We’ve said it before, and, boy, will we say it again: carry-on luggage is the dream: no spending money on checked bags, no jostling and mad yoga moves between people at the luggage carousel to chase after your bag as it mercilessly continues to spin around the belt (if bags could laugh, this is when they would do it).
But, on the other hand, getting carry-on luggage weighed at the desk? That’s a nightmare.
So, let’s take on the impossible airline challenge – fitting enough clothes, toiletries, and tech into a bag and still coming in at under seven big ones.
Why seven? That’s the general standard for carry-on baggage before they start charging you per extra kilo, or forcing you to buy checked luggage.
And believe me, sliding your laptop into the waistband of your pants and trying to convince the check-in attendant that you just have really flat abs, that’s not a position you want to be in (happened to a friend, definitely, ahem, not me.)
So here’s seven top tips to get you flying high and keeping costs low, but maxing out your carry-on baggage while minimising, well, your baggage!
1) Choose your Weapon (wisely)
What’s THE kick-ass weapon in your arsenal for this task? The bag you’ve selected for the task. Now grab your bag, look it in the zipper, and scream at it “ARE YOU UP TO THE TASK?!” If it says nothing, throw it out the window. Then go retrieve it, I’m sure you gave it a good scare.
My number one recommendation for a travel bag is that it doesn’t have wheels. Until you’ve felt the freedom that a backpack brings, or the pain (and noise) of rolling a suitcase over the cobblestones that plague Europe (beautiful yes! Practical, no) you’ve never experienced the true joy that a backpack can offer.
According to the International Air Transport Association, the ideal carry on size for a bag is 55 x 35 x 20 cm. This sizing would give everyone the chance to store their bags in the overhead compartments. Does this mean you need to go on the hunt for a bag in this size? Nope! As a top tip go ahead and don’t purchase a hard-shell bag. A semi-structured bag will be forced into almost any teensy-tiny metal device they have to show you the optimal sizing.
My favourite bag is the Osprey Farpoint 40. This baby is a 40L backpack with enough compartments to make any neurotic heart sing, is well-made and will put up with throwing it on the ground in a fit when you miss your train, and is comfortable enough to walk without your shoulders collapsing. It’s also affordable, and easy to purchase in most areas.
2) Pack, Stack, Drop and Roll
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of packing cubes. If you haven’t, tie your shoes because your world is about to be ROCKED. Packing cubes are like little compartments for your bag. These are bags within a bag, and not only will it stop all of ya undies falling out for the whole world to see when you open your bag, but it will make it ten times easier to pack, stay organised, and see exactly what you have.
I travel with three different cubes in my setup: one for sexy lingerie (and by sexy lingerie I mean my comfiest underwear and bras with an ungainly amount of support), one for the shirts and shorts, and another for my cold weather gear (which to be honest, I hope to never have to break out because I’m really more of a fun-in-the-sun type of gal).
You can also buy compression packing cubes, which I’ve never bothered investing in. Why? The packing cubes you can get from your local dollar store, big-box outlet, or Amazon will do the same job, minus the compression aspect, for much cheaper – and are typically lighter than a compression cube as well. But, if you do want to take the top-dollar option, people on the internet swear by these Eagle Creek ones.
3) Wash your hands of toiletries in your bag
Without a doubt the easiest way to lessen your weight is to ditch the toiletries. Not all of them, sure – I know we all love to be prepared and organised for a trip, but stuffing your backpack full of shampoo and conditioner just isn’t doing you any favours.
Almost anywhere you go will have a pharmacy, or a supermarket, or someone on the side of the road selling the basic toiletry necessities – hair stuff, body wash, toothpaste – these are all things that you can buy at your destination for cheap. Free up your backpack, and take the weight off your shoulders (literally).
4) Rethink your threads
You may love your jeans to death – but hear me out on this. Those babies are not small, or light, no matter how ripped they are. Ditch the jeans, and opt for more technical clothing instead. Don’t take this as my blessing to shop though! But, rethink your threads for a way to lessen your load.
For me, my Lululemon On the Fly pants are perfect – breezy, but not chilly, comfy but nice enough to wear out. They also last forever! Step out in a pair of these beauties and your life will change. When I need to be a bit warmer, I layer it with a pair of technical thermals – mine are just from Uniqlo, but any will do and these can come pretty cheap, and fold up super small.
Keep your clothes light – if you can purchase technical clothing from camping shops this is a good idea. But, it doesn’t need to be expensive. Uniqlo Airism t-shirts are highly recommended because they are light, dry quick, and best of all don’t stink when you’ve had to go one too many days without laundry.
5) Ever heard of a French Wardrobe?
It’s not a piece of furniture, but a way of life. A French Wardrobe is a capsule of clothing that has a small amount of components, but each component works together to make a larger number of outfits. And the idea is super simple: every piece of clothing you wear, should go with every other piece of clothing you take.
I don’t need to spell out how handy this is when you’re travelling. To be able to blindly pull out a shirt and shorts in your hostel room at 5 in the morning when you’re half asleep and know that those two pieces will go together is INVALUABLE. It also cuts your wardrobe in half because you don’t need to worry about taking those pants that go with those shoes blah blah blah. Matching clothes is the name of the game, and carry-on baggage is the prize.
6) Wear your heaviest layers and shoes
Okay, this is definitely one of the more obvious items on the list, but it has to be here. On your way to the airport you do not need to look like a Kardashian (in fact, please don’t). If your sneakers are in your backpack you are doing it wrong. Please turn around, go back home, and take off all your clothes (bow-chicka-wow-wow!).
Okay, you’re home now, right? Find your heaviest bottoms, these will probably be your one pair of pants, and whatever shirt you want. Put on a jumper (or to translate for my American friends a sweater, ya bloody weirdos) because boy oh boy, do they make those planes fuh-REE-zing nowadays. Now put on socks, and sneakers, because everyone should have a decent pair of sneakers in their super-cool new French wardrobe. And ta-da! You’re done. You can go back to the airport now, I hope you didn’t miss your flight.
7) Laundry is your friend
Only take one week’s worth of clothes with you – it doesn’t matter if your trip is for two weeks, two months, or two years. One week’s worth of clothes will get you through almost anything, give you enough layers if it’s cold, and give you enough variety. When they get dirty – wash them! While it sounds simple enough, you would be amazed how many travellers think they need to wear something new each and every day.
And there you have it! Reduce your luggage, reduce your load, increase your wallet. Simple!
Hungry for more beans of travel wisdom? Want to keep wasting time on the internet dreaming of that flight? Keep reading, you know you wanna.