Who remembers pre-9/11 air travel with no security lines? Pre-baggage fees? Those were the days.
I began international travel in 1998 by traveling to Hanoi, Vietnam, from Denver at least once or twice a year for humanitarian work. The mentality of my team’s journeys was to bring absolutely as much stuff as possible. We were toting supplies and medicines for every possible illness. With two free checked bags of any size AND a carry-on AND a backpack AND a purse, I traveled prepared for everything. Whether it was a natural disaster to the world’s worst hair day. But with that also came long lines. I spent so much time in lines with grumpy people just checking luggage and waiting for its return. Funny to me now, although then I thought nothing of it. This is just how the team traveled and it was how I first learned to pack. It was my travel story everywhere, both US and abroad, for over 10 years.
Years later as my kids got older and they started to travel internationally alongside our team, I began to wise up out of sheer necessity. A family of five simply could not maneuver an international airport with massive luggage in tow. AND a family of five couldn’t afford the skyrocketing baggage fees. So we made a new rule. One carry-on and one backpack per person, so everyone is responsible for dragging their own. No more checked luggage allowed. Getting in and getting out quickly and efficiently was the goal.
Soon we became a little family of precision. We lined up like ducks filing through airports around the world. Never again would we waste time or frustrated energy waiting for our luggage to arrive at carousel 8.
Traveling light is a great concept, although I must admit that it took years to perfect.
As a family, we bumbled our way through many overseas journeys, trying to sit on each other’s bags to make them zip and making late night runs to the Vietnam version of a market for toothpaste that got confiscated at security.
Today, maybe 15 years after my carry-on packing epiphany, I can’t stop singing the praises of the freedom that comes from traveling light. My luggage has shrunk even further to a simple carry-on roller or 45L carry-on backpack with shoulder straps to pack on my back and a small travel purse. I can be packed and ready to go for two weeks or two months in just a matter of moments. And now, I don’t just travel light, I keep on perfecting my ability to pack wisely by collecting favorite travel items that fit my specific needs and are only used for holiday adventures. The more efficient, the better!
So…How can you break the cycle of over-packing and bring a new freedom to your travel experience whether traveling within the US or abroad?
Here are some essential tips. They will add time and freedom to your next journey, and also keep money in your back pocket to spend on your holiday instead of on baggage fees to get you there.
Whether you will be gone for 2 weeks or 2 months, get ready to breeze in and out of every airport in the world.
Packing for Carry-On Luggage
All luggage is NOT created equal. Here at iGenXWoman, we especially love AWAY brand carry-on luggage. It is super stylish and has amazing features like a removable battery, 360° spinner wheels for a smooth ride and a hidden laundry bag!
Let your purse match your style and make you feel good, with lots of pockets and space for your phone and passport.
You may need a small backpack instead of a purse, especially if you choose to travel with a laptop. If backpacks are not your thing, a stylish tote bag with room for your laptop and one that can easily attach to your luggage, like the AWAY Tote can also come in handy!
The secret to packing carry-on luggage is to create a solid capsule wardrobe. And the idea here is to curate a wardrobe of mix and match pieces that will combine into a variety of outfits. Its core pieces should be solid, coordinating colors like black, gray, white or navy. Then add your accent pieces and accessories for color, flare and flexibility. Feel free to bend this list to match your style. This packing list is designed to give you a starting point and to show you just how much you can fit into a carry on bag.
Warm coat (winter): Puffer coats that are easily folded and stuffed small are ideal. But, be sure to wear it on the plane. Definitely don’t pack it. When you get on the plane it will easily “smoosh” on top of your suitcase in the overhead bin and no one is going to fuss.
Raincoat (if needed): Opt for a raincoat that folds easily into a tiny little drawstring bag and can easily be packed in the corner of your case.
Hoodie: Some people love the basic hoodie for warmth in fall-like weather. However, make sure you wear that on the plane, as well. Hoodies are amazing, but quickly overwhelm even the best ordered packing spaces.
Cardigan sweater or blue jean jacket: Choosing between one of these is especially crucial for me because I love to layer when I travel.
Gloves, hat, scarf (winter) Tops:
- Short-sleeved shirts: 4
- Long-sleeved shirts: 2
- Simple dress: 1 (I usually bring a black basic dress that can be layered with a cardigan or scarf)
Feel free to shift these numbers around depending on the weather. Packing six shirts and wearing one will give you a week’s worth of different shirts without repeating (or washing) any of them, although no one would notice.
- 2 pairs of pants /shorts or 2 skirts
- 1 pair of gym shorts
- 1 swimsuit
Substitute shorts or pants depending on the weather on your trip.
Including the pants that you’re wearing, you will have three total pairs. Those will get you through the week without repeating any one pair too much.
Pants can be bulky, so pack conservatively. I live in jeans and recommend them for travel, however always wear your jeans when in transit because they will use up too much space in your bag.
A lightweight pair of gym shorts are good for lounging or sleeping. Also, be sure to include a swimsuit if you plan to be in the water.
