to Los Angeles and suddenly, I’m flying from one international airport to another.  I hop on at LAX (or when I’m feeling less insane, Bob Hope in Burbank) and hop off at Midway Airport.  Southwest allows me two ginormous suitcases. (Nope, that’s an exaggeration, they still require you to fit the 50 lbs maximum or suffer the fees!) And the greatest thing about Midway Airport is that my bus to Madison picks up less than 100 feet away from baggage claim! (And, since Midway is also in the Midwest, there are oodles of kind people grabbing doors for me so I don’t have to fall all over myself with my ginormous suitcases.)

I get off the bus and my dad is right there to pick me up and load my suitcase into his CR-V and I hardly even think about the amount of things I’m traveling with.

Living in California has expedited this issue, because most of the trips I’ve taken have been road trips and the best thing about a road trip is I can bring as much stuff as my Corolla can carry! (And I moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles with ONLY the things that my Corolla could carry, so I can pack a LOT into that little guy.)


But now, it appears I have lost my touch on packing light.  I used to shove two weeks worth of things in a very inefficient backpack! One that also contained my laptop and DSLR camera! I couldn’t even take my trip to Yosemite without packing enough hiking clothes for a trip twice as long as our weekend get away.  How do I find my way again!?

I’ve turned to a dear friend, YouTube, for videos on how to figure out this packing light thing again, and I’ve gathered some of the best tips for how to really make the most of your allotted carry-on bag!

While I don’t agree with all the advice I received (a lot of which had to do with packing three different types of face cream…that’s not me…) all the creators agreed that I was just not utilizing the allotted space to it’s full potential. I have never owned a real carry-on suitcase.  You know the kind.


I am what SoniasTravels referred to as “a duffler.” I have one, not very durable, duffle bag with two wheels that came with a luggage set that I bought on Black Friday.  You know, the kind that Kohl’s couldn’t sell on a regular day for even a fraction of the full price.  It’s not great, and I’ll admit that.  But I’ll also admit that I live in Los Angeles and I pay too much for rent and I can’t really splurge on the amazing and efficient suitcase of my dreams (although I do have a really nice one that I bought before I went abroad, and that is my go-to checked bag and it is irreplaceable. Unfortunately this post isn’t about my wonderful, amazing, irreplaceable checked bag, this post is for carry-ons!)

I’m going to save up, but for now, I’m stuck with my one-broke-zipper duffle.

Here are some tips that I thought were great!:

  1. Flat water bottles!


Honestly, I’m ashamed I didn’t think of this on my own.  I always fumble with the empty water bottles when traveling.  I usually travel with two water bottles, my 32 oz Nalgene with the flippy top, and my Hydroflask for 5 hours later when the water in the Nalgene is warm and I just want some ice cold water! But if I could have my water bottle folded up inside a pocket before going through security?  If I could clip my water bottle on a bag strap? Oh what a genius idea.  I’ll take five!

2. Cable Organizer


A similar product was suggested in a video by SoniasTravels (link posted below), and I’ve got to say, while she swears by the idea of buying a clear pouch to store all your cables, I’m really liking the idea of this cable pouch.  I haven’t tested this for myself, but I can guarantee this will be my first purchase before my next flight!

3. Packing cubes

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 6.17.15 PM

Little bags to put inside your big bag that keep your clothes all folded and neat!  This will be particularly handy when TSA finds something mysterious at the bottom of my bag and I have to throw my clothes and underwear all over the checkpoint and make a ridiculous mess. It’s not fun.  These would help.

Things that were not covered that I still swear by:

1. A Vertical laptop sleeve so I can slide my laptop in and out without losing its sacred place in the bag! Especially when I travel with an over-stuffed backpack, this is a MUST. Mine is super basic and most similar to this one, but you can find them everywhere.


2. Toiletries in front pockets, always. When I travel, aside from electronics, toiletries are the only things that I need to move in and out of my bag.  To make security checkpoints a breeze, I just keep these items in the front pouch so they are quickly accessible at all times.

3. Camera bag on the bottom.  I travel with my DSLR almost always.  I’ve never found a TSA agent who can’t recognize a Nikon on the X-Ray machine, and I typically don’t use anything but my cellphone to take pictures while running through an airport.

4. Passport wallet. Credit cards, cash, boarding pass, all in one easy place.  Mine is bright green so I can always find it.  The linked up one is something similar to the one I have, but I love that mine, and the one pictured, both have a zipper.  It’s a little added security for a wallet with so many important things inside.  Plus, I’m clumsy and would probably drop and spill everything without a zipper!

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 6.31.07 PM

5. This tip was covered by Fodor’s, but is something that needs repeating: use your shoes for additional space! Most of the videos I watched had special pouches for shoes, one video even suggested individual pouches for each individual shoe. NO! I say, use your shoes for additional storage.  When I travel, I do not put both shoes next to each other in one neat little bag.  I put them in any spare space I have and I am sure that they are shoved full of socks! Shoes really can’t be folded or smushed.  They are going to take up the same amount of space regardless.  So if you are packing extra shoes, you can protect them from being smushed and use them for additional storage space at the same time.  A win-win!

I would also like to add that, while all of these below resources are great, I wanted to give an extra special shout out to SoniasTravels because all of her videos are amazing.  Can’t wait to watch more.  Highly recommend heading on over to her YouTube channel.


These were some of my favorite videos with tips on packing light!:

Fodor’s Five Tips for Packing Lightly.

SoniasTravels guide to Achieving Carry-On Perfection.

The Blonde Abroad’s guide to the Perfect Carry-On.

SoniasTravels brilliant suggestions for packing chargers!

Mimi Ikonn, a former over packer, discusses how she learned to pack light!

Ingrid Nilsen on NOT overpacking a suitcase.

Zoella’s In-Flight Travel Essentials and how she gets them all to fit.

SoniasTravels suggestions for What Not to Pack on your next flight. 



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