How to Pack a Carryon Suitcase (Featuring Real-Life Examples!)

Happy Monday, everyone!

Last week, we talked about How to Create a Packing List. Today, I’d like to expand on that idea and discuss my favorite way to turn that packing list into a neatly-packed suitcase that functions easily once you reach your destination. My fabulous, jet-setting client even agreed to let me use our latest packing session for visual examples on how to convert your packing list to a packed bag.

This packing strategy is wonderful for people who: 

  • Want to minimize packing/unpacking steps
  • Store most of their clothing hanging in a closet
  • Wear business clothes/suits
  • Prefer to unpack instead of living out of the suitcase
  • Cannot afford to risk important outfits being lost in the checked baggage shuffle

 

1. Determine your must-haves

This can mean medication, contact lens kits, wedding dress, your interview suit, laptop, files, snacks. If you are not checking a bag, well, this means everything! For my client, we needed to allow room in her suitcase for her week’s worth of outfits and accessories, makeup, toiletries, one emergency hairbrush, undergarments, and her swimsuit. In her case, she would be checking a bag, but it would only carry non-wearables like her hair dryer and food for her restricted diet.  What that means for you is that, providing you don’t need those extras, you can totally pack a week’s worth of outfits without checking a bag

 

2. Set aside what you will wear en route

This may be old hat to you, but there have been too many times when I’ve been so intent on not forgetting to bring everything that I pack up my travel outfit and have to un-and-re-pack the whole shebang just so I can get dressed on the morning of my trip. Consult your packing list and neatly set aside your designated travel outfit.

The items for my client's travel day, shown as they appear in her packing list and set aside IRL.

The items for my client's travel day, shown as they appear in her packing list and set aside IRL.

 

3. Pack your Personal Item with your in-flight necessities.

Most airlines allow you to bring one “personal item” in addition to your carryon luggage. Your personal item should be able to stow completely under the seat in front of you and, since your carryon will be stowed in the overhead compartment, your personal item should hold everything you may want during the flight. For example:

•Tablet/Laptop/iPod
•Medication/Airborne/Dramamine/tissues
•Hand sanitizer
•Snacks
•Magazines
•Shawl/blanket/scarf
•Hair ties
•Toothbrush/scope?
•Eye drops?
•Hand lotion

The purpose of this exercise is not only to make sure you have your in-flight needs on-hand, but also to save space in your carryon. No need to pack the carryon up with a shoebox worth of stuff that you will end up pulling out and stuffing into your purse for the return flight. 

 

4. Pack your toiletries in the outside pocket.

Being a stylist, I am quite strict about insisting my clients packing their liquids in the outside pocket - because if it’s too precious to risk in a cargo hold, then it’s too precious to risk drowning in Scope. Period. If your luggage or travel shampoo set came with its own “wet pack”, double check that it is the TSA-approved size of 1 quart. If it is not the correct size, I like to use a normal 1 quart zipper bag for my liquids and fill up the rest of the wet pack with other potentially messy stuff like blush, baby powder, eye liner, etc. 

Toiletries packed in TSA bottles, then in a plastic zip pouch, and finally in the outside pocket.

Toiletries packed in TSA bottles, then in a plastic zip pouch, and finally in the outside pocket.

 

5. Lay out everything from your packing list so items are easily visible.

Before you start popping things into the bag, make sure that you have everything ready to go. It’s easier to check off items when they are lying on your bed than when they are tucked into the suitcase, barely identifiable - the latter is how you end up thinking you packed your entire suit when you really forgot your only pair of pants.

Two examples showing my client's packing list and the corresponding outfits laid out IRL.

Two examples showing my client's packing list and the corresponding outfits laid out IRL.

 

6. Stack your outfits in order of wrinkling potential. 

Now for the actual packing! Neatly lay out the items from your packing list, starting with That of Highest Wrinkling Potential and working your way to That of Least Wrinkling Potential. For example, a gauzy silk dress would be laid out first, and a lined ponte blazer would be laid out on top. Just think of a time when you’ve tried to fold a huge stack of paper - the sheets on the top of the stack crease crisply, while the sheets on the bottom just kind of curve around, without much of a crease at all. 

In my client’s case, she prefers to also have her items pre-divided into the outfits. In her case, we hung each outfit together and then stacked them by the overall wrinkle possibilities of each outfit. 

This is a variation on the concept of Bundle Wrapping, which I appreciate in theory but find irritating when I arrive and just want to grab a fresh outfit and hit the bar. When you were little, did anyone give you a gift wrapped in, like, 18 million layers of wrapping paper? Didn’t you want to cry because you just. wanted. the. toy. already? That is the feeling I get when I have to unfold all my clothes after a long trip. -_-

Outfits stacked (and hung, since my client's suitcase has a hanger trolley), flat in the carryon.

Outfits stacked (and hung, since my client's suitcase has a hanger trolley), flat in the carryon.

 

7. Tuck and roll!

With your clothes laid out in a neat stack, carefully tuck in any long sleeves or big, flared out parts. Starting from the bottom, then loosely roll/fold the entire stack of clothes so that the dimensions more or less approximate those of your carryon. Or, if you happen to have my favorite type of suitcase, the bag basically does this for you - once you clip the stack of hangers in place, the dividers strap to your clothes and roll the garments as you fold the dividers back into place.

Suitcase dividers folded over to roll the stacked clothes.

Suitcase dividers folded over to roll the stacked clothes.

 

8. Fill in the nooks and crannies.

This suitcase happens to come with handy mesh bags for shoes and accessories, but you can also use plastic bags, third party mesh bags packing bags ($1.50 at Daiso, y’all!), or whatever you happen to have on hand (those gift-with-purchase pouches you never actually use for your makeup? your reusable grocery totes?). I also like to put smaller pouches into larger pouches so that they don’t actually get lost in those nooks and crannies. 

Stowing outfit accessories in the extra spaces left over after the clothes are packed.

Stowing outfit accessories in the extra spaces left over after the clothes are packed.

 

Now, my pretties, go forth and glide through the airport, with only your carryon and a fabulous tote. Never flash your unmentionables as you sift through your suitcase for a Luna Bar. Arrive sans exploded toothpaste on your suit. Check into your hotel and unpack all your garments in one swift move to the closet. Ahhhhhh.... :)

Grunge Ninja

Grunge Ninja