- 8 pairs of underwear (I always overdo the underwear)
- 6 pairs of socks
- 2 bras
Combined with what you’re wearing, this will get you through an entire week without doing laundry.
Pro tip: If you have a choice, stay at Airbnbs with a washer and dryer available. Otherwise, there are places all over the world who will wash your clothes for a fee. It’s also easy to pack some laundry soap and wash your own clothes in the bathroom sink if necessary. I do this all the time. Just purchase a simple portable clothesline and pop it up anywhere.
- 1 pair of lightweight, packable shoes that are incredible for walking
- 1 pair of ballet flats or flip flops (think small, flat and light)
- 1 Scarf (great for using as a light blanket on the plane as well as for fashion)
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- Glasses or contacts, as needed
- 1 set of simple jewelry and 1 pair of additional earrings
Two Things to Remember: Roll, Don’t Fold AND Packing Cubes Are Your Best Friends in a Carry-On
Passport: Remember it must also be valid for six months beyond the end of your trip!
Local ID: A form of identification from your home country, for example a driver’s license, can serve as extra proof of your identity.
Boarding Pass: I know they are easily mobile now, but go ahead and take the time to print them out, or in the very least take a screenshot. More than once I have found myself in the security line with no cell service.
Visa and Shot Records (if required)
Copies: Print everything. Boarding pass. Passport. Flight confirmations. Hotel confirmations. Train tickets. Airbnb or hotel addresses, directions and phone numbers. Visa. Shot records. ID card.
I like to also save all of these details in TripIt for my own reference and convenience. However, paper copies are better for border crossings and for when you don’t have WiFi access or a local SIM card.
I also like to send a photocopy of all of these to a trusted friend or family member who won’t be traveling with me, just in case of an emergency.
Extra Passport Pictures: Some countries, like Vietnam, require passport photos upon entry.
Petty Cash: Always have a bit of US cash on hand. I always keep $50 in 10’s stashed away for an emergency “tip” or if no ATM can be found.
Debit Card Without Bank Fees: I never travel anymore without my Charles Schwabb debit card. ATMs are found freely around the world. With this card you can get any amount of cash in local currency without a transaction fee.
Credit Card Without Foreign Transaction Fees: I typically carry two cards. Mastercard and Visa is accepted all over the world. I keep one handy in my purse and hide one in my carry-on. Make sure you cancel the card immediately if you discover it stolen or missing. I also keep it in my Apple Wallet with fingerprint security, just in case.
Pare your liquid toiletries down to the essentials in order to fit everything in your one quart airline plastic bag. For carry-on luggage, both your liquids and gels must be in 3.4 ounce (or less) bottles. Those bottles must fit into a one quart plastic bag. Each passenger may only carry one such bag.
I promise you can do it! Remember, there are drug stores and groceries all over the world. Take with you what you believe you absolutely won’t be able to purchase overseas or in the city where you are traveling. Also, if you have liquid prescription medicine, I have found that you can show it to TSA and they will let it pass even if it does not fit into the one quart bag. This is typically true of baby food as well.
Place your non-liquid toiletries and makeup in a small bag inside your carry-on or backpack.
Pro-Tip: To save space, use Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap. The liquid version is concentrated and can replace your soap, shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste, and detergent. I LOVE this stuff!!
Only bring what you absolutely NEED.
Cords/Chargers: I always bring a powerful secondary power source (unless you already have the Away Bag Battery!) for my phone to charge when I am out all day especially if I am using Google Maps to get around a city because it quickly eats the charge on a phone.
Unlocked Smartphone with Local SIM or Add an International Plan with your Phone Carrier: Carrying an unlocked smartphone will enable you to swap in cheap, local SIM cards in most countries. Buy the SIM card at your destination for low cost voice, SMS, and data plans.
Universal Electrical Adapter
Packing Cubes: In my opinion, these are also an absolute must! The order they bring is priceless. I never travel without packing cubes. The AWAY Packing cubes compress and organize everything inside your suitcase, from socks to shirts to even your bulkiest items.
Silk Sleeping Bag: I am allergic to so many detergents that I find myself miserable in most bedsheets around the world. My go to silk sleeping bag on Amazon prevents an itchy, terrible night of sleep. It’s also ideal for both trains and hostels.
Earplugs, Eye Mask and Noise Canceling Headphones
A Pen and a Notebook or Journal
Reusable shopping bag: In many stores around the world you will not be given a shopping bag at the grocery. These are also handy for bringing home souvenirs that will not fit in when packing your carry-on luggage.
Reusable water bottle
Multiple small zipper bags to organize cords, etc
So, wherever your next travels take you, how about giving packing carry-on luggage ONLY a try. Travel and holidays come with enough things to consider, so I encourage you to take one of your biggest headaches away on your next journey. Enjoy your freedom. Stop checking luggage. Stop paying all those fees. No more lines. Breeze in and out of every airport with ease.
I promise, you can do it – and you’ll LOVE it!
Amy Colón is a freelance, content contributor and copywriter with over 20 years of experience in writing and education. She is passionate about international travel and encouraging women to leap beyond their comfort zones to intentionally explore the world.